DW, DD and I were on a back to back cruise starting 1-1-11. Along with us were DW's brother and his family.
Embarcation was relative painless. We arrived at the pier at approximately 12:30. There was a line but not too oppressive. The rooms were book through Casino at Sea through by bro-in-law. Even though they were separate accounts they took us all together. Pictures taken, credit card presented, we are on our way.
One of the easiest parts of the cruise was dealing with the back to back portion. All who were taking back to back meet Saturday morning a little after 10:00. We were all given "In Transit" stickers to wear. At the last call announcement we were escorted out of the ship and taken to customs. After that we had to go outside, walk a few yards to the entrance and go though security again. We were then all taken to a waiting room. Once the ship was cleared were the 1st ones allowed back on the ship. Even better, since we were staying in the same cabin, we did not have to attend the muster drill again.
We were in a D2. There have been some reviews of the Epic that describes the rooms as "sub-standard". I was pleasantly surprised that the room was not "sub-standard", that in fact it did indeed have four walls, a floor and a ceiling. That being said, it could be described as "unconventional". We had no problem with the bathroom, toilet and sink arrangement. I liked the fact that while my wife was taking a shower I was still able to use the sink to brush my teeth, shave, etc. I tried to get the sink to splash on the floor but was unable to do so.
The bed was great. DD said that the couch/bed was hard but she's young. I told her that the discomfort would build character but I don't think she was buying it.
In past cruises I have always brought a booklight so I could read at night without disturbing anyone. There was no need for it on this cruise as on both sides of the bed there is a small gooseneck reading light.
The toilet is loud. It is like an airplane toilet with that whooshing sound when it is flushed. One of the complaints I have read is that there is not a "real" door. Short of a door from a safe, I'm not sure what could be done to insure that the toilet can not be heard in the cabin.
There is tons of storage, to the point that it was difficult to remember where I put everything. Closet space is more than adequate and all of us were able to hang up everything we wanted to.
Another complaint I have read about was a lack of a small table. There was a long shelf that ran under the TV from one closet to another. It was easily over 6 feet long had there was plenty of room for the room service tray. To be honest I did not miss the small table as in past cruises with a table, all it did was get in the way and I ended up with multiple scars from whacking my shins on it. The cabin is somewhat cramped but that's to be expected. It was bigger than a super max prison cell which is about all one can expect on any cruise ship.
TV did suck. There was Fox News, CNBC, MSNBC, 2 Nick stations, a station that ran various re-runs, a channel devoted to shopping in ports and on the ship, a channel with various ship activities, a bow cam channel and a navigation channel that showed the ship's position along with weather and sea conditions. There was also ESPN. They did show the NFL playoff games along with the BCS Bowl game which was nice. Otherwise the ESPN feed was not from the US as there was a ton of cricket on everyday. (I saw a fair amount when I took my afternoon nap and still have no idea what was going on. The only thing I understood was when they brought out a tarp due to a rain delay.) The TV is interactive and you can check out your dinner reservations, etc. In addition you can gamble in your room via the TV. I didn't use this feature as my feeling is that if I'm going to piss away my daughter's college fund I want to physically be in the casino to do so.
Overall I was please with the layout of the room.
On the 1st leg of out B2B there were 4,800 to 4,900 passengers. On the second leg there were approximately 3,000 passengers. While it was apparent that there were fewer passengers on the second leg, even with almost five thousand passengers it never seemed crowded. While there were bottlenecks it wasn't like the Santa Ana Freeway at 6:30 am. Everyone was able to get from point A to point B with relative ease. I think one of the reasons for this was that the inside public arrears were spread out on three decks, decks 5, 6 and 7.
In prior reviews there have been complaints about the lack of elevators in the middle of the ship. I didn't find that to be a problem. Generally we could find an elevator when needed. On port days there were delays, but that was to be expected.
There were plenty of nooks and cranies for passengers to sit quietly and read. One of the best spots in the morning was the Bliss Lounge. Activities didn't really start there until about 10:00 am and the chairs were comfortable. In addition there were comfy chairs by the cigar bar, Shaker's bar among other places.
