Before I begin the actual review I will give you a little background so you can see where my thoughts are coming from. We are a family of three, my husband and I are in our late 40's and our son will be 18 next month. We have been cruising at least twice a year for over 20 years so we have been on a multitude of ships. For the past five years or so we have cruised exclusively in suites which definitely effected our impression of our cabin. All the suites on the ship were sold out when we booked so I took the next best thing, a D2- deluxe balcony AKA mini suite for the week. With a son and husband who are both over six feet tall that was a big mistake. If we return to the Epic I will insist on a suite or get my son his own cabin, there simply was not enough room for three adults to move about in the mini suite, I can't even imagine four people in the cabin-someone would sleep in the bathtub or on the balcony! Twice we have sailed with NCL over Christmas, once on the Sun in a penthouse suite and then on the Jewel in a two bedroom (two bathroom) suite, this summer we were on Holland America in a very large suite so it was definitely culture shock going to a cabin that was about a quarter of the size. I will say that by the middle of the week we did grow accustomed to it although we were still bumping into each other all the time.
The cabins esthetically are very attractive; I liked the curved walls and the dEcor. The dark built in cabinets reminded me of the bedrooms on my aunt's yacht. There was a ton of storage and a large flat screen TV. The couch is curved and although neat to look at, according to my son, impossible to sleep on. At 6'1 his feet hung off the bed by about a foot. The master bed was very comfortable with nice linens but again it was quiet short for my husband. I found that if you snuggled right into the curve of the padded headboard there was plenty of room, however I am only 5'3 and my husband measures in at almost 6'3. The bathroom situation did not bother me in the least. I know a lot of people get worked up about them but we spend a lot of time in Europe and compartmentalized bathrooms are the norm there. I actually found them convenient as one person could be taking a bath or shower while another used the toilet. I suppose if one focused really hard you could see the shadow of someone through the frosted glass but it really was not an issue. I think it would be nice if the privacy curtain was burgundy to match the slider curtain which would take away the "hospital" feel. We had no issues with the room steward walking in while using the facilities, it is simple to discourage this by turning the notification wheel to "privacy please" or just by dead bolting your door. The tub was an interesting curved shape which was quite comfortable I brought along my own bath salts and spent a good half hour soaking and never felt claustrophobic. The bathroom area was just fine in my opinion, although I did miss the nice lotions and amenities you get in a suite. Besides all of the great built in cabinets one thing I really liked was that the balcony drapery had magnets on it. This was such a great idea! I am the one who usually sleeps on the balcony side of the bed and would always be woken up by a beam of light hitting my eye each morning on other ships. In this cabin that was not an issue, just line up the magnets and no light gets through! One other thing I really liked about the cabin was that it had wireless internet available, I always bring my netbook with me to keep up with my clients and it is so much more comfortable to do so sitting in bed rather than having to go down to an internet cafe. I did have the opportunity to take a look at the studios and found them to be a great idea. They are small but perfect for on the go singles. They have a one way window that looks out in the hallway so you don't feel claustrophobic and the shade can be drawn if you don't want to watch the world go by. What is great about the studios is that there are several that connect. So if two single friends are traveling they can each have their own space or open up the doorway for a "mini suite" of sorts. Without the traditional single supplement these cabins are a great bargain! I also liked the idea of the lounge area that is reserved only for studio passengers. This is a great way to meet other single travelers and have a sense of community while on this massive vessel. I never got up to the courtyard, much to my dismay, but I am certain it is as amazing as the one on the Jewel was, next time I am on the Epic that is where I am certain to be found!
