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Norwegian Epic Review

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Cruising redefined - aboard the Norwegian Epic...

Samuel and Joe are just back from two days aboard the sensational new Norwegian epic.  Sailing out of New York, we braved the 30 degree weather and sunshine to check out everything from rock climbing and rappelling walls to the spa and thalassotherapy pools.  Samuel even tried out the water slides, including the Epic Plunge (we won't talk about how Samuel got stuck in it half way down...)

We snooped relentlessly, we bribed, begged, cajoled (and in some cases just barged right in!) to get a good look at virtually every part of the ship, leaving no stateroom or public area behind...

We've got photos, we've got YouTube video, and at the end of it all we even got cool little badges to solidify our status as "Epic Experts"!  Samuel was also honoured at an exclusive cocktail party with the top prize for "Best Norwegian Cruise Lines University Success Story".  It was non-stop action for two-days, but we did it all for you!

She's the hottest new ship to hit the high seas, and she really is ground breaking.  Read on...

What’s the big deal - isn’t it just yet another new, large ship?

New and large it may be, but Norwegian Epic is certainly not your average cruise ship.  While many cruise lines these days claim the moniker of ‘innovative’ and ‘unique’ when introducing a new ship to the fleet, I can honestly say that this really does apply to Epic.

Continuing the Norwegian signature ‘Freestyle Cruising’ concept, Epic has multiple places to dine, formal attire is never required, and you can dine whenever, wherever, and with whomever you want.  Where Epic really shines is when it comes to onboard entertainment.  Forget “the 6pm show, and the 8pm show” - Epic threw out the playbook on cruise ship entertainment, instead bringing onboard brand name acts such as Blue Man Group, Second City improv comedy, Legends in Concert and Nickelodeon.

An aqua park, complete with multiple waterslides, as well as rock climbing walls, bungee trampoline, rappelling walls, basketball court and even a simulated skating rink will keep even the most active of guests busy.  An abundance of loungers around the two main pools, as well as quiet shaded areas will indulge those looking to just sunbathe, read a book or relax.

Even the staterooms on Epic are anything but your typical cruise ship cabins, with funky studios designed (and priced) just for the solo traveller, as well as every single oceanview cabin having a private balcony.

The ship itself...

Ok, we’ll be the first to admit that from the outside the Epic doesn’t exactly fit the bill of a sleek oceangoing liner.  She’s a bit boxy, and quite literally towers out of the water (18 decks in total).  But once onboard Epic, we were pleasantly surprised by the contemporary yet sophisticated and chic look and feel of the ship.  With as many as 4,500 guests onboard, she may not be the largest ship afloat (that honour is still held by the Oasis of the Seas), but she’s definitely pushing the upper level.  With so many guests onboard, we were worried about crowding, lines and impersonal service.  We were pleasantly surprised though at just how well Epic absorbs the passenger flow.  With so many venues, strategically spaced around the ship, it never felt overly crowded other than around ‘Entertainment Central’ right before some of the shows were due to start (suggestion for NCL - open show venues at least 20 minutes before show time to avoid line ups forming). 

All around the ship I was wowed by the decor, public art (including the great modern photography through the elevator/stair well areas) and the overall funky and chic, yet not overpowering or garish feel of the ship. 

So who would enjoy a cruise vacation aboard Epic?

In our opinion, Epic will have strong appeal to two distinct groups of vacationers: Families travelling with kids, and the 20-something to 40-something set looking for a vibrant, upbeat cruise experience.  In fact, Epic is so different - she’ll likely appeal to those whom might have never imagined themselves being the ‘cruise type’.  The range of facilities for families with kids is unsurpassed (see below).  For the 20 to 40-something set who enjoy Las Vegas style nightlife and entertainment, Epic will offer all this and more - albeit in the Caribbean or Mediterranean.

Those looking for a classic oceanliner experience, a more traditional onboard ambiance, or a smaller ship will likely find that there are other cruise options that are better suited.

Where will Epic sail?

Epic will offer alternating 7-day Eastern and Western Caribbean itineraries, with ports of call in St Thomas, St Maarten and The Bahamas or Roatan, Costa Maya and Cozumel respectively.  In Summer 2011, she’ll sail 7-day itineraries roundtrip Barcelona to Florence, Rome, Naples and Palma de Mallorca.  There will also be two transatlantic crossings at the start and finish or her Mediterranean season.

Tell me about the entertainment aboard Epic...

Epic really shines when it comes to onboard entertainment and nightlife.  Gone are the 6pm and 8pm shows on traditional cruise lines, and instead you’ve got a wealth of options each day - so many we could only get a taster on our two night cruise.

Norwegian Cruise Lines say: “When we say we've changed the face of cruising entertainment, we mean that literally. For the first time ever, the award-winning Blue Man Group is coming to the sea and they're performing exclusively aboard Norwegian Epic. Get ready for entertainment pandemonium with an unexpected and thoroughly fun combination of music, comedy and multi-media theatrics. And that's not all, because you'll find live entertainment all over the ship – from the acrobatic spectacular of Cirque Dreams® and Dinner to the hilarious improv of The Second City® comedy troupe and lots more.”

We say:  There was never a dull moment onboard.  The show tickets can be pre-reserved ahead of your cruise, and this is highly recommended as shows like Blue Man Group and the Cirque Dreams show were popular.  Blue Man plays in the Epic Theatre, Cirque Dreams plays in it’s own dedicated ‘Big Top’ and Second City as well as Howl at the Moon and the Duelling Pianos play at Headliners Comedy Club.  In addition to these three venues, Legends in Concert offers pop tribute shows in various venues - including two in the Manhattan Room main dining venue.  There’s also fantastic Jazz/R&B/Blues music in the Fat Cat’s venue, as well as the popular nightly pianist at the Martini Bar.

