This was our 4th cruise (all on NCL - our first cruise was "freestyle" and I couldn't imagine it any other way after that) - Spirit, Spirit, Sun, Epic. I was so excited to sail on the Epic, but after we booked our vacation, I was disappointed to see so many negative reviews about the ship. If I'd seen the reviews beforehand, I may not have even booked our trip. It would have been a shame, as this was our favorite cruise and favorite ship yet!
I've never even written a review before, but felt compelled to write one now to balance out some of the negative ones.
EMBARKATION & DISEMBARKATION -- As others have said, extremely easy. It was amazing to us that we never had to wait in one line, ever. We got off and on at each port with ease. Amazing considering there were 4000+ people on the ship.
STATEROOM -- I will admit that these cabins do feel a bit more cramped, but the amazing amount of storage space more than makes up for it. We were able to completely organize everything we brought (and we brought a LOT of stuff) behind closed doors so that the room felt clean, organized, and open the entire time. The only issue is that with the smaller (narrower) rooms, there isn't enough room for a full size pack n play, so they give you a little travel one. Our daughter is over 2 years old, so she was pretty cramped in this little crib. Not a huge problem as she sleeps curled up anyway, but it might be a problem for some.
BALCONY -- We had the enclosed "hull" balcony, which wouldn't have been my preference as I like more light and to be able to see out the glass, but it was kind of ideal for having a young child. It was bigger and felt safer, and was like having a porch she could run around on. It was also far less windy, and we actually enjoyed being shaded from the sun.
BATHROOM -- I can't believe the amount of complaints on the bathroom. Yes, the sink is a little on the small side, but it isn't terrible. And it shouldn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that you just don't run the water full blast and it won't splash all over! Also, if it does splash, you just wrap a towel around the sink and there is no problem. Also, I don't understand the complaints regarding the lack of privacy. There is a curtain if you choose to use it. Everyone in our party actually appreciated having the bathroom completely separated from the shower, BECAUSE of privacy - so that one person could shower while the other used the bathroom. It was also nice to be able to use the sink without going into the bathroom if someone were using it. We all felt it was a very nice design. Regarding the sound of the toilet, we didn't think it was different than any other ship. If the noise bothers you, it is easy enough to close the bathroom door when flushing. That is what we did when our daughter was sleeping.
ELEVATORS -- I've also read a lot of complaints about not having a central elevator. We honestly didn't miss it. There are escalators in the middle, and most of the things we wanted to get to were at one of the ends anyway, so the elevators were in the perfect locations. At busy times, the wait for the elevators did get to be a little tedious, but this was only an issue a couple times.
CASINO -- One of the other primary sources for complaints. Yes, the casino is big, but it is spread out and I didn't feel it to be overly intrusive to the rest of the ship. I also didn't have any problem whatsoever with the smoke. My husband and I are both nonsmokers and are sensitive to smoke, and it didn't bother us at all. They have so many air freshener things running that we felt it was better than other ships we've been on!
RESTAURANTS -- All of the food was very good. We ate at Taste or Manhattan most nights. All of the fish dishes I had were excellent (Snapper, Sea Trout, etc.). My husband really enjoyed the Rosemary Chicken. The New York Strip was also very good. These were offered every night, so there was always something on the menu we knew we'd like. We also ate at Cagney's one night, and it was excellent. Our daughter had macaroni & cheese most nights, and my husband and I also enjoyed a few bites of that! It was very good - tasted like it was homemade.
SHOWS -- Blue Man Group was of course the highlight of the trip. It was also wonderful to meet them without the makeup at the "Meet the Men Behind the Blue" Q&A. For me, the Murder Mystery Lunch was the 2nd best. We laughed out loud so much and the food was great! I actually went twice! We found Second City to be much more entertaining during the Murder Mystery Lunch (where they had more of a defined storyline to follow) than at the Improv show. Legends was good - not my favorite performers (Rod Stewart, Brittany Spears, Michael Jackson), but the impersonators did a great job. Cirque was cheesy and almost annoying in parts (in particular, the filler between the acts), but the actual performances were amazing. Preferred Murder Mystery where there were set times to eat and set times to watch, rather than having to try to eat and watch at the same time. We were really looking forward to seeing Comic Magician Jeff Hobson as we'd read such great things about him, but unfortunately he wasn't on our cruise - it was Matt Marcy, and he was just OK in my opinion.
