Just off the Epic. By way of background...I am a 50 yr old male, traveled with my GF and 3 kids. I have been on a half dozen Royal Caribbean cruises and a couple of Carnival cruises. I am into food and wine. I am just going post some random thoughts as they come to me....
Ship Impressions: Boxy on the outside, looks like they crammed as many cabins as they could with little regard for outdoor deck areas. No central promenade or "central park" area. Made it difficult to remember which floor which restaurant or bar was on. No big deal really...good directories and interactive deck plans. Smoky casino in the middle of it all was a negative.
Pool area on sea days is a definite problem. No chairs left as early as 8. Countless people walking around and around looking for chairs all the time. They started putting little stickers on chairs with the time on it, but I never saw anyone do anything more than that. Actually witnessed a couple of angry exchanges over chairs. Not sure what the solution is, but it is a problem (yes it is common to other ships/lines, but it does need to be addressed).
Cabin: We had one of those mini suites with the bed and the sofa and a balcony. Everyone has their opinion of the crazy bathroom setup...and I will offer mine. Absurd. The sink is in the cabin. Front door entry between the shower and the toilet...really? Just silly. Balcony was private and fine. Lots of storage space. Attendants lacked the personality and presence I have had on other cruises. Tipped her $20 at the beginning to ensure better service, and the only thing that came of it was more enthusiastic greetings (although she called me by a name that didn't resemble my own every single time).
Food: "Free" restaurants were pretty horrible, yes horrible, from a food and service standpoint. The servers were amongst the worst I have ever encountered. They were clueless, uncaring, and generally screwed up every request. And i promise you I am not a difficult patron. Food orders came cold, poorly coordinated, and often wrong. Pretty much the same experience at both Manhattan room and Taste. The buffet, Garden Cafe (I think that is what it was called) was ok...food was decent but variety was limited for breakfast....same every day, but it was fine.
The one exception was O'Sheehans, which was pretty good and it felt nice to have some comfort food later at night after a few drinks.
Specialty restaurants...we loved all of them. Night and day compared to free ones. French was excellent, we ate at the Teppanyaki restaurant the first and the last night, Sushi was very good, Noodles (Chinese at lunch) was VERY good, and the Italian was good as well. Our friends raved about the Brazilian place.
Bars: Lots of places to get drinks all over the place. Martini bar was nice. We did the Ice Bar and that was fun to experience and we all got a kick out of it.
Entertainment: Very, very strong as you have read. Blue Man and Cirque were great...although the food and service at Cirque were as bad as we experienced. Food was cold and we all got served at different times and I sat with the wine list on my lap for half the show waiting for the waiter to grace me with his presence again. Howl at the Moon was one of the best parts of the trip...I love piano bars and those people made it so much fun. Didn't do Second City or the Murder Mystery. Played blackjack a few nights and found it to be rough going but the dealers were pleasant enough while they repeatedly pulled out impossible cards to take my money.
Ports: Been to all three (St. Maarten, St. Thomas and Nassau) before...they are three of the least exciting in my opinion, and Nassau is not worth the stop as far as I am concerned. But if you haven't been, I'm sure they are fine.
Conclusion: I have tried to be balanced in my comments...we certainly had a fun time. Generally, I found the service and attention to satisfaction to be below Royal Caribbean. As stated above, free restaurant staff was horrible and stateroom staff so-so. I know many people don't like the set dining times the other lines feature, but I happen to be one who thinks a big part of the cruise week experience is having the family sit for dinner at the scheduled time with a waiter and assistant who get to know you by name and become a part of your vacation. I missed that. The ship was sterile feeling.
All that said, if you don't mind paying for the specialty restaurants and take advantage of the entertainment, and get lucky with service, you will be fine.