My husband and I have cruised several times before, mostly on Princess and Celebrity but were curious to try something new so we chose the Epic. We also have a 4 year old son who travels with us so I’ll include some kid-related info. Also, because we love Princess, I’ll include some comparisons between the two lines.
Embarkation: Easy. We flew in the same day, got to the port around 11 am, were given a group number and were onboard the ship a little before noon. Cabins were not ready until 2 pm and on Princess you can go to your cabin right away which is a bag advantage. Our son still takes an afternoon nap so it was a bit inconvenient to have to keep him up till 2 pm and then have to wake him up at 3 for the muster drill.
Cabin: One word – tiny and poorly designed. It looks very pretty and modern but there is literally one foot of space around the bed and between the closet and the sofa. Two people cannot stand up at the same time. Minimal storage space unless you want to put your stuff in multiple nooks and crannies around the cabin and then look for your stuff all the time. The main closet does not even compare to the huge walk-in size closet on Princess. Toilet is teeny, size of airplane bathroom, if not smaller. I am fairly thin and still felt cramped. And yes, you can hear everything so it was a bit too much even for a husband and wife. Shower is fine but you have to walk out of it naked and get dressed in the room. Sink is fine but storage space for cosmetics is very minimal. 3rd bed/sofa is tiny, smaller than twin size and has a curved back, it was fine for a 4-year old but an adult would not be able to sleep there. The bed was short for my 6’ 3” husband. Sheets were soft. TV had 4 channels and did nor swivel so could not be seen from the sofa. Teeny desk, hardly space for even a laptop, glad I brought my netbook. Balcony was great – good size, two loungers, we spent most of our time there and not in the cabin.
Food – I live in a large city with access to many restaurants so I don’t feel that I need to pay extra on a ship to eat at places that I can go to on land so we mostly ate at the dining rooms. For breakfast, the buffet is fine, lots of choice, no lines except for the crepes, lovely views from the top floor, easy to find a seat every day. For lunch we tried Taste the first couple of days but the menu never changed throughout the entire cruise (yes, the menu is exactly the same for lunch every day). Buffet for lunch is fine if you like all-american junk food – burgers, hot dogs, pasta, pizza, in addition to a salad bar and, again, crepes. No other variety was available for lunch, the only thing that changed daily were the soups and desserts. For dinner we tried all of the free venues and loved Taste. Taste is very modern, designed like a winery inside but with lots of cool colors and space. Never had to wait in line, service was quick (about an hour for 4-course dinner) and the menu varied nightly in addition to more traditional items available every day. Everything we ate here for dinner was great and the service was the best. Manhattan Room was not for us – too dark, live music was too loud and by the end of our dinner were praying they would go on break. It is great if you love to ballroom dance while you eat but if you want to talk or have a child it is just too much. The buffet offered the same stuff for lunch and dinner except a station of Indian food – not sure why NCL decided the only cooked meals for dinner will be Indian…though the few we tried were pretty tasty. The rest was same old- burgers, hot dogs, salad, pasta, pizza, sandwiches. Overall, on Princess, dinner in the dining room takes 1.5 – 2 hours which is hard to do with kids plus you have to wait for a seat if you don’t make a reservation, so dinner on the Epic was definitely better. We did try the sushi place one night because we love sushi but unfortunately it was not impressive, just OK. Prices were similar to those on land so to me it was not worth it. We did not try O’Sheenans (24 hour pub place) because it was way too crowded and loud every time we passed through it. One big disappointment for us regarding the food was the times things were open – we are used to the buffet on Princess being open 24-hours a day, and not because we eat a lot but because we like to have a flexible schedule (you would think that’s what Freestyle Cruising will be all about). On the Epic the buffet had limited hours of operation which was a major downside for us. We like to sleep late some day so if you wake after 10 am buffet is closed. You come back from ports around 3 pm hoping for a quick lunch – sorry, buffet is closed until dinner. After 10 pm the only option is a little section by the pool that had burgers and fries. But surprisingly all the extra charge restaurants are open till midnight. Again, it is not like we starved but this is actually the first cruise we’ve been on where we needed to make sure we eat during specific hours.
Entertainment – we had seen Blue Man Group and Cirque in Vegas before so we had no desire to see them again on the ship and did not know whether there will be enough other things to do onboard. We were actually very pleasantly surprised by the amount and the quality of what was available. Cruise director Paul Scully and his staff were the best we have seen on a ship and all the entertainment was very high level. Every night there was a different game show in Bliss (a very cool night club area) – Newlywed Game, Dating Game, Majority rules, etc. Those were very well attended and lots of fun to watch. H2O is the adult pool which turned into an entertainment venue at night with lots of games, dances, etc. However, being located at the aft of the ship in a somewhat open area, it was extremely windy at night. One night was Dancing with the Epic Stars in the atrium which was a riot. We saw one of the performances of Second city but walked out in the middle of it – I did not need to pay several thousand dollars to see a group of people making up silly songs, sorry. Bingo was rather pricey – cheapest ticket was $60 so we skipped it. Legends in concert were OK though for the week they had special guests who did a variety Broadway show different from their normal show. For the kids there were several meet and greets with Nickolodeon characters as well as Slime, which we did not attend but the older kids loved. Lots of games around the pool so you won’t be bored on this ship. Definitely more fun stuff to do than Princess.
