Norwegian Epic - First Reports

| June 21, 2010

Early reports of several technical difficulties have me hoping my seven day Norwegian Epic transatlantic crossing will not be more "epic" than expected.

When Oasis of the Seas debuted last December the mood of the press was ebullient. First of all, Royal Caribbean was smart enough to open up the entire ship to all of the press at the same time, with the exception of a two hour preview reserved solely for Good Morning America. When hundreds of us all walked aboard Oasis in a mass exodus we were left breathless by the perfection with which Royal Caribbean had finished the ship.

NCL has taken a vastly different approach in introducing Norwegian Epic. The company instead offered free cruises to a "chosen few" U.S. cruise reporters for the first two very short cruises. These few reporters have left drips and drabs of information and a small batch of incredibly unflattering pictures of the ship in mostly obscure places online where the vast majority of the cruising public never goes - with the exception of Gene Sloan's USA Today cruise column.

And so NCL has stolen its own thunder for the celebratory reception when Epic arrives in New York for its inaugural ceremony featuring Reba McEntire. In my opinion, these hand-selected reporters, which have fulfilled their expected role by dishing out plenty of effusive adjectives, have already reduced the initial thrill of seeing this new ship for the rest of the world significantly.

Now, add in the news of a series of technical difficulties; a cancelled show for Blue Man Group, an engine failure,and a broken security system that had Rotterdam passengers signed onboard by hand after waiting seven excruciating hours to board, and I am starting to wonder if my upcoming cruise is even going to sail at all.

This report from a British newspaper says Epic is down to half-speed based on the current engine problems. NCL has scheduled this as a 7 day cruise to make the transatlantic crossing, which means it has to travel full out, at 23 knots, to make the trip in that amount of time.

Queen Mary 2 makes the journey in 6 days - and she travels close to 30 knots when doing so - the fastest passenger ship (of size) in the world. Going half speed it will take Epic far more than 7 days to make this trip, they will be lucky to be in New York by the Fourth of July.

OMG, I am scheduled to leave on this ship to cross the Atlantic ocean in just three days. If the ship can't trasverse the British Isles from Scotland to Southampton without engine problems how will it fare somewhere north of the Azores with thousands of miles of open sea before she reaches New York? "Epic" is now truly a fitting name for my upcoming cruise - it could be the longest at sea cruise of my life - beating my ten days at sea going from Los Angeles to Tahiti.

Now, to be candid, we heard rumors that the ship had a bad engine during the building process, right after the first sea trials - about six weeks before her debut. NCL trotted out another engine and said the faulty one had been replaced, but ship engines are not pre-manufactured like car engines, they are built to spec as needed. So, what happened now? We don't know if it is the other engine or the new one that just went bad, but this much is mysterious; we had heard it was too late to build a new engine and that NCL would have no choice but to chance it with the bad engine - so what just happened? Gene Sloan reports NCL saying "it was just a shaft; the ship is good to go." That's what they said the first time the engine was replaced - good to go. It all goes into the "hmmm" file now, which I suspect may keep growing.

NCL offered the cruisers in Rotterdam their money back if they did not want to wait for the engine repairs. If they offered me my money back right now, based on what I have seen and heard so far, I just might take that offer. I used the expression drips and drabs, and so far, and with the exception of the very cool stateroom mood lighting feature, "drab" appears to be the perfect adjective for what I have seen in early pictures of the onboard décor. I see plenty of wood panelings with basic white lampshades - kind of like my parent's living room. Or as my colleague, ship historian Peter Knego put it, "Nothing was very memorable, sort of a Heathrow meets post-post-midcentury modern (ie that chandelier in the atrium) that will date quickly."

I am hoping it is just bad photography. The fact that there are still only a handful of official company pictures of the ship's interior is baffling.

The chosen few have described the entertainment with the expected mandatory adulation, but I already knew that Blue Man Group is a spectacular show and that is the word Fran Golden uses to sum up its only showing so far, after the first scheduled show was cancelled due to technical difficulties.

I will have a chance to see everything this ship has to offer during my 7-day(?) crossing starting Thursday, including Blue Man Group which I have already seen five times, so I hope you will wait to see my review of this show as it is done by NCL. I practically have the script memorized and will be able to tell you if it measures up to either the New York or the Las Vegas version.

But my hopes to try all of the best restaurants may need to be tempered a bit. Based on reports in an obscure U.K. blog from Cruise Critic's Carolyn Spencer Brown many of the specialty dining room reservations were filled to capacity for her entire cruise- and the ship is only half full.

Brown noted one restaurant that NCL has been touting heavily, the Brazilian Churrascaria Grill, was largely overlooked by the current passengers, however. It is possible the room is just being overlooked since it appears to be the same venue as Cagney's Steakhouse. Maybe people just can't find it?

Moving on with the early reports - Gene Sloan reports that the stateroom bathrooms are indeed as perplexing as our readers suspected. I was hoping for the best, but anyone who has seen how the bathroom facilities are integrated into the stateroom design has expressed wonder, and in many cases something more along the lines of indignity.

The staterooms have a separate shower to the right and a separate room for the toilet to the left of the main entrance to the stateroom. Both the shower and toilet have frosted, translucent glass doors for semi-privacy. These two areas can be shut off from sight from the rest of the cabin by a mere curtain - but the problem is that this now cordoned-off area also includes the front door. The translucent glass over the shower and toilet means there will be a vague outline of whoever is inside, and it is actually clear glass in some areas. People walking down the hallways can potentially get more than an eyeful should they happen to walk past any stateroom at just the right time.

Other early reports tell us that even though the ship has been sailing just half-full on these early cruises there are still pretty significant bottlenecks onboard, particularly around the "Bar Central" area and around the popular, but relatively tiny jazz club called Fat Cats, which has garnered more words than any of the other entertainment so far.

Early word is that Cirque Dreams and Dinner is also a very good show, as I suspected it would be based on the preview I had last March in the company headquarters in Pompano Beach.

That's what we know so far. Keep in mind that my "blogging," which starts on Thursday, will not need any disclaimer as I have paid my own way, including airfare and passage in my Studio Stateroom - the exclusive "single cruiser's enclave" that has been set aside on the ship as a private area for people traveling alone with exclusive keyed access to a shared living room for 128 "studio" staterooms.

These studio staterooms are all on a single corridor and only have 100 square feet of living space. They all have huge picture windows to look out on the common area corridor, but not much else except for a shower, toilet and sink in the room, as described above. Oh, they do have the mood lighting with several colors such as purple, red, blue or any combinations thereof.

I shall be reporting live from Epic on this transatlantic cruise - its first full 7-day cruise, and I already have reservations for all of the shows I can possibly reserve. Please tune in to CruiseMates regularly to get the real, unfiltered and uncensored, story on Norwegian Epic.

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