We just returned from a winter break western Caribbean cruise on the epic and I must say, with the initial buzz now passed, I'm feeling the need to explain my thoughts on the very lovely albeit very flawed ship.
Perfect! We love to maximize our time on the ship so we arrived exactly at 1pm so we could be among the first to board. We rented a car from the airport the day before and researched the closest drop off points. Avis has a great location just a mile from the port. I dropped the wife and 3 kids off at the boat, then drove a bit nervously to AVIS. Not crazy about leaving my family in what is usually a embarkation mess (4 previous cruises on other lines firmly entrenched) but I didn't want to deal with luggage and taxis. This way, they relaxed at the port, I dropped off the car...then cabbed it back- all taking about 30 minutes. We then proceeded to literally walk on the ship. ZERO lines at 1:30 and no fuss. A good sign IMO. Kudos to NCL for making this easy...but my guess is our time of arrival was key to this positive experience. Keep that in mind...GET THERE EARLY.
Awesome. I'm always amazed by these floating cities and having cruised only smaller ships in the past, EPIC was particularly pleasing to the eye. By comparison, all other ships in the port looked like tugboats. Sorry Celebrity and Carnival but first impressions matter and you lost.
That is until you consider what you give up with a floating city and you decide that bigger isn't always better. When we entered the ship...i was thoroughly underwhelmed. On past cruises, you enter a sprawling atrium with views of multiple levels. On Epic, you enter at the 6th deck stairwell that walks you through a gaudy casino and bar setup with no clear direction. We were told our staterooms wouldn't be ready for another 1/2 hr - to be expected given our early arrival. But we had no idea where to go and it felt like it took hrs to get up to the 15th deck and some fresh air. When we finally got to our room on the 14th deck, we entered a hallway with slammed airtight doors that gave us no idea where to go. I surmised correctly that our rooms weren't ready and that's how they keep people from annoying the stewards hard at work. Again, I get it...but there was no clarity offered on direction. When we got up-top - It felt like I was leaving a dark theater at noon. I was thrilled to see the light of day and frankly, on Epic- you feel underground a great deal more often than on other ships. Odd given the size.
Once you begin the ship experience you start to get the picture on why the initial price tag is relatively modest compared to other marquis ships like Allure. As written on these pages often, you quickly assess that you'll be paying for virtually everything for the next 7 days. A shutter of fear passes quickly as you imagine all the $3 sodas and $11 coladas you'll be racking to the bill in the days to come. Food was perhaps the most perplexing part. With no clarity offered on free vs fee I felt a bit concerned.
The Garden Cafe was free and for the most part fine -but as noted often here, basically offered the same thing all the time. The fruit was always plentiful and for the most part, fresh. The entrees relatively flavorless and unspectacular. One guy called it Golden Corral quality and while I'll disagree...at times you did have the feel of early-birds getting the worm. We're not food snobs so we didn't care too much here and With 3 kids- options are essential. We just noted that the quality had declined since our last Disney cruise 5 years ago and felt the need to explore fee-based alternatives. After the second day...you get the sense that the modesty of Garden was designed specifically to draw you to the paid offerings. Not cool IMO.
The restaurants like Teppayaki were fine and fun if you enjoy the act but at $25 per head...a bit steep for my taste. Our chef was fantastic - though I felt bad when he mentioned having been on the ship for 5 months straight. This was a common refrain from crew members who seemed wonderful for the most part, but tired and maybe a bit burnt. Other restaurants were overpriced and the Sushi bar while very accommodating, offered options that weren't quite as fresh as you want to "see at sea". Trust me...montezuma isn't just a folk tale.
Other fee based meals like Cirque were overpriced and given the onslaught of wailing performers jumping in your face made me think of what Dinner Theater in a looney bin would be like. I dropped by fork 6 times during the 2 hr (way too long for our kids BTW)show mostly because of an actor running by my seat with little regard for elbows and knees. The acrobatics was INCREDIBLE mind you but the schtick in between was annoying and unnecessary.
We has an outside balcony with an unusual potato chip shape to it. My kids shared an inside that was further away than the "right across the hall" promise from our cruise salesguy. Decor was lovely and on deck 14, we felt like we were a mile up. Cool. The bathroom was odd and grew more so throughout. Call me crazy but having the shower 2 feet from the door with only a thin translucent window to shade was a bit strange and with my kids coming in and out of the cabin, exposed a bit more than you'd like. The toilet was ridiculous...also directly behind the cabin door and offering little by way of privacy. I kid you not...this had me longing for the public toilet in the gym. At least there the door was real and offered some separation from the world. The toilet flush in the cabin was something we'll never forget. Like a tidal wave rushing thru. The noise scared my 7 yr old to the point that he'd refrain from use until he was literally busting a seam.
