Our October 16th to October 23rd EPIC sailing had just over 3,750 passengers so the ship was not at full capacity. I would imagine this impacted our experience on EPIC in a positive light as the ship never felt crowded. The exception was when the main shows let out but the crowds dispersed rather quickly.
A little about us...We are a married couple from New Jersey. I'm 60 and DH is 53. Including our EPIC cruise, we have completed 28 cruises. Starting in 2001, we have cruised on NCL's Star, Dawn, Gem, Pearl, Jewel, Spirit and Sky. Other lines we have sailed are HAL, Princess, Carnival, Celebrity, and we are Diamond members on RCCL. The only mass market cruise line ship to compete with EPIC, IMHO, is Oasis of the Seas. We hope to sail on Oasis in the near future.
EMBARKATION was very organized and easy. We arrived at the port early so we did not encounter any lines at all. After we were checked in, we were seated and waited about 15 minutes and then were able to board the ship. We were on board by 11:45.
CREW - I must comment on the wonderful crew onboard EPIC. They seem to be a very happy group, always willing to help, engage in conversation and offered great service. The subject of crew accommodations came up just about every time we chatted with crew members. There were many smiling faces, beaming about the fact that NCL has accommodated the crew with a maximum of only two crew members per cabin, many having a cabin by themselves. Crew members who are by themselves, share a bathroom with one other crew member which is between their two cabins. Cabins with two crew members, do not have bunk beds. Kudos to NCL for having such nice accommodations for the crew on EPIC.
Our Cruise Director was Paul Scally, a nice guy from England. He is quite personable and visible and seemed to be everywhere around the ship. DH and I knew Paul when he was a regular crew member under Matt Baker on the Dawn. It was so nice to see him again and to find out he was promoted to CD a couple of years ago. Julie Valeriote, is the EPIC Entertainment Director, a new position for NCL; she oversees Paul and his staff as well as handles all of the "branded" entertainment. We first met Julie when she was the CD on the Spirit.
CABIN - We had a BA cabin on deck 9. Our balcony was covered and, being on the stern of this ship, offers total privacy from above and below...very nice. The translucent door for the bathroom was wonderful. I love the fact these doors let in natural light ...just like having a bathroom window. The shower was great; there was plenty of steady hot water and the pressure from the rain head is very ample. The sound of the toilet flush is no louder than any other vacuum ship system I have encountered.
The bed was very comfortable with a firm mattress that had a plush top and the linens were wonderful. Our cabin attendant always gave us fresh towels even if we hung them up. There is a pull out cabinet drawer with a heavy plastic hamper inside for the wet towels which is a very nice touch...no wet towels on the floor. As for the layout of the bathroom...we really liked it as it is very functional. I agree with other reviewers, the sink is too small and shallow. With the new faucet, it did not splash any water on the vanity. Sometimes the long handle did get in the way when I washed my face. The only way the handle would not get in the way is when it was facing in the full hot direction.
The air conditioning was very effective but has a difficult time keeping the room cool if the sliding door curtain is left open. We always closed the curtain before leaving the room during the day. We did notice the A/C has loud fan noise continuously. The sound level is like a car fan on high. There is a black out curtain on the sliding door but no sheer curtain underneath it. It would have been nice to have a sheer curtain at times to cut down the glare of the sun in the cabin.
EPIC has an interactive TV system in their cabins. It lists all your reservations, the menus for the main dining rooms for the week among other things and is very easy to use. The TV is true HD and most channels do not have the artificially stretched image. Very nice.
Lights in the cabin are not bright although there are quite a few of them. The little blue lights surrounding the buttons for the reading lights at the head of the bed are very bright and illuminate the room when all the other lights are off in the cabin. I covered those little blue lights with black electrical tape and that worked like a charm. As other reviewers have said, the phone display brightens up the room at night also when all other cabin lights are off. Press the light bulb icon in the upper right of the phone display and it turns off the display. Touch the screen in the same spot to turn the display back on.
CRUISE CRITIC M&G - We had about 40 - 50 members at our M&G in Bliss Lounge. We were given a very nice reception by the crew and it was hosted by Paul Scally, the CD. We were given a card with the officer's names and phone extension numbers. Denis Prguda, the hotel Director, said he would prefer we call them with a problem rather than reading about it on Cruise Critic. They do read Cruise Critic.
