Many people blame the faults of this ship on it's large size, but I disagree. For me it was all about poor design. We have sailed on Allure of the Seas and Freedom of the Seas in the past few years and had no issues. They got it so right and made the most of their size. NCL really misses the mark with the design of this vessel. I still like the NCL Freestlye concept and intend to cruise with them again at some point, but I would never repeat on Epic.
Things I didn't like:
THE CABIN - This felt cramped and poorly laid out. The balcony cabins have two alternating layouts. One with the bed close to the door, the alternate with the bed close to the balcony. If you can, opt for the second version. Unfortunately, ours had the bed by the door. This creates an instant block, and makes the cabin feel even smaller than it actually is. The sink is so close to the bed that you needn't get out of bed to brush your teeth (I am not exaggerating). You then have a very uncomfortable curved sofa that is too large for the cabin. If only it had been a nice small size arm chair you might actually have used it! As mentioned countless times by others the bathroom scenario is a mess. As a couple we didn't mind the frosted glass walls, but I can see how it could be really awkward for some parties. What annoyed me was the ugly addition of a curtain in this area. It's clearly the only cheap and quick way that NCL could solve the privacy issue. However, for me it only served to make the cabin feel even smaller.
On the plus side there is tons of storage. There is also a full length closet so that long dresses and coats can be accommodated. The balcony is larger than average (we wished they'd made the cabin bigger and balcony smaller). The bed was very comfortable.
THE ENTERTAINMENT - I cruise to relax during the day and be entertained in the evenings. Sadly the so called "ship of entertainment" let me down big time. First off, I do not like this trend of having the same show repeated night after night because the ship has a small theatre. I like to go to the theatre every night on a cruise and see a great show. On Epic you basically have two chances in seven evenings to see something at the theatre. Blue Man Group is their big over-hyped unique selling point. I was quite keen to see the show, but it turns out that the show is SUPER BORING. Absolutely not my idea of entertainment. This show does not belong at sea. The other headline show was Legends in Concert. This was actually good. All three performers were excellent. I did enjoy that a lot. However, one good night out of seven was very disappointing.
In the Manhattan restaurant they twice had a Motown show. If you were not eating there then you could still go in and watch but had to find an empty table and make the best of it. This was a very weird way to present your so called entertainment. As it was the act sounded dreadful, and we only stayed for fifteen minutes. How can you go wrong with the music of Motown??? Amazing!
The lounge acts were not all that either. Except for Apollo Duo (easy listening) and Fat Cats (blues band) they were both very good.
We did not attend the circus inspired dinner show at the Spiegel Tent but, on the last day we managed to enter the room just to check it out. It was really small. Both of us said "Is that it?" and a lady who'd been to it overheard us and remarked that indeed we had "not missed much".
One last thing I must remark on was the "Caribbean" band Upryzin. They played several times by the pool and each time drove me away. Way too loud, and again not of a very good standard. I HATED THEM.
THE SHIP ITSELF - From the outside this ship is no looker. It's been pretty much universally acknowledged that it is an ugly looking ship. However, my take was that when I am on board I cannot see it. So, who cares! I was sure that the interiors would be amazing since this was NCL's biggest and boldest ship yet.
Sadly, I was wrong. The design and layout problems don't end at the cabin door. The public areas also feel cramped and somewhat claustrophobic. There is no stunning high rise atrium which would have given a much need sense of space and grandeur. The casino is sprawling and hard to avoid. The two free restaurants are OK in design but again lack any real sense of elegance or grandeur. Maybe I'm fickle but I want chandeliers and high ceilings and a feeling of being somewhere special.
The pool deck is not big enough to accommodate 4000+ passengers and on sea days it felt really cramped. Three small pools are not good enough on a ship this size. Even the waterslides cannot distract you from noticing this, but they were nevertheless quite good fun.
The much vaunted Spice H2O (Ibiza inspired adults area) was a dud both day and night as well. Pool very small. A noisy cramped area by day; a soulless Ibiza wannabe by night that failed miserably on every count. I was absolutely longing for a Royal Caribbean solarium where you can enjoy a truly relaxing adult environment.
THE NOISE - If you like peace and quiet DO NOT choose Epic. There is literally no escape from the constant muzak they play everywhere. I heard several other passengers comment on this too. I appreciate that large parts of the ship will be loud and boisterous. That's absolutely fine. However, I want to have somewhere up on deck that is calm and restful so I can read a book in peace. This simply cannot be found on Epic. What a shame.
MY FELLOW PASSENGERS - Clearly I am now generalizing, (and there were many exceptions to this rule on board) but the Freestyle concept appears to be attracting a somewhat slobby and uncultured crowd. People who cannot even be bothered to wear a pair of long trousers and shoes to a restaurant in the evening. I find this a problem. I like a certain amount of decorum, and NCL should enforce their own stated rules regarding this, but they don't.
Things I did like (sadly, there weren't many):
THE FOOD - All the food we ate was excellent. This was true whether it was the buffet, free restaurants or speciality restaurants. Good choices, well cooked and nicely presented. Desserts could have been more varied though. If you have a sweet tooth you might be disappointed.
THE ONBOARD ACTIVITES - We loved the bowling lanes. Also, enjoyed playing air hockey and table tennis. We went to several of the trivia quizzes - even managed to win one of them. We liked the fact that a movie was shown most afternoons in the atrium.
THE CRUISE DIRECTOR - I usually don't like the cruise director on most ships. They are usually loud, tacky and quite invasive of your experience. Same cannot be said about Andy. He got the tone just right and was not 'gimmicky'. If only all cruise directors could take a leaf out of his book.
EMBARKATION/DISEMBARKATION - NCL have this down to a fine art. Both times were quick, easy and hassle free.
In conclusion I would say that NCL Epic is ideal for a young mainstream party crowd. It is for people who like constant noise and constant distraction. If you want to relax in a more adult environment do not choose this ship.