My wife (55) and I (63) just returned from a 7 day Eastern Caribbean Thanksgiving Week - Nov. 20-27, 2010, cruise on the NCL EPIC. This was our 42nd cruise over-all. Since this was our 8th NCL cruise we felt we would be treated as valued customers. The crew said the Latitude Members were just mixed in with all the passengers. There was a "Meet and Greet" with the Latitudes Staff. Because we were Silver Members (10th cruise we'll make Gold) we would be invited to a cocktail party for Silver, Gold and Bronze Latitude Members. Other than that, the only advantage to being a Latitude Members was a 10% discount for store purchases. It was a disappointment because being a Latitude Member use to be something special.
We booked last minute on line... 6 days prior to the cruise. $549 pp plus $63 each in taxes. No need for insurance since it was so close in plus we got $200 OBC and a cheap bottle of wine! We also bought the next cruise package on board (You pay $250 now for a future cruise to be used in the next 48 months and get an immediate $100 OBC to be used on the current cruise). Thus we paid $1224 up front with $300 OBC to spend on the cruise! Many paid twice and three times that amount for for balconies, insurance and long term pricing to assure they were on "That" cruise! The name of the game is flexibility. If you've got it.... you'll get by for a song. If not... you'll pay through the nose. Also we live in Naples, FL and it takes 2 hrs. 15 min. to drive to the ship and handicap parking in Miami is Free for us (my wife's pass). If not you'll pay $140 to park for the week!
We generally read dozens of reviews prior to our trip to try to get a feel for the ship and pick up some tips. We'll start with the tips:
1. When you board the ship and are waiting for your room to come available (usually around 2pm) go to "Taste Restaurant" (deck 5-mid ship) for lunch. You'll enter the ship on deck 6 and take the escalator down one floor and it's right there. The buffet is insane on embarkation day, "Taste" is comfortable and has decent food. The staff in Taste are terrific and friendly. After lunch, Slip into that bathing suit you brought with you in your carry on and sit out by the adult pool on the back of the ship - Deck 15. Very relaxing and you can catch a few rays to work on that tan!
2. On "Sea Days" go to decks 15, 16 or 17 in the morning and "save" your lounge chairs. This is generally not allowed on on most ships but on Epic it's allowed and if you don't you'll be completely beat out of a place to sit.
3. If you like coffee and need or just appreciate a good cup or two a day bring some of your own. The little coffee makers in the rooms make 4 cups, so bring 4 cup filter packs or your own filter and coffee. The coffee on the ship (even the espresso) is terrible. This "Joe" would even fail a "gubmint coffee clatcher review"!
4. If you enjoying gambling, smoking, and partying this cruise is for you... It's non-stop noise!!! Sex • Drugs • Rock & Roll... They also have tons of things for younger kids to do. Being forced to walk through the casino to get anywhere on the ship and through all of the smoke can be brutal and may not be for you.
Getting on and off the ship was very easy. NCL scores high here. We got on in 10 min and off in 7! Unbelievable! Why can't all the other carriers figure this out?
The design of the ship is pleasing. Our inside cabin had a king size bed and more than enough storage space for luggage. The separate shower, commode, and sink made it possible for more than one person to use the facilities. No waiting to use the commode before you take your shower. We did not feel crowded at all. Our room steward was very normal... which means he was WONDERFUL!!! There were plenty of "quiet spots" where you could relax, read or just enjoy the sailing the seas. It took awhile to find them but they were very comfortable with couches as well as deck chairs. There were also couches and quiet spots on the inside deck. However, the smell of smoke from the Casino was always there. To get to the Manhattan Dining Room you must walk through the Casino. They did have air filters all along the walls but the smoke was still there. I missed the Promenade Deck. You can go out on Deck 7 on both sides of the ship but you can't walk around the ship. You can go to one end, turn around, and walk back, but not all the way around the ship. The large screen televisions are awesome. However, if you are watching in the Atrium, the noise from the air hockey game on Deck 6 (O'SHEENAHANS BAR & GRILL) is very loud and annoying. The is a "freestyle" sun deck (clothing optional) as well. It is small and secluded so you don't have to walk by it to get somewhere.
The rooms are small but very functional and worked fine for us. We did not mind bumping into each other. The "IKEA closet toilet stall" was a bit weird but no big deal. The sink was fine and not the big problem some have complained about.
The big sell...the first two days they absolutely jump all over you to buy drinks, book "cover charge" restaurants etc. Then by day 4 you can't get their attention to get a second drink! If you like "Beer by the Bucket"... this ship is for you!
Customer Service - We found the vast majority of the staff to be pleasant and helpful. Several times when I asked someone who or where to get help with something, they simply shrugged their shoulders with that old "No Englase Mon... Look"!
About the Restaurants:
The Manhattan - (Deck 6 - free) - A throw back to old style assigned seating - but yet still free style.
Taste (Deck 5 - free) - very well run, great service and basic but good food
Cagney's - (cover charge $30pp) - STEAK... great food and great service
Teppenyaki - (cover charge $25pp) - good food, fun atmosphere, staff try hard to give you a good experience
Noodle Bar - (a la carte) - good food, chefs are fun to watch but smoke and noise from casino is gross/annoying
Wasabi (a la carte) - good food and pleasant staff
La Cucina (cover charge $20pp) - some food was good, some was not, service was okay
Moderno - (cover charge $15pp) - food was good, service was not.
Buffet - (Deck 15 - free) edible, decent food, but you have to put up with being elbowed by all of the "Trough-fords" who think all the food is going to disappear if they don't get in line ahead of you.
Spiegel Tent - Cirque de Soleil ($30pp) - we canceled our reservation because several people told us the food was preset and terrible. We would have tried it out, however you can't leave after the show starts and it's 2 hours long.
Blue Man Group was a lot of fun and highly recommended
Legends in Concert was very good and recommended if you like the 3 headliners they featured on each cruise. They change every now and then. Ours were Britney Spears, Michael Jackson and Rod Stewart.
Howl at the Moon - Dueling pianos - 5 hours non stop/almost every night - Great Entertainment
Roadside Louie and The Dusters in Fat Cats Lounge. This is a high energy professional group that is so much fun.
The pools are tiny, I have never seen any so small, but I guess for cooling off they worked fine. We did not use the water slides but I heard people saying they were great. Internet is very expensive and is torture. In the Internet cafe it works very slow and logs out regularly. In your room if you bring a laptop it is even worse. The fitness center is excellent, but there is to much motion on our cruise that it was tough to work-out.
Everyone was complaining about the "nickel and dime" on the ship. There are bowling alleys @ $5 a pop to play. There is a wonderful arcade for the teens but the games are $1.50 to $4.50 each. There is an Ice Bar for a $20 cover charge. It entitles you to 2 drinks. If you don't drink and just want to see the bar, $20 will get you a Dreamcycle and a smoothie! That's an expensive Ice Cream Bar!! The windows are covered and the door is locked and you cannot even get a peek without the cover charge. The restaurants mostly open at 5:30 and the first show is at 7pm with "line up" time at 6:15. There is no way that you can make it and you must eat at the Garden Buffet to make the shows. Want a tour of the ship (behind the scenes) ... fork over $20 !!!
If you are a smoker, enjoy gambling and partying it is a great ship. We would not cruise on it again. We had a good time overall but that was mostly because we were together, away from home and didn't have our Crackberry's!!
Not a bad ship, but definitely for those who like a party atmosphere. Like Sex • Drugs • Rock & Roll... ? This ship is for you! We'll take the Jewell or the Pearl!!!