We just finished our Norwegian Epic cruise and overall we were very happy with our cruise. We are regular cruisers that typically cruise on Royal Caribbean but have also done Carnival. We have been on all of RC's Freedom Class ships as well as Oasis of the Seas. This was our first time on Norwegian and on this trip was my wife and me, along with our 8 year old son. We booked with the travel agent months ago and had reserved a trip for the same week on Royal Caribbean's Freedom of the Sea, when my wife decided we needed to try Epic. So we changed our reservation. Since we cruise RC often, I will add comparisons throughout the review.
Travel - Embarkation
We travelled the day prior on an early direct flight to Miami and were on South Beach by noon. Cab was $34 to the beach from the airport. We stayed at the Marriott Courtyard because I had a free room with them. The hotel was OK, but I would not recommend it - especially if you have to pay for it. That being said, we like staying on South Beach. Spent that afternoon at the pool and walking around. Got up the next morning and walked the beach and watched a couple ships come into port. We headed to the ship about 10:30 that morning and were on the boat by 11:30 or so. Very easy embarkation. We did the typical thing and toured the boat and ate lunch in the garden cafe. Embarkation on RC and NCL are similar; very organized and easy.
We had originally booked a regular balcony room; however, we noticed the price dropped a bit before we left so we called to try and get an on board credit for the difference. They wouldn't do that, but they did upgrade our room to a mini-suite balcony. Calling it a suite is a stretch but it did add about 40 square feet to the size of the room. The room was ready about 1:30. For all the complaining you hear about the new style rooms on Epic, we were pleasantly surprised. The room had a lot of storage space compared to other ships we have been on. We thought the bathroom set up was great. Having the separate area for the shower, toilet and sink was great. There was enough room in the shower to actually take a shower and overall there was much more space in the bathroom area. Bed was very comfortable. I actually preferred the cabin on Epic just a little over RC. The bathroom space made all the difference in the world.
Ship Info & Service
We thought the ship was very nice and had plenty to do. We really liked the freestyle concept. At this point for us, the formal night thing is old and not having to pack a suit and worse yet, wear it, was great! We really liked not being tied to a set dinner time. Overall we found the staff helpful and friendly. The pools are small compared to RC and in my opinion have a lot of wasted space with fountains that they could have used to make them bigger. I hate getting in the pool and feeling like I'm in a pot of people soup. The slides are fun and my son really enjoyed them. The H2O zone pool area, for adults only was nice and had its own little lunch buffet that was never crowded. The gym is adequate although I was irritated when I went to do the spinning class and found out they charged extra for that. I figured I could punish myself for free doing something else so I left. They do seem to nickel and dime you to death and like to charge for a few more things than RC.
My son loved the kids club as he usually does. Not once did we pick him up when he didn't ask to stay. The staff in there was great and seem to really enjoy the kids. They operate a little differently than RC. They don't close during the day, but they also don't feed the kids except on port days. They charge during port time as well, which RC does not. Overall, very happy with the kid jail as we call it.
The entertainment on Epic was one of the things we were definitely looking forward to and we were not disappointed. The quality of entertainment and performers in general was very good and I would say better than we have seen on any other ship. I do recommend making reservations online for the key shows prior to getting on board. It can be difficult to get a reservation once on board, especially if you are looking for a specific date & time. Blue Man, Cirque and Legends are must see shows. I didn't hear anyone say they didn't like these. Second City comedy was a little disappointing, Improv is just not our thing. We signed up for the Jazz brunch and ended up cancelling and was glad I did. We heard the food was bad and the music was too. The Manhattan Band played for that and we heard them the night before - mediocre at best. Probably the only negative from the entertainment side. Howl at the Moon was good. Better singers than I have seen at most piano bars, but they don't set the venue up like you would see at a normal piano bar. They put chairs in rows so they can maximize seating and that took away the party atmosphere that you typically get at these places.
I will start with saying that I typically hate buffets and try like crazy to eat everywhere but there when on ships. I'm not a fan of dealing with large crowds when I eat and the food is usually mediocre at best. However, The Garden Cafe (their large buffet) was very good and actually one of the better places to eat on the boat. Quite frankly, we found the quality of the food to be better there than many other places on the ship. We ate at some specialty restaurants as well. Moderno and Le Bistro were both very good and worth the money. La Cucina was mediocre at best. We ate at the noodle bar as well and thought it was very good but you pay for that as well. O'Sheehans was OK bar food and was free. The main dining rooms were not good compared to RC and we were disappointed with them. NCL really needs to fix this since it's one of the few place they don't charge you to eat. I will also say that drinking wine on NCL is considerably more expensive than we have found it to be on other ships. Didn't like the way they do their wine package. Bottom line is there are some good options for eating but they charge for most of them.
We stopped at St. Marten, St. Thomas and Nassau; all places we have been before. We went to Orient Beach at St. Marten and did the Island tour at St. Thomas. Recommend you get off the boat and pay for these without reserving through the ship; it will save you about 50%. We got off the ship at Nassau just to do a little shopping.
Again, overall we were very happy with NCL Epic. It's a nice ship and we would recommend it. That being said, I think I am still a little partial to Royal Caribbean. I think their Freedom Class ships have a little more to offer .