My 22nd cruise, 8th on NCL; 11 in my party with three first-time cruisers. I had read so much about the "Epic'- some good and some not so good, so I did not know what to expect. Will make my review short, honest and to the point.
Embarkation: Very easy, figured with 4,000 + people trying to board, there would be a few challenges, but the only issue was at the silly security check where one scanner stalled and it took a passenger in our group to ask if we couldn't just go to a different line vs security sending everyone to other lines, just chaos everywhere. My party was onboard in less than 30 minutes. You board the ship on deck 6 next to the Epic Theater facing the Cirque 'tent'. I was immediately taken back by the dark colors and the low ceilings which I did not like; however, all the NCL staff I encountered were friendly, welcoming and smiling. You can drop your bags (carry-on) at the Headliners Lounge and then go and explore the ship.
Cabins: My party had a variety of cabins, from inside to large balconies. Everybody seemed happy although a few issues I need to mention: lighting in the cabin is awful and the mirror arrangements leave a lot to be desired. The bathroom glass door does not provide for any privacy especially if you have a visitor. The beds are superb, noise is minimal, your cabin TV has numerous convenient on board functions and the cabin stewards were excellent. I had a chance to visit the small studio cabins for single guests, and they are simply a beautiful and novel idea that needs to be in more ships. All the complaints I had read about with splashing water, sink issues, no place to hang towels etc are plain rubbish - use a little common sense and everything will be fine.
Dining/Food: I ate all my evening meals at the "For FREE" main dining rooms - some meals were excellent, some were just fine/average. You had seven items to choose from nightly; four items on the right hand side of the menu stay the same while three new items on the left side of the menu changed nightly more than enough great choices. The garden cafe buffet is perhaps the best of any ship I have sailed and the quality was excellent. I enjoyed my morning breakfast at "O'Sheehans". I did not eat at any pay "Freestyle-For A Fee" restaurants. Overall high marks.
Public Rooms: The Epic is a very large ship with almost all the indoor activities/entertainment/ restaurants/clubs located on decks 5-7. The stairs are only located at either end of the ship and there are no elevators in the middle of the ship. You are also forced to walk through the casino on deck 6 to get to either deck 7 or deck 5 if you are in the aft of the ship. Overall, a very easy ship to navigate. No issues with smoke except when walking through the casino & occasionally on the pool deck since there was no clear smoking / non-smoking side of the ship around the pool areas. The "ICE-BAR" is a MUST for everyone - I cannot recall having so much fun at a bar, and it was worth every penny paid. The bars are plentiful and everything is well maintained, so besides the dark colors, poor lighting and low ceilings, the ship is lovely.
Entertainment: In a nutshell: Blue Man Group - the best show I have ever seen on any ship. Cirque is different, wonderful & fun. The comedy magician received superb marks from members of my party although I was too tired to go by 11pm that night. Legends was a disappointment; Fat Cats bar/lounge was fine. Nightly "Karaoke" is alive and well, but the song selection is poor. Never encountered any problems getting tickets to any shows or standing in line for shows. The only downside to night entertainment was that there was really no place to dance the night away (although we were informed that the best dancing duo usually played in the Atrium but were on a 2 week vacation when we were there).
Activities: Too numerous to mention but there is almost every activity imaginable, with more than enough to keep everyone busy. The athletic activities are great and the ship has a lot to offer. Never encountered any long lines, and the staff seemed to make every effort to practice safety while allowing the passengers to have fun. Trivia on board the ship was disappointing in the quality/ challenge of the questions, though.
Excursions: I go into great lengths to describe what we did, so look at my blog (cruisinbob.com) for the in-depth port excursion review.
Disembarkation: Overall disembarkation was not as smooth as past NCL ships but still went very quick. Everyone has to disembark by 10:00am.
Overall Thoughts: Prior to cruising the Epic, I had mixed feelings about the size of the ship, but now I can honestly say that I thought it was wonderful. Sure there are a few minor annoyances, and "YES" NCL tends to be too pushy trying to nickel and dime you a la 'freestyle/for a fee'; however, this is a terrific ship with perhaps the most customer service oriented staff I have ever encountered; they go overboard to please you. Start packing your bags and do not miss this ship!