As an experienced cruiser (RCCL, Carnival, Princess, Celebrity, others) with 20 cruises under my belt, I was looking forward to trying NCL for the first time. Specifically, Epic.
Generally, the ship was beautiful, the food fair, the service at best fair. Piece by piece:
Embarkation---easy, quick, no pronblems. BUT...when we got on the ship, cabins were not ready, and we had to lug our carry-ons up to the buffet to wait until the cabins were available. Had we been told of this beforehand, we probably would have arrived later. C'mon guys, everyone's off the ship by 9:30. You can't have the cabins ready by 1-ish?
Cabins---not the issue everyone claims. A bit small, but usable. somewhat awkward, but again, it's only a week and usable. Yes, the bathrooms and sink set-up is wacky. Note: TRY TO BOOK A CABIN WITH THE BED CLOSER TO THE BALCONY...THAT WAY YOU DON'T GET THE TOILET ENTERTAINMENT AND THE SINK SPLASHES ON YOUR BED. Cabins are available with either the bed or sofa at the balcony end. Lots of storage, barely usable drawers. Our cabin steward was sloppy. Forgot to tempty trash, left trash on the counters, re-0use our glasses by just putting new paper tops on them, barely cleaning, had to ask 3 times for ice. Not the service I'm used to from a cabin steward.
Ship---magnificent. Very impressive. But...you have to walk through the smoky casino to get to many venues, and you are so disassociated with the sea, that you may as well be in Vegas. Pretty clean, good layout for the most part, with some dumb design mistakes (like having the 2 major and 1 minor theater venues all empty into the same place at the same time after the shows. A MOB SCENE. either re-design the exits, or stagger the shows better. NOTE: There are only 2 elevator towers. For a ship this big there should be 3. Be prepared to do lots of walking.
Pool and decks---Poor. Main pools very small and loaded with screaming, jumping, splashing kids. Adult only pool was way too hot to even get into. Who need a bath when it's 95 degrees outside? The actual decking was dangerous...either it's so hot that your feet will burn, or if it gets wet, you slip. There were constantly people falling...they had better fix this or they'll be defending many lawsuits. Pool towels are available, but well accoounted for...a bit of an inconvenience. Plenty of lounges. The relentless bar waiters can drive you crazy!!! They don't let up.
Food---overall, just OK. The zillion dining options are there, but except for the buffet, pub, and main dinings rooms (2), they'll cost you extra. we ate in the Manhattan club twice. food was boring, service was great one night, poor the second. we ate in la Cucina (Italian, extra cost) A waste of money!!!we ate at the Brazilian Bar-B-Q (extra cost) which was GREAT. we ate at the Teppenyaki (Hibachi, extra cost) which was Fantastic.We did the buffet for breakfast and lunch...food was adequate but the same every day...service was downright rude!!!Staff not paying attention to you, food on the floor, staff actually walking into you. Food quality was overall just fair, except the two restaurants noted.
Entertainment---excellent. We saw Blue Man Group, Cirque Dreams (great show, fair dinner), Second City, Howl at the Moon, Blues Club. All wonderful. As noted above, there is a bit of a bottleneck when shows get out. Also, even with reservations for the shows beforehand, you still needed to get there (and stand in line) a half hour before to get any kind of decent seat. I didn't go on vacation to stand in line!!!
Ports---fine. we were in western Caribbean, where I've been before. Getting off the ship in the ports was super easy. NO PROBLEM!!! A quick note: when we were in Cozumel, we were there, so was Oasis of the Seas, Grandeur of the Seas, and Carnival Inspiration. That's 15,000 people inundating the port that day. It was crazy crowded.
Disembarkation---easiest I ever had. we waltzed off, our baggage pickup was easy, and customs took all of 30 seconds.
To summarize, I found the beauty of the ship marred by fair service, a general feeling that the staff was striving to be adequate, not great. Some design issues, but that's teething pain. The extra cost for "freestyle" dining and the ridiculously long waits for show seating would make me really think twice before "freestyling" with NCL again.