So if I start by saying that this holiday was planned to be the holiday of a lifetime, with enormous expectation - and that our two weeks on the Epic EXCEEDED expectation.......then you know what this review is going to be like. We loved every minute of our trip (except maybe the flights) and would recommend the Epic to anyone on the understanding that they realise what freestyle is all about, and like a busy vibrant atmosphere. I have read reviews which say that " It was too busy" - well, sorry, but this ship can hold nearly 5000 people - that's one of its USPs - if you don't realise that before you embark then you must live in a cave.
Anyway - to start with the numbers - week one there were about 3000 passengers on board, but the second week is was full, apparently the fullest it's been (4800?) - but we never felt that it was too busy. We had access to POSH via our suite but we still spent plenty of time elsewhere and with one or two exceptions (which I will come to) we never felt that overcrowding was a problem. There were always plenty of free sunbeds on the decks, the bars got busy - but even on St Patrick's Day, when O'Sheehan's did get lively - we still got a couple of seats for a drink. However - if you want to eat in Taste or Manhattan between 6 and 8 then you will probably have to queue. We actually generally eat later (and therefore did the entertainment earlier to accommodate this) so we didn't have a problem - equally the speciality resturants are all bookable - so if you want eat at 7.00pm then you may need to think ahead.
We thought the food was great. The Garden Cafe buffet was very well laid out so as to spread people out as much as possible. Consequently even at breakfast we always found seating. It was a good mix of food too, with world dishes accompanied at all times by the options for grilled food or pizza. We enjoyed a number of the speciality resturants - probably our favourite was Moderno. We had never tried the Brazilian "experience" before - but loved the concept of never-ending food offerings ! The meat was of a good standard even though we didn't like every single sample. The staff were great (in fact I would say that this was the case for every eatery) and the setting was lovely. A word of warning though - for both Moderno and Cagney's you have the option of going to the salad bar to kick things off. This is a very impressive array of all kinds of cold food - but you need to discipline yourself not to eat too much salad before the meat arrives ! Cagney's was good too, and just to complete the steakfest, we chose the shared 32oz rib-eye option at the Bistro. On reflection this was a mistake - way too much meat !! But it was all of a good standard.
For a fun change try Teppenyaki. The chefs are great fun and the food is great ! But it is popular and fills out quickly so you need to plan ahead.
The only disappointment (and I really use that word loosely) was La Cucina, the Italian place. The menu was quite limited when you consider that it must be quite easy to offer a large number of variations on a theme with pasta and pizza. I ordered the vegetable lasagne(there was no meat alternative) and it was OK - not terrible but not exceptional. I guess the fact that we had so much food probably highlighted its average-ness.
So that's food. We ordered room service a few times, mainly for early morning drinks and cereal. Always quick and always good.
As I said earlier, even 5000 people get swallowed up in the vastness of a ship this size. So if you don't like big boats then this is not for you ! But we loved it ! So many bars, each one with a different feel to the others. We always found the service excellent - the staff don't drive you mad asking if you want extra drinks - they ask once and then leave it. To a man each one is unfailingly polite. We tried most areas but I guess gravitated to O'Sheehans the most on account of the pool tables.....but when the sea was rough, as it was a couple of days - well, let's just say that this added a whole new dimension to playing pool !
The photography services are very impressive - using face recognition software to collect the mass of photos taken around the ship - as a result the final offering is also quite expensive, at $20 per photo. I guess it depends how photogenic you are as to how much you want to spend ! We used the internet cafe a bit too, there are a number of "packages" of time so you don't need to spend a fortune if you don't want to.
We used the dry cleaning service once and thought that this was reasonably priced.
The spa was fantastic and very relaxing with all its various rooms.
This is always going to be down to personal taste isn't it - so I can only tell you what DW and I thought. We loved Blue Man Group !! It was truly like nothing we had ever seen before, even if I will never view a toilet roll in the same way ever again!(I'll say no more) We also thought that the Legends singers were very good , even if the selection of artists - Janet Jackson, Neil Diamond and Aretha Franklin - isn't perhaps what we would have chosen. The highlight of the entire of cruise for us, however, was Howl at the Moon. You have to understand that there is NOTHING like this in England !! We absolutely loved it - we went every night ( 2-3 times a week from memory) and whilst inevitably some of the same tunes get requested and therefore played every night, there is still sufficient variety to make every occasion a unique one. And the pianists (Drew, Tommy and Colleen, though I am aware that they do change over time) just looked like they were having the best time !! I have to confess that I made enquiries to see if one of them could spend some time coaching my wife......and Tommy gave up an hour to teach her some of the specific techniques that he uses to pick up and deliver amazing versions of well known tunes so quickly. That itself was a memorable hour, but aside from that we will always look back fondly at our "Howl" evenings !
The music around the ship was a nice mix and the musicians took the time to interact with guests and play requests.
I have saved this until later simply because I realise that our choice of spa suite will not be for everyone. Nevertheless - if you choose this kind of cabin then you will not be disappointed. The round bed, a cause of much discussion in these forums over the past months, is massive ! I'm just under 6ft and my legs were quite protected (or at least they would be if I didn't wriggle so much!) The layout of the suite is very well thought out and there is loads of storage space. Two minor irritations - the hairdryer cut out every night after about a minute - then you had to wait a couple of minutes before it started again. And the shower could probably do with a lip under the door since the water overflows if the boat is on an angle (I hope that makes sense!). But this really are minor quibbles as the overall experience is fantastic ! And our balcony was enormous ! We were in the "bump" cabin which meant that we could accommodate two sunbeds, two chairs and a table, and there was still unused space ! I doubt we will ever get that much room anywhere again.
The suite "concept" worked well for us - we had free access to the spa, which also happened to be just around the corner from our room, so we utilised it a lot. Our butler Gary was perfect - he did everything asked of him (to be fair, we didn't ask much) and was the perfect gentleman. And we were given a bottle of bubbly at the start of each week plus canapEs every afternoon. A nice touch.
So - to sum up - we LOVED the Epic ! It suited our needs perfectly ! We have tries three different cruise lines now, and NCL is head and shoulders above the others. We will return !!