Just back from our cruise on the NCL Epic. Never having written a review before, I will try to address certain aspects of the ship. Remember that these are our humble opinions and may or may not agree with others’ experiences.
We have taken 8 cruises in the last two years: 4 with Princess, 1 with Carnival, 2 with Royal Caribbean (one on the Oasis), and this one with the Epic, so although our experiences may not compare to other seasoned cruisers, we will try to address our own personal Epic adventure.
First, the ship itself – it is the second largest cruise ship in the world, second only to the twin Oasis and Allure of the Seas by Royal Caribbean. It is 1080 feet long, or about 130 feet longer than the biggest of the Princess ships (for those who can’t picture this, it’s almost a half a football field longer). The Oasis and Allure, on the other hand, are another 107 feet longer than the Epic.
We loved the attention to detail on the Epic, from the lighted ceilings in the elevators to the stairwells with their mirrors and beautiful colors, the earth tones throughout, and just the general feel of luxury. All the staff is extremely friendly and greeted us even if we were just walking by. Our room steward knew both our names on the first day and greeted us each time we stepped out of the cabin.
Epic was smart to put a bar right next to where the band plays on the 15th deck. This band is really very good, with a lady that can really belt out the tunes. They play most days and especially on sail-aways. The reception area is on the 5th deck and is very spacious. It shares the space with the tour desk and the future cruise desk. Throughout the ship were touch screens (similar to the Oasis) that gave you all sorts of information, from “how to get there” to menus at the various restaurants to show times, etc.
CABIN: OK, now to our cabin. We chose an inside cabin as we have been to the ports before and wanted to save some money. First impression was that it was small (and quite narrow), but we found that they definitely had storage in mind. Even through the second day we were finding new cubby holes, hangers, and shelves on which to put our stuff. The shower is a little larger than either Royal Caribbean (RC) or Princess (P) due to the curved door. What we loved was the fact that the door completely enclosed the shower and that it had its own vent! The result was no steamy mirrors anywhere! Also to note was that the shower had soft water, a luxury we have not seen on other ships and in only a few upscale hotels. One downside for soap lovers – bring your own bar of soap, as they only provide you with liquid soap dispensers, both for the shower and the wash basin. We did not particularly care for the placement of the basin – right on top of the counter, but we got used to it, being careful not to splash water every time we turned on the faucet.
Equally impressive was the toilet area – again completely enclosed and with its own vent also. Without getting too graphic, this prevented any escaping odors into the cabin! There was also a curtain that could be drawn to hide the shower and/or the toilet area from the rest of the cabin – a nice touch. This also allowed for privacy in case you accidentally forgot to put out the “Do Not Disturb” sign and the room steward suddenly opens the door!
DINING: There are two main (free) dining areas: the Manhattan and Taste. We ate one time at each and had mixed feelings. In Manhattan, the service was horrible and the food was mediocre. We noticed on the menu that they had some entrees on the right-bottom side that were not free. They ranged from $6 - $7 each. Yes, there were free entrees, but they were listed on the left side. We only tried the complimentary entrees and were disappointed. In Taste, the menu was the same as Manhattan; however, the service was excellent and the food again was mediocre. Granted, we only gave each venue one chance, but that was because we found much better food and variety somewhere else. Ready? It was the Garden Café Buffet! The first time we ate there we were amazed at the variety of breads; specialty dishes from all over the world, including India, Greece, and Mexico; ten (yes 10) different hard ice creams along with 3 flavors of soft ones; a variety of desserts (don’t miss the vanilla bread pudding and vanilla sauce!); unpronounceable foods that we had never seen but enjoyed tasting for the first time; etc. Even the burgers used Angus beef and were much thicker than the “pancake” burgers on Princess or Royal Caribbean. One negative of the buffet is that the waiters do NOT bring you beverages like on P & RC, they merely clear and clean the tables. So be sure to put your food down and then go and get your beverages.
FREESTYLE DINING: At first we weren’t sure if we would like this and I’ll explain why. There are NO formal nights on this ship, so forget about bringing a suit or sport coat (unless you want to). This tended to make it a much more casual dining experience, something to think about if you look forward to dressing up. Not to say that some men did not wear a suit (some did), but it was somewhat rare to see someone “dressed to the nines.” This also eliminates dining with the same crowd night after night. This can be good and/or bad, depending on your past experiences on other ships! It just seemed more casual and less formal – again, something to think about. It was nice not having to be at the table at a certain hour every night, but at the same time, it made us not even go to dinner on two nights (we just snacked at O’Sheehan’s or one of the other eateries).
