We were in an aft penthouse, connecting to an aft balcony. Both rooms were nicely appointed. Both were small. The aft balcony was fine for the kids. They had the beds by the balcony door. And the bathroom set up was not an issue at all for them.
The aft penthouse bathroom was a significant issue for us, though. In these suites, the bed is smack dab in the center of the room. And that puts the head of the bed no more than four feet from the toilet. The door to the toilet offers no sound insulation whatsoever. You really are right there next to the bed doing your business, and the flushes are so loud you can't help but wake up anyone sleeping in the room. This is a major design flaw, and would keep us from sailing again in, or recommending, an aft penthouse. We kept wondering how a designer could have thought this up. It really is a head scratcher.
One nice touch in the aft penthouse is the coffee maker. It's an upgrade from the machine in the aft balcony, and really makes a pretty decent cup of coffee or espresso. We also had individual shampoo, conditioner, soap and lotion in the penthouse. The kids just had the dispensers in their room. Our sheets and bedding were nicer as well. And the bed is quite comfortable. The room has a somewhat cheesy Asian motif, but that was a non-issue.
From the moment we arrived in our suite, we were absolutely encouraged to bring the kids to the Courtyard, Epic Club, and to have them partake in priority seating, etc. They were treated wonderfully by all the staff. Priority seating, by the way, is a nice plus. You arrive in the Epic Club concierge lounge about 45 minutes before the show and they make sure you are the first ones in the venue. We had great seats for BMG, Cirque, and the Murder Mystery.
As for the Courtyard complex, the Epic Club is wonderful. We had most breakfasts there, and several dinners, including the lobster one night and it was the best I've had at sea. The servers are super nice, and really go out of their way to get to know you. The atmosphere, service and food reminded us of dinner in the Queen's Grill on QM2. Very nice indeed.
The Courtyard pool is another story. The space itself is fully enclosed, so your only view is up to the sky. When we're on a ship we like to enjoy the ocean views. Sitting in the pool area, we felt like we could have been anywhere. There was no connection to the sea at all. The pool itself was nice, and clean, although it got quite hot. But by comparison to the main pools, it was a delight. Those pools, as we all know, are very small. They get very crowded, and by the early afternoon the water actually turns a milky white color from all the lotions on all the people. On most days I would categorize the main pool area as a madhouse.
The entertainment on the ship was a definite stand-out. We had never seen BMG before, and we loved the show. It was by far the best production we've seen at sea. We also saw the Cirque show, and were disappointed by it. It was long, with a lot of useless dialogue. The physical performances were impressive, particularly the "sisters" who did various feats suspended from the ceiling. If you skipped this show you would not be missing anything.
The Second City troupe was another highlight. We saw the Murder Mystery lunch, and several of the improv shows. All were funny and creative. I found myself looking forward to seeing them each day.
In terms of food, O'Sheehans was a hit. It's a good set up, with plenty of seating, and good food at any time of day. The have a decent draft beer selection too. The only drawback is that you have very little sense of being at sea when there. There are some windows on the side opposite the bowling lanes, but that's it. Not a nautical experience, but then again it wasn't trying to be. And this is a theme that I'd say resonates throughout the ship. There are very few indoor places that afford a nice view of the sea. This is not the case on other ships we've sailed.
One observation is that there's a lack of artwork and fresh flowers throughout the ship. On HAL, Cunard and Celebrity there is nice artwork in the stairwells and other public spaces, as well as fresh floral arrangements throughout the ship. Not so on Epic. This isn't a big deal, but worth mentioning in terms of the overall experience.
One issue that was a very big deal for us, though, and the reason we would never sail on Epic again, was the smoke. This was by far the smokiest ship we have sailed, which is saying something, because the QM2 is a smoky ship in certain areas. On Epic, the smoke was everywhere. We had very few onboard experiences that were not tainted by smoke. The casino is essentially the entire 6th deck, and folks are smoking everywhere. There is not one blackjack table that is smoke free (or at least not one $5 table, I should say). Leave the Manhattan Room or aft elevators on that deck and you are greeted by a wall of smoke. The pool bar, Spice H2O, and outdoor eating space aft of the garden cafe are all smoky venues. Even the pool area in the Courtyard is a smoker's haven. It's a small space, and smoking is allowed throughout. Sit there for a few minutes and you are bound to have smoke in your nostrils. On our aft balcony we were always smelling smoke from left, right, below or above, including more than a few whiffs of weed. I won't editorialize too much on the smoke, but I will say that it's unfortunate the smoking policy is the way it is. The way smoking is handled on Solstice, IMO, is far superior. No smoking in rooms, balconies, all indoor spaces, and many outdoor areas. Smokers had their places to smoke, and never seemed off-put. And the non-smokers - or at least us - were very pleased not to have to be subject to smoke throughout the ship.
A last word on smoking. If you are at all sensitive to smoke, think long and hard about sailing on Epic. At least on our cruise, the smoke was unavoidable.
In conclusion, Epic is certainly a unique ship. Most of the entertainment, meals, and service we experienced were hits. We had a nice vacation, spent some great quality time together as a family, and met some very nice people. The ship has a few glaring misses for us, but it sure seemed like a lot of passengers were having a great time. All things considered, though, we wouldn't sail Epic, or NCL, again.