Four of us, ages 22 to 57 sailed on the Epic Western Caribbean itinerary the week of December 11-December 18. We were lucky enough to stay in a Courtyard Villa, which really made the trip for us.
Upon entering the terminal we were greeted right away and led to the VIP check-in area, which is nice, and in a manner of minutes we had our cabin keys and were escorted through the terminal and onto the ship, Deck 6 forward. This is where things went a bit awry. We were supposed to be met by a butler to escort us upstairs to the Villas complex on Deck 16. No butler. We waited, and waited for about 15 minutes in the very crowded area by the forward elevators. Eventually, our escort said she found an officer who would take us upstairs. She led us to the mid-ship entrance in the casino but no officer. After about another 10 minutes of standing around, the escort said we were free to go on up by ourselves, which we would have done straight away but she kept telling us to wait for the butler who would be here any second. She directed us to the mid-ship elevators (which do not go to 16) but before we could leave she got word the butler was on his way. He finally showed up a few minutes later and walked us back to the front of the ship to catch an elevator up to Deck 16. On the way up he told us that since it was after 2:00 we could go to the buffet on 15 for lunch (it was 2:05 and we had been waiting for him for about a half hour). We asked about the Epic Club for lunch and he said it closed at 2:00. We asked to be taken to the Epic Club anyway and once there we were seated immediately, no problems and from then on everything was fine. A poor first impression but things got better from there.
Dining in the Epic Club was very nice. The staff is very friendly and attentive and took good care of us throughout the week.
Our cabin was a Courtyard Villa on deck 16. The room is very nice but with some quirks. We were 4 adults sharing the Villa which is rated to hold up to 6 people. I think for two people the Villa would be a bit too much, for 3 it would be about perfect. For 4 it was fine but for any more than that I feel it would be too crowded. Two of us slept in the master bedroom, one in the second bedroom and the 4th on the couch on the living room. Having someone using the couch is a bit off putting in that they leave the couch made up as a bed at all times with the extra cushions taking up room on the chair so it limits seating in the living room. My son who slept on the couch didn't like people sitting on his "bed" during the day. Also the couch does not open up to turn into a bed like on most ships. Here they simply put a sheet right on the couch and a comforter over the sheet. Inevitably the sheet comes off the couch and can be uncomfortable.
In the master bedroom there is a curtain that separates the bedroom from the bathroom. This was ok but I would have preferred a real door for additional privacy when using the bathroom. We loved the big shower with the floor to ceiling window. It was fun to watch the ocean go by as you shower (there's a curtain you can pull down for privacy while in port). There was also a big soaking tub also boarded by a glass wall overlooking the ocean and a frosted port hole open to the veranda.
My sister stayed in the second bedroom and enjoyed the privacy of having her own room within a room. The second bathroom in her area was quite nice.
There were three TV's in the suite which would be nice if there was anything to watch on the TV. Channel selection was very limited and all movies were pay per view. There were dvd players in the living room and master bedroom but the one in the living room was not connected to the TV and therefore was useless as we discovered when we tried to use it to watch a movie.
The veranda was on the small side but nicely furnished with two nice chairs and a small "wicker" table/footrest.
There's always a lot of talk about the coffee maker in the suites. It is quite a nice coffee maker and I had a few really good espressos during the week. They give you a nice selection of coffee, decaf and teas for the machine.
After checking out the room we went up to POSH for the sail away party for free champagne and mimosas - there's also a full bar available. I really didn't expect to make much use of POSH but I was wrong. We were up there almost every day. It was very nice with a variety of comfortable seating, padded lounge chairs and large sunbeds and wonderful views of the ocean and the pool deck of the ship. Prior to the cruise I was concerned that by selling passes to POSH to non-suite guests that room may be limited. This was not the case on the week we sailed. There was always plenty of seating available on Deck 18, I never made it up to Deck 19 where there was additional seating.
On day two we found the forward suite sun deck on deck 19 (accessed through the suite gym). Very nice area, and underused. It was empty the few times we went up there - like having a truly private area of the ship.
We attended Blue Man, Legends In Concert, the Murder Mystery Lunch, the magician/comedian show and Second City. We also made quick stops at Howl at the Moon and Fat Cats. For the main shows we were escorted from the suite area down to the theater about 30 minutes prior to show time and had our choice of seats without waiting in line. I had seen Blue Men before in Orlando. The show on the ship was just as good and as far as I could tell was essentially identical to the Orlando show. Legends in Concert was ok. The acts were Rod Stewart, Brittney Spears and Michael Jackson. The first two were just ok but the performer doing Michael Jackson was phenomenal. We saw two of the Second City 11:00 shows and enjoyed those very much. The rest of my group went to the Murder Mystery Lunch with Second City and raved about the show but said the food was horrid. We lasted about 10 minutes in Howl at the Moon - just couldn't get into it. The band in Fat Cats was ok but I felt they were too loud for the small venue and we didn't stay long. For months I had been reading rave reviews about Jeff Hobson's show and was really looking forward to that. Jeff was not on our cruise, instead the magician was Rich Purpua who was very funny. All in all the entertainment was very good though all shows, other than Blue Man, seemed short, about 45 minutes.
