We are 2 couples in our 40s travelling without children after cruising with Royal Caribbean (Navigator) and Celebrity (Solstice and Millenium). I was very apprehensive about cruising with NCL which in my mind was lower quality but the Epic features looked very attractive, the itinerary was perfect for us and the price was right. Then I decided to give it a shot knowing that it was somehow risky.
Overall I can say that the Epic delivered what we expected, a younger more lively crowd, better entertainment, a sophisticated new ship with very nice cabins at the expense of a lower food and service quality still at acceptable levels.
The ship is huge but its layout is easy to remember and to move around. It was a hit for us to have a cabin near the elevators at the back (aft). There are only 2 sets of elevators on the front and the back so you will walk a lot if your cabin is in-between. Since the adults pool (Spice H20, the gym and the main dining room are at aft, this is the best location in my opinion. The theatres, the garden buffet and some of the special restaurants are at the front. It never felt crowded and some place had plenty of space at peak times.
The pool area is more a wet area, with showers and two oddly tiny pools. Everybody has marked this as a flaw, a it certainly is. There is plenty of deck chairs in many different areas from deck 15 to deck 18 so everybody will find music, fun, kids or a quieter
The Freestyle system worked marvellous with us. No worries about meeting a certain time, getting stuck with a waiter that we did not like. We never had to wait more than 5 minutes to get a table. People circulate at different times everywhere avoiding the herds rushing from or to the main dining room as happens with other lines. Great!
We had a minisuite which is basically a balcony room with some extra space. Decoration is modern, curvy lines, tons of storage space, comfy but shomehow short bed. If you are 6' tall or more, you may not fit completely. The separated shower and wc was fine with us but the sink so close to the bed is a problem for light sleepers. Definitely it is better to have the bed near the balcony and the sofa right by the bath area.
The entertainment was far superior to Celebrity and RC. Big point for NCL. Blue Man was interesting (6/10). Cirque was fun and complements well with dinner (7/10). Standard seats are either upstairs seating in a circle like a bar or at the outer tables on the main floor where we were. Premium seating is at the main floor, closer to the action area. Although we did not have the best view, we were pleased to dine comfortably as we did. Legends was a dissappointment (4/10), boring and cheesy. Los Locos OlE at Headliners was the big surprise. Amazing and hilarious, the best show on the ship (9/10). I saw it twice. Stephen Sorrentino...I may not understand this kind of humour as I am not American but others felt it was awful too (3/10). Headliners is tricky because all chairs are at same level so go early or you will have trouble watching the show. Did not see Fat Cats, Howls or Spanish Ballet. The Nickelodeon activities looked fun and entertaining for kids.
Bliss is a very nicely decored nightclub. Some nights were fun despite the very diverse attendance and the horrible DJs.
Spice H20 deserves its own paragraph. At first it looks so perfectly conceived. Adults only, 2 bars, tables and decks in terraces surrounding the pool which converts into a stage at night. A huge screen. What can go wrong? Almost everything. It is advertised as an "adults-only Ibiza-inspired beach club". Ok, sounds cool and modern but instead of chill out and electronic music they play oldies all day long (Bruce Springsteen is not what I would call Ibiza inspired music). There is no food served there except a few spicy appetizers so if you want to grab a snack, some fruit or an ice cream, walk 200 yards forth and back sorting the climbing wall, ping pong tables, kids running, calypso music and tons of people around the main pool. Nuts. The big screen is totally underused showing marine scenes that belong more to the Animal Planet channel than to an Ibiza inspired area. So, here is my piece of advise for the NCL guys. Play chill out and new pop music during the day, bring some basic foods there, assign your best looking waitresses here, hire a UK or Dutch DJ instead of the enthuasistic but mediocre DJ Z who never set a foot on Ibiza per his words, use the magnificent screen with some good material (concerts, fashion, etc) or delete the Ibiza word from your advertising materials.
Food is NCL's weakest point. Not even comparable with RCCL or Celebrity. the Garden buffet lacks variety and many things that other cruise companies offer are not present like ham, asparagus, palm hearts, capers, assorted cheeses, sushi and juices. Although the options at the dining rooms were fine the food was mediocre with many cooking issues. We were very dissappointed eating there despite that the ambience is really nice at both Manhattan and Taste.
Among the specialty restaurants we tried Teppanyaki which we do not recommend. It costed $25 per person just to watch the same act that we've seen everywhere else in a cloud of stinky fried oil. Same jokes, same food, rushed by the waitresses and the cook which runs from one table to the other. Not recommended. On the other hand, Wasabi is a great sushi bar with very knowledgeable sushimen. Great food. Worth a try. Went twice there.
Service is just good, below RCCL and X standards. It was okay with me but my friends expected more. The most annoying part is how much the waiters harrass you offering drinks. Every 3 minutes there is one asking you. It really becomes a nightmare when you are just tring to relax, read or sunbath. What's the point if they are there all the time in case I do want a drink?
Casino. Only 2 roulette tables that get saturated with only 4 people at each while many other tables remain empty. Incredible... Heard people complaining about some blackjack tables but don't know the reason.
Gym. Excellent equipment and setting. Unfortunately they try to sell you every kind of treatment, sessions and even detox natural medications.
Another miss is that you won't find a couch or a sofa overlooking the sea to relax, read or have a coffee. None. I wonder how they could not find a place for that.
Slides, bowling lanes, big screen inside and outside, shops, bars, ice bar are all pluses for NCL.
In sum, a nice experience, perfect for families or party people under 50.