My husband and I went together. This was our 2nd cruise. Previously, we went on the Carnival Imagination to Key West and Cozumel. We absolutely loved going on another cruise, and Epic was definitely an experience worth having. If you want to experience great entertainment, then Epic is an excellent choice.
We took a risk and flew into Miami the morning of our ship's departure. Luckily, we arrived on time. Boarding, as everyone before me has said, is fast and easy. Also, don't worry about packing hand sanitizer; being such a large ship with over 4,000 passengers, Epic pumps out sanitizer everywhere to dissolve any Norovirus! As soon as we got onto the ramp to board, our hands were getting sprayed with sanitizer.
Our rooms were ready as soon as we boarded, so we dropped off our carry-ons. By the way, NCL has nice little plastic bed protectors so you can put your suitcase on the bed without making the bedding dirty. As a clean freak, I appreciated that!
We had a balcony room on Deck 13. The balcony was your average cruise sized balcony with two chairs and a small table. Unfortunately, smoking is allowed in balconies, and we always went back into the room due to the smoking.
The 2 twin beds were pushed together into a King bed at our request. The mattress and bedding are excellent! We had a sofa that folded out into a bed as well. There were numerous but small storage areas throughout the room: above the bed, under every counter, and near the ceiling along the long walls. In fact, you can find extra bedding above the bed. Sadly, despite so many storage spaces, many of the spots are too small to be useful or too hard to access (like the ones near the ceiling). Another negative is that there is no space to walk whatsoever. My husband and I had to take turns getting around the room. Also, as others have mentioned, lighting is not the best. You can definitely make do and put on make up (it helped that we had the balcony to let in light). BUT it is still pretty dim. I wouldn't say its much worse than any other ship, though.
As for the infamous bathroom situation- you walk into your room, and one side has an enclosed toilet, and the other has an enclosed shower. Both are enclosed with a foggy glass. Past the shower, is a little counter and then the sink. I appreciated that this set up allowed the shower to be bigger compared to other ships. However, I didn't like that the there was carpeting between all three parts of the bathroom, and nothing was connected. As far as the privacy...that's not an issue if you live with the person you are traveling with. Also, there is a curtain you can pull out to separate the bathroom half of the room from the rest of the room. This pretty much guarantees "visual" privacy. For those worrying about sounds/smells, not so much privacy. BUT AGAIN, you don't get much of that in any other bathroom set up either due to space constraints. Don't let the bathroom set up keep you from trying the ship is my main advice.
Dining options have been discussed by everyone a lot. And, you can find all the dining areas/restaurants discussed in detail on the website. So, I'm not going to do a list of every restaurant.
Its important to note, that there is the main buffet called the Garden Cafe. Each food station is replicated 4 times in the Garden Cafe, so if the line for dessert is long, just walk to another side of the buffet where there will the exact same dessert station. You can find Burgers, Asian, Indian, Comfort foods, Ice cream, Pizza, and Salads regularly for lunch/dinner. For Breakfast, there are always omelette stations, pancakes, waffles, meats, cinnamon buns, etc. You will not lack for variety. Compared to carnival's buffets, the buffet is much tastier on NCL.
The dining rooms on board, which have no extra charge are Taste and the Manhattan Room. Taste is less fancy. Both dining rooms serve the exact same menu for lunch and dinner. So, the only difference is if you want to get dressed up more to go to Manhattan or dress down and be at Taste. Also, for Lunch, it is the same menu every day on the ship in the dining rooms. Carnival definitely did BETTER! There was more variety and better flavor. NCL had some sort of cheese/hollandaise sauce for several dishes, which tasted like off brand Velveeta.
Also, Carnival is famous for their chocolate melting cake. We learned that NCL is famous for their Cheesecake- do try it at least one night. It is incredible!
