Norwegian Epic - Ready for Her Close-up

| June 18, 2010

NCL's final webcast before the debut of Norwegian Epic served as a good introduction to one of the most important new ships in the cruise industry.

One surprise in the webcast was news that Epic's first Caribbean cruise is not yet sold out. When Oasis of the Seas was introduced, it also didn't sell out its first cruises; it appeared as if people were waiting for the reviews to come in before they committed to booking. But Oasis' first few months of cruises were also extraordinarily expensive. In the case of Epic, booking early could turn out to be the best deal you can get.

That's especially true if you fly to the ship - up until August 28, you can buy roundtrip airfare from East Coast cities for as little as $99 per person ($199 from the west coast). This brings the total price of a balcony cabin cruise as low as $1,215 per person including air. Tax of $45 is additional and this offer is only available to the first two people in any stateroom.

Initial schedule

We now have a complete picture of the ship's initial schedule. Upon leaving the shipyard today (June 17), she will sail two days to arrive in Rotterdam for the first "revenue cruise." Then she'll sail to the U.K. for a two-day press cruise from Southampton for the European media.

When Norwegian Epic sails from Southampton on June 24, I will be aboard for her seven-day Atlantic crossing, arriving in New York City on July 1. I will be staying in one of the popular studio staterooms and will bring you updates from the ship every day during the cruise.

Inaugural festivities are scheduled for July 2 in New York Harbor, featuring Reba McEntire as the godmother. Then comes a two-day press cruise July 2 and 3. On the Fourth of July, the ship will host the NBC network coverage of Macy's Fourth of July fireworks display, a New York tradition that was moved from the East River to the Hudson a few years ago.

Epic will then "deadhead" (i.e., sail without passengers) to Miami from New York, since the Jones Act prohibits her from carrying passengers directly between two U.S. ports.

Upon arrival, the ship will sail into view of Bicentennial Park at the top of Miami Harbor, where it will stop to be admired by throngs onshore enjoying hot dogs, ice cream, a live radio broadcast, etc. Another two-day press event will sail from Miami July 8-9.

Epic's first Caribbean cruise will be to St. Martin, St Thomas and Nassau, sailing July 10. Staterooms are still available, with inside cabins for $1,139, balcony cabins for $1,529, deluxe balcony cabins for $1,659 and studio staterooms selling for $1,409. Suites and spa cabins are sold out.

The first "discount" cruise, where prices drop dramatically, is September 4, with a (better in my opinion) western Caribbean itinerary calling at Costa Maya, Roatan and Cozumel. This cruise starts at $699 inside, $949 balcony, $1,149 deluxe balcony, and $1,029 studio. If you wait until November 27, you can get a studio stateroom for just $809.

Top attractions

During the conference, NCL revealed the results of a poll on what intrigued people the most about the ship. At the top of the list was the Blue Man Group. I cannot recall any ship where the onboard entertainment was the thing people were most interested in seeing. I think this is amazing, and I feel vindicated that I have recommended Blue Man Group to cruise lines since 1993 after I saw the show in New York, and then worked aboard NCL and Holland America as a stage manager.

Next up on the poll results is the studio staterooms, which is no surprise to me. These are the first modern cruise ship staterooms to be marketed to single cruisers. They are all grouped together so all the single cruisers will be in the same area and thus able to find each other easily. This is quite an innovation in single cruising, since on most ships there is no way to know where other single cruisers may be unless you happen to find them. It is ironic that NCL did not originally plan to market these cabins this way, but expected couples would book these 100 sq. ft. staterooms. Let's just say that these staterooms found their place in the world -- whether on purpose or by accident doesn't really matter.

We saw pictures of some of the new kids' facilities. A contraption called the Spider Web is like a tall jungle gym, but with webbing on the inside and a soft bottom in case you fall. I don't see much to hold onto on the inside, but I guess the kids will figure it out. We also saw the kids' pool area and the rappelling and rock climbing wall.

For the teens there is what EVP Andy Stuart described as a "hang out" area -- a teen club that's not called a teen club, because no teen wants to go to a teen club. Another NCL rep referred to it as a place for "clubbies in training," meaning it emulates an adult night club.

Also for young people are some bowling lanes (the ones in the pub O'Sheehan's will be open to the under 21 set). Other lanes are in the nightclub Bliss, which is limited to adults - at least at night. There is also an extensive water park and the Epic Plunge -- what NCL says will be the largest water slide on a cruise ship until Disney Dream arrives in 2011.

No Main Theater

Andy further emphasized the entertainment onboard by noting there is no main theater to be showing Jean Ann Ryan or other traditional cruise revues; the largest venue onboard is the Epic Theater -- where Blue Man Group will perform -- which only holds 650 people. Legends in Concert, a well-known "tribute artist" company that will present tributes to Madonna, Tina Turner and Elvis, will also perform one night in the Epic Theater and one night in the Manhattan Room, which is also one of the main dining rooms.

