DH and me, 40s, and DS, 8. This was our fifth cruise, DS's third, and we have previously been on Carnival, Seabourn, and Disney. Our last cruise was in a DCL concierge suite-- we enjoy being spoiled on our vacations. Although we used to be big partiers, with a kid you have a different schedule, and we find that we are very low key on our trips now, so you won't get a great review of the nightlife from us! Plus, with a cabin like 17004, you find that you aren't as driven to leave your room!! A couple of caveats-- I suspect our experience was very much colored by how fantastic the Courtyard area is, and our cruise was nowhere near full, with only 3400 passengers and 500 kids.
Gorgeous!! Wrap-around windows on front and side. Huge, spacious balcony. Rooms are bigger than they look on a certain website that lets you post your own videos. King-sized bed!!! Bathroom is extraordinary, with two sinks, vanity area, tub up against the window (big enough for an 8-year-old to "swim" in every night!!) and glass-enclosed shower that is open to the view. Lots of bathroom storage, both drawers and shelves. Half-bath is good-sized. Huge, two-sided walk-in closet, with two hanging racks, two sets of floor-to-ceiling drawers and shelves, a luggage bench with drawers underneath, and space for two people to dress without hitting each other.
Three thermostats control the temp-- you have to make sure you set all three to the desired temp as the rooms are connected.
The ride was usually very smooth, in spite of being high up and at the front of the ship. However, a couple of nights we had 10-foot+ waves, and we could definitely feel them in terms of both rolling and occasional shuddering. We did wake up several times on these nights, but our son slept right through it all. Exhaustion from a full day will do that to you!! ;-)
Water pressure was great.
No overhead noise at all from the sun deck on 18--usually I wake up for deck cleanings in the AM, but I never heard it this time. Very quiet location-- 17004 is at the front of the ship with only a few pax passing by, plus it has its own entrance alcove shared with another suite, so there simply isn't any hallway noise.
When we were getting off the ship, we took the opportunity to check out the cabin next door and discovered that it had been a smoker's paradise. We never noticed any smoke in the neighborhood while we were sailing, so the ventilation system works well for those cabins in that respect.
I have to work hard to come up with less-than-perfect stuff here, as you will see. ;-) I knew that there would be a lot of ambient light at night from reading CC, but there was actually more than I expected. Even "turning off" the screens of the phones at night, there is still quite a bit from the various light switches, and you can't duct tape those since you might need them... we put post-it nots over them, which reduced the glare but still allowed access. They helped, but if you need pitch-black to sleep, bring a mask. Also, if you turn on a light at night, you will spend 20 minutes trying to figure out how to get it off so you probably should just use the ambient light to get around!! ;-)
Could hear the toilet flush in one of the neighboring cabins, but it was infrequent and didn't really bother us.
The first night, we couldn't figure out the hand-held nozzle in the tub or the lighting-- even our butler couldn't figure out the lighting. It took a few days....
Some shuddering/shaking that I didn't feel elsewhere on the ship-- it may have been the wind hitting the flat front area of the top hat, which is the front of the suite.
Courtyard Cabin Helpful Hints
Things you probably need instructions for before the first night: lighting, tub handheld nozzle, possibly shower, coffee machine.
Don't forget about the front sun deck in the courtyard, deck 18-- it's a quiet, underused space, with tons of loungers and daybeds. It also has a shower so that you can cool off.
Take your cabin cell phone when you're going out! It's great if one of you is out and the other in the room, because you can call each other, plus you can give that number when you check your kids in at the kids' club, so they can always find you.
Fantastic! The concierge (Ruth, who just left on vacation) was formal and efficient and provided all of the assistance we needed. Our butler was not particularly present, but that was fine with us-- our son asked for cheesecake every night, which he delivered, and we had friends up for drinks in our cabin one afternoon, and that was about all we asked of him other than keeping the coffee well-stocked. On the two occasions that we called him on his phone, we found him right away. Our cabin steward was lovely and I would swear that she tidied up the room 20 times a day-- it seemed that we always came back to a perfect space when we had been out. The Epic Club staff were great, very personable and friendly, and they knew everyone's names after the first day. They were also wonderful to my son. I should add that we had a medical emergency (we thought) when he slammed his finger in the cabin door, and everyone called or asked about him afterward-- fortunately, he was fine. They all seemed to care about how he was doing and whether they could do anything to help us or make him feel better.
