20th October - 2nd November, 2013
This was my second cruise on the Epic, first ever transatlantic cruise. After my Western Mediterranean cruise on the Epic last August I gave the ship a very good review, mainly 5 stars for most aspects. This time I am not quite so generous. Last year it was my first cruise on a large ship for about 20 years. My most recent cruises were on easyCruise and Fred Olsen's Braemar. So the ship itself and all its facilities were very impressive and I found the food, in most instances, very good. This time I have to downgrade my ratings for the food. Not exactly sure why - might be the second time is never as good as the first time, maybe 13 nights tends to show up faults more than 7 nights or maybe the standard has dropped a wee bit.
However, let's start with the cruise itself. I was a bit worried about the weather but I needn't have. Perhaps we were lucky but, apart from day 2 when we moved out of the Med and into the Atlantic the weather was warm and sunny the whole way. And it was relatively smooth the whole way too. Day 2 had enough of a swell to close the main pool and the hydro pool in the spa. But the rest of the time the swell was barely noticeable or it was calm. The first few days the breeze meant sunbathing wasn't great (although many people were sunbathing) but after Madeira it did get hot. The pool deck was pretty busy, especially until after lunch, but up on deck 18 there was always plenty of space and beds. In the afternoons I usually managed to get one of the classy red loungers at the bow section of deck 18 - give it a try there if you go on the Epic.
Because of the pricing at the time of booking I ended up getting a balcony cabin on deck 11 which was very spacious and comfortable (I was travelling alone). And, after asking the steward for a lounger for the balcony, I spent a good bit of time sunbathing there - very private. The lower sun at that time of year meant that the overhang from the balcony above never cut out the sun and or general SW direction across the Atlantic gave my port cabin the sun virtually all day. The last couple of days heading NW to Miami were not so good.
I had experienced the spa on a day pass last year and decided to go for a pass for the whole cruise this time - I think it was around $180. And I absolutely loved it. Every morning, and usually again late afternoon, I was there in the hydrotherapy pool (wonderful, amazing!), the saunas, steam rooms and lying out on the comfortable loungers on the stern balcony enjoying the early morning sun. Very highly recommended. I also took advantage of a 'special' massage one day - 75 minutes of massages, body scrubs, facials (me! Having a facial!), all for the first time. That was only $99 and definitely worth it.
I also used the gym a number of times. It was very well equipped with large, full length windows.
As I was single I joined the singles meeting in the Studio Lounge on the first night. I believe the guy in charge organised dinners every night so you always had others to go with if you wanted. I had met some people whose company I enjoyed pre-cruise through CruiseCritic so I dined with them some nights but other nights I went out on my own but often met up with them after dinner.
And now the food. Last time I thought the food served in the Garden Cafe was excellent, great variety and pretty good quality. This time the variety was still good but the quality less so. It felt like 'buffet' food this time - a bit bland and not very hot. I was relatively happy to have breakfast or lunch there, but not dinner.
I did not really enjoy my visits to the main dining rooms. Quality of food was fine but the service tended to be very rushed. I had to ask for simple thing like bread and water. And I felt it was so busy and noisy. I really needed the calmer pace of most the specialty restaurants.
The best place to have dinner was Cagney's Steakhouse. Food and service were exceptional and the room was very well run by a first class manager.
On the other hand, Le Bistro was poorly run by a manager who seemed out of his depth. One night there was one of the worst meals I can remember. Part of the problem may have been the fact that they used an overflow room as well as their main room and did not seem to have the staff to cope. And, to be honest, the food was not that great either.
I had good meals in La Cucina and Shanghai's and the Teppenyaki was fun ( the food was good too). I did not enjoy Moderno Churrascaria where everything was terribly rushed.
I had seen the Blue Man Group last time and did not end up going again although they are definitely worth seeing. Most of the rest of the entertainment did not appeal to me or I found very bland. However one guy, a singer/guitarist called Jim Capik, was very skilled and played some terrific songs next to the Maltings bar. On several nights he had other musicians/singers jam with him which made for great entertainment for all of us.
Overall I thoroughly enjoyed the cruise and felt it was great value for money. Perhaps you might get better food overall on a line like Celebrity but it would cost a lot more especially for single travellers. I may well repeat the cruise next year.