We started our vacation in Rome, two days before the cruise departed. Rome is an incredible city with so much to offer. We hired a private tour guide (Chiara) who was extremely knowledgeable and fun. She took us to the Vatican and gave us a four hour history lesson. I would recommend going in the afternoon, much less crowded and better to see all that the Vatican has to offer. Rome is a walking city and we had so much fun wandering around to see the sights. We also loved the restaurants (although they eat so much later than we do!) and our favorite Gelato in the world! There is a place close to the Pantheon that was amazing..all the locals go there.
We hired a private driver to take us to Civitavecchia on Wednesday morning. This was about 160 Euro which although expensive was worth it. We made arrangements to have him pick us up the following week and also used him several more times. His name is Antonio and he was really terrific. (email@example.com)
Embarking at this port was a breeze. We just walked right on the ship. It was very quiet since most of the passengers were off the ship touring Rome. Most people get on and off in Barcelona which was extremely crowded that day (Sunday) getting off the ship.
Our cabins were fine and our girls had the cabin next to ours. We both enjoyed the balconies and our steward we so sweet.
Since we are not the most experienced cruisers I can not compare the specifics as to other ships. However, we selected this ship because of the ports and we thought they were amazing. We also thought that having Freestyle Cruising was a huge positive for us. The girls loved picking out where we were going to eat each night!~! We were never disappointed in anything on the ship with the exception of lack of seating by the pool and sometimes a long wait for the elevator (we did a lot of walking up and down) However, we found a great place to sun on the 18th deck which was very quiet and relaxing. We did not pay for any upgraded restaurants nor did we purchase a beverage package or go to the casino. We went to the gym several times and although crowded we were always able to get a machine. The pool was small but since we weren't going to use it we didn't care. We ate at Taste and Manhattan (the ambiance is much nicer here)which were decent (same menus). We didn't care for O'sheehans but the Garden Cafe was always good and had a lot of variety. We went to the Cirque show which we enjoyed (don't need to pay for premium seating!!) and laughed so much in the Ice Bar (its a novelty, but fun to do-we lasted about 20 minutes). We also went to the Blue Man Group (little creepy for me) and the Legends Show (Adele and Tina Turner were great). Our favorite entertainment was the Dueling Piano Bar at Headliners. They are so much fun and so talented. The better the crowd the more enthusiastic they are!
As far as the Ports go, I can make only one recommendation. Do your homework on excursions (on this site) and reserve your tours independent of the ship. IMHO, this is why you are on the ship. We had absolutely amazing tours which were custom to our small crowd (7 people) and were less than half the price. We used the Roll Call to coordinate our excursions with other cruisers. We used Rome in Limo (Elizabeth) for Pisa/Florence (including the Tuscan countryside) and AP Tours (Paolo) for Pompeii, Positano and Sorrento. AMAZING!!!!! I can't say enough wonderful things about them. Also, in Barcelona, we took an easy and really fun Bike Tour with Fat Tire Bike Tours. This was so great and we saw all the sights. In Palma, we easily hopped on the bus and went to the beach and in Marseille we took the Petit Train and went to Notre Dame Church. I highly recommend doing these as well.
We needed to use the medical facility on the ship one day and this was easy and fairly reasonable.
We disembarked the following Wed, again very easy, and spent some more time in Rome with Chiara, seeing Ancient Rome (unbelievable) and the Catacombs.
Our trip was truly amazing. I can't think of a better way to see so much of Europe in such an easy and reasonable way. I also thought that the Epic was super for what we were looking for. The staff were always nice and very friendly. I wanted to share this review since so many others were nice enough to post their ideas and reviews prior to our cruise. I hope this helps!! Ciao!