We sailed on the March 3rd sailing in a 2 bedroom courtyard Villa on Deck 17. Armando was our butler, and Ruth was our concierge. We cruised with my 30-yr old sister, 34-yr old brother-in-law, myself, 21-yr old male, my mother mid-50s, and my niece 2-yrs old, and my nephew, 3-yrs old.
We stayed at the Mandarin Oriental in one of their 2 Bedroom Dynasty suites and used the hotels car service to drive us to the port. The Mandarin was wonderful, and it had the first affordable 5-star hotel restaurant with good food. The balcony was literally the size of our Villa on the Epic, so be careful they spoil you at MOs. We also spent a good majority of our night at a Skybox at LIV, and had a wonderful time as well there. Make sure you reserve a table in advance though, and be aware of the steep table minimums. If you are into nightclubs, I highly recommend a visit to the mecca of all nightclubs (it was consistently rated by Askmen as the number 1 or 2 club in the world).
Let me start out by saying the Villa experience is wonderful. Everything is done with priority, priority elevators, priority show seating, priority reservations, everything. I had food delivered to wherever I was on the ship, using the supplied wireless ship phone, with the concierge and butler programmed in (note you can get an additional one of these if you agree to a $800 deposit, which they didn't authorize on our credit card and we were not charged upon return of the phone).
At the same time, the ship is very large, and I often times saw lines forming before shows between 1 and 2 hours before the start time. These insane lines are definitely not for all, and I could see non-villa guests get very upset that 4-6 hours of their vacation was spent waiting on line for 3 shows.
Extremely smooth since we were in a villa. Porters were available outside as usual. We were escorted all the way upstairs, past every line, and right on to the boat as fast as we could walk. We were immediately greeted by our butler, who priority serviced an elevator to take us to the epic club, where we then received a tour of the facilities, and dropped our bags off. We also went to the free champagne party at Posh, and for a discerning crowd you would think they would have better champagne.
O'Malleys Pub = We usually room serviced this and it was very good pub food. Don't expect the best meal of your life, but it is a pub, what do you expect?
Room Service = Got a couple pasta dishes from them early in the morning (through the night butler), and it was quite good.
Le Bistro = I was not overly impressed, and thought it was OK, but my mother enjoyed it, and she is a bigger fan of French food than myself, so you may enjoy it. It was so unmemorable to me, that I honestly can't remember what I ate.
Teppanyaki = One of my favorite meals on the ship, but I am biased here too as I am a big fan of Hibachi (as we call it in New Jersey), on land, and this was similar. A quick hint is to go at lunch. Same food portions, cheaper, and easier to get a reservation. This is only available on sea days.
La Cucina = It was tasty, food was hot, view was nice, but entrance was awkward leading down a strange hall way. In addition, I thought the food was overall alright, with the highlights definitely being the caprese salad.
Shanghai's Noodle Bar = While it only really costs $5, I really enjoyed it at lunch time for a quick snack. They also made my dish promptly and exactly as requested. I relate this to a Vapiano (if you are familiar with the chain), in that you can interact with the chef if you so choose by sitting at the bar. Our butler also delivered it upstairs on several occasions for my niece and nephew.
Moderno = This was one of our highlights of the week, and really thoroughly enjoyed this restaurant. Having been to Fogo De Chao, Chima in DC, and multiple Brazilian steakhouses in Newark, the quality was equal to or in some cases better than those restaurants. I highly recommend it.
Epic Club = Wonderful food, always hot, separate kitchen, and excellent service. Prompt when you want, leisurely when your in a rush. Filet Mignon for breakfast and Dinner, highly recommended.
Epic Grill = Got a chicken Caesar wrap there one day and it was very good.
Cirque Dreams = The show was amazing, and is definitely worth your time and cost. Make sure you are on the lower floor, as it is pretty awesome to have the performers run past you within arms length. The food was alright as most people suggest, but it was definitely edible, and filled us up.
