Having sailed on 20 plus cruises, but never having sailed on a massive ship like the Epic, my husband was the one having to try it. And I'm so glad we did! We never go on any ship in the first few months of their maiden voyage. There's just bound to be problems that crop up. Previously, I had read all the negative comments, but obviously NCL is listening because the staff was at the top of their game. Every person we encountered was engaging, friendly and really seemed to care if we were having a great time. The upbeat attitude seemed to spread to the passengers. I'm sure there were some grumpy people aboard but thankfully we didn't witness any scenes. Maybe because everything is so new, people were even talking in the elevators and comparing experiences with the different venues. There is just so much to do, it's impossible to experience everything in a week.
Cruise Critic Meet & Greet - Props to Len, our coordinator for this event (9/25 sailing). He was just amazing with all the information he provided to everyone. I have never been to such a well-attended meeting on board. The captain, directors, and managers were there and simply put us at their disposal. If you had a concern that wasn't addressed, it was entirely your own fault. All you have to do is speak up. The accessibility to the officers was incredible. My husband had several occasions to speak to Klaus (hotel director) and we were very impressed with his hands on approach.
Embarkation - arrived at the port about 10:30, knowing we wouldn't be able to board until noon. (have had traffic/parking issues in the past & would just rather sit in the terminal) Very fast when the process started, sort of odd walking right into the casino.
Entertainment - Slam Allen & his band was the very best as far as we were concerned. That's the greatness of this ship. There are so many different varieties of music/acts; you are bound to find something you enjoy. We didn't see Cirque because we're going again in January & will see them then. Hopefully, we won't have the long wait to get in. It's just such a popular show and people are lining up earlier & earlier to attain that perfect seat. How can you correct a problem like that? Saw Blue Man the first night at 10:00. Walked right in at 9:40 (remember everyone in your party needs their cabin key for admittance, that's your "ticket") There could have been a line before they opened the doors, but it wasn't necessary. Wanted to attend FABBA but it was dancing to Mama Mia or listening to Slam Allen (for the 3rd time) Slam won out. We didn't even want to see the Legends show because it was that or Slam again. Britney Spears I could have done without at that show, but she had a lot of men lining up to take a picture with her after the show. Howl at the Moon was great fun but they did seem over-concerned about being tipped & getting free drinks from the crowd - but its free enterprise and if people want to pay up, why not. You don't have to tip to get your song played. Really enjoyed the interaction with the group & everyone would join in on some songs.
Ice Bar - didn't realize how strong the drinks were until I sat down to dinner afterwards. Well worth the $20 cover charge. The ship photographer was in there, of course, just wish they offered a smaller size on the photo. 8 x 10 was $19.95 & where am I going to put it now because of course we got it! And one tip - the parkas kept us warm but the gloves provided were of the 99 cent stretch variety. Bring your own gloves. And they are sanitized between uses - saw a rackful down in the laundry room on the "behind the scenes tour."
Latitude Party - for the upper levels. Much nicer than on other ships & there was real alcohol served, not the watered down rum punch we've gotten previously. And the waiters kept coming round & round with the drinks and the cheese & crackers. Very nice in the Bliss Lounge.
Spa - like on the other ships, it gets crowded on sea days, but early morning is usually pretty quiet
Barber Shop - my husband got a great haircut for $29, gratuity included. There was a special going on, a shave for $45 with a free haircut. He's planning to do that if it's still being offered in January
Smoke - Only time I really noticed a smell (my eyes started watering) was when we were standing at the podium of Shanghai's. But when we left that restaurant, it had totally dissipated. There could have just been a large group of smokers at that poker/blackjack table nearby. People had complained previously that they couldn't eat at O'Sheehans because of smoke odor, but I never noticed it there and we ate there numerous times. Guess it just depends on how many smokers are sailing on that voyage and how many of those machines they have running to clear the air. And I was concerned about people being allowed to smoke in their cabins now. An officer assured me that they have extra-sensitive sensors so if anything did start smoldering, they'd be at their stateroom in a heartbeat. Anyway, if I had been assigned a cabin that I could detect had a previous smoker I would not have stayed there, no way.
Water Slides - they're not just for the kids! Just make sure you get the proper sized tube for the Epic Plunge. And I always saw loungers available, not right by the pool but if you can't find one, just ask a NCL staff person. The 18th deck has an unshaded spot that was empty every time we went up there. There are 2 elevators right after you leave the Garden Cafe going into the pool area. The one I assume is just for the suite people and the other one has the button to go up to the 18th deck for everyone else.
Dance Classes - Party Time, Hip Hop, Salsa, Merengue
NCLU Tastings - Margarita, Martini, Italian Wine, Beringer Wine & Food, Beer, International Wine
Cruise Director - very friendly and always out & about. And thank goodness he wasn't constantly on the PA system announcing events like on other ships
Restaurants - loved Moderno, ate there twice. I don't really care for meat but I was quite content to fill up at the salad bar, so many choices. & heard rumors that this salad bar concept might be incorporated on other ships. That would be fantastic! Shanghai's was great as always, the portions were so large & filling, we both skipped dessert. Loved the Noodle Bar for lunch - fun & good food. Le Bistro was excellent but Park West had some pictures displayed in there with an "available for purchase" sign - thought that was tacky. O'Sheehans is perfect for breakfast. Manhattan had good food too, don't understand the complaining. Just be sure to check the dailies because the show band doesn't play in there every night. The Garden Cafe was unlike any other ship - it's huge & the choices are of a much better quality (salmon & the large shrimp I've never seen before in a GC) And we would go there for really good late night desserts - not the gelatin mystery stuff. And every restaurant we ate at had the most attentive waiters. (I'm still thinking the staff must have had an extra pep talk before we boarded!) With Freestyle you usually don't make that connection anymore. I heard they took many of their best people from the other ships - that's obvious with some of the familiar faces we saw aboard.
Customs - this is really random, but the official questioned me on my rings (cubic zirconia's & fake opals - JC Penney specials!) where, when & how much I paid for them and even had me turn my hand over to check the bands widths to check for wear. At least someone thinks they're real. I know he was just doing his job, just thought it was funny.
Negatives - Hopefully, NCL will not use this cabin design again on any new ships. While it didn't prevent us from having a wonderful vacation, I did miss the table in the balcony room when we had room service & hated having the toilet right near the bed - the balconies with the bed by the balcony door is nicer. And I miss a promenade deck - there was plenty of space to walk around on the upper levels but it's lacking the atmosphere of being at sea. And why do they not provide at least 1 lounger on the balconies? There is enough room. (On other ships, it all depended on your steward whether or not it was against the rules to exchange a chair out, no matter the tip!)
To summarize, the Epic is in a class by itself. It's just a different adventure. The fun is in exploring it and yes, we'll sail on it again & again as well as other ships. Thanks for the memories, Slam! (am just glad we got your CD)