Tips: I'm putting these first in case someone doesn't want to read all the details! 1) Book entertainment and dinner reservations for specialty restaurants on-line before you go. 2) Be willing to book some tours independent of the ship (see recommendations below) They are cheaper and just as good (or better). 3) Bring clothes pins to secure your towels on the pool deck or balcony if windy. 4) Bring a small clothes iron if you will need to iron - the ship irons are hard to get and they only let you have them for an hour or two. 5) If you have kids, register them for kids club on the first night, it is less of a hassle then registering them later. 6) If you plan to charge electronics (cameras, ipods, etc.) it is worth bringing a multi-outlet plug - there are only 2 plugs in the room. 7) The safe is small, no room for laptops. 8) Get to the pool early on Sea days to get your choice of chairs. We got there by 7, had coffee, read, then had breakfast. 9) Bring a waterproof card holder (the kind that goes around your neck) to keep your key cards, credit cards, money in at the pool and water slides. Bring a card holder for the kids if you are going to entrust them to carry their cards. 10) They have a laundry special on Wednesday for 25 bucks. All you can fit in the laundry bag (medium size). If we had known this, we would've packed a little less. You get your stuff back on Thursday. 11) Don't pay for the ice bar unless you just want to say that you went to an ice bar. 12) Get your picture taken - a lot - if you end up buying the CD at the end of the cruise (250) it doesn't matter how many pictures you have on it, the price is the same. They have lots of places set up for formal, studio type pictures and they turn out nice, so bring clothes for a nice set of pictures. They also take lots of candids around the ship and at each port.
The Ship: The Epic is a great ship with tons of variety for activities, restaurants and entertainment. The ship is, of course, new and in great shape. It is easy to get around and is very pleasantly decorated. Because it is so big, it doesn't seem to have as much rocking and rolling (I can only compare to one other cruise). I felt as though I read a lot of negative reviews about this ship, so I had some concerns, but we really didn't experience the same negatives. One of the frequent comments was about smoke in the casino and the fact that you walk through it on Deck 6 to go from one end to the other - I am very sensitive to smoke and didn't find it to be bad and there is a no-smoking slots area if you want to play.
The Cabin: We were in 13061, family balcony. It was small, all cabins are, but fine for us. kids slept on the couch and a pull down upper bunk. The main be is a little short, but comfy. The bathroom area is fine, we didn't have any of the privacy concerns I read about prior to the cruise. There is a privacy curtain which is fine. The shower is awesome- great water pressure, not cramped, etc. They provide shower gel and shampoo. There is plenty of storage in the room, but it is in a bunch of small compartments, so hard to organize. The couch has 2 pull out drawers that were big enough to fit all of the kids clothes. Lighting is good, great bedside reading lights. Not many hangers, but you can ask for extras. Clothesline in the shower. We really liked our cabin location because the closest stairway was direct to the pool and also the main buffet (Garden Cafe)- two flights up - so we rarely used elevators and it was only one flight up to the kids club. Very good spot.
The Itinerary/Ports: I thought the overall itinerary worked great for us with the days at sea being at the front and back end and one in between port days. it gave us a chance to get used to the ship on the first day, rest after two-days in port, and then wind down on our last day. Costa Maya was and OK port - designed just for the cruise ships there is shopping and some "named" restaurants like Hard Rock Cafe and Senor Frogs. There is a very nice pool (with swim up bar) and sunning area right at the port, so pack your bathing suit when heading off the ship. We booked an independent tour of the Chacchoben Mayan Ruins with Native Choice (thenativechoice.com) and it was excellent and cheaper and less crowded than the ship tours. About 45 minute drive without much scenery (but informative guide) and then 1-2 hours at the ruins with an excellent tour by Ivan. I would highly recommend them. I think it is better to see ruins here than on the Cozumel stop because it is a much shorter drive. The next stop was Roatan which ended up being the favorite for all of us. We booked a private tour (again, cheaper) where we could do what we wanted - and it was great. I highly recommend a tour with Victor Bodden (boddentours.com. Our guide, Marty, was excellent and we did a short tour of the island then we zip-lined at Jungle Canopy and visited the monkeys there. The zipline was great and I think it is better scenery and elevation in Roatan than at Cozumel The Ship does not currently offer zipline excursions on Roatan, so you have to book privately, but I think that is better anyway. The kids loved getting a chance to hold baby monkeys and a parrot. Then Marty took us to a beach on West End, less touristy, great food and reasonable drinks, great snorkeling (rent equipment for 10 bucks). Marty ended the day by taking us to the highest point on Roatan for some great pictures. Finally, the last stop was Cozumel. Much more commercial and tourist oriented. We did the ship excursion to swim with the rays. It was a great time for us and the kids. You get to touch and hold the rays in a small area and then you move to another area to snorkel - plenty of fish and rays to see. There is a water trampoline for the kids to jump on after snorkeling, but there really isn't much time for that. The tour was over by noon and we chose to get a taxi to Paradise Beach instead of the planned return to the port. Paradise beach is great - you don't need to rent chairs, there are servers to bring drinks and food, tons of huge water toys and slides at beach area and a nice pool area. Clean bathrooms. It was a great way to finish out the afternoon (we stayed about 3 hours). A lot of places on Cozumel (as well as shopping at other ports) don't take Amex, so bring a Visa or MC.
The Crew: Overall I think the Epic crew was pleasant and helpful. We didn't have a great cabin steward, but other than that I think the crew was fine. Not amazing, but fine.
The Spa: Very nice, but I was surprised that it didn't include being able to use the showers, hot tubs, etc. on the day of your treatment. You had to pay extra. The prices are pretty steep, but the service was good. The kids went to a spa party on Tuesday night and enjoyed it. Hot poultice massage was very nice.
Kids Club: My kids went for a few hours each night and enjoyed it. The counselors are personable and the facility is great. They were able to wind down after a "tough" day at the pool. They are grouped into age groups and that seems to work pretty well.
The Entertainment: Blue Man Group is superior - saw them in Vegas and they are just as good on the Epic. Awesome to be able to see them on the ship. You can book one reserved seating but they also let folks in without reservations if there is room - so book it early in your trip and catch it again at the end. Be sure to get there about an hour early to get seats. There is drink service at the seats until the show starts. The only other show we saw was the Cirque dinner. We chose to get the regular seats instead of the premium seats and I think you could see just as well if not better. The premium seats are ground level and you might get to be part of the show, but the regular seats have a good view from the top level. We got there about 45 minutes early to make sure we had good seats. The surf and turf meal is OK and not substantial (my husband hit the buffet after) and the only option for kids is chicken fingers and fries. I heard other guests comment that the Legends show and the Howl at the Moon show was great. We did bowling (5 bucks each) and it was fun.
Dining: I had arranged for two specialty restaurants but we ended up canceling one of them because we found the Garden Cafe (buffet) and Taste to be very good. We went to Teppanyaki and while the food was good, I didn't think the cooking show was particularly great. We have seen much better at the local Japanese steakhouse. The desert was awful. Even though we were the first of our table to arrive, I got stuck in a seat that was slightly behind the chef, so I didn't feel part of the table "experience". It wasn't worth the extra charge in my opinion. I heard some folks speak well of Cagneys and the Brazilian steakhouse. We loved the fact that we could eat on our schedule and never had to wait. We also ate at the Irish pub which is open 24 hours and the food was great.