Introduction: The Epic is huge - which means good extras and some bad/down things of course....the ship is sleek but minimally decorated. There is virtually no wood and no art (some framed photos). There is an interesting chandelier but no one on the ship (guest services) could tell us about it even though the woman promised to call our stateroom when she found out more info. The entertainment was high end (lots of options and really good)....we usually are turned off by the "TV type" of entertainers but not true here: The food options - we ate at specialty restaurants all but one night - are what we love! And the gym - wow. Newer and better equipment than our gym at home! We feel that the NCL agent (how we booked) should have clearly explained the VAT tax in advance and the effect that would have on pricing. We felt that we were held hostage and only told about the VAT tax once on board so what can you do?
Initial Booking done thru NCL - probably a mistake as we could have gotten better deals in other places AND the coupon book that NCL offered as a promo sucked....it was so awful (some coupons actually said they weren't good on the Epic at this date)...it was a true rip off. And when we pushed the agent to tell us more about the coupon book when booking she misled us telling us how much we would save (most of the coupons were available to everyone on the ship)...we save $10 one night at the Italian restaurant, period. Next time we will save money by booking somewhere besides thru NCL directly. That was a huge disappointment because like the VAT we feel we were misled. Would we do Epic again? I am not sure. Would we do NCL? Probably because of dining options...but with the competition on cruise lines we will study hard to see who else is offering more dining options too. Did we have fun? Yes for sure - but one makes their own fun too right! Happy cruising to all - no matter which line and ship you pick!
Experiences on the ship: Wow was it easy to get aboard early and walk around, enjoy looking, find help and eat! We had hand carried our gym clothes so we could work out though our luggage arrived within 90 minutes of being aboard. We had a great workout in the amazing gym. We enjoyed not having to wear our lifejackets to the muster drill (yes thank you). We always made reservations for the specialty restaurants which were not needed but did get us better tables (location). You must make reservations for the entertainment and it is so good don't miss it. Blue Man Group entertained for sure (a big drawn out at times but they have to fill their time slot). Cirque de Soleil (a very mediocre dinner is served with it) amazing - what would they do if it had been rough/rocky night? The entertainment all over the ship - including CLASSICAL music (thank you thank you) was great. There were times we would get into a night club (one not accepting reservations) and there would be no seats and hardly standing room. It is a huge ship with huge number of people and we tend to eat dinner until at least 10 pm so it is what it is.
As most pool areas, this one can not accommodate all the folks on board. Beautiful fun water slides (3) lured us so much that we skipped Rome (you just can't see Rome in 4 hours anyway) and enjoyed being kids playing! The gym was well used but never so that you couldn't get to equipment. About ½ of the brand new cardio machines (nice ones) did not have working TV's (and even the ones that work only had 3 - 5 options) and you must bring your own headset (wish we had known that).
One down side of this huge ship is that it is very hard to find a place other than in a restaurant (some of them) to see the water! Every place is used for money generating activities. Yes, we had a balcony cabin but we are used to being able to stroll and see the water....and find a quiet corner to curl up in and read or write. We found the Moderno restaurant area quiet during most days and we would grab a place there...but not ideal.
Most people seemed to take the elevators all of the time. There are lots of them but some were used far more than others...so if you really can't handle the stairs look around for a less used elevator bank. At least we never ever had any company on the stair cases! Then again there is NO art on each landing - kind of sad.
Leaving the ship is just as easy as getting on if you bring your own luggage (don't leave it out on the night before departing). People don't appear so crazed as they had control over their leaving time. However, too bad the guest services folks on the ship don't warn you that the line for taxis when you leave is over an hour long. It really makes sense - there were other ships at port and everyone leaving the ships in a limited time frame. We knew we could take the city shuttle to Christopher Columbus statue (and then use our T1 subway/metro card to get to our hotel area) so that is what we did. We felt really badly for the folks standing in that hour long line to spend so much money when someone from NCL could have told them of other options.
Experiences on shore excursions: We took the NCL trip to Cinque Terre because of the difficulty of getting there and back in time alone. We were very pleased with that trip for the money paid. Cinque Terre is being ruined by too many tourists so see it now! We are not "ship trip" folks and in this case we say yes - it was the right decision. We had already spent a week in Pisa and Florence so this was perfect - and it fits into one day. The tour guide (the one who met us on the bus right at the port and the one who joined us along the way) were excellent in knowledge and personality. To get to 4 of the 5 villages we used ferries, train, and walking. It was a perfect blend and those 2 were very well organized to let us have enough alone time. We had time to walk miles up and enjoy the view. We grabbed some fresh fruit from a produce stand and hiked on up. In another village we tried the local white wine and pesto. What a photographer's dream!
We skipped Rome (how do you see it in 4 - 6 hours anyway) as we would rather come back for a special week or two in Rome.
Stopping next at Napoli, we knew we could walk all of the old village of Pompeii in the time allocated. Though it was a bit confusing to get to the train station - but we did it and are thrilled (we took the local bus first and then the train) to get to Pompeii - we didn't do a tour because we knew that the large tour groups would be blocking all the main areas and so we walked off to the far corners and came back to the main areas after those huge groups had left or were just too hot and tired. Again you can see Pompeii in a day and it is just amazing. To think of the year 79AD and realize what an amazingly caring and networked community they had created. Hot, dry (so be prepared) but so worthwhile! We walked back to the ship/port from the train station instead of waiting across the street for the local bus - and that gave us a flavor of how dirty (garbage strikes) and unkempt the Napoli port area really is. We walked a few miles in the shopping district, found an internet cafe, etc.
The last port stop was the island of Majorca and the Capitol City of Palma. Everyone including the guest services folks try to get you to pay the $12 pp to get the ship hired bus into town. Instead we walked it (does take a good hour) and that really helped give us a flavor of the wealthy boats and the playground city. If Palma really wanted to encourage $ be sent they would provide free shuttle services but they like most cities are all about money now. Nonetheless there is so much to see (great photo ops) and good shopping too. Note that it is very hot and tropical on this island. Plan accordingly. Bring water and sunscreen. Wear comfortable shoes. And be adventuresome - speak Spanish or Catalan if you can! We bought from a shop (shoes - the island is known for a special style of sandal that you will see everyone wearing - that gave us a receipt for getting our VAT back (spend over the 91 Euros) but they had not completed the proper form so we couldn't get our money back either at the Barcelona visitor center or at the airport. Live and learn (find out the proper forms when you start out). Again the ship personnel are not knowledgeable on this.
Conclusions: As on about any ship there are pros and cons. You have to weigh what you want to what you get for the price. We are very thrilled we went. Even more thrilled that we came three nights early to play in Barcelona (while getting over jet lag) and the Hotel Europark was perfect for us (kind of in the middle of the city area)! We love eating after 9 pm at night so that is what this city is all about. Mornings we had a great balcony off our room so we could walk to markets and get fresh produce and baked goods to take back - then get coffee from the hotel's restaurant! Heaven in Barcelona! We also stayed there again for 4 nights before leaving - again we loved it. Time for more Gaudi, museums, eating, and even a musical performance (and a peaceful demonstration)! Barcelona we will be back. NCL we just aren't sure. You have a lot of competition out there. Now having taken 2 cruises with you we are sold on the "freestyle" but other ships are offering it now. Please be more upfront in the booking process and tell customers ALL they need to know. False promises, lures, and limited staff knowledge (on and off the ship) won't cut it with discerning customers. We are now thinking about out next cruise....who knows!