Pools – at first glance it seems that there will be lots of stuff to do outdoors on the NCL but unfortunately we were a bit disappointed. Deck 15 has two tiny pools right next to each other which are actually more like one pool with a path in the middle of it. Compared to the two large and two small pools on Crown Princess… The rest of the deck is taken up by the water slides. VERY inadequate seating around the pool. Granted we are a bit of late risers but we never could find a chair on deck 15. entire groups of people would leave their t-shirts or books on rows of loungers taking them up for hours on end without even being there. No one seemed to care. We were forced to drop off our stuff on the edge of the pool and just hand out in the pool, the last sea day we just spent on the balcony, was not worth the hassle. The kids’ water area was fine with a tiny water slide and some spray toys. However, a large portion of it was in what can best be described as a tunnel in between two areas of the deck so there was never any sun there and the water was freezing. We never saw any kids play in that area, only on the slide in the front so that whole back part of the kids park was wasted. The three slides were fun, however, the large orange bowl-like slide was not what I expected. Instead of a fun thrilling ride, you are dropped into a bowl where you go around very slowly for minutes and then you are dropped out to the end of the slide. It takes one person 2-3 minutes to go on the slide and as a result the lines for this were crazy. The other two slides are actually much faster and more fun and there are almost no lines if you go after 5 pm for them. Four hot tubs in the front and two in the back – there was always some space so no complaints there. The adults-only H2O area was a bit weird with stadium-style seating and a tiny pool (literally the size of a hot tub). We had a kid with us so did not hang out there though the views were great from the back of the ship.
Outdoor activities – lots to do on the Sports Deck – my husband loved playing soccer, the teens loved the basketball court and my son could not be dragged away from the bungee and the spider web. What puzzles me is why they could not dedicate more people to operate those kid favorites and yet there were 3-4 “hostesses” standing at the door to the buffet at all times yelling in unison “Welcooome!” every time we walked by. The bungee and spider web were only open for 2 hours every day and there was usually at least an hour wait for the bungee since only one guy was doing everything. The climbing/repelling wall was also very popular although, again, only open for a few hours each day.
The kids club – my son turned 3 right before our last Princess cruise and was able to go to the kids’ club for the first time where he had a truly wonderful experience. He was in the 3-6 age group on Princess and they were hosted separately from the other age groups in their own room where they got a lot or personal attention and he really bonded with some of the counselors. We would take him to the club after dinner until 10 pm so that mommy and daddy can attend some shows, have some drinks, etc. Unfortunately the kids’ club on the Epic was a let down for us. All kids 2-13 are hosted in one huge open room with different activities. Kid are broken into three age groups but they all rotate in the biog room among various stations. Considering there were a ton of kids on this sailing the kids club was overcrowded and confusing for the little ones. All the activities were very structured (i.e. from 7:30 to 8 pm the 2-5 kids play in the gym, 8 – 8:30 pm they read stories, etc). All kids (except the teens) were dropped off at the same place so it was usually a huge mess to drop off and pick up your kid. There was of much personal attention devoted to each kid and my son, who is a bit shy with strangers, felt scared and never really connected. He did not like having everything so structured and he felt lost in the huge room with hundreds of other kids. As a result after the first 3 nights he refused to go to the club and had to come with us to some of the shows we attended which was non an ideal situation for us.
Casino – having heard all of the complaints about the smoke from the casino I was expecting the worst but it was not so bad. I actually liked the casino being more of an open layout than just one room and the epic had a great choice of slot machines as well as lots of table games. I am a non-smoker and the smoke did not bother me when I passed through the casino, really not a big deal.
The service – surprisingly impeccable service from everyone. Room steward, we hardly saw him, but our room was always cleaned and well maintained, the servers in the restaurants were fast, efficient and always had a smile. No complaints here.
The crowd – this was definitely a younger crowd then Princess with lots of families and LOTS of kids. Many people from Canada as well but that may just be the time of the year. While most people were nice there was definitely a large chunk of people that I have not seen a lot on other cruise lines - lots of wife beaters, gold chains, oversized baseball hats turned sideways, tattoos, and oversized people who would not supervise their kids. On the first sea day my 4 year old son was playing on the kiddie slide when a child of not less than 150 lbs (early teens, too old for the kiddie slide) pushed him off the slide in front of our eyes and caused a lot of bleeding and a swollen cheek for the rest of the trip). I immediately confronted the kid and asked him where his parents were and he pretended he did not hear me. Finally, a woman appeared after 5 minutes who said she was his aunt. She was extremely rude and kept telling me he did not do it on purpose and did not even yell at him. There were several groups onboard of very rowdy/loud/rude people that we kept seeing on and off but other than those most passengers were fine.
Costa Maya – we expected nothing from this port and thought we would just go to the beach for an hour and come back. There is a huge pool with a swim-up bar and lots of stores by the port. Walk past all the vendor selling you all-inclusives, etc and buy a ticket for the bus to Mahaual ($2). We walked along the beach for 5 min to Pez Quadro and got a free beach bed and spent an awesome day there. The water is shallow and clean, service is amazing and the food is yummy – totally recommended.
Roatan – had a tour with Victor Bodden. Went to see the monkey habitat – amazing! My son was too scraed for the zip line although it was perfect for kids and we saw lots of them doing it. Then they took us to the Mayan Palace Resort. It was overcrowded and the service was crappy so I do not recommend it, though it’s a pretty resort. Then the driver drove us back to the ship – great service from Bodden Tours.
Cozumel – we docked in downtown so we walked around the shops for a bit then took a cab to Mr. Pancho Beach. It was super crowded with no chairs or umbrellas available for rent. The water was pretty with lots of fished to see almost everywhere but I’d try to different beach next time.
Overall – on the positive side this is a perfect ship for entertainment, it is new, it is modern and offers lots to do for everyone. On the down side – the cabins are tiny, the kids club is not the best, the free food is the same every day and the deck is overcrowded. But for the right price I would definitely go again.