Background: I'm a college student who traveled with my older siblings and parents aboard the Jan 1st sailing of the Norwegian Epic. This was my 11th cruise, most of which have been with Norwegian, although I have been on the occasional Royal Caribbean and Princess. I assume most people who write reviews are quite a bit older, so here's to hoping this offers a different perspective.
After poring over reviews on the new Epic, I was slightly skeptical but knew that a cruise is what you make it, and thus I warned my family to go into it optimistically and open to change. And boy, was there change! The Epic departs from the typical NCL ship in both good and bad ways.
I found the general layout of the ship to be satisfactory, with the main action centered on decks 5-7. We definitely lamented the lack of a true atrium. The Epic's is basically just a two-story high TV screen (which shows inaudible movies, picturesque scenes, and football games - a godsend for the men in my family) with some scattered seating. There's also a coffee bar right there which is very reasonably priced...if you have 15 minutes to wait.
The new photo concept - simply swipe your card to see your photos - saved my family literally hours of searching through hoards of strangers' photos on previous cruises. Thank you, face detection software!
The majority of the bars are found on deck 7, along with the shops. The bar area wasn't as heavily utilized as I would have liked it to be. The few times we sat there to get a drink after dinner we were typically the only ones. We all scratched our heads the whole week as to where all the drinkers were.
The Epic's biggest let down, in my opinion, is the complete lack of places in which you can actually catch a glimpse of the ocean. The indoor areas are completely devoid of windows and there is no outdoor walking area that completely wraps around the ship. In fact, at the sail away party all the guests were clamoring to occupy the few areas that had a decent view.
The workout area is very large with row after row of machines. Despite this, there was a wait for equipment two of the four times I went (late afternoon, not exactly a prime time!). I blame it on those lose weight/get in shape new year's resolutions.
FOOD: With the exception of the first lunch, we ate all of our breakfasts and lunches in the Garden Cafe. My parents disagreed, but I thought the selection was less varied than on other cruises. I also wasn't really a fan of the dEcor, but I guess that's not too important when its main job is to feed the 4500 guests who come through midday, hungry from a day spent laying in the sun (I'll get to that dilemma later).
We ate in Taste once and enjoyed it, lovely atmosphere. The Manhattan Room isn't quite as grand or large as I pictured, and the service could definitely have used some improvement. Back in the day, waiters would introduce themselves and add some form of enthusiasm when addressing guests. Not here. I've read it again and again and can now confirm it - NCL clearly wants to move the emphasis from the main dining rooms (and thus fee-free) to the premium restaurants. As for the food, we were very pleased. One side of the menu changes nightly while the other side remains the same. From the latter, the salmon was a definite favorite!
Moderno, the Argentinean churrascaria, is an absolute must! It is definitely worth the price, even if you aren't a big meat eater like myself. In fact, out of the 10 dishes they bring around I only ate 1 (I don't eat red meat) yet still left full, thanks to the delicious and extensive salad bar. The concept was very innovative for a cruise ship and we enjoyed the experience.
La Cucina, the Italian restaurant, was only so-so. Service was decent as was the food; it just wasn't really a memorable dining experience.
O'Sheehan's was our favorite place to hang out, whether it was to watch ESPN, get a cocktail before dinner, or to grab some greasy food after a late night of drinking.
Room service was very mediocre. It took me on average 10-20 minutes to just place my order and then another 60-90 to receive it. My grilled cheese was nothing more than a cheese sandwich on one occasion.
POOL DECK: The infamously horrid pool situation proved true, they are strangely small! The postage-stamp size must have scared people off because I hardly saw anyone other than a few rambunctious children use them. On to the deck chairs - there are simply not enough of them. Planning on waking up at the crack of dawn to reserve chairs for your family? Good move. Planning on enjoying your vacation and sleeping in? Good luck. You'll walk around for an hour attempting to find more than a lone chair here and there, it's ridiculous. NCL should really instate some sort of chair police. Not kidding here.
The rock wall pales in comparison to those found on Royal Caribbean. There is a very oddly placed bazaar-like shopping area right next to it, because clearly NCL can't waste any opportunity to nickel and dime us. Speaking of, drinks were a serious black hole for us - our final drink tab alone neared two thousand dollars. Then again, we enjoy our cocktails. If you're like us, come prepared to shell out some serious dough.
PORTS: We had been to all of the ports numerous times on other cruises. Magen's Bay in St. Thomas is a favorite, as is Orient Beach in St. Maarten (which we found less impressive this time around...maybe it was the chilly wind that did it). We looked around the shops in Nassau, which I wouldn't recommend unless you want to see the same bracelets, shot glasses, and t-shirts repeatedly. We booked it back to the ship and enjoyed no lines on all of the water slides. The bowl one was surprisingly fun and the green is a definite must, too! On a sea day you'd have to wait at least an hour for the bowl slide, so my recommendation is to not even bother and wait to experience the fun while the ship is docked, if at all possible!
ROOMS: Together we had one balcony and one inside cabin. Though the wave balcony room appeals to the aesthetic senses, it was a complete nightmare to have three people battling, yes battling, to get ready each night. The narrowness caused a lot of unneeded tension between us all, especially when one person was trying to get past two people in order to get from the door to the balcony. The curved couch "transforms" into a bed at night. By transforms, I mean the steward adds a blanket and pillow. I woke up every morning with a new limb in excruciating pain, and I'm still full of youth! I dreaded going to bed each night.
Another interesting fault with the room was that turning the handle towards the red dot on the sink yielded cold water while the blue dot resulted in hot. Not a big deal, but interesting to note. There was a ton of great little storage areas, including under the couch (didn't notice this one until the morning of debarkation!). However, don't expect to hang up your dresses, ladies. Whoever designed the closet clearly had a y chromosome.
Our room steward Warriner (or was it Waldo? Wilbur?) did a nice job cleaning, yet never greeted us when we passed him. We would say hello and get a meager smile in return.
ENTERTAINMENT: Blue Man Group was fun, although I wouldn't give it the rave reviews I've seen on here. The Second City comedy troupe did a great job; the late night showing is definitely not for kids. Legends in Concert was worthwhile - the Michael Jackson impersonator is reason enough to sit through it! He was phenomenal, which made up for Britney Spears' and Rod Stewart's shortcomings. The Not-So-Newlywed Game was hilarious, as they always are, yet we all felt it should have been held somewhere other than Spice H20.
Despite the many complaints and critiques, we had a fabulous time on the Epic. It was great to experience such a new ship. We hope to try the Oasis at some point; the Epic and Oasis were side-by-side at the docks and the Oasis made the Epic look like a lifeboat!