First of all, I have to say that if you are planning a cruise, take the time to join a roll call here on the cruise critic board. The Thanksgiving Epic cruise was one of the largest threads on this board and it was wonderful to meet people that we felt we already knew...just by following their board posts. A special thanks to JW and Jerome for making us feel so welcome. The Epic staff also recognized us as a special group which was really nice.
Overall we loved the ship. Boarding was very simple. I believe we got to the port about 11:15. Parked in the parking garage which was pricey ($20.00 per day) but worth it to us. We dropped off our luggage, parked the car and walked over to the terminal. I think we walked in about 11:30. It took about 10 minutes to get checked in. We were in a waiting room for about 10 more minutes and were on board by shortly after that. One thing to note: the waiting room (holding area) restrooms were blocked. So, make sure you go before you get there. This could be a problem if you have a long wait. Once on board, our staterooms were ready around 12:30 so overall it was a great experience.
The rooms were actually better than I expected based on what I had read in previous reviews. There is an amazing amount of storage. It's kind of like living in a IKEA room! The closets had plenty of hangers which was a nice surprise. Would I prefer a different style of bathroom? Yes, but it was still OK. We didn't get water all over the floor and had no problems with the sink. I wouldn't have a problem at all booking this type of room again.
We found the service to be excellent everywhere we went. I don't think I ever passed an employee in the hall who didn't ask if we were having a good time. Everyone took the time to make sure we had a great experience.
On day 2 we had a cruise critic meet and greet party where we met the heads of the different departments. This was great and they gave us everyone's phone extensions and encouraged us to call if we had problems. This party was also a chance to meet more new friends from the cruise critic roll call and make plans for dinners & events later in the week.
The overall layout of the ship felt good to us. The ship feels very much like a "party" ship. We rarely took the elevators (we figured the stairs would help with all the calories) but the few times we did, we didn't really have much of a wait.
Although the ship had a party feel, there were enough adult areas that you could easily find a quieter area. And there were more than enough deck chairs for everyone.
Since we live in Florida, we weren't really looking for long days in the sun so we took advantage of two of the "extras" offered by the Epic. The first was the posh deck and the second was the couples spa package. I don't think we would buy both again just because there isn't enough time to use them. If you love the sun I highly suggest the posh deck package. It's wonderful. You can sit in the sun (or under cover) in an adults only area. It's above the pool (you have to take the elevator directly to the pool )but extremely relaxing.
My all time favorite place was the thermal spa suite area. I believe this was $238 per couple and we loved it. Amazing hot tubs with pulsating water falls, saunas with a glass window out onto the ocean, steam rooms, heated lounge chairs, adults only atmosphere, soft music and the best salt scrubs I've ever found. There was an outdoor area that was a bit hard to get into due to the fact there are only about 12 chairs. But whether you made it outdoors or not, it was worth it. I wish it would have been open later but it was still great, even if closing at 10pm.
By the way, we've seen this question so we checked it out. Around the corner from the posh deck is the "freestyle" deck and this does seem to be for nude sunbathing. It is marked adults only and there are about 14 deck chairs in this enclosed area.
The entertainment was great. We loved the Blue Man Group and especially loved the question and answer session they held during the week. The legends in concert, second city comedy show and Cirque shows were all amazing. There are at least 3 different second city shows (maybe more), so you can see different types of shows if you have time. We never made it to "Howl at the Moon" or the Jazz Club...so much to do, so little time!
The casino was great. I'm allergic to smoke so I was really worried about it, but I didn't find it any more smoky than most other casinos I've visited. However, that could be because I was winning. This is the first cruise that I came home with more money than I started. It was a blast!
We took this cruise based on the fact it was going to St. Thomas and St. Maarten, just because we love this area. We took a taxi to Maho Beach in St. Maarten and it was a blast. Nothing like a 747 flying right over your head to land a few feet away. It's a great experience at a really low cost!
Let me talk about a few downsides for us.
Food - We were a little disappointed in the food overall. Don't get me wrong...it was good, but not great. The buffet was well laid out and we rarely had to wait in line. They had enough sections that you could usually walk right up to the food. I was disappointed all week not to see any pasta. It wasn't until the last day that we realized that the line we normally went to didn't have a sign marking that there was a pizza and pasta station (Other lines had the sign). We saw the pizza, just not the pasta, so if you're looking for pasta, just stop when you see pizza. I'm not a fancy eater...I can almost live on hotdogs so for a buffet to feel boring to me is a bit of a surprise. Like I said, it was still good, but boring. However, they did have the best cobbler I think I've had...along with great cookies that I loved at about 11:00 at night.
I felt this way about O'Sheehans, Taste and the Manhattan Room also. The food was good...but just not mind blowing. The one exception would be the chicken pot pie in O'Sheehans. We had it on one of the cooler days and loved it.
We LOVED Noodles and Moderno. The food at each place was great and Moderno was just fantastic. I guess I kind of felt like the plan was to drive guests to the specialty restaurants with mediocrity in the main rooms.
Bingo...this was a huge disappointment to me. I've always played bingo in one of the larger venues. The Epic bingo is held in the Headliner Club and you seem to wait forever in line to buy cards. Then you sit in hard chairs to play. It feels very inefficient to me. And the cost evidently averages 39-70.00 for an hour of play. I can't confirm this because we walked out when we saw the line. I would love to see them move bingo to the Epic Lounge and make it a bit more affordable. Of course, my walking out didn't hurt them any because I left Bingo and went straight to the casino :).
I did miss having a dress up night. There was a dress up or not night but nothing specifically fancy. This might be a plus for others though, that don't want to feel like they need to dress up.
Dancing...there really aren't any venues for ballroom dancing with the exception of the Manhattan room, however the 2 times we looked their dance floor was filled with small children running in circles. Very few dancers. And they close at 9:30. It would be nice if their was some ballroom dancing somewhere else on the ship. However, if you like 70's & 80's music (which we do), this is absolutely the ship to visit. They had an ABBA review dance that was just wonderful. I could have watched it all night. It was in the back with a giant movie screen that showed guests as they were dancing. We really loved it. They also had a white hot dance party that we skipped due to the weather but we heard it was great.
All in all, I would not hesitate to go on the Epic again. It's a fun ship with great service. But I suspect we'll try some other ships first. Again, I can't say enough that if you want the most out of the cruise, contact some other travelers through the cruise critic board first. It's an easy way to make your trip very special. Being away from home on a holiday can be hard. In this case, it was like traveling with friends.