Following is my review of NCL Epic. First, let me say we took a B2B, Western first, then Eastern. Upon arrival by taxi ($24)from the airport we were greeted by a friendly porter who took our bags and walked with us to make sure we went to the right entrance. He told us it was not necessary to tip him, which was quite a surprise, and, of course, we did. There were people stationed all along the way to point us in the right direction. Check in was quick, but then we were sent to a huge holding area, where it was confusing as to which side we should go.
At the front of the holding area was a small table manned by a pleasant young lady with information about the onboard spa. This was perfect as we wanted to purchase Spa Passes and they are given out to non-Spa-deck cruisers on a very limited basis. We then went to sit down and wait. We saw various people being allowed to cross behind a glass wall onto the ship. Later I learned from my own experience that these were the B2B's, who are forced by law to come off the ship, go through customs and then re-board. They are the last to leave and the first to return to the ship.
Next were what I am assuming were the Latitudes members, and then us. We all proceeded towards the ship, stopping first for the obligatory picture. I am amazed at how many people did not take the time to make sure they were not blocking the view of the ship in the background. Ours turned out quite nicely, with a daylight view of the ship as background. We later purchased a night view of the ship to display with it. Most modern cruise ships look big and boxy. The Epic is no different and certainly not bad looking.
Upon boarding we were immediately greeted by many crew members. We were most concerned with making a reservation to the Ice Bar and were trying to get our bearings when two officers stopped us to enquire if we needed any help. One turned out to be the Bar Manager, who gave us his card, told us to go have fun, and to call him any time we were ready to go to the Ice Bar and not worry about a reservation. Nice!
We proceeded to O'Sheehan's Pub to try our hand at bowling ($5per) for novelty's sake. It was fun, we were first and had a nice game. I found the interior of the ship to be pleasantly and elegantly decorated, unlike the garish colors I had seen on my few previous cruises with another line. It is an enclosed interior, with no view of the sea except in the restaurants and reminded me of being in a large elegant hotel complex. I found the walkways to be more than adequate and different seating areas abounded. In fact, it was not until the last day that I bothered to fully explore the area behind Shakers Martini Bar. There is a nice, quiet living room back there, leading to the Humidor Cigar room, which was fully enclosed and devoid of smokers at the time. Because of the layout we never found any of the interior spaces especially crowded at any time.
The same can be said of the open air decks. I always saw plenty of seating in both the sun and shade. I did wear beach shoes on deck as it was hot. Since we had Spa Passes we never used the pools or slides except for the Saturday we were among the lucky B2B's with early re-boarding. At that time we wore our suits and rode the slides over and over. We were actually the only ones using them for quite some time. The Green tube made me dizzy, the Purple tube was nice, but the Epic Plunge was by far my favorite. I did notice there were three sizes and colors of rafts, just as I have seen in water parks. Common sense would dictate that you use the size appropriate for you. An adult should NOT use the pink rafts, as they are for children. Just wait for the right size and you won't have a problem! When you enter the huge yellow bowl, arch your back a bit to reduce drag and you will go round and round many times!
Mandara Spa is wonderful! It is well worth getting a pass. There was an herbal steam room and sauna in each sexes shower/changing areas and another herbal steam room and 2 sauna's in the co-ed area. That steam room was way too hot, however, so we did not use it. There is a large mineral pool with massaging spouts of water and several bubbling relaxing areas, a hot tub, and many loungers inside and outside on an aft deck. There were also heated tiled loungers which were wonderful to nap on. Hint--When people want to enter the hot tub, move over off the step and let them in. Another Hint--This area is meant for relaxing. I f you want to have a loud conversation in a hot tub, go up top on deck. The Spa offers many services, including acupuncture, which my husband used in a desperate bid to relieve unrelenting knee pain, and it worked! The Spa closed at 10pm and it would be good if they extended those hours.
A large Swarovski chandelier hangs in the middle of the public area inside, pointing down into the middle of Taste, the casual sit down free restaurant. The food here is the same as in the more formal Manhattan Room, and is less crowded. Both opened at 5:30pm and I would have preferred Taste to open earlier as we often did not eat in port but wanted to sit down and be served dinner as we were tired. There is a dance floor and live band playing during dinner at the Manhattan Room and it is quite crowded. The band's playing times are listed in the Freestyle Daily, spanning dinner time and after. They were excellent and I was surprised more people did not get up and dance. Service at both was excellent and we were usually seated at a window. My only complaint is that if long pants are to be required at the Manhattan Room, then torn jeans, ratty T Shirts and flip flops should be banned, period. Either it should be all the way nice--or not...
