This cruise was to celebrate our 25th wedding anniversary. We chose the Epic because of its itinerary, the coolness of exploring a new ship, and the entertainment (hubby's always wanted to see Blue Man Group). We were overall very pleased with the experience.
We had some trouble getting to Barcelona due to flight cancellations and delays, but once we finally arrived, it was easy to get a taxi to the port, and embarkation was fairly quick.
ROOM: We got a mini-suite, which I understand is a good deal bigger than a balcony. Although a lot of people apparently don't like the bathroom set-up, we liked it a lot. Absolutely loved the shower; it was definitely the best shower of any ship I've been on. The bed was very comfortable, and there was a ton of storage, some of which we didn't even find until the last day of the cruise! The balcony was standard, nothing special. Our room attendants did a great job. We had a little miscommunication regarding stocking the minibar, though. We said we just wanted it stocked each day with regular and bubbly water, and they delivered at least 9 very large bottles of each and stuck it on a shelf above the couch (and billed us for it!). Near the end of the week when we had only consumed a fraction of the water, I asked our room attendant to take away the rest and credit us for what we didn't use. She got very grumpy about that and said, "But that's what you asked for!" She had been very pleasant the rest of the week, but not after that.
SHIP: Overall we liked the ship. I thought the color schemes and such were less garish than a lot of other ships. Of course, due to the lack of cut-throughs and the sometimes seemingly endless walk to get to your room, the hallways probably could have benefitted from a little decoration to distract you on your journey. The smoke in the casino area was typically not as bad as I had expected, and I'm pretty sensitive to smoke.
ENTERTAINMENT: I liked the variety of the entertainment. We enjoyed Howl at the Moon, Blue Man Group, and Los Locos Ole. Didn't care for Stephen Sorrentino, but a lot of other people seemed to, so it was cool that the ship was trying to cater to a variety of tastes.
FOOD: I'm not sure why people expect 5-star dining on a cruise ship. The food on the Epic was about as good as what I've had on other ships. The dining room food ranged from surprisingly good (my husband found one lunch pasta dish to be great, for example) to only so-so. The food at Cagney's was superb, Le Bistro was good but not great, La Cucina was very good and a great value for the money, El Moderno was good, Shanghai's was tasty but very cramped and noisy -- not worth the money. The buffet was fine. Service was overall very good (although there was the one waiter who had no idea what "a la mode" meant), and we never had a problem getting great seating, even at the buffet. Mixed drinks were on the whole better than on most cruises I've been on.
PORTS: Instead of ship shore excursions, we used a private company, All Around Italy, for the three Italian ports. What a great decision. They did an excellent job and were very flexible. We saw plenty of super huge ship groups trudging around and were very glad we went with Fabrizio and his drivers. Plus it cost a lot less! My only beef with the ports was that large Carnival and Royal Caribbean ships had the same itinerary as we did, so every port was super packed with regular tourists and all the ship tours. We did a ship-sponsored excursion on disembarkation day (to Monserrat) and enjoyed it.
FITNESS/SPA: We were impressed with the fitness facility and thought it was bigger and had more equipment than most ships. Loved the spa. We got a couple's pass the first day, and it was so relaxing to get back from walking around all day in a port to relax in the thermal pool and those wonderful heated loungers. It was sometimes a little crowded, and one of my favorite parts of the pool was broken most of the week (the semicircle ones that get your arms and legs), but we still loved the experience.
VALUE: We got a very good deal on our room, but we ended up spending far more on drinks, specialty restaurants, etc. than on any other cruise we've been on. So it definitely wasn't the cheapest cruise we've been on.
Thought it was a wonderful cruise and plan to cruise with NCL for our family cruise next year.