DINING - We dined in The Manhattan Room only once on lobster night. The service was very good but not as attentive as we had the other nights when we dined in the specialty restaurants. The lobster is not of the same quality as Le Bistro or Cagney's...not a surprise to us as we firmly believe, "You get what you pay for". The Big Band sound is alive and well in The Manhattan Room and it was such a treat to hear Glenn Miller's "String of Pearls" just as we were seated for dinner. The second set the band played while we dined included vocals from crooner Bernie Martini. This was a really nice touch and it transported us back in time to the 40's. Just love the supper club concept of The Manhattan Room.
Besides dining in Le Bistro (excellent food and atmosphere) and Cagney's (excellent), we dined in La Cuccina (very good), Moderno (excellent), Shanghai's (only good, simply because the menu no longer has some of the appetizers that we loved and their BBQ ribs are not the same as they used to be).
O'Sheehan's was a great place for comfort food. The atmosphere was pub like with dark woods and an over all warm feeling. There was a juke box which added to the great atmosphere. I had the chicken pot pie which was very good but was served piping hot. The pie was so hot, the gravy had a watery consistency. I cracked it open and had to let it cool at least five minutes before it was OK to eat without burning my mouth. By then, the gravy thickened up very nicely. I also had the "Warm" Apple Crumble. Again...this was served piping hot, not "warm" as the menu lists. Once I let it cool, it was delicious. I highly recommend both of these treats at O'Sheehans. I wish I could have tried more items on the menu...just didn't have the time. Next time perhaps.....
Garden Cafe has a classy atmosphere. You won't see splashy tropical prints or dEcor here. The waiters are dressed in subdued cream tops and dark slacks. The chairs are heavy black metal with a dark red cushioned seats. The food selection is so varied and comprehensive, I was still discovering different foods on day 7. Preparation for much of the food is in "action stations" with the chefs cooking the food in full view and presenting freshly prepared food to the passengers. There are four omelet stations at breakfast...DH never had more than three people on line in front of him every day. We never had dinner per se in the Garden Cafe so I can not offer any comments about that. We did have breakfast and lunch there every day and there were always seats available. Remember, if you find seating to be a problem for breakfast and lunch, there is always available seating on deck 14 in La Cuccina. The entrance to La Cuccina is all the way forward in the Garden Cafe.
Just a couple of notes about Garden Cafe...the Caesar salad station has fresh shaved Parmesan cheese and anchovies. I used the shaved Parmesan cheese on my pasta dishes. The shrimp cocktail is very good with medium sized shrimp and is available during dinner hours. Drink and coffee stations are all self serve and the coffee is really good. Not happy that cookies are not readily available on this ship. I'm not sure if this is a fleet wide decision. Pound cake has taken the place of the cookies that were readily available on the other NCL ships we have been on. We did mention to the Corporate Executive Chef and the EPIC Executive Chef that we missed the availability of the cookies. Don't know if this will change anything but we did let them know that most Americans love chocolate chip cookies. Hint...you can ask the crew for cookies and they will bring you a plate of them.
There are two hard ice cream and sherbet stations at lunch and dinner, each offers about six flavors, so check both sides as the flavors sometimes differ. The ice cream is rich and creamy. I never got the self serve soft ice cream as the hard ice cream was so good. The deserts in The Garden Cafe were not the greatest so I was glad the hard ice cream was such good quality.
Great Outdoors is the outdoor extension of the Garden Cafe and has a buffet line with less of a selection than the inside buffet. This is a very nice space for dining outside. Only problem DH and I find with The Great Outdoors is the music is too loud. When it is difficult to carry on a conversation...that is too loud.
ENTERTAINMENT - Blue Man Group is a "must see". I had never seen their show before and this show was an absolute treat. After seeing the cast out of costume and make up at the BMG Meet and Greet on the last day, we saw their show a second time on the last night of the cruise. We went to stand by and was told to go right in to the theater. Speaking of the theater....the sight lines are the best I've seen in any theater on a ship. There are no poles to block any views and starting in row 7, the seats are stadium seating. I'm 5'2" and could see over everyone's heads and had no obstructions at all. The seats in the theater are all staggered so you don't have anyone directly in front of you from the next row. For us short folks, that is wonderful.
