My party consisted of myself and DH, my amazing friend Carol and our mutual friend Scott, and Carol's parents who are in their late 80's and even with limited mobility, more energetic than us half the time! We all had a great time, and this ship definitely has awesome entertainment and is lots of fun.
I really liked the decor. There were many beautiful rooms, and lovely chandeliers, photos and other elements pleasing to the eye. I loved the brick feel outside the venues on deck 6, and I thought all of the restaurants were lovely. I liked the fact that the area around the pursers and excursions desks were not jammed with flea market tables selling stuff. With the exception of Deck 6 in the casno area, nothing felt crowded. The shopping area on Deck 7 was spacious and pleasant to browse in. The major downside for me is that the fact that you are at sea seems to be lost in the overall feel of the ship. I would have enjoyed more windows and outside decks. But for the most part, the Epic is a very attractive ship and handles her 4000+ passengers with ease.
Embarkation and Debarkation
Flawless. We arrived a little after 11 and were checked-in in about 10 minutes, and then waited about 15 minutes before we boarded. To disembark we hung around the ship until after 9:30 and then walked off with no line whatsoever. It may have been a different story for people choosing other times, but for us it worked out beautifully.
We had 3 standard AFT balconies on Deck 9, including one handicapped room. I have mixed feelings about the rooms, as I think many people do. Even though I had read the reviews and looked at pictures, the room was even smaller than I anticipated.
I loved the split bath, although I was surprised with how little space there was once you stepped out of the shower with the curtain pulled. But it worked out well for my DH & I, and was fine for my friend who was traveling with a friend of the opposite sex. The faucets were changed midweek so we had less splash the last couple of days, but even prior to the new ones, the splash was nothing a single swipe with a facecloth couldn't handle in a second.
We didn't love the curved bed, as DH is tall and his feet hung off the bed. The bed was harder than I like, although it didn't bother me enough to ask for an egg crate. For my friends, the beds didn't really separate by enough, especially since one of them uses the breathing machine thingy for snoring and it kept blowing on the other one because they were so close!
Storage was abundant and there were so many nooks and crannies that not forgetting one when we packed up was a challenge! I thought the couch was uncomfortable and useless because of the curved wall and sink location, as well as the TV not being easily visible except from the bed. I was very surprised there was no peep hole in the door, and particularly when using that area for changing it would have been helpful.
The handicapped room was very spacious and well laid out. There was no couch which left more room for negotiating a wheelchair, and there was a ramp to the balcony and the door to the room opened and closed automatically. The bathroom was large, and had a seat in the shower as well as handholds which were very helpful for anyone with limited mobility.
Our balconies were a nice size. We booked these rooms so we could open the dividers between the balconies and have shared space. We called just as we were leaving port to put in the request to have them opened, and were (quite rudely) informed that the request had to be in prior to sailaway so we would not be able to have them opened. I got a little testy and was trying to decide where to go on the NCL ladder to get it taken care of, when Carol informed me that Scott had resolved the issue with a coat hanger. So we enjoyed our balconies tremendously, and although I was pissed of initially, I put it behind me until right now! So, make your requests early if you want your dividers opened or plan to do it yourself!
We ate dinner once in Taste and once in the Manhattan room. Both meals were excellent with very good service. I would have to say that both of them were somewhat better than the MDR's on the other NCL ships I have sailed. I really enjoyed the band in the Manhattan room.
We loved O'Sheehans and ate there several times over the course of the week. The service was very good and the food was decent, but it was the atmosphere I really liked. I liked that they had a couple of breakfast options available all day.
Moderno's was excellent and much, much better than I expected as I am not a huge fan of this type of dining normally. Everything I tried was beautifully prepared and delicious. The salad bar was amazing and I tried many new and delicious things. Service was great and I highly recommend giving it a try.
La Cuccina was okay, but nothing special. Service was fine, but the food wasn't that great (eg. Chicken Parm was soggy, pork saltimbocca wasn't very tender) although the pasta was good. Honestly, we love Italian food & have some really good Italian restaurants in our area so maybe our expectations are too high, but the last few times we have dined in NCL's Italian restaurants they have only been so-so.
We ate one (or maybe 2) dinners in the Garden Cafe and were pleased with the variety and quality of the food. Dinner isn't crowded there, so it is quite pleasant in the evening. Crepes (one of my favorite NCL bonuses) are served from (I think) 5-9PM so unlike a couple of the other ships, you don't have to plan your time carefully to get one of these delightful treats!
We ate several lunches and most breakfasts in the Garden Cafe and again were very pleased with the variety and quality. They have several omelet stations and I never waited behind more than 2 people for delicious omelets or eggs. Waffles were being made continuously, so although they weren't made to order per se, they were fresh with no wait. I love NCL waffles, and for some reason bacon tastes better onboard ship than anywhere else! Eggs Benedict were out on the buffet, so depending on how you hit them they went from excellent to only okay. Coffee was decent, and I enjoyed all of my breakfasts way too much!
