Background: We are a same-sex couple, in our early to mid-40s and had never cruised before. We were on the Epic from Dec 24-31.
Pre-Cruise: We flew into Miami the day before to avoid the stress of any potential delays plus it allowed us an opportunity to explore the city. I booked our flights myself as I found the flexibility and price to be preferable to what NCL offered. We caught a cab from MIA airport to our hotel, Holiday Inn Port of Miami on Biscayne Blvd.
Transportation to the port: Cabs were readily available and lined up outside of the hotel. It was a 10 minute ride to the port.
Embarkation: The most efficient process I have ever experiened. I had read every customer review prior to travel. Even the consistent, excellent rating the embarkation process received among passengers did not prepare me for the ease with which we boarded the ship. We left our hotel at 10:45 AM and arrived at the port at 10:55. A porter was waiting at the curb to take our luggage. We proceeded directly to security and then onto the check-in area. We were given health forms to fill out (a one-pager). Despite the fact that I am organized and thorough, I managed to arrive in Miami without our eDocs that I had printed weeks before we left. Realizing my error, I tried to print them at the hotel business center but got a message from NCL's website that said I had no pending reservations. I could have kicked myself. Despite my blunder, the lack of eDocs held us up maybe all of one minute. By 11:10 we had our key cards and were in the waiting area with other eager cruisers waiting for our group to be called to board the ship. WOW! By 11:25, we were onboard exploring. WOW again!
Stateroom: Inside cabin, 10th deck. I was actually dreading the size of the cabin. I had last-minute jitters and called to check into upgrading to a balcony. No balcony rooms were available that close to departure though. Oh well. I was pleasantly surprised with the size of the inside cabin. We chose to keep our room in the twin bed configuration which allowed more space to walk between the beds than if we had asked our steward to push them together. There was plenty of storage in the room and plenty of hangers. The worst part about the inside cabin, for me, was the lack of natural light, but this would be true of any inside room on any cruise ship. When I would wake up in the morning, I would have no idea if it was 5:00 AM or 10:00 AM. Rooms were supposed to be ready around 2:00 PM on embarkation day, but the announcement that rooms on the 10th floor were ready came around 1:30 PM. The separated shower and toilet areas were a non-issue for us. Water pressure in the shower was great. Our room steward definitely met our expectations and kept our room neat and the towels replenished. He did not do anything above and beyond the call of duty, but we didn't have any special requests of him.
Entertainment: Absolutely top of the line and first-rate. We had pre-booked Blue Man Group 45 days out and found it to be phenomenal. A guy who was seated next to us said it was a very similar show to what he had paid a hefty ticket price to see a couple of years before. We saw a Second City Comedy show and loved it. Slam Allen and his band were simply awesome. We loved Howl at the Moon, the dueling piano show, and James "The Piano Man" Barr at Shakers was enjoyable and a low-key entertainment option. We went to "The Men Behind the Blue," which was basically a Q&A session with the Blue Man performers. This was very interesting and we thoroughly enjoyed learning about the creative process behind the Blue Man Group as well as what it takes to be a Blue Man. In reading the daily Freestyle agendas, there was something for all ages and interests to do (or not do) virtually all day, every day ... movies in the atrium, Bingo, football games on the big screen in the atrium, Wii, pizza making and cupcake decorating for families, art auctions, wine tastings, beer tastings, fruit carving demos, chef demos, dance parties, limbo contests, Mrs. and Miss Epic pageants, game shows, Christmas carol sing-a-longs, Santa visit for kids and the list goes on. If would be impossible not to find several activities that appealed to you every day, if activities are your thing.
Included Dining Venues: We primarily ate in the dining rooms that were included in the cruise fare -- Manhattan Room, Taste, O'Sheehan's, Garden CafÃ© and Great Outdoors. Manhattan Room and Taste were good--not great, but good. You need to remember the kitchen is doing mass catering here. The Manhattan Room alone seats 540 people, so assuming each table is occupied three times in one evening then that dining room alone is serving over 1600 meals a night. It is not going to be knock-your-socks-off good. It can't be. We preferred the atmosphere and food at Taste to the Manhattan Room. The menus for dinner are exactly the same, but for some reason the food seemed to arrive more quickly at Taste and it seemed to be hotter upon arrival. I can't explain why this was because it defies logic, but that was our experience. On Christmas night, in the Manhattan Room, two of the four courses I ordered showed up incorrectly. I got a salad when I had ordered soup, and I got a turkey entrÃ©e when I had ordered something else. I had the server exchange the salad for the soup that I had ordered, but the roasted turkey entrÃ©e looked really good so I decided to keep it. I'm sure it was better than the glazed ham that I had originally ordered, so that was actually a lucky mistake. Wait times for a table during peak dinner hours could be long in both Manhattan Room and Taste. We usually went early (before 6:00) or late (after 8:30) to avoid the long queues. I'm not big on buffets but the Garden CafÃ© seemed above average. There were several stations that offered food cooked to order (omelets, pasta, crepes, etc.). The stations looked clean and the buffet in general was promptly replenished as necessary. Dining tables were cleaned off promptly and were restocked with silverware. The food on the buffet was pretty good, but there is still the problem of folks grabbing slices of pizza or pieces of bread with their bare hands instead of using the tongs that are provided. This simply grosses me out so I avoid buffets for this reason alone. O'Sheehan's was pretty good. The menu was rather limited but most of the food was decent and arrived hot. Desserts all over the ship were severely lacking (lots of panna cotta, flan and custard-like desserts). The best dessert going was the scooped ice cream in the Garden CafÃ©. Don't miss the coconut ice cream. Bread all over the ship was consistently excellent. They have their own bakery onboard and it shows. Chocolate croissants in the morning were awesome. Bakery baskets for breakfast in O'Sheehan's and Taste were terrific. Breakfast was my favorite meal of the day on the ship.