Blue Man Group = I have seen them 3 times on land, and the show was the same as expected. Highly recommended.
Second City = I did not like them, I found their comedy to often times be stretching, almost begging for laughs. Their adults show was slightly better.
Howl at the Moon = Very good for short periods of time, boring after a while. Seemed like there were always the same drunk guys dancing on the stage awkwardly.
Gay Comedian Magician Guy = I don't know his name, nor do I really care, he did the snow trick at the end and it threw me off because I saw it a dozen times already.
Miscellaneous Entertainment = The piano players and bands around the ship were excellent, and we never heard anyone that made us want to stop listening.
This is the biggest disappointment of the cruise. If you are going on the boat, it is not really for 2-5 year olds. We found it difficult to get them to accept our children, as for some reason my nephew was afraid of going inside (they are 2 and 3 years old), and a minimal amount of effort was made by staff to accomdate. They have a 15 minute time limit was very quickly reached on multiple occasions (meaning, 7-8 minutes), in which if your child is crying they call you and force you to pick them up. If you can afford it, a babysitter or Au Pair is definitely required. The kids club will not babysit or educate your child, by their directors admission, and confirmed by the appropriate higher ups. If you can't afford to bring your own child care staff, pray you get lucky and your kid enjoys it from the start, because if he/she doesn't you may not be able to drop them off there and enjoy some down time. They are aggressive with not allowing your child a chance. Also make sure you From my experience, do not attempt to tip the kids club staff to accept any inconveniences or provide good service, they are the only crew members that do not have their hand wide open on the entire ship and find tipping to be inappropriate. It is best to speak to the hotel manager if you feel they are not making the necessary effort to integrate your child into the program.
The Nickelodeon events were definitely enjoyed by my niece and nephew however, and they really enjoyed meeting Spongebob, and Dora.
Don't expect comps unless you loose well over a few thousand dollars, but the drinks are looser than on other cruise lines and if your play constitutes it, a pit boss can authorize a drink.
Ruth was absolutely wonderful, and she got us reservations to everything we wanted. She also led us on and off the ship with priority, and was very accommodating to everything. There were no limiting rules with her, and she was tipped accordingly.
Our butler delivered anything anywhere, except where he was not allowed (but it was easily solved by him meeting you in a place where he could deliver food). He was always seeking to please, and again was tipped appropriately.
The courtyard never left us looking for deck chairs. We used posh once but found it too windy. The cigar lounge was very nice, and enjoyable. Also everywhere on the ship was very clean. Spice H2O was a cool venue, but I only went there once, and wished I went there more often. Bliss Ultra Lounge was not comparable to any land based nightclub, and the music selection was poor, and the crowd even worse. Don't go on this ship expecting any kind of experience similar to that of a world-class nightclub. But it is a ship, and is somewhat expected.
The main deck water slides were a lot of fun, and we did not wait in line at all any of the times we went there. Did not really do much else on the open deck, as the courtyard pretty much summed it up for us. Went to the video arcade and all the games seemed recent and working, definitely a plus.
The decor on the ship was not Carnival gaudy, but more matured refinement, and applicable theming. We highly preferred it to light up ceilings, and visual distractions you find on other cruise lines.
We found everyone, not just crew in the courtyard was extremely friendly and sought to please. I highly recommend everyone on board with the obvious exception to the kids club staff and the rude overly defensive entertainment manager. Never seen someone so condescending in the hospitality industry.
Overall we would go on the ship again, but if you have kids that are younger, I would imagine you would do better on carnival which is more kid friendly. The luxury features of this ship if you are willing to pay for a villa level suite is about on par with Crystal Symphony (shockingly).
Quick and painless, and involved us going down a freight elevator with the concierge, and leading us right off the boat and stopping the Disembarkation line to allow the villa guests to get off the boat quickly. Luggage was quickly found, porters were easily available, and we cleared customs in all of 30 seconds.