ATRIUM -- Big Screen was really cool for sporting events and movies.
ACTIVITIES / CRUISE DIRECTOR & STAFF -- In my opinion, the staff onboard this ship was the best we've ever had. Paul Scally, the Cruise Director, was fun and energetic without being annoying. He really made you feel like you were part of something special. The activities were also well organized and very entertaining. We attended some Trivia events, Ping Pong tournament, Pictionary,
Charades, "55 to Stay Alive" (which is their "Minute To Win It" knock-off), The Newlywed Game Show, TV Tune Trivia, and Qwest. All were very entertaining. You get an activity card where you collect signatures from the staff every time you attend an activity. Then, at the end of the cruise, you get to pick out prizes based on how many signatures you get. It was an interesting way to encourage participation, and we got some cool prizes at the end of the cruise!
CHILDREN'S ACTIVITIES -- We were very pleased with the Kid's Crew. Our daughter is not yet potty trained, so we got a cell phone for them to call us if she needed a diaper change. She fell at one point and while she wasn't hurt, she was asking for us. They called us right away to let us know what happened and we were able to come comfort her. She was always very happy there and wanted to go back, so we felt great about her having fun while we were able to have some adult time. The also had organized family activities, like arts & crafts, where she got to color and participate too.
PORTS -- Our excursion was cancelled in St. Maarten as we got there late due to a mechanical issue on the ship (which they handled excellently), so we ended up just taking a ferry to the beach and hanging out. It was nice, but we didn't enjoy the constant flow of peddlers. Also, while I thought the beach and water were great here, the water was so much nicer and clearer at Magan's Bay in St. Thomas. In St. Thomas, we did the "Best of St. Thomas" tour where we got to stop at some overlook points for great photo opportunities, and we also spent 2 wonderful hours at Magan's Bay. Next stop was Blackbeard's Castle, where we were a little disappointed as there were only 2 ferry times back to the ship - 12:30 or 2:30, and we were told prior that we could come back "whenever we wanted". We had booked another excursion, so we couldn't wait until 2:30, so we had to rush through the castle and hurry to the 12:30 ferry. The other excursion we had planned was the Skyline Ride, which turned out to be broken down anyway, so that was a bit of a debacle, but we still very much enjoyed our time on Magan's Bay. In Nassau, we booked the Blue Lagoon Dolphin Encounter, and that was fantastic! While you only spend about 20 minutes in the water with the dolphins, you get to do a lot with them (hug them, rub them down, dance with them, kiss them, etc.), and you are able to buy the video of your entire experience at the end. In Miami, we did the Everglades tour, which was a great way to end our vacation and take care of getting us and our luggage to the airport in the process. The airboat ride was a little boring, but the alligator demonstration after was amazing. The tour that came along with the bus ride was also very interesting. Would highly recommend.
I think that covers pretty much everything. In summary, don't be afraid to cruise the Epic. It isn't nearly as bad as people make it out to be. I think some people just like to complain. That being said, there are some pros and cons. I kind of missed having a set showtime every night where I could either choose to show up or not. The Epic requires a bit more planning to figure out what you are going to do each night. However, the level of entertainment makes it so worth it. The rooms are smaller, but the storage makes up for it. Having 4000+ people on a ship does lead to congestion sometimes (like at the elevators), and it also can lead to things booking up more easily (like dining reservations, shows, and excursions), but this can be overcome by advance planning. Also, surprisingly enough, the ship rarely feels crowded, and the congestion really is few and far between.