This was my 6th cruise. My motto is "the newer, the bigger, the better" and some of my previous ships include RCCL's Freedom of the Seas, Cunard's Queen Mary 2, Holland America's Eurodam and Celebrity's Equinox. Naturally, then, I wanted to try NCL's Epic. I was a little nervous, however, because of all the negative postings on Cruise Critic. I have to say, though, that my boyfriend and I had an absolutely wonderful week with the folks from NCL on this marvelous ship.
Overall, I rate the experience an A- and here is my review:
Boarding & Disembarkation: Boarding was smooth and didn't take long. If there are too many people boarding at once they hold you back in a waiting area where there are refreshments and ship info to keep you busy so that when your turn comes you just walk on with ease. Interestingly there was no one to greet the guests on the ship itself so you were sort of on your own. Regardless of when you check in, the cabins are only available at 2 PM so the guests are milling about with their carry-on luggage and almost everyone is in the (very crowded) Garden Cafe having lunch. Disembarking was time-consuming as there were very long lines to clear US Customs & Immigration. It seemed not many took advantage of the colour-coded luggage system with pre-arranged disembarkation times as I saw many many guests carrying their own luggage off the ship and leaving after a nice breakfast and pretty much at the last minute (which may explain why cabins aren't ready until 2 PM). (B-)
Cabins: The cabins were actually a pleasant surprise. We had a Deluxe Balcony. Yes, they are long, narrow and curvy but they are quite cute and rather cozy. The bed was comfortable but it wouldn't hurt if it was a few inches longer. There was a couch although, as some have reported, a little stiff. There was tons of storage space. The TV was more than fine. The bathroom area is not quite like I would have done it but it was not a deal breaker by any means. The sink outside the bathroom area was nice as one person could shave or brush their teeth while others used the shower or toilet. It is a little splashy so you'll want to keep a towel handy to wipe up. The biggest issue is that the spout is in the middle of the sink so washing your face or brushing your teeth is a bit of a challenge. They are the prettiest sinks on the seas, however, I am sure. The shower was nice and big and no big issue being separate but remember to put your bath mat down. I did find the toilet a little awkward from both a visual and sound privacy perspective. (B)
Food: The food was excellent everywhere. If you don't want to pay extra there are enough "free" restaurants. The Garden Cafe is often crowded, especially at breakfast, so I suggest Great Outdoors or O'Sheehan's for that first meal of the day. We did try "specialty restaurants" Cagney's, Le Bistro, La Cucina and Shanghai. All were excellent although I wouldn't bother with La Cucina as, although it is very good, one probably doesn't need to pay extra for pasta. We made reservations in advance for most of them but there are big screens throughout the ship displaying availability and it didn't appear that anyone had any trouble getting a table anywhere. O'Sheehan's is open 24 hours and was a special treat. There is room service and pizza delivery although we did not try it. I did notice that the room service breakfast menu was pretty much limited to continental items. In the end, there are more places to eat at more times than on any ship I have ever been on. (A+)
Entertainment: On American Idol, Simon Cowell used to refer to a bad performance as being "very cruise ship". He couldn't say that about Epic. There are lots of different options and all were fun. I was glad to see Blue Man Group because I had heard about them a long time ago although I didn't quite get it. The Spiegel Tent was a hoot but don't try to figure out the plot (there isn't one) and, contrary to what I had read, the food was good but perhaps a bit salty. Don't bother with premium seating, the place is small enough that all seats are good. The best show was comedian/magician Jeff Hobson. I booked all of our shows in advance but, with the exception of the Spiegel Tent, there appeared to be availability for those who didn't. (A)
The Ship: The ship won't win any beauty contests but in this case it truly is what's on the inside that counts. This ship is huge and well-maintained and spotlessly clean. Navigating is a little challenging as the layout isn't the best and there is no central bank of elevators. The water slides are fun and the line-ups were short. The pools were a little small for a ship this size but for those wanting something special the $199 per couple for use of the hydrotherapy pool in the spa is well worth it. The bowling alleys were very fun too and the casino is plenty big (although it could use more roulette tables). I did miss the lack of a deck where one could walk around the entire ship though. (A)
Kids: I don't have kids but I would imagine kids on this ship would have a blast. If you don't like kids, however, do not sail in the Summer. One employee told me there were 1700 kids on one of the cruises. The mid-September cruise I was on had very few children. (A+)
Staff: Except for the surly lady who checked us in at the port and the lady who greeted us as Le Bistro, everyone was amazingly nice...especially the restaurant and spa staff. (A-)
Overall Attitude: The ship is big and noisy, kind of Las Vegas at sea. There is no pressure to spend extra money but they certainly give you lots of opportunities to do so. There isn't really a "the customer is always right" attitude as small issues sometimes appear to be a big challenge to solve. The guests are down-to-earth. Most are friendly but some lack sophistication - like the 50+ year old man who chose gym shorts, t-shirt and sneakers to dine in Cagney's and the woman who thought it was fine to clip her husband's toenails in view of all the other guests in the spa! (B)
In the end, we had a wonderful time. There were a few things that could have been done differently (as there always is because no cruise line can please everyone) but the awesome features more than made up for any short-comings. If you are open-minded, want something a little different and are up for a fun, action-packed week, give this ship a try. If you are conservative, are looking for some quiet time to catch up on a few novels and prefer pre-set dinner times in the main dining room, you might be disappointed. NCL clearly tried to be bold and different and I applaud them for it.