A LITTLE BACKGROUND:
Just a quick note that I feel that my expectations are pretty realistic. There are many reviewers that fault mass-market cruise lines like Carnival, NCL and Royal for poor food quality or "nickle-and-diming" but I think the simple truth is that cruising is very affordable and it would be impossible to provide premium dining and other services without a supplemental charge. I personally like having the option to order "a-la-carte" and pay for the extras that I want.
THE SHIP: Embarkation was very congested, but otherwise I think EPIC had pretty good flow and a successful traffic design. I am not sure I agree (contrary to other reviews) that having a central elevator bank would make much difference in getting around the ship -- nearly all of the Dining and Entertainment venues were located either fore or aft -- so having a central elevator bank would not really alleviate the need to travel to one end of the ship or the other - and aside from embarkation, elevators were never congested. Public rooms were attractive, innovative, and functional. The ship itself was extremely smooth even with 8 foot seas - little vibration and steady. I agree that the pools were small -- but there were lots of adjacent areas with fountains and water features that invited guests to relax, get a little wet, and stay cool. Although some of NCL's innovative approaches missed the mark, overall I liked the their creative approach.
TIP: Deck 7 is great for traversing the ship - it has generous corridors, a midship stairway to lower levels, and was never crowded.
CABIN: We had a Deluxe Balcony, D3. I must be some sort of freaky genius, because I managed to shave, brush my teeth, and shower without ever getting water everywhere. I can certainly understand the issues with frosted glass for the bath and such -- but it was never a problem for me. I will say I absolutely loved the roomy shower - and also found easy hooks and such to place robes and towels so that it was also functional. I do think NCL went overboard on closet space and cabinets which constrained the living space. If you like a roomy-room, you really need to book a full suite. Beds were very comfortable, lighting (and the ability to have soft "mood" lighting) was great, coffe maker and fully stocked minibar were convenient, and the TV had a great picture. I also liked the clean and contemporary (somewhat understated) decor.
TIP: The sofa bottom section is completely detachable -- if you don't mind a little lifting -- it can go right out onto the Balcony and makes a great day bed to enjoy the sun in private.
DINING: Buffet - Typical mass-market cruise fare. Quality was fine, but I do think variety was lacking particularly at Breakfast (there were no options for folks who do not eat red meat - some turkey bacon or sausage at breakfast would have been great). Lunch and dinner fare also got a bit monotonous - with many entrees appearing daily. Main Dining Room - Good quality overall and decent selections. Service was solid and presentation was good - no real complaints. Specialty Dining - Overall quite good. Cagneys was really very good - highly recommended / O'Sheehans (free) was fine and a nice option / Teppanyaki - Sort of clumsy service, but the food was pretty good / Noodle Bar - a nice lunch option -- nothing exceptional as to quality however.
TIP: If you like sun and a nice breeze with a light breakfast, deck 15 aft (Spice H2O) serves coffe, patries and juices in the morning and was never crowded. I found it to be a great place to start the day.
ENTERTAINMENT: I think NCL did very well in this regard. Blue Man, Legends, 2nd City, Howl at the Moon -- all really good shows. Standing ovations for each show. Cirque was average -- but I had fun (food was pretty bland though). Casino was great -- lots of gaming options -- good availability at the $5 tables, really nice casino staff. Nice range of lounges from the unique Ice Bar to the elegant cocktail lounges to the dance bar Bliss (most "clubs" on ships are sort of pathetic -- but Bliss had a great vibe). I was not bored at any point during the cruise, and have to say that entertainment options on EPIC rank toward the top.
TIP: This could be coincidental, but when I ordered a drink at the bar I consistenly got a better "pour" versus when I got from a server. My experience was that drinks from the servers were pretty weak.
SERVICE: Overall, the team aboard EPIC were quick to smile, courteous, helpful, and attentive. One odd experience was that our Cabin Steward was pretty weak, with frequently missing service items (wash cloths, Kleenex, coffee, sugar, etc.) and some rather unacceptable attention to basic cabin cleaning (big globs of soap and lots of thick black hair in the shower on day one - smeary mirrors and cabinets that I eneded up cleaning myself). More to the point -- we never clutter the cabin with clothes or personal items strewn about -- there was ample storage so things were always put away making it really easy to clean the cabin. I was very disappointed but most likely this is not typical for NCL.
SUMMARY: The good: Great entertainment, nice ship, good specialty dining, and a very enjoyable vacation. I smoke, gamble, and am married, (and was therefore not annoyed by a massive smoky casino or frosted glass showers)and understand that at $300/night for 2 people I am not going to get free flowing champagne and caviar -- so I really enjoyed NCL/EPIC. The Not-so-Good: More than anything, the Deluxe Balcony cabin was tight. I like more room. In April of 2011 they are calling this cabin type a mini-suite (I think this is really pushing it). On EPIC, there is a jump from a Deluxe Balcony to essentially Penthouse -- at nearly double the price -- so if you want space -- you really have to pay for it. For me, this is a real deterrent to sailing EPIC in the future.