This was our fourth NCL cruise and we have also previously cruised on Celebrity and Princess. We are a couple in our early 30's and this was our first vacay without our daughter so we were really looking forward to a nice relaxing vacation. We chose NCL mainly because of the great price we secured and because we loved the Freestyle concept on the other NCL ships (Dawn, Jewel, Star) We had read so many varying reviews on the Epic that we really didn't know what to expect but went onto the ship with an open mind. For this review I will do my best to categorize things into three categories -- Excellent, Ok, Not so good. It's important to note that we did not have any major complaints with the Epic or its crew and probably everything that falls into the "Not so good" category could be considered a #firstworldproblem! :)
- Pre/post cruise SAS Transportation: we used them to get from our Fort Lauderdale hotel to the pier and back up to the Fort Lauderdale airport. Both drivers were prompt, professional and safe and we couldn't have asked for anything better for $15/person.
- Epic Entertainment: We loved the entertainment options on this ship. Blue Man Group (we've seen them before and loved this show even more because of the smaller setting), Second City (we actually went back to see a second show because we loved these guys so much), even Legends in Concert. I had no desire to see Legends, but my wife dragged me to it and I'm glad she did. While I might argue that Lady Gaga is not quite a legend yet, the performer who was portraying her did an amazing job! We never got a seat for Slam Allen but we did stand and listen for a while -- those guys are pro's! We also enjoyed the Manhattan band while eating dinner in the Manhattan dining room -- the trumpet player was spectacular! This was the first cruise that I felt the shows they put on were of equal if not better quality than what you see in Vegas.
- Wasabi Restaurant: this was the only specialty restaurant we went to and we definitely enjoyed it. Fantastic sashimi and wonderful specialty rolls.
- Casino: I know this is a dicey issue for many people because it dominates deck 6 but I didn't mind the layout and in fact I really appreciated the non-smoking pit as I mainly play blackjack. The reason I give this an Excellent is because I found the pit bosses to be extremely friendly which was a new experience for me on a cruise ship. Drinks are not normally free unless you have the card from CAS but more often than not the bosses were willing to buy me a drink or two each night (and I was only betting on a $10 table)
- Embarkation/Disembarkation: for a ship of 4500 passengers I thought this would be a nightmare but they really have this down to a fine science. We arrived at the terminal at 12:15pm and were having lunch by 1:00pm which seemed incredibly fast. Additionally anytime we got off the ship at ports we were off in 5 minutes and back on in 5 minutes. Disembarkation was a breeze -- we walked off the ship with our luggage at 9am and were in the shuttle by 9:10am.
- Spice H2O: We loved this area -- especially the two hot tubs on the back of the ship. We were in those tubs every evening and not once did we have to share with anyone! Pretty amazing to believe that there are 4500 people and two empty hot tubs but we enjoyed it! We went back for the white hot party as well which was really well attended and the entertainment staff did a great job of keeping the party going!
- Cruise Critic Gathering/Latitudes Party: Both events were a blast and well attended by both guests and ship officers. We just got bumped to silver before this cruise so we were excited to attend the Latitudes party and were impressed with the drink service throughout the event and especially pleased that they didn't try and sell us anything while serving us drinks! :)
- Garden Cafe: This buffet was hit and miss for us. I didn't like the fact that the hours kept changing and for some reason it seemed every time we went up to grab a quick bite between lunch and dinner they were closed. When they were open we found the food to be good. We both especially enjoyed the dessert selection!
- Manhattan/Taste Food: We ate in one of the main restaurants pretty much every night. Once we actually got in the restaurants (see comment below in "not so good" regarding wait times) we found the food to be good. Most of their fish dishes were especially good and the selection was always good enough that there were lots of choices. I do feel that in the past few years the overall food quality of NCL has slipped a little but it's still better than what I make at home most nights! ?
- Pool Deck: We knew that 4500 passengers meant this deck would be busy and it certainly was. Chair saving was in full effect and by 10am on sea days the chairs on the main deck were long gone. We did enjoy the deck during the "off-peak" times -- i.e. port days and the evenings. We did the big bowl waterslide the one evening and rode a few times with no lineup. The Freestyle daily kept mentioning poolside blackjack but they never opened the tables (could've been due to high winds)
- NCL Staff: It's a shame that I have to put this in the "Ok" category. We had some serving staff in the restaurants that were fantastic and very attentive and the next day we would have a server who didn't seem to care. Our room steward was ok but certainly not the best we've had. The officers that we met at the Cruise Critic gathering and the Latitudes party we terrific, very friendly and genuinely interested in any concerns that we had.
Not So Good
- Cabin layout: We had a mini-suite (category MD) and while I respect NCL for always pushing the envelope and trying something new I'm sorry to say I wasn't a big fan of the cabin layout. The room felt very skinny and we were constantly bumping into each other. I really didn't like the sink in the room and the curved couch was kinda useless. I found it awkward when we got room service because there was barely any room for the tray to go which we found kinda weird. I will say that there was a TON of storage space (some of which we didn't even find until the third day!)
- Art Auctions: We have enjoyed the auctions on the Princess ships but something about the Park West company didn't sit right with us. The prices seemed high and it was easy to get annoyed with the number of ship wide announcements regarding there multiple auctions.
- Main restaurant wait times: If I had one major gripe about the Epic it was the wait times for the main dining rooms (Manhattan/Taste) Every night that we went to have dinner we had a minimum 30 minute wait. We tried going at 6:00pm, 7:30pm, and even 9:15pm and each time were met with the same 30 minute wait. We had never experienced this on any of the other NCL Freestyle cruises and it kinda put a damper on the whole concept. Yes I know that I could have spent some extra money and eaten at the specialty restaurants and avoided the wait but I don't feel that I should have to. Hopefully this is just a growing pain for the Epic and they'll get it resolved soon!
Overall we really enjoyed our vacation and were reminded of how much we love cruising! We will definitely cruise NCL in the future but I don't think we would choose the Epic again. I think we may be suited for a slightly smaller ship with less people and less wait times with slightly more traditional staterooms.