Room Service and 24/7 Pizza: Room service was fast and efficient and the orders arrived correctly. The 24/7 pizza was just plain disgusting. You can order a cheese pizza, pepperoni pizza or veggie pizza for $5 and have it delivered anywhere on the ship. I tried to order a veggie pizza and add pepperoni. I was told they could not do that. Why? It seemed like a fairly simple and straight-forward request that should not be that difficult. In the end, it didn't really matter because the pizza was so disgusting that neither my partner nor I could eat it anyhow. I choked down one small slice and my partner took one bite, then the remainder went into the garbage can. I would have much preferred a frozen pizza.
Specialty Restaurants: We ate at Moderno (the Brazilian churrascaria) twice. It was excellent both times and well worth the $20 per person supplement. The garlic beef was my favorite skewered meat, and the picanaha was my partner's favorite. Salad bar was oh-so-good and had many high-end items (ceviche, artisan meats and cheeses, including Stilton and brie, seafood chowder, a particularly good roasted corn salad with pecan halves and fresh jalapenos, fresh mozzarella with sundried tomatoes, lamb wrapped in grape leaves, etc.). The waitstaff at Moderno was great. Dessert (mango rice pudding, papaya cream with dark rum and caramel flan) was fantastic. Coffee at Moderno was especially good and seemed to be from a more robust bean than the coffee served at the included dining rooms. We really enjoyed both of our meals here. We also at the Shanghai Noodle Bar. Prices are a la carte but are very reasonable. $18 got us two orders of spring rolls, two orders of potstickers and a large bowl of noodles with chicken and veggies. Service and food were excellent at the Noodle Bar.
Beverages: Alcoholic drinks all over the ship were on the pricey side. A bottle of Bud Light was over $6 (including the auto-gratuity). In the city where I live, I can get a pitcher of domestic beer for around $10 so this seemed expensive to me. House red and white wine was $9 - $10 per glass. If you drink a lot of wine, you'd probably be better off buying it by the bottle or participating in the wine programs where you get 20% off if you purchase six bottles during the first day or two of your cruise. I bought a soda card ($50 for unlimited soda for the week). I drank Diet Pepsi and it seemed to lose its carbonation quickly and the ice melted rapidly. After just a few minutes, the soda was watered down and flat. I'm not sure I would purchase a soda package if I had it to do again. I was happy to get what tasted like a *real* diet soda at the Miami airport the day we disembarked.
Pool Deck: Chairs around the pool deck were hard to come by on sea days. For this reason, we opted to stay on the ship during port days to relax on the pool deck in the peace and quiet. Chairs were plentiful on all three port days.
Service/Crew: Overall, the service and crew were very good and attentive. We encountered a couple of folks who went above and beyond, and a couple of folks who didn't quite live up to our expectations, but as a whole, the crew we encountered and the service we received was pleasant and efficient.
Elevators: I found the elevators to be reasonably fast and efficient except for peak times. We avoided a lot of coming and going during peak times for this reason.
Disembarkation: Fast, easy and efficient. We got up early to avoid any potential crowds in the elevator and were one of the first folks to disembark. We literally walked right off with our luggage, went quickly through customs and were in a cab in under minutes.
Bottom Line: We enjoyed the cruise very much. We felt that our expectations were met and we received what we had paid for. With that being said, if we cruise again, we would likely explore other cruise lines and ships to see what types of pricing and amenities they offered. We would not be opposed to going on another Norwegian cruise nor would we be opposed to trying out a competitor to have something to compare and contrast against. If you have already booked the Norwegian Epic, please continue to read the customer reviews, as I did before sailing. I found them incredibly helpful in planning my trip and the information I gained through the reviews was instrumental in helping me understand what to expect and what to prepare for. Happy Sailing.