All dining on the Epic is your time dining. You can come any time. Due to this, there can be a wait at peak hours. They will give you a voucher for a soda or glass of champagne at the nearby bar if you have a long wait for a table. Also, if it is busy, be prepared for long waits between courses. We noticed, though, that the Manhattan dining room doesn't have as long waits for food as does the Taste dining room....think this might be due to the kitchen being closer to Manhattan or the kitchen considering Manhattan dining more of a priority as it is fancier.
Also, we're vegetarian, and the waiters were not as aware of different dietary needs as on Carnival. On Carnival, they were prepared for Kosher, Gluten Free, Vegetarian, etc... and clearly had options marked on the menu for Vegetarians. NCL did nothing of the sort. Even when I repeatedly asked a waiter if I could eat a certain dish, he would say yes. Later, another waiter told me it had beef broth it. We brought this issue up to the Maitre'd and Guest Services, who both basically stated that if we were not sick, it was not really a problem. I ended bringing this up to the Food and Beverages Director, who gave us dinner at Le Bistro free of charge with a bottle of wine. He also said we should have told the ship ahead of time we were vegetarian so an alternate menu could be arranged. However, that's not what we wanted. We know that the ship caters to the majority. We don't expect special menus; we can find plenty to eat. We just want to be able to trust our waiter when we ask what a dish is made of.... then we can make our own decision as to whether we want to eat it or not. I appreciate the Food and Beverage Director's gesture, but he did not seem to understand this.
There are many choices for entertainment, the big ones being Blue Man Group, Cirque Dreams, Legends in Concert, and Second City Comedy. You will need to reserve the first 3 of these. I highly recommend reserving them online prior to your cruise.
All of these, except for Cirque, are free. Cirque has a cover charge and serves a nice dinner. I highly recommend you pay extra for the better seats for the Cirque show. We did not, and got the cheaper seats. It ruined the show a bit as we could not see parts of the show. The show is a mix of comedy and acrobatics and other talents (one lady spun a guitar around with her feet while lying down).
If you like a mix of comedy/social commentary/ and plain old "weirdness," you'll love Blue Man Group. They have some audience involvement as well. You can take pictures with the Blue Man group after the show. If I give details, it will ruin the show!
We went to Legends which featured 3 performers (Elvis, Katy Perry, and Steven Tyler of Aerosmith). Steven Tyler was incredible, and I enjoyed his performance a lot even though I never really listened to his music before. His impersonation, dress, manners, and singing were spot on. He was everyone's favorite. Katy Perry was terrible. Everyone we talked to did not like her performance. Elvis was okay; mostly a hit with the older ladies, because he walked into the audience to kiss them. Also, they have back-up dancers who dress pretty scantily. I would not bring kids to the show if I had any. At one point, the dancers are wearing see through shorts with thongs on and keep putting their butts in the air. It wasn't even pretty/sexy/whatever... more vulgar than anything.
Second City has a few different shows (adult comedy, improv, etc.). We went to their improv show due to being busy with other activities during their other performances. Unfortunately, the improv show was awful. My husband and I have been to our local Dallas comedy club numerous times, and we were bored out of our minds with Second City. I'm hoping its just due to being the improv show- maybe that is not their strong suit. I would like to try and give them a second chance with their regular comedy show in the future.
Other entertainment options are the various games, trivia, drinking samplings, etc that are posted daily on the ship's newsletter. Compared to carnival, these activities were not as fun. We did play the couple's match game. They also play movies in the atrium and at the pool. If you join in any of the trivia games, you have to get these little cards signed by ship crew members, which you can then redeem for prizes at the end of the cruise.
Also, Epic has an Ice Bar which is open in the evenings. It has a $20 cover charge but you get 2 drinks with it. They give you a parka and gloves to wear into the ice bar, but still dress warmly. My husband and I lasted 30 minutes while wearing sandals! Its a lot o fun. Everything is made of ice including the chairs, decorations, and glasses.
