While we had a great time, the "freestyle sailing" experience was really a bit of a disappointment. I'll preface this review by saying that we're pretty easy to people to please and are not particularly demanding when we travel. I'll try to go through our trip by category . . .
The Ship: The ship is really beautiful and well laid out. Even though it's huge, you're not overwhelmed by the size and it's easy to navigate. I read reviews before we left that complained about the placement of the casino on Deck 6 as Deck 6 is a central nexus for getting around the ship. But we weren't bothered by this at all . . . it was really kind of fun walking through. There are lots of bars and gathering places throughout the ship and it's really quite comfortable.
Stateroom: We had booked a family balcony toward the middle of the ship on deck 11 well in advance of the cruise for the 3 of us. A week before the cruise, I got a call from NCL asking if I would be willing to change our stateroom so that they could accommodate a family of 4. I was assured that the only difference between the 2 staterooms was that the deck 11 room had an extra fold out bed, so I agreed. When we arrived on the ship, we discovered that our new stateroom on Deck 12 was all the way aft. We also discovered that the stateroom is very, very small . . . there is very little room to walk from one end to the other. Unlike other people, the split shower/bathroom arrangement did not bother us at all; in fact, it worked really well for us. The room was very clean and there was lots and lots of storage space for everything. All in all, a very nice room, but TINY! I don't know if our original room was any bigger, but I don't think so.
The fold-out bed that we were told was in the room turned out to be the couch which was hard as a rock and very uncomfortable. We ended taking turns as to who had to sleep on it each night because it was simply tortuous.
Our room steward, Junelle, was absolutely charming and very attentive to our requests.
I had arranged weeks ahead of time to have a cheese tray delivered to the room at 3 pm so that we could have our own little "bon voyage" party. When it hadn't arrived by 4, I called and was told that I was supposed to tell them when to deliver it (despite my prior written instruction) and that it would now take an hour to get it. A bit frustrating . . . but not a great big deal.
Dining/Entertainment: The regular restaurants on board are excellent. "Taste" in particular is wonderful with great food and great service. "The Manhattan Room" is likewise very good with very attentive service. The "Garden Cafe" is the buffet and while pretty ordinary, was consistently pretty good. "O'Sheehan" is a pub-style restaurant that also had kind of ordinary fare, but also had bowling! Real bowling on a cruise ship . . . go figure . . . but it was lots of fun. "O'Sheenan's" also overlooks the central part of Deck 5 where they have a 360" television screen that was very cool. A couple of times each day, they set aside time for passengers to play Wii games on this huge screen which was really awesome. I really wish they had allowed more time for that because when we played, I noticed that they had to turn a lot of kids away for lack of time.
Our first specialty dining was at Cagney's and it was a major disappointment. The service was very slow even though the restaurant was not crowded when we were there. The food was mediocre at best, with many items that we ordered not being what was described on the menu (i.e. asparagus gratin with no cheese, and the Cagney's Fries with no truffle oil or parmesan cheese as advertised). We were really, really unimpressed with this venue.
Teppenyaki's was very good, but pretty much the same as you would have at any other Japanese restaurant. The best part of this experience was our chef who was absolutely hilarious and did a great job of drawing my grandson into the experience. He made the meal a great time for all of us.
On our last night, we went to Cirque Dreams and Dining. The show is described as part Cirque and part Moulin Rouge. Let me warn you: it's a lot more Moulin Rouge than you might expect on a ship that is marketed as a Nickelodean cruise. There were many rather uncomfortable moments during the show where we had to question the appropriateness of the performance given so many children in the audience. That aside, the show was quite entertaining. The meal, on the other hand, was probably one of the worst meals I have ever been served anywhere . . . period. Overcooked beef, odd-tasting chicken, almost unrecognizable potatoes, and a very bitter chocolate dessert. I noticed that almost no one at our table ate much of any of it.
Overall the food is nothing is write home about and I would suggest that you will get a better meal for free at the regular dining venues than forking out the money for the specialty restaurants.
The ship boasts the Blue Man Group and that was a great show . . . weird, but great. The Epic Theater is very spacious and comfortable, and there's not a bad seat in the house. We also went to the Slime Time Live show in the Epic Theater and that was really fun (although in an elevator I later ran into the family from Houston that was chosen to be in the show and, as a fellow Texan, I was embarrassed by how rude and arrogant they were). We went to the Breakfast with Nickelodean and got to meet Spongbob Squarepants, Patrick Starfish, Jimmy Neutron, Angh (from The Last Airbender), Dora and Diego, and my grandson got to get autographs from each of them. We also went to the Meet & Greet with Spongebob and Patrick to have photographs taken and the only downside were people trying to cut in line ahead of everyone else.
Pools/Water Slide. The water slides on board are awesome, but frequently commanded up to 40-minute waiting lines. The pools for the kids, on the other hand, are very small. We found this puzzling on a cruise that was supposed to be geared toward children. The kids were packed like sardines into two small rectangular pools. In addition, poolside chairs were at a premium and we encountered a general lack of respect for others.
We had a nice vacation on the Epic, but I do not believe that I will take another NCL cruise anytime soon. My main complaint is that they nickel and dime (or rather $5 and $10) you to death, and you end up spending a lot more money than you probably planned. They charge for EVERYTHING, including asking for a $35 deposit for a towel at the pool (refundable upon return, but really . . . $35?). Almost every activity carries a fee and the price for drinks is outrageous . . . a simple, no-froo-froo cocktail will cost you about $9. Also, be aware that they add a 15% tip into each order. I was appalled at our climbing account balance even though we didn't do (or drink) that much. They charge a $12 per person "service fee" each day which can really add up for family since they also apply the $12 to the kids. I much prefer the traditional cruise experience in which you can pre-pay gratuities and know with much greater certainty what you will be charged for on ship. Given the cost of the NCL cruise, I really felt that we were being ripped off every time we turned around.
I hope you find our comments helpful.