ENTERTAINMENT: We enjoyed the variety of entertainment, but we can only address the shows we attended. One thing we noticed was the amazing light and sound in the various venues. Even the stage in the theater was lit with beautiful lighting and many types of strobes and colors. Warning – it is LOUD in there! The speakers are everywhere and if you prefer soft music, this is not the place for you. 1) Blue Man Group – it’s almost like you either love them or you just don’t understand them. They are three men drumming on just about anything they get their (blue) hands on! The selections seem to start slowly and build to a frenetic beat in each number, and they obviously have their own melodies (I wouldn’t really call them “songs”). They were somewhat entrancing, enigmatic, and certainly rhythmic, and if you’ve seen them in Vegas, you understand what I mean. They are definitely talented drummers! Cirque Dreams and Dinner – This was a show combining comedy, acrobatics, gymnastics, and strength feats. The main character seemed like he was on cocaine – he talked non-stop and we even thought he was lip-syncing at one point, but I don’t think so. He either has a photographic memory or has been doing this role for so long that he really knows his lines well. Don’t waste your time on the premium seats ($10 extra each) as everyone has a pretty decent seat. Maybe if you get in line 45 minutes to an hour early it would put you in a better viewing position, but most seats provide ample viewing. This is important for all the shows on the Epic – there is always a line that forms almost an hour before each performance in order to get a better seat, so if standing in line for an hour is not a problem, then go for it! Toward the end of the cruise most shows can be seen without a reservation, but our recommendation would be to book online before you go. That still doesn’t eliminate any lines though! The food at the Cirque Theater was acceptable, but nothing compared to the variety and taste sensations in the buffet. Legends – On our cruise there were three in all: Rod Stewart, Brittany Spears, and Michael Jackson. It sounded like they did their own singing, so lip-syncing was not an issue. I must admit that from a distance they looked very much like their “legends;” up close there were some discernible differences. Our favorite (and the crowd’s) was Michael Jackson. It is obvious that this guy has done a lot of preparation and practicing for his role. He looks eerily similar to the real deal, dances very well, and sings all the popular hits.
WATER SLIDES: My wife and I are both in our 60’s but we are also very adventurous and athletic, so we tried the water slides. On the orange and red one, you use an inner tube and it was the most fun (and also had the longest lines – wait till people go ashore or get on it as soon as you come back from shore). On the purple one and the green one, you go feet first and they are OK, but be prepared for water up the nasal cavities!
They have TWO huge screens for watching movies and other presentations. One is outside like many ships and the other is a two-story monster that spans the 5th and 6th decks. Best viewing (and audio) is from the Atrium (5th deck), especially for movies. Up on the 6th deck is O’Sheehan’s pub where you can sit at the rail and watch the screen, but it gets crowded. The football playoffs were on while we were there and it was a very popular spot!
POOLS: OK, here is where you might get bummed out. If you are lap swimmer, fugettaboutit! All pools are very small and the deepest is just over four feet deep. Kids are all over the place except for the H2O zone that is supposed to be only for adults. Although I did not see children in this pool, it was very small (maybe 15’ by 15’) and even with two or three adults in it made it impossible to really get any exercise. Unlike Princess, there was no indoor or covered pool.
CASINO / BARS: By far, the largest casino at sea! It covers two decks (6th & 7th) and has everything you can imagine – table games. Slots, and a variety of games not seen on other ships. There is something like 20 different bars throughout the ship, so if you are a gambler and a drinker, then this is the ship for you! The casino seemed to be the one venue packed at all hours, even until the wee hours of the morning. The casino does reek of smoke at times, so my advice is to try the 7th deck to traverse the ship rather than the more crowded 6th deck. The bars did not seem to have the rowdy crowds noted on the Carnival ships.
DISEMBARKING: The easiest disembarkation at sea! We carried on our own luggage, so we did not have to put it out the night before. Because of this, we were given the choice of leaving at any time between 7:30 and 10am! Wow – no need to be herded into a big room and wait around with a couple hundred other passengers! So we got up around 8, went to breakfast, and then left our cabin around 9:30 (no lines!) to catch a taxi to the airport. We arrived in plenty of time to catch our 12:35 flight out of Miami.
So, would we go again with NCL? Yes, but we heard from several people that the other NCL ships are not as nice (food, service, condition of ships) as the Epic. Again, this was only opinions from people who had gone on other NCL ships, NOT our own evaluation. So we took advantage of putting a deposit down for a future Epic cruise. We paid $250 for a four-year window and got an instant $100 onboard credit.