This was our first cruise so we didn't really know what to expect. We started with some intrepidation about being confined in one place with so many people (the ship can take around 4000 passengers) but actually we needn’t have worried as the ship was so big, with so many options for dining and entertainment that we never felt crowded..
We were somewhat disadvantaged with joining the ship at Marseille as Barcelona is the main embarkation port. Whilst it meant there were no queues or delays to register or get onboard, we were not given the full range of information which those embarking at Barcelona were given and we subsequently were not fully keyed in with either the range of what was available on board, where things were, or the different packages available (such as drinks packages).
The dining options really suited us as the Freestyle approach of the Epic means that you can dine where and when you want to. There were formal dining opportunities (or at least, as formal as you wanted it to be " some people really got dressed up though most people were just smartly casual, which was the basic requirement. We only saw one person wearing a tie and there were no dinner jackets put people were generally quite smartly dressed). The restaurants had a menu which changed daily (always with choices) and which generally reflected the local port of call. There was also a regular unchanging menu. The food and service were excellent. Also there was a buffet restaurant on the pool deck which had a huge range of food catering for all tastes, a poolside buffet/grill and also an Irish bar, open for food at all hours. In addition there were speciality restaurants but we steered clear of these as they were all at extra cost.
The thing that really stunned us was the astronomical cost of wines, beers etc. There was a drinks package option at 49 dollars per day (! and if you take this then it has to be for the full week and for every adult in your party) or wines starting at around 25 dollars for the cheapest bottle. However this is not the actual purchase price as 18% service then 10% VAT are always added to the final bill. It was no wonder that most people were drinking iced water which was always available, as were basic squashes. Bottled water was however also extremely expensive.
The range of free entertainment options on board was amazing. There were top notch shows in a huge theater (the Blue Man show was incredible and apparently was previously running on the West end) as well as dance, musical and comedy shows in other areas. You could see something different every night of your cruise " but you do have to reserve to be sure of a seat. Lots of other leisure options were available, including a climbing and abseiling wall, 3 (yes 3!) water chutes, Jacuzzis, ping pong, 10 pin bowling (at extra charge), ball sports and the swimming pools. Only the latter were disappointing as there were only 2 and they were VERY small.
We were surprised at how many things were at extra (and really expensive charge " plus service charge etc!). These included not just the bowling but also the gym and internet (for which you had to pay an initial sign up charge of $3.95 then a $0.75 per minute charge. Photos on board were also astronomical, even for prints or a USB download from your own camera. The ship had large areas assigned to both these activities but it was not surprising that they were empty most of the time.
Shore excursions were also in our opinion very expensive, though we do not have other cruising experiences to compare them with. All we do know is that the same shore excursions can be done at around 30% of the ship price if you research, plan yourself and use local transport. Port shuttles were invariably much more expensive if bought on the ship than if bought directly at the port.(where in some instances, such as at Marseille, they are free). We spoke to one man who paid €12 on ship only to find that it would only have cost him 5€ if bought at the port. Interestingly he successfully challenged this afterwards and was given a refund.
Our accommodation on board was well set out, comfortable and well equipped with lots of storage space. We also had a drip coffee maker (which could also be used for making tea) and a continuous bucket of ice. Incidentally we used the latter to fill our water bottles, rather than paying totally over the top for bottled water to take out with us, which was available on leaving the ship at $5.63 a small bottle.
All of the staff members on board were superb, friendly, happy, helpful and courteous. A 12$ per person gratuities charge is added to your bill for each day on ship, though it is "discretionary” and can be removed if you are not happy with the service for any reason. We spoke to one individual who had had it taken off on a previous trip. Personlly we found all the services on board to be extremely well and efficiently organized.
At the end we can honestly say that we had a good cruise experience. It was just a shame that the company seemed to be trying to profiteer too much from the additional high cost items and services which it was providing on board.