The pool is small, although sized very favorably compared to the other pools on the ship, especially when you consider how few were using it. The hot tubs turn on when you get in them and were a good temperature for us. DH enjoyed the sauna (after he figured out its technical side, as with so many things on the Epic). The CY has lots of different types of chairs, sun and shade, to choose from. I only saw it crowded a couple of times, and even then there were still some chairs available. I actually preferred deck 18 for sunning because of the view of the ocean, but it was breezy and didn't always offer shade.
BMG: great-- the only way I can think to describe it is the inspiration of young boys accompanied by percussion, except that doesn't do it justice! DS loved it!
Cirque: we really enjoyed it, as did DS. There IS a story line, contrary to what many reviewers have said, but it's definitely secondary to the action. When we were there it seemed that the entire crowd (except for one couple seated right next to the action who were much more focused on their plates than the acrobat 18 inches from their heads ;-) ) was into it. There were quite a few kids of all ages who were laughing out loud and awed by the performers. There is some sexual innuendo/slightly dirty humor, but it is probably safe for most kids up to 10 or 12 years in the sense that it will go right over their heads. I would have no qualms about my son seeing it again. This might be an issue for teens, but it is not raunchy or graphic. The food was entirely marginal, but edible if you are hungry, otherwise just go somewhere else before/after the show!
Second City: DS loved the early show!! There were probably 15-20 kids under fifteen when we went, so the comedians kept it clean and asked the audience to do so, as well. In fact, they aimed quite a few of their skits at the younger crowd, and my son liked it so much he asked to go to the Murder Mystery the next day, and then back to Second City for our last night on the ship!!
We ate most breakfasts and lunches, and a couple of dinners, at the Epic Club, which was has an unbeatable atmosphere and staff. You can go casual (but not poolside casual). The food ranged from nice to quite good by cruise standards, and of course you can order as much as you want as well as make off-menu requests. Breakfast has a good cold buffet in addition to the menu. The dining room is elegant, comfortable and spacious. The staff are great-- friendly, helpful, and they know your name after the first day. They also fawned over our son, which he just loved.
We had two lunches and one dinner at the Garden Cafe, which we found quite good for a cruise buffet. Lots of stations and options, very clean, and the food was quite decent. Kudos to NCL for the Indian dishes, they were so good and an unexpected treat!
Noodle Bar was very good for a quick bite-- well, we went for a small snack, but everything was so good DH ordered a couple of other things and it wound up being a meal. The dumplings are delish!
O'Sheehan's was OK-- we didn't think it was good enough to go back a second time, but it was fine.
Moderno was more food than a human being can possibly eat. We were there with a Brazilian friend who gave us good advice-- the salad bar is fantastic, but don't eat much or you can't eat much meat. But when you see all of the salad bar offerings, you have to try them.... so I probably didn't eat my money's worth of meat. But it was a fun meal, several of the meats were very good, and several items at the salad bar were excellent. The desserts didn't measure up, our table really only liked the coconut flan.
Cagney's service was simply chaotic-- our orders came at different times, and baked potatoes came out and were sliced open about five minutes before the toppings were brought, by which time they had cooled down. The other sides came even later than that. Our steaks were served, but without the promised steak knives we waited a few minutes again to start eating-- but even with that wait, all was redeemed by the quality of those steaks. DH and I both thought that they were amongst the best we've had in our lives, and we've eaten at some good steakhouses.
With the exception of the ice cream, I thought NCL's desserts were sorely lacking. They were well-presented, but just didn't measure up in taste and texture. I hope they will do something about this, because we generally thought the other food was quite decent for mass-produced cruise ship food!!
We don't actually know much about Recess because whenever we asked DS what he did in there, he said "stuff" or "had fun!" What we can tell you is that he always wanted to go and couldn't believe that some days there just wasn't time!! It is very large and airy, and although not as obviously packed with activities as DCL's kids' clubs, he went tearing in there without so much as a look back when we went to check him in, so I would rate it a success!
The water slides are just amazing fun for the kids! DS rode them as often as possible, and on port days was able to get in lots of slides without waiting in line too much, which was great. The pool area on the main deck is small but nicely organized for kids to have fun and parents to keep track of them.
All of the restaurants have kids' menus, and of course there is always somewhere open to get a quick kid-friendly bite to eat. Recess does take them to eat at times, but I never figured out what that schedule was, so don't assume that they'll get fed if they're in the club at meal time-- ask first.
As mentioned often, the TV programming consists of endless loops of the same handful of shows. If your kid needs to spend an hour in a vegetative state after a full day of activity, like mine, it's OK, but if you spend a lot of time in your room, best to have other entertainment options.
