After sailing on NCL's EPIC I can fully understand why NCL decided to build only one of this class of ships. More than anything the ship reminded me of a giant car ferry, where all efforts had been made to save money. There is absolutely no WOW-factor to be found on board. No impressive art, no roomy atrium. The LED-chandelier? Yawn. Everything is dull and plain - lots of dark brown walls all around...
The cabin (I was in 11320 at the rear of the ship) was ridiculously small even for two people. The bed in this particular cabin was in the middle of the room, which is the worst layout. Having the bed close to the balcony is much better. The beds were comfortable and the ship's motions made it very easy to fall asleep and to sleep well, except during the process of docking. During docking the ship would vibrate , shudder and make lots of noise, walking me up the mornings this took place.
I had no trouble finding all the available storage spaces, which would probably suit a backpacker fine but were totally inadequate for a couple of people. To make matters worse, cabin 11320 had a door towards the neighbouring cabin, where there should have been cabinets. I did not like the shower, toilet and handwash facilities. Why on earth did they choose this layout?
At the onset I got several opportunities to test the level of service on board. Issues like a missing soda package, room safe not working and a damaged suitcase were all handled with total lack of professionalism. The people I spoke with working in guest services all seemed totally unprepared to solve problems, and incompetent for their jobs. One South African guy at the guest services desk springs to mind. When I described some of the issues mentioned above, he would give me a blank stare for 30 seconds, and then mutter 'I'm sorry'. After trying a couple more times I gave up, and tried to find someone else. The soda package issue was resolved after a while, the problems with the room safe persisted, and even after the unit was replaced it kept malfunctioning. Cabin 11320 is probably cursed. I was asked to bring my damaged suitcase to the 5th floor for repairs(!), and I had to insist that someone should be sent to my cabin to pick it up. After two days I got a phone call from someone saying that the suitcase couldn't be repaired, and I would get a $ 100 on board credit as compensation. When I said that this wasn't acceptable, I was told that someone would look into it and call me back. The next day I was told that the suitcase was repaired, and that I could come downstairs and have a look. I took the trip to guest services again, and the suitcase was just as damaged as before. Eventually they concluded that they weren't able to repair the damage, and indicated that it might have been damaged pre-cruise, which I found rather insulting. Anyway, I received an on board credit of $ 100,- and will forward a claim for full compensation to the NCL Head Office.
I also declined to pay the $ 12 daily service charge automatically added to the invoice. Instead I did tip individual employees as appropriate.
So, I was not a happy camper on board. Freestyle cruising can be OK, I guess, but it's obviously not for me.
The restaurants were average - with one exception: Le Bistro was great and worth the extra cost. I hated the chaos during lunch and breakfast buffets. It was difficult to find tables and a struggle to get food. The service was rather indifferent and poor.
The entertainment wasn't bad - with one exception: The Cirque theater. Initially I thought this was a reference to Cirque de Soleil, and what a disappointment I was in for. The show consisted of mediocre balancing and juggling acts led by a couple of very annoying persons. The food was terrible, as well.
The lack of available sunbeds was a problem throughout the cruise...
The most positive experience was the disembarkation process. From the cabin to the backseat of the taxi took about 30 minutes. Goodbye EPIC!