There is a sprawling casino, but we did not try anything as we don't gamble. But for those who do, we noted that they had a lot of options. I think what ruins the casino though, is that its just across the whole floor. It doesn't have its own segmented area. Therefore, while you're playing at the slots, families are trying to navigate around you and lines of people at Blackjack to get to the other side of the ship. Same goes for those of us walking around; its frustrating getting through crowds playing casino games and smoking. They really should have made the casino its own space.
PORTS & EXCURSIONS
We stopped in St. Maarten/Martin, St. Thomas, and Nassau. The ports all focused on shopping.
As soon as you get off, all you can access is shopping, particularly at St. Maarten. You have to pay to get anywhere near a beach. But there is a $5-7 ferry, which you can utilize all day long around St. Maarten. We did the Underwater Sea Trek there. It was an incredible experience getting to walk under the water. However, it was short, and there was not much to see. The "artifacts" and "ship wreck" you see are all items they imported and placed around the walkway they made 25ft under water. The helmet is weighted and pretty much acts as an air bubble. The most important thing to do is keep swallowing while under water to reduce pressure (like on an airplane). Don't expect to take pictures here, because you need both hands to hold onto the walkway railing. They do have a photographer follow you around, and you can purchase the CD at the end. It was still a worthwhile excursion for the experience. After this, we just walked around the ships and relaxed on the beach.
At St. Thomas, you can get to the beach right away without an extra ferry or bus ride. We did the kayak, hike, snorkel excursion. It was wonderful but too short. You take a drive through the island (about 20 minutes) before you arrive at the excursion location. They give instructions, water bottles, and snorkel gear. You get to kayak through the mangroves, take a short walk through the island, and then snorkel. When snorkeling, you have to go swim pretty far out to see any fish or coral. By the time you swim out that far, they call you back to kayak again. They also have a photographer follow you around to take pictures. You can bring a camera with you, but make sure its water proof as water gets in the canoe. There are also lockers to stow your belongings in if you have things you don't want to kayak with.
Finally, we went to Nassau and did the shallow water dolphin encounter. Definitely spring for the deep water one- it was much more fun, and you actually swim with the dolphins. In the shallow water excursion, we only got to kiss the dolphin, pet its stomach and back, and then watch it do 2-3 tricks (total of 30 minutes). The water went waist high as well. Also, it was a bit of a waste of time, because they make everyone who has the excursion come to the location at the same time. So your time with the dolphins could be 2 hours after the people you came with. Basically, you spend those 2 hours watching the other people hang out with the dolphins. Also, they take all the pictures and charge exorbitantly for photos. It was $70-90 for 5 small photos. This excursion took place at the Atlantis resort, so after your dolphin encounter, you can walk through the hotel, their fake Atlantis "ruins," and the hotel grounds--- all of which is very beautiful.
Leaving the ship is not as fast as getting on! We had a flight that left at 9 AM. We were told, if we had an early flight, to come to the casino at 7:15 AM. There was a line from one end of the ship to the other end. And they didn't even check tickets like Carnival did. So, there were people, who just wanted to get off the ship and had flights after 12 PM in the same line. This delayed us a lot, and we barely caught our flight.
If you are willing to carry all your own luggage off the ship, then you can get in any line at any time basically. Only people who need their luggage brought down for them have specific times to leave.
The slides are amazing. Try them! If you wait until after 7 PM, they are usually not as busy, especially on nights after the ship has been port. Most people go to eat or go to bed early.
Same with the pools and hot tubs- less crowded on port nights.
Also, we had no trouble finding lounge chairs any time of the day and didn't notice any "reserving" happening.
ALL IN ALL
We enjoyed the experience a lot. The entertainment made the ship worth it. Other than that, there was not much special about it. We loved our excursions and being in the Caribbean. In the future, we're probably not going to try big ships regularly. It felt a little too crowded at times. We'd only try them for the "unique" experiences they offer, such as the huge RCL ship that has a boardwalk on it.