Wasn't as omnipresent as I thought it would be-- for those of you who don't travel with kids and don't want to be surrounded by characters, the Epic is no DCL-- you probably won't see them unless you make an effort to do so. There is something Nick planned for every day, but a lot of it was stuff our son had outgrown, so we only participated in three things-- Slime Time Live (only offered once on this cruise), Nick Poolside Live, and a character breakfast.
Wasn't planning to review this!! ;-) DS got his pinky finger slammed in the cabin door, and of course all of our key cards were put away in safe places and it felt like it took forever to get one out and get the door opened, even though it was probably only a few seconds. After racing down 7 floors and then to the other end of the ship at the precise moment when everyone was trying to get off the ship for their excursions, with screaming kid in DH's arms and me running frantically behind hauling all of our stuff for our day's activities (it would probably have been funny if not for the screaming!), we arrived at the medical center, which is very large and efficient. As soon as we told them what had happened, a bag of ice appeared, and we were with Dr. Rey about three minutes later. He was very nice, gave DS his first Xrays ever, showed him his skeleton hands (kind of thrilling for a kid!), and gave us the good news that nothing was broken but that we might get quite a bit of bruising and swelling. He made a splint for the finger, which was a good thing as DS was sufficiently distracted after all this that we did head out for our day of zip lining and monkey-holding, and the finger did not slow him down. Both the medical center and the concierge called later in the day to see how he was doing, and we were very pleased with their service and the center itself.
Western Caribbean-- we didn't even get off at Costa Maya (we live in the Caribbean, so the offerings there didn't impress us as much as having the water slides onboard to ourselves!). We had been to Cozumel before, so DH and I just got off and walked around and did a little jewelry shopping. For Roatan, we followed the advice of so many others here and booked with Victor Bodden, and we had a great day with our guide Ollee. As mentioned, we were more than an hour late getting off the ship because of our visit to the medical center, but it was very easy to find the kiosk and get on our way! We went to Infinity Bay to get our day passes (thanks again to CC), then to Victor's for the zip lines and petting zoo, and stopped at Celeste's for lunch on our way back to Infinity Bay, which has recently raised its rates. We felt that if we had been there for the entire day it would have been worth the price, but we paid too much to just use the beach and pool for a couple of hours. There are several other beach properties on the same stretch that charge 1/3 as much. That said, if you are going to be at the beach for several hours, Infinity Bay is a beautiful property with a great infinity pool and gorgeous beach with very shallow water.
What we didn't do that surprised us
We thought we would do the spa pass, but with the CY treatment rooms right next to our cabin, we just never bothered. We had hoped to stay up a bit later for shows and activities at night, but our son was always on the verge of crashing, so the nightlife was a bit limited for us. We didn't do as many daytime activities as we thought we would-- I blame it mostly on the cabin, because we just didn't want to leave!!!! I have to say, we feel that we only took advantage of about half of what the ship offers-- we kept forgetting about the Ice Bar, never managed to go bowling, didn't make it to several restaurants and shows. So we are planning to do another cruise on the Epic so we can finish what we've started!!
It's true, you don't see the ocean much from the public spaces, but there's so much to see and do, I wasn't struck by the fact that I didn't see the ocean except when I DID see it. I think because in our cabin we were surrounded by water, it's absence wasn't as noticeable for us, as well.
The ship is really spick-and-span, everything is new and spotless and very well-conceived. Walking through the casino area was neither as smoky nor as crowded as I had expected from other reviews, but our cruise was not completely full-- only 3400 passengers, with 500 children. They had installed the new air filters a couple of weeks before we boarded, so this probably also reduced the smokiness of that area. I can't stand cigarette smoke, but I didn't find the whiffs of it that I noticed to be a big deal-- we didn't feel the need to detour to another floor to avoid the casino.
In spite of the size and non-traditional layout, it wasn't hard to learn our way around, and there are info boards and maps at the elevators and other strategic areas. We didn't find the fact that there were only two banks of elevators to be a problem; we did have to wait several minutes sometimes in the evenings when a lot of people were moving around, but it wasn't bad.
Embarkation and debarkation were very easy-- less than 30 minutes to board, and only 20 minutes from when we met at the concierge desk to when we were dropped on the sidewalk with our bags.
I want to add that we found the staff to be excellent-- very personable, professional and attentive, both in the CY and in the main ship areas. Everyone was quick to greet us, always with a smile, and the service was generally quite good.
In summary, we really loved the Epic!! So much so that we're planning to go again next year, and hoping that we will see some of the same crew who made this first trip so special!!