I would like to preface my review by stating that I love CruiseCritic.com and have used it many times and in many ways. I have come to a conclusion though....some people will complain about anything.
Prior to leaving on this cruise, I looked at the reviews for the Epic and started to get quite depressed about my upcoming trip. The issues/complaints seemed to be overwhelming and sometimes a bit just plain ludicrous. The placement of the sink? Really? Is that "complaint" worthy? So I boarded the ship with some preconceived notions of all that would be bad.
Embarkation-quick, painless, zero-waiting, cabin ready.
First impression-yes...you do enter directly onto deck 6 through the casino and there is a noticeable smell of smoke. Cigarette smoke because it's a casino! A reason to not sail on the Epic or to blast it on a review? I suppose for some, but to me, it didn't seem like that big a deal.
Cabins-from reading the reviews, I thought I would be walking into a poorly designed prison cell. The cabin was wonderful. Yes...it's small, but it's a ship. When was the last time you felt you had too much room in a ship cabin? There are curved glass doors on the right and left as you enter. One for the shower and one for the toilet. A curtain can close off/separate this area from the rest of the cabin for those that seem to freak out over the fact that you might be able see the frosted glass image of a body while showering or using the toilet. I couldn't see anything through the glass other than the movements of a person, but I suppose, like everything else, this could also bother some.
The location of the sink seemed just fine to me. You get out of the shower and you use the sink. No big deal. The water didn't splash all over like everyone mentioned and even if it had, I would have simply used one of the many towels supplied to clean it up.
The bed was very comfortable, the TV and phone system excellent and the balcony more than adequate for what one would do on a balcony. Yes, the distance from the end of the bed to the counter/storage areas is a bit tight, but we seemed to be able to coordinate our movements in such a way that both of us were able to do what we needed to do/get dressed/shower, etc. without any problems.
The steward service was exceptional and like others have commented, the dial outside the cabin with settings for "do not disturb", "clean up cabin", "turn down service", etc. made communicating with the staff very simple and efficient.
The boat itself is huge, not Oasis of the Seas huge, but bigger than the 2000+ ships out there. If I were going to agree with anything others have complained about, it would be the size of the swimming pools for a boat this size. They could definitely be larger. We had no trouble finding deck chairs at either the family pool or the adult section and unlike other comments, we didn't see a single child in the adult section during our entire cruise.
The PA system was crystal clear, another complaint I had read about and the announcements were timely and not overdone as on other cruises I've been on.
The spa is excellent and the gym is one of the nicest I have seen on a cruise ship. Plenty of equipment and a beautiful view of the ocean while you're in there.
Restaurant selection is exceptional. There is the usual buffet and a nice dinner restaurant, "Manhattan Room" and "Taste" for those that chose not to pay any surcharges. The food in the buffet restaurant was well prepared with a wide selection and there was plenty of seating available. The food in the Manhattan Room was ok for cruise food, but certainly not great.
We dined in surcharge restaurants 6 out of 7 nights because we thought the Manhattan Room just wasn't that good...but it was certainly busy every evening.
Cruise dining is obviously a VERY subjective subject as one can tell simply from reading all the differing opinions. Some people could go to a buffet for every meal and think it was the greatest experience of their life and others would never set foot in there. NCL manages to provide myriad dining options with surcharges ranging from $10 to $25. We thought the overall increase in quality of food and service at the surcharge restaurants was more than worth the surcharge. Cagney's Steakhouse, La Cucina and Teppenyaki were all excellent.
Now whether or not NCL is purposely trying to serve bad food in the "free" restaurants and provide less than stellar service seems to be a common complaint. To me, that doesn't really seem to make sense. There are enough people on the boat to keep the surcharge restaurants quite full every evening. As I stated above, I think the food in the "free" restaurants was ok but I think that from a business standpoint, NCL tries to make sure that things in the surcharge restaurants are better. Simply because the customer is paying more. Like most things in life, you get what you pay for.
Entertainment wise, I can't comment as I don't really enjoy cruise shows. I heard good things about Blue Man Group and the Cirque show. The entertainment in the clubs and bars was very good though with a large selection of rotating bands, singers, piano players, etc.
The service in the bars and clubs was excellent. The complaints about the Ice Bar? $20 to enter? Well, the $20 included two drinks so it was basically the same cost as drinking anywhere else on the ship. However, since you have to wear a heavy parka and it's like -57 degrees in there, we skipped it.
So overall, the only thing I could complain about would be the cost of internet access, but then, I was on vacation and didn't really care all that much about logging in. .75/minute is a bit high. There's a 100 minutes for $55 and a 200 minutes for $100 plan but from other cruises I've been on, to me, this charge could be lower.
I didn't feel "nickeled and dimed" by NCL at any point. The gratuity is included as a $12/day charge per person and there's an automatic 15% or 18% tip on your bar bill....I can't remember how much it was, but it seemed quite fair and the servers/bartenders were super friendly and always available.
So my conclusions about reviews are that more people complain when they write them than those that have good things to say.
Is the boat big? Yes. Are there areas that smell like smoke? Yes. Could you be served some cold food at some point in time in a "free" restaurant? Yes. Could the pools be bigger? Sure....but not now, since they've already built the damn thing. Could the cabins be bigger? Sure....but if you want a bigger cabin, spend the money for a bigger cabin. Do the toilets flush loudly? Yes. But why would that be a problem?
We had a great time and enjoyed the Epic and everything about it. At no point in time did it seem as if there were too many people crowding things. The only line we faced was during disembarkation and even that moved quite quickly and the speed of that line is more a function of US Customs than NCL.
Overall, it was a great ship with a great crew and a great cruise.