Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Norwegian EPIC

First impressions:
Seeing the Norwegian Epic tower over the pier in New York was impressive, in fact the Epic completely blocked the site of the Carnival Miracle docked in the next pier over. I knew the ship was going to be very big, and what seems to always be among the first comments when you talk to someone is “wow this ship is really big”. Having also been aboard the Oasis of the Seas with Royal Caribbean, in January, which is a much larger ship at 240,000 tons, it was interesting to compare the two. Oasis is the biggest, but you’d hardly know the difference when ships get this big. I think as ships get larger, the ocean seems smaller, because the focus onboard these giants revolves around numerous options, more amenities, more dining venues, more entertainment, more staterooms and suites, and of course more people. The key is to build a big ship with excellent attention to passenger flow, and I think for the most part, NCL has succeeded in developing spaces and lounges that flow together well.

Wavy staterooms

One of the big discussion points as the Norwegian Epic is revealed in all her glory, is her “wavy”, staterooms with curved walls and separate compartments for the toilet and the shower. My first impression when I arrived at my room 9248, a deluxe Balcony stateroom, was that it felt small and narrow. I liked the wood-like paneling, and the lighting. There’s a large domed-ceiling above the bed that offered a soothing glow, which reminded me of something from the future. I discovered plenty of storage space, and clever baskets in a couple of the compartments, which are perfect for storing the dirty clothes after a long day at the beach or exploring the Mayan Ruins. The bed linens were nice, but the beds, themselves, were a bit too firm for my taste. The balcony was a decent size, and from what I understand, the air conditioning for the room, is connected to the sliding balcony door, and the air shuts off when the door is opened so passengers aren’t wasting or blasting cool air into the hot and often humid Caribbean.

There has been much to say about the bathroom arrangement in the wavy staterooms, most of the comments being on the “uneasy” side. After speaking with seasoned cruise industry journalists who suggested that North Americans will have a problem with the bathroom arrangement, I came to the conclusion that maybe experienced cruisers might struggle with it a bit, but first-time cruisers won’t notice anything terribly unusual. I have noticed when first-time cruisers board a ship for their vacation, everything is “different” and takes a little “getting used to”, for example; the movement of the ship, the lips at the base of many doors, compact staterooms, even navigating around the ship. Because “things are different” on a cruise ship, many passengers won’t notice or care that the bathrooms are unusual onboard the Epic.

I think the staterooms are smallish, even the suites. This is most certainly a high-density ship, and I think it will be interesting to experience the ship when at full capacity. Additionally, I think even a Deluxe Balcony Stateroom would be a squeeze for three or four people. I enjoyed the stateroom décor, and after spending some time in the room, I was pleased with the overall “feel” of the room. At a press conference someone asked about the little sink outside of the shower and toilet area with the tallish spout. The answer was that it was decided and chosen, several years ago, by Colin Veitch, the previous CEO of NCL, to install these unique sinks, so that he could easily fill his tea kettle. It was suggested, in somewhat of a joking way, that perhaps this is why Colin is the “previous” CEO and not the current CEO.


The live bands around the ship are also a huge plus in my book. Many of the cruise lines still use piped-in music or tracks, but NCL is using live music. There are numerous live music venues around the ship including a “Blues” club. It will take a week just to experience all the unique entertainment onboard the Norwegian Epic. Another interesting thing I discovered onboard the Norwegian Epic is that the ship doesn’t just have a Cruise Director, but also an Entertainment Director, because of the magnitude of entertainment offered.Without question, Norwegian Cruise Lines has upped the ante industry-wide with their “branded” entertainment including Blue Man Group, Second City, Legends in Concert, Cirque Dreams, and Nickelodeon at sea. Entertainment on ships has certainly evolved over the last couple of years with full-scale broadway-style musicals, high-diving shows and now branded entertainment. I enjoyed Blue Man Group, it was so refreshing and cool to see on a ship this eclectic and wild show performed by these “Blue Guys”. I have a theory about who the Blue Men are trying to be…..they are aliens from another world experiencing simple human interaction, and it’s hilarious, particularly the scene with the twinkie and the volunteer (victim) from the audience. I found myself caught-up in the show, and that says a lot because I have seen the best of the best when it comes to big shows on cruise ships, having been a Cruise Director.

