I'd never been on a cruise before, let alone out of the Eastern US. I decided to take my kids on a cruise as a reward for such a hard year. A friend decided to join us.
Cabins: We upgraded from a family balcony to a family mini-suite and loved it. The bathrooms were a bit interesting but we managed just fine with four people in the stateroom. It just took patience and taking turns (but we all learned those things in grade school). The curtain acted like a changing room for us all. It was fun to say "and behind curtain number 2...." The beds were comfy and I shared mine with a friend. They seemed larger than a queen (and I'm used to having a king all to myself at home). The boy-child slept in the pullman and girl-spawn had the bottom. She was a little cramped but that's because she's nearly 5'10" and is also used to sprawling out on her own queen sized bed at home. Our steward, Michael, was beyond attentive. He went out of his way to make sure that he always said hello and greeted us warmly whenever he saw us. He even showed us how to make one of the towel animals. We always had ice, towels and the room was always clean and neat.
Shows: We did the Blue Man Group and Legends in Rock. Loved both of them. Would have gone to Legends a second time except that there were so many other things that we wanted to take advantage of before leaving. The music in the Manhattan room was great.
Pools: They were generally crowded during the day but that's to be expected. Everyone keeps complaining about how many kids there were on this ship and how crowded they were. I expected that. This ship is geared towards families with kids. Nickelodeon characters, kids programs, kids games poolside. Did you expect the to hide in their cabins? My kids loved the slides and we ended up just doing the pools around dinner time so that we had some space. Plus...we're pretty fair-skinned, so being in the blazing sun was something we tried to limit. Evening swimming was by far our choice.
Finding chairs in the shade near the pool was a challenge. We did see so many people reserving chairs early in the morning and then not bothering to get them until later. We just moved on down towards the back of the ship where it was quieter and we were happy as clams. The kids would do the slides and then come back and hang with us to dry out.
Food: Holy cow, the food. I don't know how anyone could be unsatisfied on all the selections they made available. We only ever ate at the Garden Cafe, the Pool Side buffet and the Manhattan Room. Our servers in the Manhattan room were always attentive and took good care of us. We had only one poor experience and chalked it up to the guy being new and a bit flustered. We loved Paulo as our server. Had him three times and even requested him because we loved him so much. I loved being able to try some new things for dinner and be waited on for a change.
Waiting ten minutes for a table/waiter and thirty minutes for your food? Isn't that less than what you'd expect from any other decent restaurant on a busy night (Olive Garden can be a wait of an hour and nearly that for the food)? There were 4200 passengers on this ship and they have to cook the food. I'm still amazed at the "I need everything right now" attitude of some of the passengers that were sailing with us. You're on vacation, just take it easy and enjoy yourselves.
We opted for the Ultimate Beverage Package because we planned on drinking 5 drinks a day (it pays for itself at about 5 drinks and after that, it's bonus to us!). Some people were complaining that the drinks were costing them a fortune and that soda cost a fortune. I think that my kids soda packages were $10 a day for BOTH of them. They were able to get soda, lemonade and even a boat load of frozen drinks that they never get at home because they're so expensive.
The bars were pretty awesome. We tended to find Shaker's Martini Bar our favorite place to just have a quiet time and enjoy the amazing bartender, Lorelie. She went on break for an hour and we walked around until she got back (to which she got a standing ovation from the bar), simply because we enjoyed her taking care of us. She truly is amazing. She concocted a wonderful Almond Joy martini that was to die for. Her Key Lime Martini was just like having a piece of pie!
The ice bar was a fun experience. We didn't last long in there because it was so chilly, but after a day in the heat, it was a fun little thing to do.
The only thing that I wish was different was that there was a way to bypass the casino. You can't get between decks 5 and 7 from midship without having to go through the casino, unless you want to get off and walk the entire length (which is not that long when actually walked). I managed to enjoy walking a lot during this trip and learned my way around pretty well. I also managed to walk so much that I didn't gain a pound. And with all the drinking and eating we did, that's awesome!
I probably wouldn't go on the Epic again, simply because the amount of people was overwhelming, especially to my small-town kids. I would do a cruise on a smaller ship though. Excursions were fun but I may do the next cruise with just a friend and stay on board when everyone gets off for a day. Maybe hit some shops for an hour or two off board and then get back on.
Overall, it was very enjoyable!