The Garden Cafe is located on Deck 15 and has multiple identical lines, with some limited lines available outside to bathers. The food selection was good, with plenty of options. O'Sheehan's is billed as a Pub and could be quite busy. It had wings, sandwiches, fish and chips, bangers and mash, etc. They really should provide wet wipes with the wings, for cleanliness sake. There is a coffee bar at the Atrium with both free and pay for coffee, and free pastries. Food at all free venues was very good, and I see no reason to pay for the restaurants unless you lack a particular venue in your town. We do not have a Brazilian Barbeque so we ate at Moderno's Chiascarria. The meats were good, and when the gaucho found out I like the lamb best, he brought me a special plate. The salad bar was excellent, with quite a variety of unusual items. Both Le Bistro and Cagney's were good, but coming from a foody town, not worth the price to me.
The casino is on deck 6, spanning both sides and down the middle of the only walkway. I noticed several portable air cleaners but they really should not allow smoking in the middle section. Lack of such a small section is not going to keep anything from gamblers and nonsmoking gamblers would surely appreciate it, not to mention nonsmoking passersby. Public bathrooms were plentiful and never busy. Hint--Turn the lock when you enter the stall and people will not walk in on you! Some have motion sensor lights and they definitely needed to be set at a longer interval. The elevators are located at each end of the ship but, quite honestly, the walk from amidships where we were was not at all bad and at least gave us some exercise!
We had a regular balcony room, amidships on deck 9, which was covered, and if I wanted to peacefully enjoy the sound and view of the sea, I went there. We also turned off our AC at night and slept with the door open and the soothing sounds of the waves. Yes, these rooms are somewhat tight if you are going to have more than two people in the room. I personally loved the look of the curving walls and soothing colors. Storage was phenomenal, with plenty of space, hangers, a refrigerator and a coffee maker (why make your own when you can get excellent coffee in the Atrium?) We found the bed a bit too firm and our steward was quick to put another pad underneath the sheet. All the stewards we passed in the halls were very nice and greeted us warmly each and every time. Ours was especially good and mysteriously knew whenever we vacated the room. It was always clean and tidy when we returned. We had no problem at all with the sink but they did replace the faucet during the second week. Too bad, it looked nicer before and had more clearance from the sink. I don't normally wash my face under a faucet but use a cloth so I never had a problem. Our shower never leaked and was actually bigger than the one we have at home. The shower head and flow was definitely better than the one we have. Toilet flushing sounds were not a problem at night because we do not flush at night anyway, so as not to disturb anyone. Remember, it is a marine toilet. The seat is European and narrow, which took some getting used to.
The entertainment is absolutely top notch. Blue Man Group, Second City Comedy Improv, Howling at the Moon, and Legends in Concert are all nationally rated shows. We were lucky that the Legends show changed during our B2B and we saw Madonna, Tina Turner, and Elvis the first week and Rod Stewart, Brittany Spears and Michael Jackson the second week. Jeff Hobson, the comedian magician was from Vegas and very good. Slam Allen in Fat Cats Club was unbelievable and, unfortunately, our last week was also his last week, but I hear he will be back at some point. The Entertainment Director Simon Murray deserves kudos for his work here.
The parties were fun. White Hot Party, Fabba, and Zouk were all themed dance parties and meant to be fun. Silas Cook, the Cruise Director does an excellent job, as does his crew. We chose to participate in activities and found that the more you participate, the more the crew gets to know you, and the more personal and fun your vacation becomes! We ended up in many dance videos and ended up buying the DVD of that first week's cruise ($29.95) It not only has scenes from each event and party but also goes around the ship a bit and does a montage of the cultural tours of each port. I think it is a good buy. Getting all your still photos on a CD for $349 is definitely NOT a good buy and a ridiculous price point. Photos were taken at each port with a theme and the unfortunate thing here is that the themes were the same on the Western and Eastern legs. A Dolphin, a pirate, and a native dancer. It would be better if they would have different themes at each port. As it was, we only bought the photos as a memento of the Western leg.
Disembarkation was not bad, as it was staggered, and we did the Everglades Tour on the way to the airport as we had such a late flight. I will also add that this is the first ship I have ever been on that I did not experience some motion sickness. It was excellent, even during rough seas. And remember your attitude will decide how good your experience will be!