With that said, the Spa Suite or above (Courtyard Penthouse and Courtyard Villas) is the way to go on the Epic. If you can afford it, or save up for that special splurge, I highly recommend it. It definitely is something you will remember for the rest of your life.
CHECK-IN: When you arrive at the pier, you are treated to priority check-in (with its own swank sitting area)and embarkation. Everyone else looked irritable and crowded into their lines. You go right onto the ship and are met by a butler and taken directly to the 16th floor Courtyard area where you can leave large carry-ons in the lounge while you go on a tour of the amenities which include a private lounge, restaurant, pool adjacent grill and bar, pool, sauna and steamroom and top of the ship Posh beach club (which we never used and I can't comment on. You then have a three-course lunch in your private restaurant. What can be a hectic embarkation is a very pampered affair. Watching everyone below smashed onto the pool deck (which was even worse for them when it started POURING rain and they had to run for it) I was happy with the situation.
ROOM: The Spa Suite is a fantastic room. You have SO much space, which for anyone who has cruised knows is a luxury. We had one large suitcase we could leave out and two small ones that we stashed under the bed and we could still walk freely around the space. VERY ROOMY. The decor is beautiful with a pebble effect on the wall above your hot tub (yes, your own hot tub!) and in the shower that could fit two people (unheard of, but not recommended as the shower, as most on cruises do, has the tendency to want to flood. I recommend only having the water on when you absolutely need it and then doing the water dance, kicking the water toward the drain throughout the shower. It works.) The frosted door on the bathroom is a bit weird and you CAN hear EVERYTHING but I assume most in these rooms are together and know the other goes to the bathroom :) There is mood lighting (dinner, day, reading, relax, etc.) that is fun to play and an in-room espresso maker (try the tea if you don't drink coffee, like me, it is the best chamomile I've ever had!). The balcony was very large with two chairs, table and lounger, which I loved. You could just lay there and watch the ocean drift by. Fabulous. You also have your own butler. Ours was Cherry and she was fantastic. We didn't really need much assistance, but she was gracious and always at the ready. She brings your "suite treats" every night before dinner and can help with questions and needs (what does this button do? can we get more tea?) We talked to her more than the concierge, Florentina, who we also had access to, but is more for show and dinner reservations, which I had done before the trip. It is a great room overall.
EPIC CLUB: This is your private restaurant on Deck 16 accessible only to suite and villas guests. This is a coveted amenity. After watching people fight to get into the Manhattan Room and Taste, I'm glad we could always go here. Plus, the food was fantastic, which is more than I can say I heard about the main dining rooms. I recommend the roasted beet and mixed greens salads, tuna burger and tuna tartare, any soup they make, the marinated berries and carrot cake. I also loved that couples could dine alone, a rarity on cruises. The service is also top-notch. I give a big shout-out to Hristina and Prince Charles (yes, really his name). We only used the snack area (outside seating) once but you can get the main dining menu out there for lunch if you are persistent. It's nice to be out in the air and see the ocean as you eat. I also recommend post-lunch reading out there in the big circular loungers. Gummy bears, M&Ms,tea and juice are available to snack on.
PRIORITY SEATING: As a suite guest, you go down with the concierge 45 minutes early to each show and get priority seating in the first two rows. However, I recommend sneaking up to the back to the plush purple stand-alone seats with a cocktail table between them. You really feel you are in an old theatre and because you are right by the bar you get drinks in a snap. We also liked that we weren't crowded into seats and had a bit more room.
PRIORITY DISEMBARKATION: This is awesome. Have a leisurely breakfast, go to the concierge desk by 9 at the latest and be whisked down to the ground floor, beating the entire line of people waiting to get off the ship. Your baggage is held in a priority area as well.
SPA: With the spa suite you get access to the spa whenever it is open. This is why I booked this cruise and used the hell out of it. I recommend getting there at opening at 8 and staying until around 1. This is when it begins to get busy and un-spa like. I also recommend going back during dinner (7-10). It is an amazing spa with a fantastic hydro-therapy pool (which they had to drain the night we left St. Thomas because we hit rough seas and the water was literally crashing over the sides and through the whole spa! It was crazy!), loungers inside and two Balinese daybeds and about 8 loungers outside on balcony off the back of the ship. This was my spot for leaving ports. Get back on the boat early and stake out a seat and you won't regret it! Heated loungers, herbal steam room and saunas round out the amenities. I was not disappointed.
We ate at two speciality restaurants, Shanghai's and Le Bistro. Shanghai's was fun and a little P.F. Chang's ish but I still enjoyed it and felt it was worth the $15 surcharge. Try the Lychee Martini! Le Bistro was very elegant but we had a boisterous, drunk table near us which did interfere a bit with our experience. I also ate something that went right through me and I believe it was pate, so I don't recommend it. Other than that it a special dining experience, but I would only recommend it to couples. I don't see children really enjoying the atmosphere too much.
We didn't use the main pool or slides, so we can't comment. The pools are WAY too small though. I don't know what Norwegian was thinking on that one. Spice H20 seemed like a bust. Ibiza resort my butt. Good concept, poor execution. We went to Blue Man (great!), Legends (Rod good, Michael amazing, Britney BLAH!), the Comedy Show 3 times (awesome! My husband was Mr. T. in one of the sketches) and Fat Cats (great musicians, but a bit loud)
PORTS: St. Maarten was your typical Caribbean port. Don't buy the hype about having to take a taxi or ferry. It is a 15 minute walk into town and NOT dangerous. Unless you are a big shopper, there isn't much to do here. I recommend a quick look around and back to the spa (which we did) or book a kayaking or snorkeling adventure. St. Thomas is beautiful and much less islandly in the way St. Maarten is (it is a US holding). We recommend the Paradise Point Skyride for the view but there isn't much else to do up there. We walked into town again (a bit longer at 30 minutes but still safe and doable, especially if you want exercise after all the food you've been eating) but cabs are plentiful. Nassau was my least favorite. I've been there before and it is still an irritating dump. Be prepared to be offered marijuana, blow, hair braiding, etc. and hang on to your wallet. We went Clear Kayaking which was a total rip-off. We got into a tandem kayak and were allowed to look at coral in an area of about half a football field, if that, while dodging snorklers who had to use the same space as us. Totally false advertising. Stay away from this outing! I assume most come on the ship for its amenities, not ports, like us, but they were alright.
FINAL THOUGHTS: What struck us is how on a boat with 4200 people (and our sailing was full since it was Xmas) how lifeless this ship could sometimes seem. We would go up on deck around 9ish and there was NO ONE. There was just no energy and most of the parties seemed forced. We watched footage of the FABBA party on the TV and I was like, "Wow, those are some bored looking people right there." You can't make atmosphere happen and this boat seems to have issues with that. Plus, there wasn't much holiday-ness, which seemed strange. We're agnostic, but we thought there would be a bit more Santa, Jingle Bells atmosphere. The cruise director, Paul Scally, or Paul Scallywag as we called him, was a bit of a pompous ^$%#%. By the end you can't help but want to strangle him. He yells out things like "You're living the dream!" on the intercom. I mean, really, come one. You can do better than that, Norwegian. We had also read that the crew was rude. Even when we went down to Shakers or Fat Cats, our service was excellent and everyone understood us and us them. I think the rudeness issue is a bit overblown on these boards.
Overall, the Epic is a sweet boat for a suite guest. Everyone else, I'm not so sure.