We ate most of our meals in the Epic Club but also had dinners in La Cuchina, Moderno and Le Bistro. If I had it to do over again I would have skipped all three. Nothing bad but not good enough to warrant the extra cost. Only real complaint I had was the room we were seated in in Le Bistro bordered the art gallery and a main ship thoroughfare. The restaurant does not have solid "walls" but instead has an open latticework wall with a curtain. In the middle of dinner they started an auction in the art gallery and we might as well have been seated in the front row of the auction. In addition, noise from the outside, people walking by, babies crying, etc. - just general noise from the ship filtered in. It was not in keeping with an upscale $20.00pp extra fine dining experience. Other than that, food and service were fine, just not exceptional. We had breakfast one morning at the buffet, not a good experience (loud, crowded and cold food), and lunch at the noodle bar - which was very good. We tried breakfast at O'Sheehans one morning and left after not being served for 15 minutes or so. We would have maybe stuck it out longer but found the noise from the air hockey table to be annoying. We went back there one afternoon just to check it out and have a snack and sat on the other side, near the bowling alley. The noise wasn't as bad there, other than the bowlers who kept dropping their balls.
We went to the Ice Bar the first sea day at around 6:30. We got there a little early and for the first 10 minutes or so we were the only ones in there which was nice. It was fun and the drinks were ok, but once was enough. It was more a photo op than anything else.
As a whole, I would summarize my experience as follows. Anything we did in the suite portion of the ship, the Villas pool area, POSH, Epic Club, Epic Lounge, etc was wonderful. Outside of that area - not so much. The rest of the ship seemed crowded, loud and, in the casino areas, smoky. Outside of the casino areas smoke did not seem to be an issue. Elevators were a pain. We were limited to the forward starboard elevators if we wanted direct access to deck 16. Elevators tended to get very crowded and stopped at every floor. Not just at busy times, after shows, etc., but most other times as well. There were 4,200 people on board for our sailing.
The casino had a nice selection of slot machines spread around deck 6 which were happy enough to take our money. There was also a fair amount of blackjack and other table games. Minimums started at $5. I also saw $10 and $25 tables. There was a real roulette table and an electronic one also. Poker and Blackjack tournaments were held on sea days. The casino was smoky but not horribly so most of the time. There was one occasion I had to move away from a machine I liked because the smoke got pretty bad, but I was right next to an ashtray so bad selection on my part. I did not notice if one side of the casino was non-smoking, the smoke seemed to be equally bad on both sides.
I was not fond of the cruise director or the cruise staff. I found them smarmy and amateurish. They keep repeating that they were rated the best cruise staff at sea. If you're that good you shouldn't have to say it.
The rest of the staff though was, overall, excellent. Especially so in the suite area. As mentioned, the staff in the Epic Club and Epic Lounge including the matre d's and waiters and bar staff, all were excellent. Around the rest of the ship as well, everyone was friendly and helpful (with a few minor exceptions).
- If you want to check out the Epic and can manage it, book a suite - it's a much better experience.
- In the suite area, make use of POSH and the forward deck 19 sundeck, both fabulous areas.
- In the Epic grill by the coffee set up are three candy dishes with M&Ms and gummy bears - free snacks! Also don't forget about the wraps, hot dogs, onion rings etc offered at the Epic Grill for light meals, or quick snacks. Full bar available there also.
- Don't miss 2 for 1 martini's at the Epic Lounge every day starting at 5:30 or so. Try the free freshly made potato chips with blue cheese crumbles, yum!
- Unless you're dying for a particular cuisine offered in the specialty restaurants, stick to the Epic Club for dinner. The menu stays the same day to day with two special appetizers and entrees added each evening but you can request items off menu (within reason) if there's something else you want. Ahi tuna burger for lunch is great.
- If ordering a blended drink (like a Pina Colada or other "umbrella drink"), ask for it in a regular glass, otherwise it will be served in a souvenir glass and you'll be charged an extra $2.25. If you want the souvenir glass and want to keep it, hold onto it and tell your cabin steward not to take it away, otherwise they will.
- Use the concierge to make dining and show reservations - they seem to have better access to available times - and for dining reservations ask them to have the restaurant note "TLC" on the reservation.
- Bring some patience with you when out exploring the rest of the ship. It's a big ship with a lot of people on board, there's going to be some crowding and noise. Deal with it and then run back to the suite area to decompress.
Note: My rating of 3 "stars" overall is probably on the low side. 3 ½ would have been more accurate. I would rate the suite areas 4 to 4 ½ stars and the rest of the ship 2 ½ to 3 stars.