PASSENGER PROFILE: Great mix of all ages; quite a few young children, but we didn't see them very often except at lunch.
EMBARKATION: Seamless. We went through in less than 10 minutes.
Garden Cafe: Upon embarkation, we immediately hit the Garden Cafe, the buffet on Deck 15. The selections were vast, and plenty of seats were available. We sat outside under cover and thoroughly enjoyed the meal. I am a vegetarian, and there were very good choices of all kinds of food. The ice cream bar is like a mini-Baskin Robbins. The food is so good here that we ate every breakfast and every lunch here - and even did dinner twice. Excellent food and service!
Room service: We had room service every morning, and it was always delivered about half an hour early. We usually just ordered coffee, tea, juice, and fruit. The coffee and tea were nice and hot, and the fruit was fresh. They always called to let us know that our order was on its way. The service was very friendly. Order a chocolate croissant - decadent!
Dining room: The Manhattan dining room was very good. Every dinner was superb. The service was prompt and friendly. We like to drink coffee with our meals, and every night the coffee was waiting for us. We had ample refills. This was our first experience with Freestyle Dining, and we were pleasantly surprised. We got a table by the window by arriving just as the dining room opened at 5:30 p.m. Taste, the other dining room, was good as well, but the ambiance wasn't as nice as Manhattan. Manhattan also had live dinner music every evening, so that is the better of the two free main dining rooms.
We loved the food so much in the dining room that we did not bother to sample any of the specialty restaurants, and they are numerous. In fact, we had reservations for Cirque Dreams and Dinner, a Cirque du Soleil type of evening which costs $20 per person, and the Murder Mystery lunch, at $10 per person. These prices are reasonable, but we didn't want to miss what was served in the places we grew accustomed to and there were no vegan choices, so we cancelled and stuck with the Garden Cafe and the Manhattan Dining Room.
OUR CABIN: We had a spa balcony cabin #14153. This category comes with free admission to the spa's aromatherapy steam room, sauna, whirlpools, and heated tile lounges. The cabins on the Epic are beautiful and modern. There is more storage than one could use on a 7-day cruise - they have storage everywhere. I had read many critiques on Cruise Critic before we left, and so I had been warned about the odd bathroom set-up: the sink (which my husband referred to as a birdbath for a hummingbird) is in the main part of the cabin, and there are separate areas for the toilet and shower. The toilet compartment is small but adequate; the shower is huge. There are doors for each compartment, and they are obscured glass. So, if you are with a spouse or significant other, this arrangement is great because one person can shower while another uses the sink. There is also a privacy curtain, so traveling with a family would work also. If you are vain, private, or shy in any way, this would be an uncomfortable arrangement, but I found it quite nice. Perhaps because I had been warned, I expected the worst, but in any case, this worked well for us. Yes; the sink is tiny - really tiny, and shallow, but again, it was fine for me. The small sink was my husband's main complaint. Unfortunately, we had a worse problem. All night our cabin vibrated wildly - I was shaken awake every few minutes and had a huge headache by morning. This was tolerable at best while standing in the cabin, but sleeping was not an option because the vibration was too severe. We went to Guest Services in the morning and told them about the problem, fully expecting to be kissed off. To our surprise, however, they moved us to a forward cabin (the vibrating one was aft). We never had the issue again. They could not have been nicer at Guest Services. This type of service is what makes loyal customers, and we are now a fan of Norwegian Cruise Line. The new cabin, 14038, had a few issues that we had to call about: The interactive TV froze and they fixed it; the shower didn't drain well - they couldn't fix that but it was no big deal; the thermostat froze once or twice and then was pretty much uncontrollable; and the phone wasn't activated, but they fixed that right away. We had been warned about the short bed, and it is short, but it is the most comfortable bed I've slept in on a cruise. All in all, the cabin was really great. Our cabin attendant, Gene, was prompt and responsive.
They had a "meet and greet" with the Captain and Senior Officers, and after a wonderful Q&A session, I went up to the Hotel Director, Sean Wurmhoeringer, and told him what a great staff he had and how impressed we were that they were willing to move us. He was so gracious, and asked me my cabin number. I told him and when we returned to our cabin, he had chocolate-covered strawberries waiting for us. Unbelievable! This is in contrast to an experience we had on Holland America's Maasdam in 2007. On that cruise, there was a leak in the pipes in the wall, and a section of the ship, including our cabin, had a horrible, foul smell of leaking sewage, and the air conditioning was not working. After two days of this and horrible headaches and nausea, we couldn't take it anymore and after a number of queries at the front desk, we finally asked to be moved. We were treated rudely and told there were no available cabins - even though they admitted that the pipes were leaking and the a/c was down. After I told them it was a health hazard and I wanted to leave the ship, and after much, much back and forth and about three levels of supervisors, they found another cabin for us. The NCL staff was completely different - kind and accommodating. This solidified our good impression of NCL.
THE SHIP: We had read on Cruise Critic some interesting complaints about the ship, so again, we were prepared for the worst. We had just sailed on Royal Caribbean's Oasis of the Seas in November and had a perfect cruise, so we tried to keep our expectations in check. The ship is a bit odd; when you embark, you are in the casino, and the casino is in the center of the ship and difficult to avoid. There are a number of lounges adjacent to the casino and the smoke does on occasion waft through to those, but we found ways to avoid the casino and the smoke. On the few occasions we had to walk through - and be warned - it is a HUGE casino, the smoke wasn't horrible. We had read on Cruise Critic that there was a lot of motion on the ship, and we did find this to be true. For a large ship, there does seem to be a lot of movement on fairly calm seas. The ship's profile is very boxy, and we wondered if this affected the movement at all. This is true not only in our cabin near the top of the ship, but on lower decks as well. The critics are right; you do have to go up to the pool deck to get air; there aren't lower decks to walk around on like most ships have. This makes the layout seem awkward. It is not the best layout for a ship, but it doesn't put that much of a damper on the experience.
We did not spend much time in the pool areas due to very high winds, but there were usually chairs available whenever we walked through.
There are interactive screens throughout the ship that you can use to "map" where you want to go. You just select a venue and hit "map it" and it gives you directions. Fabulous!
ENTERTAINMENT: The entertainment was good. We were completely unimpressed with Blue Man Group - a big disappointment. They really don't do much that would be considered talented except play the drums and catch marshmallow-type things in their mouth. Legends in Concert is always good; we had seen them years ago in Hawaii, and this show was very good as well. They had Janet Jackson, Neil Diamond, and Aretha Franklin impersonators who were all excellent. The Second City comedy show was funny, but not hilarious.
SPA: The spa is beautiful and spacious, but the heated tile lounge chairs are out in the open near the noisy hydrotherapy pools so it was not very tranquil. We didn't use the spa much for no reason other than it just wasn't quiet enough.
PORTS/SHORE EXCURSIONS: We had been to these ports before and were taking this cruise primarily for the ship experience, so we did not do shore excursions.
CHILDREN'S ACTIVITIES: We did not travel with children. There is a great pool area for children and a huge water slide tube that children and adults enjoyed.
DISEMBARKATION: Again, seamless. You can choose when you want to disembark, and we took the earliest time. They called us to disembark right on time. Two of our three pieces of luggage were waiting; the other was missing. However, the staff was all over that, and found the other piece of luggage in another section within about ten minutes. The porter took our bags all the way to the car in the parking structure across the street, and we were on our way out of the parking garage by 8:15 a.m.
OVERALL: This ship is worth trying for anyone who likes to cruise. The service is the best we have ever had on any of the five cruise lines that we have tried, and the food is superb. That makes for an excellent experience!