We found our one week experience on the Epic to be mostly positive. We are a couple aged 55 and 60 who hadn't cruised in about ten years. We thought we would try a cruise again, with another couple this time. Our previous cruises were both on Royal Caribbean, and we enjoyed them both.
We flew into Miami on Friday night, stayed at the Hyatt Place at the airport and had a liesurely dinner at a chain Italian restaurant nearby. It was a nice relaxing way to start our vacation, and was better than flying in on Saturday with the hope that your airline doesn't delay you so you miss the ship's departure at 4:00PM. We arranged with the hotel for van transportation to the cruise port on Saturday morning, which was about 30 minutes away.
Simply stated, the Epic is huge. We found the ship to be in spectacular condition, with no stains on carpets or scrapes in the paint or furniture. The newness of Epic is apparent. Getting around is not so easy, but by the end of the week, we at least had a handle on which way was forward; which way was aft. There is a lack of elevators on this ship that is apparent on embarkation, port and debarkation days. Sometimes it is simply easier to use the stairs.
The entire midships pool area is set up for kids, with loud music(?) and obnoxious cruise directors with microphones. In other words, like most cruise ships. The chair situation on Epic is epically bad - every morning I would take a walk around the ship, and by 8:00AM every deck chair had been saved. NCL says they do something to control this, but they don't. In our week onboard, except for days in port, we never had one opportunity to sit by the pool, as we never had an opportunity for a chair. And despite NCL's policy as stated in the cruise documents, we never saw an NCL employee removing the towels/books that the offenders had placed there. I refuse to lower myself to the level of the chair hogs and play their game. I truly believe the cruise line should rent the chairs by the hour, as it would end this ridiculous unfair practice. A big thumbs down from me.
The Spice H2O area, which is a pool, bar, snack and sunning area in the stern, we found to be very nice. We pretty much were able to always get a table/umbrella on the upper deck at the bar, where the service was great and there was a good view of the ocean, and no kids under 18 were allowed. We spent more time here than anywhere on the ship. There was a large contingent of young to middle aged adults on a singles cruise, and it was fun watching them get into their singleness at that bar.
The casino is a waste of time. The machines are extremely tight, and who knows what the payoffs are set at? At least in Vegas, there are laws that limit how much the casinos can rip you off on slot machines, and the state tests them frequently for compliance. Who regulates a casino on a cruise ship with a Panama registry? Probably no one. Stay away unless you like donating to NCL. And the cigarette smoke at the casino is pretty bad most of the time. I have one other major gripe with this cruise line. They put on a "Deal or No Deal" game show, and you pay $19.95 per ticket. This is the biggest cruise ship rip off I've ever seen, even worse than bingo or slot tournaments. The game was played more than once during the week, but we witnessed it just once. By my estimate they sold between 100 and 150 tickets, and gave away a total of about $200 in prizes. The rest went to NCL. They kept saying you could win thousands of dollars, but the only prizes given away were "free photos" or "free bingo", and other than the two persons selected to actually play the game, who won less than $300 between them, there were no cash prizes given away during this session. I plan to write a letter to the cruise line to chide them for their greed. Unbelievable.
We loved the freestyle dining on this ship. We ate in both the formal and informal main dining rooms, and found both to have excellent food and service. We especially enjoyed eating in the less formal main dining room, Taste. One night they served lobster tail, and three of our party had it and liked it very much. The rasberry chocolate flourless cake was outstanding. For a quick lunch, O 'Sheehan's Pub near the casino was good as well. We also ate at the Italian restaurant ($10 extra per person) and at the Brazilian steakhouse (a churrascaria) ($20 extra per person). The Italian was excellent, but the Brazilian was a Chinese copy of a churrascaria. They bring the meat around on a skewer like a churrascaria, but they don't slice it at your table. They merely push the piece of meat off the skewer onto your plate, which just isn't the same as having the server actually slice it. It was OK, but probably not worth the extra $20 per person. The Garden Cafe buffet restaurant was excellent, with a large selection of carefully prepared foods, all of which were neat, clean and tasty. And I have to comment on the coffee. Royal Caribbean's coffee was nothing short of awful on the two ships we sailed on previously. The Epic's coffee, which I had in several differrent places, was always hot and fresh. And if you want premium coffee (Starbuck type), they have a coffee bar at the entrance to the Taste Restaurant. Cudos to NCL for their coffee. I never ate breakfast all week so I can't comment on it. Bottom line, freestyle dining works.
Drink prices are high (surprise), with a mixed drink costing around $6.00 and a bucket of six beers in the Spice H2O bar going for $33.00 plus tip (buy five, get one free). In Cascades, the casino bar (where they have video poker machines in the bar top) I found the bartender to be very generous with the pour, and you really got your money's worth. If you like double shots for the price of a single, drink there.
The ports are what they are - shopping malls disguised as foreign countries. This cruise stopped at St. Thomas, St. Martin and Nassau. We took a van into the main part of Philipsburg, St. Martin and had a couple of local beers along the beach, which was nice. Other than that, we didn't do anything in the ports that is worth mentioning. I should mention that the women running booths at the "new" straw market in Nassau are the same as they were when we visited the "old" straw market about ten years ago. They don't like you and they make it clear they would rather be somewhere else. Not my favorite place in the world, and the Bahamas tourism people should do something about it.
We had an inside cabin, midships. The cabins on Epic get a lot of flak, but we thought ours was fine. I didn't see anything bad about it, but if you aren't in an intimate relationship with your cabin mate, I can see where the proximity of the commode to the room, coupled with the translucent glass wall, could give you pause. I didn't see anything wrong with how the shower is set up; in fact, I liked the shower overall. We saw several large people during our cruise, and I couldn't help but try to imagine a 350 pound person taking a shower in that narrow glass tube of a shower stall. The only room complaint we had is that there needs to be more light by the mirror. The room was kept very clean and orderly by our friendly room attendant, and we had a daily towel animal on the bed. Oh, there is a "wheel" outside each door which is the "do not disturb", "make up room", etc. indication. We had the red "do not disturb" sign up and when we left the room in the morning we forgot to change the wheel back to green. Your room attendant won't go into your room with that red sign on the wheel, so don't forget it like we did, or you might have to go without clean towels or a freshly made bed.
Service overall was excellent. We generally found servers to be excellent in both the "free" and "pay extra" restaurants, and the bartenders and bar servers we found to be friendly and knew your name after the second drink. I don't know if I like the $12 per person per day automatic tip that is charged to your room, but it does take the guesswork out of tipping. The unfortunate thing is that only people who work in jobs that touch all passengers get a share of those tips (room attendants, restaurant servers, etc.) Bartenders and bar servers only serve drinkers, so they don't share in the general tip pot. So you are expected to tip them separately, which can get expensive. While I don't like the tipping system, I try to tip the bar servers generously, as they work really hard and deserve their tips.
Shows were pretty good on Epic. The comedian/magician was excellent. He put on a one hour show that had us laughing throughout. And the Blue Man Group turned out to be both entertaining and enlightening, despite the fact that not a word is spoken. It's hard to explain their show; you just have to see it for yourself. But it is entertainment that you will remember for a long time, but you may not be able to explain why you liked it. Strange but good. We saw part of the Howl at the Moon dueling pianos show, and it was OK, but the chairs in that showroom became uncomfortable to all four of us after about 30 minutes, so we left in the middle of the show.
Overall a good week, and well worth the cost. If cruising is what you want to do, you won't go wrong with Norwegian Epic. On a scale of one to ten, I'd give it a seven.