We booked last minute (10 days before sailing) through Virgin Cruises and had set off to the airport straight from our wedding reception (3am), so by the time we arrived in Barcelona Port were well and truly overwhelmed, if a bit tired.
We had our 'British Summertime' clothes on...Advice number one, take a change of clothes in your hand luggage in case your room and luggage are not ready. It was not really a hinderance but I felt a bit daft on a sunlounger in what I was wearing.
As soon as we embarked (which was perfectly straight-forward) we were invited to go into the Garden Cafe on Deck 15 for lunch. We stayed up on the deck for an hour or so and decided to venture down to find our cabin. The bags weren't there yet but we made a coffee, checked out the view from the balcony, freshened up etc. then went back on deck for the "sail away party".
I would say on first impressions that the staff mission on that first day is to make you feel relaxed. It took about 90 minutes for me to forget my own name and lay back in the sunshine with a demented look of serenity on my face.
I have seen a few reviews on here condeming the attitude of the staff...we did not find this to be the case at all. Very freindly, outgoing and couldn't do enough to help you. We got the same impression from other passengers we spoke to throughout the trip. If you had a lost look on your face for longer than about 30 seconds you would find someone was there to check you were ok. We also found it easy to ask any member of staff about any aspect of the trip.
We paid for a speciality dinner in a chinese restaurant on our first night, which we thoroughly enjoyed. However, after using in an inclusive dining room the following night we did not spend any more money on food while onboard as they really do make an effort. The supply chain to that ship must be immense! One thing I would say is that the meals were a bit 'meat heavy' and if you like your veg and salad then the buffet style Garden Cafe has plenty to offer. I also found the seafood incredibly fresh.
I think it is a compliment to the EPIC that some people get so critical about the food. This is probably just because I have never cruised before, but at the end of the day you are on a boat...not in the middle of New York. Its amazing they can even offer you steak, lamb shanks, smoked salmon... and it was all cooked perfectly well considering the volume. Far better than most banquet style menus I've had in the past. It is easy to forget that it is a bulk dining hall, and not judge it against a la carte dining.
We paid for our cabin steward tips up front, and only paid the mandatory gratuities on drinks. Being British we thought the prices for alcohol were a bit steep at first, but these aren't our 'pub measures' and you get a lot for your money, especially with the cocktails.
The waiters in the main dining rooms were excellent. We did have one meal where we were not offered the wine list and the service was less attentive, but I would put that down to having gone to eat early, there being a lot of families and larger groups in. It was actually quite nice in its own way to be left to it a little bit.
O'Sheehans is a different sort of place to eat altogether. It has a pub atmosphere and is open 24-7, so if you have been up late and need to grab something it is easy, although we found the standard of the food there to be lower than elsewhere on the ship...but I really don't think thats what its there for, if you see what I mean.
The 'Day at Sea' was the busiest onboard, but we were still able to please ourselves. I have a leg injury so couldn't go into port every day. On days like that the deck was quieter. It made sense to us to stay on board a couple of the days, not least of all because taking an excursion would have been nearly as expensive for us as having a 2-3 day weekend city break there from the UK.
The Entertainment was fantastic from start to finish. Richard, the Cruise Director, is a real credit to the Ship. I don't know when that man sleeps!
We were travelling as a couple and it was quite busy with families...which I loved! Not least of all because the onboard entertainment for kids was so good (I have to admit we got a little jealous that we weren't still 8 years old). We managed to seek out the adult version of this in the Bliss nightclub after 11pm though. So funny :o)
We had an absolutely fantastic time. Early on in the trip it is wise to explore the menu section of your stateroom TV. There is so much information on there that is done in an entertaining way, along with an Account Review screen so you can easily keep tabs on your spending.
I think this is a 'cruise for everyone' type thing. It does have a lively atmosphere. Although we always managed to find tranquility when we wanted it.
80% of the people I know would go crazy for this cruise. The other 20% wouldn't book it because it would obviously not be for them. I have heard cruise ships be referred to as 'Butlins on the Water', well, imagine that with a big ladel of class poured over it and you'll be somewhere near the EPIC.
From Art Auctions, Seminars, Live musicians, Pianists and guitaists in the bars,Ballet, Blue Men...oh, and 'Headliners' is fantastic! - Leon behind the bar there is a true diamond.
Anyway, I could go on all day. A definate overall thumbs up from me :o)