My wife and I are relatively experienced cruisers, having cruised previously on Royal Caribbean, Princess, and Carnival. This was our first Norwegian Cruise. We wanted to sail out of Barcelona and visiting Florence, Italy was important, so we chose between the Epic sailing from Barcelona or the Adventure of the Seas out of Valencia. We chose Norwegian because we had never been on this line.
Ship was new and very clean. Decor was much nicer than the Carnival ship (Pride) that we had been on, which was tacky/Vegas-style. Although the decor is quite nice, we didn't feel the quality of the furnishings was up to Princess or Royal Caribbean standards. We generally feel that Royal has the nicest ships afloat. On Princess or Royal, if you see wood it's real. On the Epic the wood was fake on pillars, for example. We didn't see the variety of art that we would see on a Royal Caribbean ship, but it still was tasteful.
There actually is a "promenade" deck, but it is hard to find and is only a partial length of both sides of the ship. It does not go all the way around like on a lot of other ships. Navigation within the ship is not too bad, but unlike the Voyager class of RC, it's not so obvious which deck is the shops, or the guest services, etc. It's also (at least for us) hard to figure out which direction is the front or rear of the ship when you are in the public areas. And while some things are on deck 5, at one end of the ship deck 5 is reserved for crew and the stairs have deck 5 roped off. This was confusing at first.
The pools seemed smaller than on other ships, but there were a lot of hot tubs! We tried all three water slides and they were great fun. The purple slide is the shortest and is tame (but unexpectedly, you are in total darkness in the tube!). The green slide is wild and twists you around in the dark, and made me a bit dizzy. The yellow "bowl" slide is the most fun IMHO, and requires a wait for inner tube rafts. The water temperature is just right, and the pool and slides are fresh water.
We also did both rock climbing and rappeling. This is the most varied rock wall and set of rock activities we've seen on a ship.
When we sailed away we happened to lie on some lounge chairs at the rear of the ship, which had a movie screen. Unknown to us, that screen was broadcasting a view from the bridge, so we could watch the sail away from the rear of the ship while also getting a view from the front! Highly recommended.
I had read reviews of the unique cabins and so was curious how I'd feel about them. We had a standard balcony cabin on deck 8. The balcony was quite large. The cabin felt a bit smaller than we'd had on other lines. There is not really a "bathroom" per se, but an area at the front door which can be curtained off. The "hall" is the "bathroom" and on one side is the shower and on the other side is the toilet behind a sliding glass door. The sink is "in the room" in the curtained area. If you want privacy (sound), this is not a good layout, but since it was my wife and I we had no problems with the arrangement.
The bed was exceptionally comfortable - the best I've had, with a great comforter. While there was not a lot of floor space in the room, there was a great deal of storage (more than it appeared at first glance) because there are two large drawers under the sofa in addition to the closets and regular drawers.
We really liked the room because even though it seemed a bit small, it was more stylish and visually much more interesting than rooms on other lines. There is a curved back wall, a really nice (fake) glossy woodgrain on the cabinets, and cove lighting near the ceiling.
The muster seemed much less organized than on previous cruises.
We are not fancy eaters, so ate exclusively in the buffet (Garden Cafe). We felt that the buffet was the best we've had on any line - there was ice cream station all the time, plenty of fresh salads, the pizza was very good, there was a good variety of dishes. The non-ice cream dessert selection seemed a bit limited, however. But we got by with ice cream and soft-serve.
Like we've pretty much experienced on the other lines, the crew was uniformly cheerful and helpful.
Entertainment was generally excellent. We saw the Cirque show and it was very good. We also really liked the Blue Man Group which was excellent. One complaint is that the shows in the Epic theater were too loud. We actually had to leave midway through the Legends show because the volume was so high (and we were sitting near the rear) that it was painful and we were plugging our ears with our fingers. Too bad, because the show was good and the sound system was excellent. The Blue Man Group (in the same theater) was ALMOST too loud but was ok.
So overall we were pretty happy with Norwegian. But there is one thing that is unfortunately EPIC about the EPIC (and I would guess all of NCL?). While we expect that ship excursions are overpriced as usual, the prices on the Epic were astonishingly expensive. I had already booked the cruise and then we went online to see if we wanted to book any excursions. Even the basic transportation from say, Civiteccia to Rome and back, was something like $130 rt/pp! I went online to the RC and Princess sites and checked the SAME EXCURSIONS and the NCL excursion prices were 1.5 to 2.0 times more expensive than Royal Caribbean or Princess!! The prices were so ridiculous that we ended up taking NO excursions and NO ship transportation to the cities of interest. We used public transit or taxis for EVERYTHING.
As another example, docked in Mallorca we chose not to take the $12rt bus transport to the old part of town (2 miles). Right off the ship and outside the terminal is the city bus - $1 euro to downtown and the bus runs every 15 minutes!
The ship pretty much (even more than normal on other lines) is really trying to get you separated from your money! The ship's photos were more expensive(5x7, $9.95 on RC a year ago; NCL - $14.95). I'll bet the drinks were a lot more, but we don't drink. Most of the restaurants were extra charge. It appears that NCL gives you competitive cruise prices but then radically inflates the cost of pretty much everything on board. The prices were EPIC! And that, alone, is our biggest complaint and the biggest reason we would not choose NCL as a first choice in the future. We'd take them if there was no other choice, but would choose Princess or RC otherwise.