The Norwegian Epic will have wonderful entertainment options for families with children because of the Nickelodeon at sea experience and the spectacular water slides on the pool deck. The youth and the teens have their own spaces and rooms for hanging out and playing videos games and watching movies. There is a vast sports deck with bungee jumping, basketball, and NCL is even offering ice skating, which is a direct competitive move to compete with Royal Caribbean. Now NCL can say, “Hey we also have ice skating at sea”. The Epic is packed from stem to stern with entertainment options from the shows, the live music and the very active bars with darts, bowling, and you can even play a game of pool on two pool tables. Freeze your butt off in the Ice Bar, enjoy dancing on deck with a giant TV screen, or find a quiet spot somewhere on deck for a romantic rendezvous, there’s so many options. The key is that not only is there a multitude of options, but the quality of those options is excellent.


When I first experienced “Freestyle dining” on the Norwgian Pearl a couple years ago, I was skeptical, however, I was soon sold on the concept when I realized that I didn’t have to go eat at a certain time if I didn’t want to…I could eat later and have numerous choices of where to eat. The Norwegian Epic has truly taken Freestyle Dining to the level with a plethora of quality dining options throughout the ship. You can get pizza, fish & chips, a sizzling steak, sushi, Teppanyaki, Italian food, French food, you name it and they probably have it aboard the Epic. I think I heard there were 26 different restaurants onboard. During my short visit I didn’t really have an opportunity to enjoy the fine dining in the restaurants because I was scrambling to get all my scheduled interviews, take pictures and video and explore the ship, so I just stopped briefly to grab a quick something and then I was off to my next meeting. I did, however; have a wonderful mushroom soup in the Bistro that is burned into my memory and taste buds. I don’t think I heard any negative comments about the food onboard. I really enjoyed the Garden Café for breakfast on Deck Fifteen because of the vast options including: fruits, meats, eggs, cream of wheat, pancakes and waffles, cereals, breads, pastries, all divided into stations throughout the Garden Café, and you can’t beat the views high above the sea.

Décor around the ship

I found the décor to be very whimsical and modern, with some classically elegant rooms for dining and socializing. The ship is very colorful but tasteful from the carpets to the artwork on the bulkheads. I didn’t think the décor was over the top like you might see on a Carnival ship, rather I felt the tone around the ship to be fun, classy, and modern. I enjoyed the way the interior areas were broken-up into nooks and very usable spaces. There wasn’t much wasted space on this ship at all, in fact the Norwegian Epic was designed to truly maximize passenger-flow from one area to another. There’s even an escalator to assist with this passenger flow midship. I could see an evolution in cruise ship interior design onboard the Epic that I haven’t noticed on other ships. I could see that a tremendous-level of thought went into the passenger areas. Gone are the days of boxy lounges and specific rooms; on the Epic, one room flowed and transitioned into another. I almost felt like I was in a casino in Las Vegas the way the various areas seamlessly came together. There was also an excitement in the air, not because this was a brand new ship, but I think the décor and laughter, the music and general pulse of the activity onboard promoted a sense of relaxation, and fun.


When I first saw the artist rendering of the Norwegian Epic, I thought there must have been a mistake, the ship looked comically top heavy and odd with decks 15 and 16 above the bridge area. After visiting the ship, I had a sense that the ship was very solid, and someone cleverly pointed out to me that this ship was built from the inside out. It really is what’s on the inside that counts, and the Norwegian Epic is truly a ship that will make a big splash in a very positive way with singles, couples, and families. And speaking about single cruisers, The Epic has these very cool pod-like, staterooms for single passengers, and there’s no single occupancy supplement which is excellent news for single travelers. I met with Mr. Paul Priestman who designed these single occupancy staterooms, and he was very proud of his work on these compact rooms. These rooms are almost patterned after the pod-like spaces in Japan where someone can sleep and clean-up and not much else. Mr. Priestman made these single rooms very comfortable, with fun lighting and clever cubbies for storage and hanging clothes. There’s also a private shower and toilet, so there’s everything you need to basically spend the week on this ship in your own small stateroom pod. It will be very interesting to see how passengers receive the Norwegian Epic this year while she is cruising the Caribbean. The hardware is very interesting, there’s a lot to do, but more importantly, the crew and staff are all very excited about their new ship. I also heard that a majority of the crew onboard has their own room, which is a huge plus for those who work on the ship for months at a time. What makes an excellent cruise vacation experience is not just the fancy hardware, but the care and excellent service of the staff onboard, which I am confident the Norwegian Epic will deliver with style!

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