We went on the Epic for a 7-day cruise to the Eastern Caribbean 12/10-17/2011. This was our first time on NCL. Previously we had been on Royal Caribbean and Carnival and had very good experiences on both. The Epic is much larger than the other ships we have been on before and offered upscale entertainment and more specialty restaurants that intrigued us.
Boarding was easy and after we boarded we went to the H2O bar at the back of the ship (it is for adults only until 8pm - but you have to "know" about it - the information sheets did not state this). The H2O bar area includes a full buffet, bar, pool, and hot tubs for adults only so it was a nice quiet place to wait until our luggage was delivered to our stateroom. The ship is awesome. There are three water slides, a climbing wall, 2 bowling alleys, and children's features. The ship touts its free style cruising in that there are no set times to eat and you can select from 2 main dining rooms (Taste and Manhattan) or specialty restaurants (some at extra cost). We went to the Manhattan dining room the first night. It was packed and so we had to make reservations with the hostess - 2 of our party had dress shorts on and were turned away so they had change into long trousers or dresses - women included to gain entrance into the dining room. It took about an hour for us to be seated (there were 9 of us). The service was unbelievably slow and when we were finally served my Caesar salad was tasteless, the lobster tails were rubbery and the snapper was overcooked. The maitre de stopped by to ask how we liked the food and I reported that it was a disappointment. She said that when you serve thousands of people you cannot expect gourmet food. This was unbelievable because we had experienced such great food on other cruise lines. We never ate at that dining room again.
The steak house on the ship is Cagney's - again substandard food (the same Caesar salad!); the food at the Cirque de Soleil dinner show was terrible as well. But on the plus side, the Italian restaurant was pretty good. It is interesting to note that the best food was at the buffets!
The entertainment was excellent - we saw the Blue Man Group and Cirque de Soleil - others in our party saw Second City and Legends. They all raved over how incredible the talent was on the ship. The Jazz Bar was a great place to go for late night jams.
We also bowled a few lines at one of the two bowling alleys onboard - that was a lot of fun. The ship has an Ice Bar that is a fun thing to visit. You wear poncho like parkas and gloves and drink from a glass made of ice. It was a lot of fun.
Excursions: In St. Maartens we went on the Rhino-Rider. It was a lot of fun but they failed to include in the literature that you have to swim from the Rhino-Rider to the beach and back (50-75ft) during the excursion. We had lifejackets on but it was a surprise. We went on the beach/shopping excursion on St. Thomas to Magans Bay beach then downtown shopping. The beach was great, there were picnic tables and shade trees as well as a bar and gift shop. This excursion is a little to ambitious to combine beach and shopping - I recommend that you do the beach, then take a cab to the shopping. We were not allotted enough time for shopping and exploring the downtown area during this excursion.
We did not take an excursion on Nassau but just went into town for some shopping and sight-seeing.
Staff: The staff on the Epic appeared to be inexperienced and were not particularly friendly (English was a challenge for many) - with a few exceptions. Our cabin steward, Francis, was terrific and a bar hostess, Rachel, was outstanding.
Spa/Fitness: the fitness facilities were really great and located where anyone exercising had a view of the ocean from floor to ceiling windows. The spa was an extra charge ($199/couple for the week). We opted to pay for the use of the spa and it was fantastic. They had heated stone loungers that were welcome after a steam bath. My husband and I had a couples massage and it was one of the best massages I've had. The whirlpool is more like a swimming pool it is so large - co-ed so bathing suits are required.
My husband enjoyed the cigar bar and I accompanied him - it is tucked away near the library and a very nice place to hang out for a cigar and a cocktail. They have sports on the TVs in this lounge which was welcome since the TVs in the staterooms do not have sports channels (a drawback during football season).
One note of caution - the shopping area reminded me of hawkers in Las Vegas. You couldn't walk through there without being forced to take a sheet of paper about what they were discounting for "one hour only". I like to shop but I don't like the hard selling on this ship.
It was just as easy disembarking as it was getting on board - very organized.
I hope this is helpful for those of you who are anticipating taking a cruise on the Epic - all in all the cruise was FUN. If you don't have fun on vacation, shame on you.