Knowing the ins and outs of NCL and being fans of freestyle cruising, we were excited about trying the EPIC. Having cruised as singles, married, and with children, we feel qualified to say the Epic is a great cruise for families. There is so much to do for kids on this ship; it would have been nice when our kids were young.
This was Epic's first cruise to the Western Caribbean. I realize this is summer and there would be lots of children, however, there was much for them to do, water slides, climbing and rappelling, skating, kids clubs, spider climb, and more. I was surprised there was no extra charge for these activities.
One suggestion for NCL is to sell NCL socks by the repelling wall, and near the ice skating. Lots of kids only bring sandals and will need socks for these activities. Also, the ice skating is on a faux ice floor, kind of lame, and in a very small area. A better idea would be to open up the whole sports court and have roller skating with a DJ instead.
I guess NCL figured if the kids were occupied mom and dad could go to the casino more! This casino is the biggest I've seen on any ship and is great if you like to gamble. It occupies a whole floor and the two floors above the casino have shopping, restaurants, and bars. The problem is the smoke from the casino rises making it difficult to walk on all three of these floors.
The problem with the ship's design is they took out the mid-ship stairs/elevators with the exception of stairs/escalator between two of these floors, so you are forced to walk through these areas to get either forward or aft for the dining rooms. If you try to walk across on a floor with cabins instead, you will walk, twist, turn, the whole length of the ship before you get to either the forward or aft stairway. Which by the way is much smaller than the usual stairways, which is why you do not have to take your life jackets with you for the boat drills. Everyone going down those stairways with a life jacket would never fit!
They have gone to the system Princess uses for the boat drill. You are assigned to a lounge or restaurant, etc. and report there, where they demonstrate how to put on a life preserver. The new lifeboats hold so much more and have plenty of life jackets on board. The way they were able to squeeze in so many cabins was to lower the ceiling heights, eliminate the giant wasted space of a huge mid-ship atrium, and mid-ship stairways.
There is also no way to circulate the ship from the outside because there is no continuous promenade deck. It is clear from the ship's cabin design too, that they want you out of your room, spending money. The cabins feel very claustrophobic because of the low ceilings. The wide angle photographs in the brochures are very well done as you are deceived into thinking the cabin is roomy.
We were in a BD upgraded balcony and I am 5 feet tall and I could stand in front of the couch with my arms out and touch both walls. The cabins are appointed well, and was kept very clean, and we've traveled to Europe often, so the key card in the door to operate the lights, etc. was not unusual for us. The problem with the sink has already been addressed and they are going to change the faucets to match the tiny sink. It's amazing they spent a fortune on this ship, but didn't try to wash their face in the sink around the giant faucet .
A serious issue is with the egress on this ship. There are numerous signs that say "EXIT" but when you go there, they say crew only. There really is no way off your floor unless you get to the forward or aft stairway, which is a long, long, way. All the exit signs you pass end up saying crew only.
If you are in the studio cabins you have to get to the outer hallways in addition. The studio lounge is often open so we were able to go in there many times, they have a nice TV, coffee station, and of course a bar. The bar hosts in the lounges hound you constantly "Bar Drinks" "Bar Drinks" is all you hear every time you sit down. Unfortunately, they must be on commission only.
There is much to offer on this ship and I'd recommend it to families with children who don't mind all the pools jammed with kids. The adult pool area was nice for adults, but the pool was so small and got so hot, it was like a hot bathtub. They have a great giant movie screen at the adult pool, but NCL only puts screen savers of a few travel pictures on it. Why not show movies? Seems like a waste.
They do have a movie screen inside the lower floor of the ship's atrium, and they did have movies there, but there are not enough chairs, and I miss Princess's popcorn touch.
NCL has a coffee bar there, and of course bar drinks! The food is wonderful all over the ship, and the specialty restaurants do have superior quality food and service. The really good waiters get promoted to a specialty restaurant. We would look at the main dining menu and if nothing appealed to us we went to a specialty. This is what we love about NCL, choices! Also, all the hoop-la la about reservations is ridiculous. We never once had a reservation, if you just show up at the restaurant they will seat you. You may have to wait a minute or two, but believe me they are going to seat you. They are not going to turn away your money. If you have a large party, or special situation, sure make a reservation, but we had a party of 3, 4, 2, and never once had to wait more than 3 minutes to be seated and offered "Bar Drinks!"
Same goes for the shows, we saw all three second city shows, and just waited for the others to go in first. The legends show was fantastic. We didn't get the blue man thing, the drumming/stomp thing was good, but spitting food? and the toilet paper everywhere?
Also, I want to say a word about the gym/spa. This ship has the most beautiful gym I have ever seen on any ship. Great state of the art equipment that even charges your I POD while you are exercising. They have a free class or two, we did the Tai Chi, but the good ones will cost you money. I didn't mind paying $20.00 for three spinning classes in the past, but $30.00 or $40.00 for TRX is too much. The water fountain in the gym is small and warm because they want you to buy water. Take your water bottle to the buffet,and fill it with cold water before you hit the gym.
Also, in the past we have enjoyed the private hydrotherapy pools and saunas. I asked to see the Epic's hydrotherapy area thinking it would be bigger and was shocked to see how small and cramped it was, again lower ceilings, and it did not have a large lounging area. We were on the Jade and the Jewel and their hydro spa pools and lounge area was so much nicer. I was so disappointed and it was so crowded we said forget it.
NCL has finally got the disembarking thing down. You basically take any color ticket you want and exit the ship whenever you want, up to a certain time. They used to have one long giant line you had to wait in, but they used two exits and it is now fast and easy. Congratulations NCL for getting this one right!
This will be a great ship for families and fun. They are planning to go to Barcelona in the fall. I wonder how it will fare in Europe with all the a la carte charges, and if they will be able to fill this enormous ship with European children and enough gamblers for the Epic to make money.
Good Luck NCL. We are going to stick with the Jewel class ships until we have grandchildren.