We were just too busy to dine in any of the other restaurants, but in my personal opinion the MDR food is good enough that I never felt the need to eat in the pay restaurants other than the special meals we had planned ahead of time. We were disappointed that they don't offer brunch in Le Bistro as that has been one of our favorite meals in the past, but at least for now it's not on the Epic. (hint, hint NCL ) Entertainment
We had the most fun at Howl at the Moon. We dropped by just to check it out for a few minutes and ended up staying for the whole evening and went back 2 more times. Tommy Sklut is extremely talented and lots of fun, and we also loved John (he is an amazing classical pianist)& Sidney whose first love is the blues. The night that several entertainers from other parts of the ship stopped by to jam was simply off the charts. I wish I could remember all of their names to give them their due, but the Jack & Cokes were flowing that night so my memory is a bit hazy. I do remember that the gorgeous violin player from Cirque stopped in and was unbelievable. I highly recommmend checking it out!
Slam Allen is also extraordinary, and although he is off the ship now I hear that he will be back in January and not to be missed. Actually, every musician I heard was far better than typical cruise ship entertainment.
Cirque was fun and I thought the food was pretty good. (We had the new menu.) Everyone enjoyed Blue Man Group, although it isn't something that I personally would see again. I wished my kids (19 & 23) were there because I know they would have loved it. Time flew so we didn't see Second City (have seen them on other ships and sometimes they are great and sometimes not so much) or Legends (I have seen them on land and really enjoyed them).
There is so much going on that we had to pick and choose, and for entertainment alone I wished we had booked a Back to Back.
The casino was a mixed bag for us. It was great that there were lots of slot machines, but we didn't like the way they were spread out. In particular we didn't like playing the machines that were placed in the middle of the major thoroughfare down the middle of Deck 6 even though some of the best machines were out there. So, we spent most of our time in the corners where it got hot and stuffy and crowded. We also missed the personal touch of the casinos on the Spirit and Jewel. I couldn't tell you any of the staff in the Epic casino, and I usually get to know everybody playing and working in the casino. So, there was plenty to keep us busy, but it wasn't as much fun as usual. We also found getting drinks with our free drink cards was as easy as hitting the lottery unless we went to the casino bar.
I had fun in the Ice Bar but it was smaller than I expected. The drinks were tasty and it was cute, but at the time we went it was too crowded to be really enjoyable. It was a novelty and worth doing once, but I would recommend trying to find a quiet time so you can sit on the ice benches and really enjoy it fully.
We attended one margarita clinic and it was just okay. I have really enjoyed margarita and martini clinics on other ships (sometimes too much as my fellow Spirit cruisers could tell you), but this one wasn't special. Previously the bartenders have shared the recipes and anecdotes, done tricks and had tons of personality. This time the drinks were prepared behind the scenes, our table was often a drink behind the rest (I thnk the turnout may have been too big for the amount of staff assigned) and the only entertaining part was a few quiz-like questions. I didn't bother with the rest of the clinics after that one, but maybe it was just an off-day.
We never spent any time on the pool deck except in passing, but it looked great to me. I saw available loungers whenever I passed through (although not necessarily right at poolside) and the music sounded good. The slides looked awesome, and the kids area was really cool. If it hadn't been so hot I am sure we would have spent time out there and enjoyed it.
Ports of Call
St Maarten - We found a super sweet cab driver (Malva) to take us to a few spots including Sunset at Maho Beach to see the planes. Three of us are retired air traffic controllers, and my DH is a huge airplane buff, so this was a no brainer. The first one in was a KLM 747 and it was freaking awesome!! The funniest part was that Scott got all distracted by a perky set of unencumbered breasts and could hardly watch the planes! We also went to the French side to the market, stopped by my favorite Joe's Jewelry for a quick bling purchase and hit one of the little casinos. It was a really fun day
St Thomas - The plan was for 4 of us to hit Coki Beach for a short snorkel while Carol's folksenjoyed the ship. We found another super cab driver (Ali) who took us out there and waited for us. He was just terrific and told us lots of cool stuff about the island. The snorkeling was excellent as always.
Nassau - We booked an independent Segway tour which was a big mistake. The operator misled us about the length of time required to get to and from the site . I also specifically asked if part of our group could come back to the ship early if they chose, and was assured that this was possible. Well, we were dropped off at the site with 2 lovely and personable young women but ultimately part of the group opted to just do the beach portion of the tour after some of the stories of accidents and difficulty of driving the Segways off road. There was no vehicle available to take us back to the ship early and one vehicle got stuck in the sand which was a very scary situation. The operator was late to pick us up and we were already cutting it too close to departure time. He drove like a maniac and although we made it back on time (barely) we were completely stressed out and the operator thought it was a big joke. I will say the ones that rode the Segways had fun, and we enjoyed the isolated beach, but in no way was this an enjoyable excursion. I have done many, many independent excursions but I would never book with this company again.
I hope I am not coming off as negative because we really had a great time. Except for on our balconies you could forget you were at sea, and I missed having more of a connection with the ocean. There was too much to do in a week, and if the price was right I would consider taking the Epic again, although I prefer my ships to be less massive. __________________