We loved all of the entertainment on the Epic. They had a very wide variety available and it was a challenge to see as many of the available shows as possible. The Blue Man Group Show is a MUST see! Very entertaining and interactive. The Second City Comedy Improv Show was also excellent, as was the Cirque Dreams Dinner Show in the Spiegel Tent. Cirque Dreams had two seating options, Standard($20pp surcharge) and Premium($30pp surcharge). We opted for the Premium seating but frankly, in retrospect, I don't think there was a great deal of difference that would effect your enjoyment of the show. We were a little disappointed in the dinner offering. It was nothing special for a $20-$30 surcharge.
All of the optional "extra charge restaurants" that we tried for dinner were very good. We particularly liked Cagney's Steakhouse($25pp surcharge). The Main Dining Rooms for dinner, The Manhattan Room and Taste, offered identical menus so it didn't matter which one you chose. Unlike previous NCL cruises the dinner menus were the same every night. While they offered minimal variety, steak, chicken, fish, pasta dishes, etc. I missed the daily menu changes offered on other NCL Ships. Of course one must consider the limitations of variety due to the number of passengers being served. Given that the Epic has 20 eating venues, albeit some with surcharges, most will find more than enough variety is available for any palate. I would rate the quality of the food at all of the venues we tried to be excellent, yes even the Garden Cafe Buffet style. The service was always very good where ever we dined.
We can't say enough good things about the entire cruise staff. They were always very pleasant, courteous, helpful, interested, and efficient.
One of our concerns, given the size of the Epic, was would it seem crowded? I can honestly say this was never the case. We never experienced any waits anywhere. Embarkation, eating venues, port calls, shows, elevators, disemarkation...never anything but a model of efficiency. We were very pleasantly surprised in this regard. The other thing of note was an abundance of sun deck chairs. We never had a problem with finding lounge chairs on the Epic Sun & Pool Deck, where as on other NCL ships it was sometimes a challenge unless you got up at 0-dark Thirty to snag one.
One other improvement we noted from previous cruises is that NCL has toned-down the constant drone of "spend more of your money" PA announcements. They also don't stuff the FreeStyle Daily with as many "spend more of your money" fliers. I'm sure the new policy is saving a rain forest or two from what we have experienced in the past.
The Staterooms are ridiculously small!! I mean really, really small to the point of needing a Yield Sign for two occupants. The walking space was such that two people could not pass each other moving in opposite directions anywhere except on the 6'X 9' Balcony. The sink was the same diameter as a basketball and a couple of inches deep. Using either the toilet or shower would best be described as stepping into a 1950's Phone Booth. You exit the shower with the mat up against the cabin door. The small stateroom conditions are almost enough for me to reject another cruise on the Epic.
The beds are a funky shape(rounded at both ends) and SHORT!!!! I'm 6'3" and with my head jammed against the padded headboard my feet still hung off the end of bed by a few inches. The end of the bed was about 18" from the cabinet below the TV on the opposite wall. Speaking of TV..it's a flat screen, about 32" maybe but don't hold me to that but it doesn't matter because programming is almost non-existent unless you like CNN, Fox News, ESPN, E!. They place emphasis on "spend more money" on our pay channels. Now one typically doesn't go on a cruise to sit in your stateroom to watch TV but... Also don't plan to bring a DVD player to use with the TV. The jacks are there but have been disconnected! The one major improvement to the stateroom TV on the Epic is you can view all of the menus, make dinner reservations, and show reservations using the remote and TV. Easy and convenient.
Also...a little weird...you must activate your stateroom lights and TV with your Stateroom card. Remove the card from the reader the lights and TV shutoff. I know it's to save energy but no where do they explain this process when you board the ship and enter your stateroom. We finally asked our room steward who explained the process to us. But geesh folks how about a card or sign or something to tell people about how the lighting system works!
NCL has a reputation of constantly selling extras. Some of that can be countered. I don't care for Pepsi products. Their soft drink card sells for a whopping $50pp for 7 nights of soft drinks. Ridiculous! Bring your own two litre bottles and tell them to empty out the stateroom mini fridge which comes stuffed with a bunch of over priced snacks. The problem with NCL is they are moving away from the all-inclusive cruising concept to dreaming up a thousand and one ways to constantly run up your final bill that will shock many on the final night of the cruise when you receive the damages. And yes I know, it's your vacation but be aware...the add-ons can really add up to as much as what you paid for the cruise itself. They are always reaching in your wallet, figuratively speaking.
Also I recommend doing a little research prior to your cruise regarding shore excursions. As an example: want a general tour of the area or go to a specific beach for sun & fun. NCL Shore Excursions might charge you $59-$89pp to load you on a bus or van and drive you to the same beach or other tourist attraction when you can take a private cab to the same place for far less money and you can spend as much or as little time as you want because you are on your own schedule. You will find more than enough vendors at the pier to take you anywhere you want to go. The competition is fierce and the pricing reflects that. The bottomline is that NCL arranged excursions cost a great deal more than what can be had off the boat for exactly the same thing.
There is one other NCL policy that I don't care for regarding NCL arranged shore excursions. If you have booked a Shore Excursion through NCL and you arrive in port to find a cloudy. showery day you CANNOT cancel your anticipated day in the sun at the beach or any other excursion unless the excursion is outright cancelled by the vendor and/or NCL due to some very extreme circumstance. They are never inclined to cancel an excursion(lost revenue) so you either lose the money or go and deal with whatever conditions exist. I think this is bad policy.
Also skip the shopping seminars and maps to recommended shopping. NCL receives a kick-back from those shops and their recommendations have nothing to do with quality prices or service. They have been forced to acknowledge this fact in the fine print at the bottom of their promotional fliers. Shop on your own, you'll end up doing better.
Last but not least...While I knew the itinerary was, Costa Maya, Roatan, and Cozumel it became clear as to why there were a total of three at sea days on a seven day cruise. On the leg between Roatan and Cozumel they only went an average of 8kts. It was entirely possible to have made Cozumel overnight and eliminated that extra day at sea and perhaps had another stop in the Caymans like they used to do. I don't know if it was a matter of reducing fuel consumption or an added day of a captive audience to sell more stuff to onboard. Color me skeptical.
In spite of the criticisms I have included in this review we still like NCL. We love the first class entertainment, the food is always consistently good. The staff are always available, are friendly, most accommodating, providing excellent service. The ships themselves are always well maintained, clean, and modern. They know how to efficiently handle the number of passengers. We also like the FreeStyle cruising concept so you can operate on your own schedule. You have to be a smart traveller though or NCL's "spend more money than you intended" policy will potentially cost you more than what you originally expected the cruise to cost.
While the interior of the ship is quite attractive throughout, the exterior is downright slab-sided ugly in my humble opinion. It clearly appears on the outside to be top-heavy in a big way. There are some ports of call where if the wind exceeds 25 kts you will find that port call will be skipped with another day at sea as a substitute. This from the Ship's Captain. The week before our trip the Epic had to skip the stop in Cozumel for this very reason.