Legends in Concert, another professional company, did a fine job and is another "must see" production show. The first time I saw the cast perform was in the Unplugged version of the show in the Manhattan Room. We were allowed into the restaurant at 9:30pm and were able to seat ourselves. We sat at table with another couple which was right on the dance floor. I was so close to the performers, I almost felt like I was part of the show. This unplugged show gives everyone just a small taste of Rod Stewart, Brittany Spears and Michael Jackson. The singers and dancers are the stars of this show with their rousing renditions of Motown hits. This show is a "must see". The Legends in Concert production show was so good, I saw it a second time; again, no stand by line...just walked right in to the theater. My favorite is Michael Jackson. He certainly was the show stopper and the most popular with the audience.
Cirque Dreams was a great show with amazing circus acts and extremely talented acrobats. Having said that, I do agree with many reviewers before me that the show is too long and would be better without all the banter and thin story line. The food was OK...had better just about everywhere else on the ship, including the Garden Cafe. In defense of the Cirque dinner, the garlic shrimp were delicious, the beef was tender but not a very tasty cut of beef. We were seated upstairs, directly above the area where the cast performs all their acts. We sat above the piano when you enter the Spiegel Tent. These seats were fantastic...the violinist stood right next to me every time he was up there to play his electric violin. The music is live and extremely good. The man in the tub was the highlight performer for me. I was waiting for him after reading several comments about him. I just happened to be in the right place at the right time after the show and saw him out of costume and had a bit of a chat with him. His name is Geronimo, he is from Mexico and he is also Prince Charmaine in the show. He was, by far, my favorite performer in the show, probably the entire ship, actually. (Don't tell my DH I said that, LOL). I had my picture taken with him and I took one of him by himself too.
Howl at the Moon has two very talented pianists who are fairly good singers and certainly are great showmen. They do have a young woman, who fills in as one of the men takes a break. With this set up, there is no break in the entertainment in this venue from 9pm to 1am.. At times, all three of them play, with one of the men on drums while the woman and the other guy are on the pianos. This is a fun and very entertaining venue.
Roadside Louis and the Dusters in Fat Cats Jazz and Blues Club are a great band and I loved the music they played. Having said that, both my husband and I thought they were too loud. That is so unfortunate because we would have loved to have spent more time listening to their music. Louis plays a mean harmonica.
POOL DECK AND SLIDES - Never crowded when we were there, always deck chairs available in the sun and shade on deck 15 and above decks. Yes, the pools are small, but were never crowded when we were there. I'm sure this has to do with our sailing not at capacity and not so many children on board. The water spritzer fountains surrounding the pools takes up a lot of space but they are extremely functional. They cool you off without having to go into the pool. Kids and adults used them. At night, the pool deck is beautifully lit and the lighting changes color.
The water slides are so much fun. I've never been to a water park before so this was a real treat for me. I felt like a kid again riding on the slides. Folks of all ages, shapes and sizes were using the slides and all seemed to be having a great time.
The yellow EPIC Plunge (with the large yellow and orange basin) seemed to be the most popular slide. There is a line at the finish of the slide to get your tube. The red tube has the smallest opening (for kids), the yellow has a medium size opening and the blue has the largest opening (for larger adults) There is a line once you walk up the steps at the top. Between standing on both lines, the longest I had to wait was 15 minutes.
The green slide made me dizzy so I only went on that one once. I leaned back and it was so fast with several turns and loops. Lots of folks loved this slide. Maybe next time I'll try it but remain sitting up so I won't be propelled down so fast, The lines for the green slide were minimal. I loved the purple slide...if you lean back, it's very fast but doesn't have any loops, just a sharp turn, and it didn't make me dizzy. There were no lines for this slide so I just went on this several times in a row with no wait at all. When I used the slides on a sea day I was pleasantly surprised to see they were not crowded.
The pool decking was really hot when not wet or in the shade. I found that all the decking in the paths to use the slides remained cool because it was either in the shade, wet or covered with rugs. I didn't need to worry about wearing pool shoes when riding the slides.
Live and pre recorded music is very loud in the main pool area; louder than any other ship we have been on. Not pleasant.
Spice H20, in the stern on deck 15, is a quieter serene area for adults only. This space is not nearly as "spa like" as the adults only solariums on RCCL ships but it is a vast improvement over all other NCL ships. The two hot tubs overlook the wake and the view is lovely. (We had the same view from our cabin on deck 9). There are plenty of large dark green umbrellas to offer shade to folks in lounge chairs and tables. I wish there were canopies of some sort covering the hot tubs, however. DH and I used the hot tubs only in the early morning when they were shaded. The large TV/movie screen is very useful during game shows in the evening. During the day it just blocked the lovely view of the wake. The pool is very small but never was crowded on our sailing when we were there in the mornings. The water always was crystal clear as was the water in the main pools.
