(I apologize if the tense of the review changes, part of it was written during the cruise,and part of it was written afterwards)
• My husband and I have cruised with NCL before, about a year ago on the Norwegian Sun, and had a great experience. We're in our twenties, but are kind of homebodies, content to read, play cards, watch movies, etc. We enjoyed the shows, the service, the food, the room service, everything. On this cruise we chose to take advantage of NCL's Cruise Rewards program ($250 for a future cruise deposit, paid now, good for 4 years, and gives you $100 credit on your current cruise). On the cruise we heard about the new ship, the Epic, and were intrigued. It looked really neat. Not long after we got home our travel agent had a special on, and so we booked. We later changed our minds about the date of the cruise, and everyone worked with us to change the date, no change fees or anything. Later on we noticed the price of the cruise decreased significantly but our travel agents were unable to get us the price difference. They were however able to upgrade us for $90 per person from an inside room to a guaranteed (but not assigned) balcony. This was about a month before the cruise sailed. We were not assigned a room until 3 days before the cruise sailed, but did receive a great upgrade to a Family Deluxe Balcony room. This room included a tub, which was nice! The water may not be as warm as I'd have liked, but it sure was warmer than the Jacuzzis on the pool deck.
• It is now cruise time and my husband and I have been 'enjoying' the Norwegian Epic. I use that term very lightly. Had this been our first cruise with Norwegian, it would have been our last, and it is still quite likely that it will be so. Gone are the big restaurants where they can easily seat you. Instead there are two restaurants of middling size for free, but the ship greatly encourages you to pay for one of the many specialty restaurants, which range from a la carte dining, to $10-$25, plus extra if you want something special. Normally we might consider this, except that we don't like anything that's on their menus. So we go to the Manhattan Room, the 'main' restaurant on the ship. Twice in a row we have had terrible experiences here. The second time we waited more than ½ an hour before even getting glasses of water, never mind having our order taken. After that we decided to try "Taste", the second 'main' restaurant which is supposed to be contemporary, but carries the same menu as the Manhattan Room. Here, I admit, we received absolutely excellent service, and tipped to encourage the waitress to continue it. We ate at Taste for a second and third night, had different waitresses, and received amazing service each time. We submitted a comment card with a number of issues, one of which was the Manhattan room. NCL general customer service staff didn't care about the issue, but they did care that someone had talked to us and called three times to confirm that. Finally the restaurant manager called us to say that the problem had been fixed and invite us to dine at the Manhattan room again. He offered us a bottle of wine with our dinner, and as we don't drink wine, he offered to let us go to the Italian restaurant for free. We took him up on his offer and again tried the Manhattan room, and received horrendous service again. The assistant manager came to see us at the end of the meal and was surprised to hear that the service was again terrible. The following night we went to the Italian restaurant and had a good time, but we will caution you, even if it's 5:30 and not busy at all - do NOT go to the Manhattan Room, it's horrible.
• Now I will say, I'm currently pregnant, so I'm eating a lot more often to avoid energy crashes. As a result we've been making use of the room service on board, which, like most cruise ships, is free. There are some extras you can choose to pay for, but the run of the mill omelet and fruit tray is what I'm looking for. We've ordered nearly every day, and most days it seems to take about 20-45 minutes to even get room service on the phone. Now I know that the ship has a couple thousand guests - but I should think they would be prepared to handle that. After we finally get through, we're told that our order (quite often simply sliced fruit and jello) will take 45 minutes to an hour to arrive. I find this ridiculous. Had I any other choice, I would go out, but unfortunately there are a lot of lee times on the ship where there simply aren't any restaurants open.
• Next, the entertainment. With our last NCL cruise, and other cruises we have taken, as well as all-inclusive vacations, we're accustomed to there being a nightly show. We don't always choose to go, but the entertainment on the Sun was simply amazing. (Sam Griesbaum, Lumiri Tubo, and Ron ... to name a few). We were definitely looking forward to that on this ship, with the addition of seeing the Blue Man Group for free. Well, we saw the Blue Man Group on the second day. There is now a comedy show you can see (the Second City - funny), and a music concert (Legends in Concert - it's pretty good!), but that's all the shows there are for free. And we can only see each one once. There is a murder mystery we could go to for an extra $20 each, or Cirque Dinner & Dreams, for $20 each or $30 to get good seating. Again, only once per cruise can you see each show. That's all. No other entertainment. And unlike previous cruises, you can't watch any movies on the tv. Well, you can, but they're $10 each. There are a few news networks, sports channels, Nickelodeon, and a 'favorite shows' channel that shows something every two hours or so. So, there's no entertainment out on the ship, and nothing in the room to do. This exciting ship turned out to be rather boring if you're pregnant, or not interested in sports. There is a library, but it is only open a couple hours a day and consists only of a few cabinets... tiny compared to the other ship we were on, which held a fraction of the guests.
• All in all, after this experience, we don't plan to cruise on a new ship again. It seems like you pay a premium for sailing on a new ship, and then they nickel and dime you at every opportunity. No free movies, limited free entertainment, poor free dining. Perhaps that is what 'freestyle' means: free to pay extra for whatever you like to do.
• Asking the management to look into things and receiving a denial that there's even anything wrong has led us to the conclusion that we simply will not cruise with NCL again, and will certainly advise our friends against it. Many of our complaints are about how the experience was designed, so complete resolution may have been impractical, but at least they could have admitted that maybe some long term changes could be in order and/or offered some token gesture like a movie credit. They did verify that we got some sort of response, even if it was not to our satisfaction, so perhaps they will listen if enough others complain.