On to the ship itself, well it is huge. This is one cruise that I went on that I didn't gain even a pound from all the walking we did while exploring the vessel. The set-up is very good except for the casino. In order to get to some areas like Shanghai and Teppanyaki you must walk through the casino which as others have noted is a dense fog of smoke. I did see air cleaning machines so I think they are working on the issue but they may need bigger machines or more of them. The ship was full but it never felt like we were with 6000 people. (Except when you were on an elevator I kept waiting for the weight limit buzzer to go off as people kept pushing their way in but that is more about rude guests than the ship's design) The waterslides are great fun for adults as well as children and surprisingly there were only very short lines, that may have had to do with our weather which was not the best but we enjoyed them cloudy or not. The cruise line has done a great job of creating areas for different age groups. I saw a waterpark that was focused on very young-preschool aged children that was shaded so mom's wouldn't have to worry about them burning, it was situated where the little ones would not be run down by older kids, I thought that was great planning. A larger water park with fountains and all types of sprays and sprinklers was on deck near some smaller pools for the other children. In the back of the ship was an adult's only pool which was very peaceful. We sat back there and played cards. On the giant TV screen they had the neatest channel called the "window channel" it was like looking out a window at various relaxing scenes like waterfalls, the ocean, a man fishing etc. You could also access that channel in your cabin. I would love to have it at home as it was so calming. Following the lead of other NCL ships the carpeting is color coded depending on if you are port or starboard (red or blue) they have expanded on that idea and have the elevators color coded as well. This saves a lot of "getting lost" time. If you "live" on deck 12 red just make sure to take the red elevator and you will end up on the right side, great idea!
When it comes to dining there are a multitude of choices. We loved the Brazilian steak house but be sure to go there hungry. It is a meat lover's heaven! First you are brought some delicious cheese bread balls and are told you can help yourself to the fantastic soup and salad bar. This was no ordinary spread; there were the usual salad items but also several varieties of cheeses, fish chowder and a bean soup, marinated veggies and all sorts of treats. The salad bar could be a meal in itself. But as I mentioned the meat is the star at this restaurant. Each person is given a card, one side is red and the other is green. You place your card colored side up depending on if you want more food (green) or need a break (red). They served two type of chicken, (all meat is presented on long shish-kabobs and appeared grilled) garlic beef, filet mignon, pork ribs, beef ribs, lamb chops, two types of sausage, prime rib. This is an all you can eat set up and my husband took it as a "man verses food challenge" he definitely got his $18 cover charge's worth and then some. There were some side dishes such as rice, beans and French fries but we did not bother with them between the salad and the meet. We didn't have dessert; there just was no room left! We ate in all the specialty restaurants and really enjoyed trying out Shanghai for the first time, the sweet and sour pork was so tender and I am proud to say I have mastered chopsticks. The only meal we did not like was the Cirque Dreams dinner. To be honest we did not care for the show either. Possibly the acrobats were unable to perform to the best of their ability due to rough seas (it had to be closed down one night as we were rocking and rolling away) but honestly I just did not get it. We loved the other entertainment though, the Blue Man Group was great, Legends amazing (especially Michael Jackson you would have sworn he was still alive) and second city hilarious. We found out that you can go see the shows more than once even if you don't have reservations. I had pre-reserved all our shows and dining at the 45 day mark. After seeing second city the first time we knew we wanted to see them again and the next day we went in the "no reservations" line. Once all the people with reservations were seated they began letting in other line. The club they perform in is quite large and we were able to see them three times. We never got to the ice bar as it didn't open until 5pm, I really didn't want to have two cocktails right before dinner and it was crowded after dinner. I would like to see them open it like at noon, especially after spending the day walking and shopping in Cozumel it would have been great to cool off and have a drink in there but for some reason it is closed until 5:00. We did bowl several times, the alley in O'Sheehan's was open much more than Bliss. I didn't mind paying the $5.00 to bowl per game but think it should be $5.00 per family not per person. I was looking at some larger families, people with four children, and thinking they would have to drop $30 just for one game. The alley is already built and the shoes and balls paid for so I just didn't see the need to charge each person per game- that way all families could give it a shot if they wanted not just people with one child like me.
All in all we enjoyed the ship. I think if the weather had been better and if I had been able to get the size cabin we are used to we would have loved it. Sadly no one can control the weather and it was a learning experience on the cabin. The staff did seem to be a bit overstretched and not as friendly as we are used to but in fairness it was Christmas week and the seas were rough so I am sure they had their own challenges they were dealing with. If you would like to ask me any other questions or view some of my photos feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.