CASINO is located on deck 6, mid ship, and is situated so all passenger traffic from forward to aft on deck 6 must walk through the casino. I was told by a casino employee that smoking is permitted in all of the casino...there is no "No Smoking" area. I was also told there are slot machines which say "Please refrain from smoking" but this is not enforced. I'm disappointed that NCL has not designated one side of the casino as "No Smoking". IMHO, at least the main walk through area should be designated a No Smoking zone. There are several Oreck air purifiers lined along the walls on both sides, however, and they do seem to help. I did not see any cloud of smoke in any part of the casino.
FITNESS CENTER - I counted at least 36 treadmills and nearly as many elyptical machines, lots of bicycles and just about every type of weight equipment you would need. This is by far, the largest gym I have ever seen on a ship. The machines are Life Fitness and have ship TV and interactive functions. The gym has beautiful views of the sea off the port side of the ship. Like all other ship gyms, hand towels are provided. There are cold refrigerated towels for after your work out.....heavenly!!! They are located behind the bank of hand towels.
Are you still awake??? Just checking...
THE ATRIUM - EPIC's atrium is similar to the Jewel class ships with the two deck high movie/Wii screen. I have come to appreciate this type of atrium, rather than the soaring atriums that take up space and just look beautiful. EPIC's atrium offers entertainment and is a functional venue. Sports games packed them in, movies (with free bags of popcorn from the Atrium Cafe) were a nice touch. Seems the movies and sports events had good attendance with standing room only at times. There is a piano in the atrium and there were times when there was a piano player and music here as well.
SHIP LAYOUT - EPIC is very easy to get around. The signage is excellent, including new graphic monitors denoting space available in the restaurants. The public rest rooms were plentiful, easy to find and usually with the men and women facilities located on the same side of the ship. I liked that.
On the public decks, the elevator banks and the public spaces are not separated by walls, giving this ship an "open floor plan" on the public decks. Two examples... the aft elevators open directly into the spa on deck 14 and on deck 5, the forward elevators open directly into the box office desk. NOTE: The elevators are extremely fast. If you happen to get on an "express elevator" you can move several decks in a matter of moments.
The promenade deck is a disappointment with views of the life boats and access only on the sides of the ship. You can not go all the way around the ship on this deck. It seems there has to be some sort of compromise on these mega ships. I'm willing to forgo the leisurely walk on the promenade overlooking the sea in order to have a lively ship such as EPIC with so many choices of restaurants and things to see and do.
Some folks have complained that EPIC has no connection to the sea. That was not our experience on this ship. Nearly every restaurant we dined in, we were seated next to a window with a view of the sea. The panorama views offered from the bow of the ship can be appreciated from The Garden Cafe and La Cuccina. All the window treatments in the casino are open during the day, not sure if they are open at night, however. I sat next to a window playing Video Poker, overlooking the ocean as EPIC cruised along toward our next port of call. There is plenty of open deck space on the top decks to offer views of the sea. We had the lovely view of the wake from our balcony. The views from the top of the water slides were awesome. Connection to the sea???? Yes... plenty of it, IMHO.
FAVORITE FOODS NOT TO MISS - Le Bistro - Forest mushroom soup, Chocolate Napoleon (my #1 favorite that I had on the ship) and Chocolate Fondue (we ordered extra bananas for dipping)
Moderno - bacon wrapped chicken and their signature desert, pastry puffs with vanilla hard sauce for dipping the puffs (scrumptious)
O'Sheehan's - chicken pot pie and apple crumble
The Filet Mignon was excellent in Le Bistro, Cagney's and Moderno...always cooked to perfection and very flavorful.
MISC - Just want to warn those who have a cabin in the stern about the vibration when the ship is docking or leaving port. The ship's maneuvers cause a terrific vibration. I had read about this vibration so I was fully expecting it. Do not expect to wake up in the morning and see the ship is docked...just not going to happen. I would still book a cabin in the stern, however. Loved the location (no traffic past our cabin) and the view.
DISEMBARKATION - On our cruise, the ship was fully docked and tied up at 5:30 A.M. and they called for the first walk off guests to disembark at 7:25. We got off at about 8:30. We walked off with our luggage via the casino gangway on deck 6. There were no lines leaving the ship and no lines at Customs...easiest disembarkation we have ever done.
Thank you NCL EPIC for a wonderful vacation.