Strangely enough, there is no way to book either the Howl at the Moon or the Legends shows online, and Manhattan is also a restaurant, so it is still unclear how people will know when the group will be performing in there, and if it is a standalone show or presented during meals.

Headliners Showroom will offer up Howl at the Moon, the dueling pianos show where two pianists play tag-team comedy and sing along while hurling verbal barbs at each other and the audience. I assume Second City will also be presented here, although that has not been made clear yet.

Fat Cats is the jazz room each evening, and during the day it will be the place to rent a Gibson guitar, although it isn't yet clear if NCL will allow players to jam together, or just rent headset amplifiers and guitars to take back to their rooms.

Dining and more

In all, the ship has 21 dining venues, 11 of them included in the cruise fare. Some of the nicer extra-cost rooms include the NCL standby Le Bistro, which first opened on the NCL ships of the early 1990s, plus Cagney's Steakhouse and the Teppanyaki and Sake Bar with sushi. I am looking forward to the Churrascaria. Strangely, on the deck plans it appears that Cagney's and the Churrascaria are the same place, not separate restaurants.

O'Sheehan's Neighborhood Bar and Grill will be a large pub with food, no extra charges, and will likely become a very popular hangout on the ship. This is a surprisingly large room with plenty of space for impromptu entertainment - and bowling lanes for the kids.

Some of the new Epic Public rooms

Of course, there is also the Spiegel Tent -- a combination of dining and a Cirque-style dinner show, which I predict will get almost as much buzz as Blue Man Group. This venue is beautiful and very different in concept for a cruise ship. Unfortunately, it appears it won't be able to accommodate every passenger during the course of a regular cruise, according to Andy Stuart.

Deck 7, above O'Sheehan's, has most of the shopping. You will also find Bill Ultra Lounge in the forward area and a drinker's haven amidships with the Ice-Bar, Shakers Martini Bar, Malting Beer and Whiskey Bar and the Humidor Cigar Lounge.

Every cruiser will be able to book their entertainment online at least 45 days before their cruise sails. I have already booked the entertainment for my cruise. Each stateroom will also have an in-room interactive TV system where you can book reservations. You will also be able to play slot machines and video poker on your in-room TV.

Another innovation is the use of face-recognition technology by the onboard photographers. This will only be used when it is time to find your pictures if you are interested in buying them. Instead of having to look on a giant wall of photos for your shots, a camera will scan your face, go to the inventory, and pull up the pictures it thinks are yours. You will most likely preview them on a video screen before you commit to buying them.

Epic will have one of the first (but not the very first) public escalators at sea connecting O'Sheehan's, the casino, the atrium and Taste Restaurant. The bottom three public decks (five, six and seven) have most of the public rooms on the ship. There are then four decks of solid cabins, and another deck of cabins (Deck 13) above with a Bridge Viewing Room at the bow. I assume this means passengers will be able to look in on the bridge to see the officers at work, although this is not yet clear.

Deck 14 forward is the location of La Cucina Italian Restaurant, directly over the bridge. Other public rooms here include the Recess Kids Club, the Pulse Fitness Center and the Mandara Spa. There is also a teeth whitening center and a hair salon.

Some of the Kids area- the SpiderWeb, pool and climbing and rappelling wall

On Deck 15, we begin the kids' areas with the video arcade, climbing walls, and the bottom of the four-deck tall waterslide called The Epic Plunge. Nearby is the Waves Pool Bar, and a small poolside casino with a stage area for outdoor bands and other fun and games. Forward is the Garden Caf´┐Ż, which serves as the basic lido dining area.

The Spice Bar at the stern of Deck 15 looks especially enticing in the ship's pictures. There is a pool bar and grill with a stage and inclined seating looking down; Spice has a top floor on Deck 16.

Deck 16 forward has the Courtyard Suites, a three-deck-tall complex of suites with a private entrance to a pool, fitness center, sundeck and spa - all reserved for the private use of Courtyard guests. This is the big box you see at the front of the ship, and although it looks a bit out of place on the outside, it will look like paradise on the inside. It's hard to say how it will look to onboard guests who are not allowed inside, however. The stern end of Deck 16 has the teen lounge called Entourage and the top floor of the Spice H20 pool bar. Above it on Deck 17 is the sports complex with a basketball court and the climbing wall.

And that's Norwegian Epic. I will be sailing in one of the studio staterooms starting June 24. Please log in to see our daily updates.

Click here for Norwegian Epic Ship Within a Ship Click here for Norwegian Epic - Dining Click here for: Norwegian Epic Entertainment Click Here for Norwegian Epic Reservation System Click here for Norwegian Epic NIght Clubs

The Original F3 Cabin Renderings: Click on the pictures for the full versions.

NCLs New F3 Balcony Cabin 1   NCLs New F3 Balcony Cabin 2

click on pictures below for larger images:

Studio Stateroom   Studio Staterooms Common Living Room
NCLs New F3 Deluxe Balcony Cabin 1   NCLs New F3 Deluxe Balcony Cabin 2
NCLs New F3 Inside Cabin 1   NCLs New F3 Inside Cabin 2

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