My wife and I were first-time cruisers aboard the Epic, March 16-23 2014. We flew into Miami on the 15th and stayed in the airport hotel, then grabbed a taxi to the port at about 11:15am on the 16th. The taxi ride was quick and easy, we were in the cruise terminal and filling out our medical questionnaires by 11:30. It took about 30 minutes in line to reach the check-in counter and receive our ID cards, then we boarded the ship!
We entered through the casino and walked around for a few minutes to start learning the layout, then went to our cabin to see if it was ready - and it was! We stayed in cabin #12055 with a balcony and the bed on the balcony end of the room. The layout worked fine for us and there was plenty of storage. The bathroom layout seems to bother some people in these forums but I thought it was fine. The whole cabin was very clean and well maintained. As the week progressed we found that our room steward learned our schedule patterns and worked around us. We never saw him in our cabin but did see him in the hall several times, he was very polite and accommodating. We never asked for anything unusual but he did quickly take care of the usual items such as clearing out the mini-fridge, extra hangers, and lots of towel animals! I had prepaid the service fee but also left a daily $5 tip for the steward, just to show a little extra gratitude for his service.
Still on day one... Bought the soda package for my wife and also signed up for the "behind the scenes" tour later in the week. We went up to deck 15 for the sail away celebration, it was exciting as first-timers to slowly move out to sea! We ate dinner the first night at Taste and enjoyed it. The servers were very attentive and polite, and the food was very good. I'm not sure why some forum folks bash Taste, I thought it was just fine every time I was there. The atmosphere is a little casual for some people I suppose, but that is why I chose "freestyle cruising"!
Day two, at sea... Most of this day we spent just getting to know the ship. Breakfast was at Taste and it was good, with good service. Afterwards we walked around decks 5, 6, 7, and 15 to figure out where everything was. Lunch later in the buffet was ... An education! The buffet is a ZOO at peak mealtimes and getting a table requires a lot of patience. There are many food stations with plenty of variety and the food is mostly pretty good considering that it is a buffet. After lunch we watched a game of Deal or No Deal which was fun, and tried a small cake from Carlos Bakery which was good but nothing exceptional. Wasted some time in a "port shopping" seminar which I wish I had walked out of. Most of the afternoon was just "lazing" around the pool and balcony, then later played a round of bingo which was "meh". We had dinner and a show at Cirque Dreams And Dinner which was great! The entertainment was excellent and the dinner pretty good too. Definitely recommended.
Day three, our first port of call in Ocho Rios, Jamaica. We had previously scheduled the ATV Safari excursion through NCL and our tickets told us to assemble in the Epic Theater at 9:15. We were there at about 9:00 and realized that ALL NCL excursion participants were meeting in the theater! There was only one crew member trying to manage everyone, resulting in near-chaos. That employee tried really hard to be pleasant but occasionally had to become stern with the huge group in the theater in order to be heard. One by one the excursion groups were called to the front of the theater and exited through the handicapped-accessible exit, down the stairs to deck 4 and off the ship to another waiting area at the end of the pier. Chaos reigned there too, with tour operators trying to yell above one another to gather their groups. It was very hard to figure out when your group was called, but we finally heard our group being assembled and walked with a guide to a van and driver, it turns out that there were only 8 people for our ATV excursion. Traffic in the area is crazy compared to the USA! Anything goes! Our driver was obviously used to it and handled it well. We reached the ATV area after about 30 minutes and met the excursion guides, led by a guy named Courtney. They were very friendly and explained the ATV operation, gave us a general description of the area and what to expect, and then we started! The tour lasted about 1.5 hours and included lots of riding through a former sugar plantation along dirt and gravel trails, with some splashing mud (fun) and also a stop at the beach for photo ops and a cliff-jump into the water for anyone that wanted to. We did the jump! The guides offered bottled water to anyone that wanted it, then we continued the ride. Later we stopped again and learned a bit more of the area's history and vegetation. Later after continuing the ride and ending back up where we started there was an area to view pictures that had been taken throughout the excursion - yes of course I bought some, they were reasonably priced. The driver took us back to the port area where we shopped a little, ate lunch at a local restaurant, and returned to the ship at about 4:00. After a shower we had an early supper in the buffet, spent a few dollars in the casino, people-watched on deck 15, and watched a movie outdoors at SpiceH2O. We were in bed a little after 9:00 (!), I guess the time changes and walking around Jamaica took a toll.
Day 4, at sea. Lazy morning, woke up later than usual and just enjoyed the balcony for awhile. Late breakfast in the buffet and played a round of Deal or No Deal but didn't win anything. Lunch was at the Noodle Bar and it was good, worth the small charge. I attended a hypnosis show which was hilarious although I'm not too sure that it was legit. We were invited to an early evening cocktail reception in the Haven lounge to meet the Captain and other crew, it was very nice and a good photo op. Dinner was at Cagney's and it was the best dinner we had on the whole trip! Service was excellent and the meal was too. We attended Legends In Concert at 9:30pm and I was concerned that it would be goofy or silly but I was wrong - the performers were very good, especially the Stephen Tyler impersonator who was SPOT ON.