I know some previous reviewers were not too happy about the size of the pools. Unless you are Michael Phelps training for the Olympics, they were more than adequate. Besides the pools there were water features around the pool. To be honest, most of the passengers just want to get wet, not do laps. It appears that NCL has dealt with the slippery deck around the pool. While were there the crew was putting something on the deck to "etch" the decking. As expected the waterslides were great.
Food ranged from good to very good. The MDR's were just fine. Based on some past reviews I expected most of the male passengers to look like a casting call from Deliverance or Hee-Haw with their bib-overalls and trucker hats but the vast majority of the passengers were dressed resort casual. If tee shirts were worn they were mostly just a plain color and not Megadeath shirts.
We ate at Teppanyaki, Cagney's, Morderno, La Cucina, Shanghai and Le Bistro. All were good to very good. We ate at Le Bistro the last day of our cruise. All of us agreed that if we had known how good it was we would have eaten there earlier. I was a tad bit disappointed with Cagney's. I had the rib eye and while it was of good quality it was a little thin. Perhaps I've become spoiled due to my local health food store that sells thick mutant rib eyes. I thought that the food at La Cucina was quite good and had great ambiance.
Each of the restaurants have their own specific wine list. La Cucina consisting mostly of Italian wine, Le Bistro mostly French, etc. That being said, they are more than willing to give you a ship-wide complete list. In addition, if you don't finish the bottle, they will tag it for you. The next night you can give them the slip and the waiter will track it down, regardless as to where it is. The prices for a bottle of wine were not too bad, in line with the prices at a good restaurant on the mainland.
The Noodle bar was a great place for a quick lunch with a bowl of noodles going for about $4.50. O'Sheehans was a good place for a quick snack or meal. We never had any problems getting a table and service was good. I love NCL's fish and chips and they were great 2 of the 3 times I had them.
The only true negative was that the coffee was the worst in the world. It was like my dear wife, strong and bitter. That being said, the Atrium has a coffee bar with great lattes, etc.
This is truly where the Epic shines. I have never been a fan of typical broadway type cruise ship shows. ("We are proud to present our tribute to Cats") Blue Man Group is indescribable. Afterwards you are saying "I'm not sure what happened but I loved it."
Howl at the Moon was a hoot. Write a name of a song on a piece of paper, give it to one of the piano players along with a buck and they will play it. Their range of musical knowledge is amazing and the odds are they will know the song, no matter how obscure.
The band at Fat Cats was a great blues band. This was their last week on the ship but odds are whoever replaces them will be great.
The Murder Mystery lunch was loads of fun. Second City played all of the characters. It was somewhat interactive in that they would ask the audience for a detail and then run with it. In some respects it was better then the Second City show at the Headliners. I thought it was well worth the up-charge.
Cirque Dreams was better than I expected. To be honest I'm not a fan of Cirque type shows. Oddly enough the week before our cruise I saw Simpson's episode where they saw Cirque de Puree and prior to the show all I could think of was the lines "As French-Canadians we don't believe in refunds or exploiting animal for entertainment." And the classic Homer line, "Now nourish the child within me, nourish!" I was pleasantly surprised. The performers were very talented and did amazing things considering that they were on a moving ship. I light of previous reviews I was also surprised at the quality of the food. While it was banquet food in that everyone had the same meal, it was very, very good banquet food.
The staff was very friendly, always saying hello. The wait staff and bartenders would take the time and ask how our cruise was etc. I know that a previous review said that they thought the smiles and greetings were "forced". I think that the crew realizes that their jobs depend on our satisfaction and want to make sure that there are no problems. No doubt part of their job is to be friendly. Let's face it though, does our bank teller really care deep down inside whether or not we have a nice day?
Of interest was that our room steward was finishing up her contract our last week. By coincidence she was on the same flight to LA with my brother-in-law's family. While waiting for the plane we had an opportunity to talk to her at length. Generally they work 10 months then have 2 months off. Room stewards work 7 days a week, 10 hours a day. They only exception is that on embarkation days they work 12+ hours a day. She said that the crew has nice facilities including their own hot tub and a bar.
All of us had a great time. We were never bored to the point that after I got home I realized there were many activities that I wished I had attended.