The cabins had more storage than any I'd seen to date and it helped mask the relatively small size of the space. The TV was a problem and while I'm not a fan of sitting around the cabin on vacation...i learned to recognize that kids need downtime from the sun and fun. 3 channels with the same icarly, the Nanny and Spongebob episode rerun 400 times was odd and a poorly veiled attempt to get lazy butts out of the cabin for more consumption = more $$$ spending. Room services was always great though and I suggest it for anyone who likes to wake to coffee in the am and the relaxation of morning at sea. A highlight for me.
Our steward's name was Jun and we thought he was great. Cleaned the room often and always accommodated our sloppiness. I do feel a special appreciation for the stewards who must deal with a tough part of the process- do it seamlessly and maintain a pleasant demeanor every day. Thank you Jun!
This was a troubling part of the cruise for us. I honestly was surprised by how little was available outside the clubs. My kids aren't joiners and aren;t thrilled to sit inside playing video games. I get the difficulty here with keepin so many kids under control...it's just not our gig and prefer on ship activities. My wife and I found ourselves searching for things for our 7 year old to do. The Nick shows were a riot and enjoyable but rare. There was also a noticeable lack of movies on board. On Disney they play films 24 hrs a day so when the kids get tired of the sun, they can dry off and watch a fun film. On Epic, films ran late at night and without any notification during the day.
The Repelling wall was fun but scheduled instead of constant like RCI. I often took my kids down only to find huge lines and a cut off point w/o wavering. SORRY KID! very troubling. The pools were the smallest I'd ever seen on a ship but for the kids (and me) were more than made up for by the fantastic water slides offered. NCL hit a HR with this feature. Keep it up. If lines weren't so long at times, I think I might have gotten my wife to funnel thru. All 3 slides were great!
My kids loved the Trampoline as well...but like the wall, were scheduled and therefore, insane with lines. My son and I took part in the batting cage offering- very nice but offered only while in port. I get that...imagine 500 kids all wanting to take some hacks??? Not cool but this limited the opportunities. Loved the ships blowing alleys...generally available and always pleaser for my kids.
Loved the comedy and I thought the Legends of Rock was fun and amusing. Not a big JJ fan so I really didn't know if she was any good. But Aretha was PERFECT...a sound double. Neal Diamond was also quite good aside from the attached piece of velcro holding his 70s era mullet. Blue Man Group was pushed hard and I wasn't a fan aside from hearing everyone else's positive review. Not my thing...though they had moments. My daughter loved the Karaoke and for the most part, shows were quite good and usually available- a surprise given the number of people on board.
We did the Dolphin swim in Costa Maya and loved it. Then decided to stay close to the ship in Roatan. I wish we'd venture out more but I think we were tired at this point. The best was Cozumel where my daughter and I snuba'd and the family had time to rent a jeep and drive the island. The far side beaches were fantastic and the jeep worked despite a south bronx in the 70s look and feel. Funny! Next time, we'll spend more time planning excursions... historically not a requirement for us.
We suggest taking the couple $200 quiet package. This allows you unlimited access to the ships hydroT room and the quiet area that really offset the noise on deck 15. We'd just take our key card and wrist bracelet and walk in whenever we wanted. Toward the end, people got wind of the opportunity and the spot got too noisy but hey, yop can't have everything. The highlight was the spa service for me. 2 great swedish massages and a fantastic steam room cantilevered over the deck with windows viewing the water. SO relaxing. Expensive and you always get the hard sell for products you'll never use at home. But a necessity for all and well worth it. Placement in the rear of the ship was odd because the walk was so long you didn't need to work out after arrival. To call the gym beautiful is an understatement. Just lovely and always free to use. I guess the endless buffet and open ice cream machine troubled folks less than myself. Man, could you pick up weight on this tub;-)?
We left the ship early on day 7 and the return to reality was relatively pain free. The only hard part was settling the bill. At $3k all in I was shocked at the secondary costs but it became clear early on that I'd need to spend to enjoy Epic to the fullest. Aside from the ships logistic issues...my primary problem with freestyle is that it's anything but free. You feel nickel and dime'd all the time. NCL has taken the all-inclusive of the 80s to a new level- then combined it with common prison-speak "A cot and 3 hots" will get you by. If you want to breathe...it will cost you and believe me...it did!