Day 5, visiting the port of Costa Maya, Mexico. This is a very small place and is mainly made up of the cruise port alone. We had booked an excursion through a local operator named "The Native Choice" called the Mayan Experience Tour, which included a tour of the Chacchoben ruins followed by a meal with a local family of Mayan descent. The ruins tour was led by Erick and he clearly knew the area and it's history exceptionally well, the tour was great. Even better was our journey deep into the countryside to a small community for lunch. The tour group split into two smaller groups for lunch. Our group was guided by Jasmine, who lived in this community and knew its residents well. The family we visited had already prepared a lunch of delicious chicken, rice, a tamale-like dish, beans, tortillas, and tea. In addition we watched them make tortillas from ground corn+water, and anyone in the group was allowed to make their own tortillas if they wished to. After lunch we learned a little about the community and asked questions of the host family, using Jasmine as the interpreter. This was a fascinating experience and I highly recommend it. I was particularly impressed with the excellent organization and professionalism at The Native Choice. After lunch we traveled back to the port and shopped a little, returning to the ship at about 3:30. After showers we made reservations in Moderno for 7:00 and went to deck 15 for the sail away. We passed some time doing a lot of nothing until 6:30 and went to Moderno where they were able to go ahead and seat us. Our main server explained the way the meats worked, then afterwards was (surprisingly) often absent despite the restaurant being only about half-full. The first couple of meat varieties were served quickly followed by another two soon after, at which time we flipped our cards to red. When our plates were about empty we flipped cards back to green and it too, awhile to get any more, and at first they tried to re-serve some of the same items we'd already had. After explaining that we would wait for something else it came reasonably fast and then the cards went to red again, this time permanently. The servers still asked a few times if we wanted more and finally they got the hint that we were just full and would not eat more. We decided on no dessert, paid and left. Despite wanting to try Moderno since first planning the cruise last year, I left thinking that it wasn't anything all that great. Unique maybe, but not a place I will choose to go back to. We walked around the ship for a while in an effort to burn a little bit of that meaty dinner and played a few slots in the casino, then called it a night.
Day 6, visiting Cozumel, Mexico. Breakfast was delivered by room service and we were off the ship early to start our Atlantis Submarine excursion. We were taken by boat to the submarine dive location, and one on the sub we were underwater for about 45 minutes which went by very fast. We saw lots of marine life including a small shark! When the tour ended the operator provided taxi service back to the dock area, where we shopped a good bit and finally returned to the ship at 3:00.
After showers and sail-away we had a casual supper of burgers and fries at O'Sheehans in the bar area. The burgers were good, but the service in O'Sheehans was subpar... We had to try pretty hard to get our order taken, then rarely saw any servers after our food was delivered. While we ate we also watched an interesting video in the Atrium about the building of the ship Breakaway. Later we had 7:00 reservations to see Second City which was funny, just short... It was over in about 40 minutes and I wish it had been longer. We then watched the rest of the movie at SpiceH2O and checked our pictures again, then tried one of those EXCELLENT crepes at the buffet and went to the room to watch a little TV and go to sleep.
Day 7, at sea. Breakfast in Taste and then we went on the "Behind The Scenes" tour which was a highlight of the whole cruise for me. I'm fascinated with infrastructure and workflows. The tour started in the Spiegel Tent with an overview of the entertainment facilities and staff, then on to the galley where we spent a lot of time with one of the chefs learning about the quantity of meals produced, handling allergy concerns, menu rotation, disposal, etc. it was impressively clean and organized. Next we went to deck 4 to see the food cold storage areas (all very clean) and heard some stats on the quantities of raw products used on each sailing - whew, we're a hungry bunch! From there we visited the waste disposal facility and learned about how they dispose of liquid, solids, food, etc. It was a noisy area but surprisingly clean and odor-free. Then we went to the laundry facilities and saw the huge, highly automated machines that handle all of the towels, sheets, and crew uniforms every day - pretty cool. Finally we went to the bridge viewing room and met with one of the officers that explained the propulsion systems, fuel consumption stats, accident avoidance, emergency provisions, and the like. It's a great tour and highly recommended! After the tour we had lunch at O'Sheehans, in the dining area instead of the bar this time. Again the service was not good, the server was not too great and the food arrived at different times. At least it tasted good! After lunch we enjoyed the Epic Crew show, and later spent some time in Headliners during Bingo waiting on the raffle drawing but... Didn't win. I finally tried out the water slides and enjoyed the late afternoon sun on deck 15. We had Blue Man Group reservations for 7:00 - I had seen the show in Las Vegas before and didn't expect to be too impressed with this version. I was very wrong! I enjoyed the ship version more than the Vegas version for a couple of reasons: (1) the Vegas show was WAY too loud, and I like loud music! (2) The performance seemed more engaging, I think it was largely due to the smaller size of the Epic Theater compared to the Vegas venue. This is a great show and certainly recommended. After the show we ate in the Manhattan Room and it was very good, with good service.
Day 8, Miami. We decided to do the "easy walk off disembarkation" instead of playing the color-coded-luggage game, but we had a rental car scheduled for pickup at 10:00 so we waited until about 8:50 to leave. Wow, what a zoo! Very long lines which were worked down pretty fast. We took our rental car through South Beach and then south to the Florida Keys, stopping a little shy of Key West and turning back to Miami. We stayed overnight in the airport hotel and flew home uneventfully.
Feel free to ask any questions you have about our tours or the Epic!