We boarded in Rome although it appears that Barcelona is the favored starting point. This worked out extremely well since the embarkation in Civitavachia was the easiest we've ever experienced in a dozen or more cruises. Also you can so some justice to Barcelona in a day, doing Rome in a day, when it's 40 miles away to boot, is foolish.
Epic is huge and I understand the mixed reactions people have to that. The thing that struck several of us was that the absence of the big central atrium that you see on RCL and Carnival made it seem more like a floating hotel than a cruise ship. Although admittedly it made navigating around the ship simpler. Clearly they traded functionality for WOW! This was our first experience with Free Style cruising and we were generally pleased. Food at all venues was good, certainly much better than we had recently on Carnival. I'm not a big fan of paying extra for food at the specialty restaurants although we did it twice. Food was good but paying $15 and $25 extra, respectively, for Chinese food and Tepanyaki was excessive. Similar feeling about the food charge in Cirque dreams. (More on that later.) Contrary to the views of some other reviewers, we thought to the food at the late night venue was pretty good. Liked Manhattan dining room. Taste is a little noisy with the casino above it. (Re Casino: First ship I've been on with live, as opposed to electronic, Texas Hold'em)
The cabin arrangement is certainly unique. I enjoyed the larger shower but it takes a while getting used to the location. The Opaque glass is different. Didn't bother us but I could see how it would perturb some.
I still trying to get my head around this new approach to entertainment; multiple smaller venues with reservations required. It certainly adds a layer of decision-making that you don't experience in traditional cruising. Of the shows Cirque Dreams was by far the best, Blue Man group was fine although not quite what I expected. My biggest complaint by far is the use of the Comedy Club as a venue for dancing and other variety shows. The sight lines are horrible and stage is partially obscured in some locations. It was clearly designed for stand up comedy for which it would be fine but how can you have a Flamingo dance show when you can't see the dancer's feet. Having this as the secondary entertainment venue is wholly unacceptable. I wonder if NCL does the same thing in the Carib and they change the entertainment to reflect a different demographic in the Med?
Cirque Dreams is fabulous but I don't understand why they made it a dinner show. Putting aside paying extra for food no better than in the free dining rooms, it's distracting to try to eat when watching a show like this one. Many other passengers made the same observation.
I don't want to go into too much detail about the ports since I think that's a more personal thing. We enjoyed each one. Certainly more interesting that what we're used to in the Carib. We took NCL tours in all locations except Barcelona. While I suppose they were pricey they were excellently organized and we enjoyed not worrying about getting back on time.
Overall excellent experience but I don't think we rushing back to the Epic. Great ship but there are plenty of other options we want to try.