We really liked the different venues and how they were distinct entertainment destinations.  However the line ups to get into the popular shows, even though we had a reservation, were an irritant at times - though we understand that NCL is working on this.

Second City - Improv comedy

Onboard bowling in Bliss (there are 6 lanes in total, 3 in Bliss and 3 in O’Sheehans)

In addition to the many shows and performances, there are plenty of other night time distractions, including six bowling lanes; there are three in Bliss Ultra Lounge (which is one of the hot and happening nightclubs onboard, playing latest hits and remixes til the wee hours), as well as another three in O’Sheehans, a neighbourhood pub and sports bar venue open 24 hours a day with a complimentary pub/bar menu always available.  There’s also Spice H2O - which NCL bills as yet another scintillating nightclub - this time outdoors at the back of the ship, although it was not completed when we sailed so we’ve yet to see this first hand.

What about during the day - will I be bored?

While the nightlife and evening entertainment options on Epic are (at least in our opinion) the most diverse and comprehensive at sea today, there’s still plenty to do by day.  Second City offers a Murder Mystery lunch twice during the cruise, where the audience can help solve the crime.  In addition to bowling, there’s a giant two storey Ninendo Wii screen offering games in the atrium as well as sporting events and concerts screened at O Sheehans.  On the outer decks, those whom are more active can choose from rock climbing, a rappelling wall, the basketball court, paddle tennis, or the Aqua Park (yes - it’s not just for kids!).  I tried the Epic Plunge, an exhilarating waterslide that is traversed on an inflatable inner tube, including a swirling bowl and sudden drop.  Much to my embarrassment, I got ‘stuck’ in the bowl and had to pull myself round - but apparently NCL is still working out the kinks on the water pressure for the slides and I was certainly not the only one to get stuck!  The waterslides (three in all) are great fun for kids and adults alike, and the pool scene offers two decent sized pools in a complex with waterfalls and spraying fountains.

View of the Epic pool deck and AquaPark with three waterslides

Bungee Trampoline - a big hit with kids young and old!

Therapy pools in the Mandara Spa Relaxation Room

One of the two side by side twin pools in the AquaPark

The contemporary, upscale full service Mandara Spa onboard

For a more relaxing day, there are ample sun loungers onboard, and while it did get a bit crowded around the main pool area, there are several tucked away sun deck areas including an expansive area that was almost ‘hidden away’ on deck 18.  There is an elevator that accesses this deck from the main pool deck (deck 15), but it is tucked away and more prominent stairwell access or signage would help alert guests to the existence of this large additional sunning/relaxation area.  There’s also a ‘Freestyle Sundeck’ - strictly adults only, with topless sunbathing permitted.

For the ultimate in pampering and relaxation, I highly recommend a trip to the Mandara Spa.  In particular, the private Relaxation Area was quite spectacular and certainly superior to other cruise line offerings.  An expansive private retreat, there are several heated tiled beds, and plenty of cushy balinese day beds.  There’s even a private outdoor veranda that overlooks the wake with a refreshing sea breeze.  The therapy pool is “three-in-one” with a main area with massaging waterfall, as well as a warm bubbling thalossotherapy area, and a cold jetted tub.  An air conditioned relaxation room offers lounge seating with juices, iced water and magazines, and there are both steam rooms and saunas, and very large changing and shower facilities. 

Epic offers the largest spa at sea, and the space really is quite spectacular.  Guests can book designated Spa Staterooms (Balcony, Deluxe Balcony and Suites) which in addition to being conveniently located to the spa, offer complimentary access to the private Relaxation Area.  For guests whom like to contrast lively nights with quiet, relaxing daytime rejuvenation, I’d highly recommend booking the spa accommodations for access to the relaxation area if nothing else.

Spa Suite with corner jetted tub with oceanview

Private Relaxation Area in the Mandara Spa

Ok, all this stuff to do is giving me an appetite!

When it comes to chow time, Epic has more choice and diversity than any other ship at sea.  Period. 

Norwegian Cruise Lines say: “Yes, we have two main dining rooms. No, you won’t recognize them as such. Their dramatic design and delectable dishes were all inspired by the world’s leading culinary capitals. These, of course, are merely two of 20 dining options on board the ship. There’s an upscale steakhouse featuring both tempting steaks and chops as well as a traditional Argentinian-inspired churrascaria. There’s also our signature French Restaurant, authentic Teppanyaki, family-style Italian, tempting Chinese, sensational sushi, freshly prepared pasta dishes at our action-stations and an absolutely amazing salad bar. You can even dine on eclectic world-cuisine poolside if you so desire. And for guests of the Villas who desire a much more intimate and upscale dining experience, we offer our very exclusive Epic Club and Courtyard Grill.”

We say:  Dining, service and quality of cuisine is always subjective.  On the whole we very much enjoyed our dining experience on Epic, though while there were mostly hits, there were a few misses.  The two main dining rooms are Taste and Manhattan Room.  Of the two, Manhattan Room is more grandiose with Taste being more eclectic and contemporary in design.  While the appetisers and desserts served in Taste were great in both quality and tastiness, the entrees were not at the correct temperature - and somewhat uninspiring in presentation.  We hope that as the inevitable ‘new ship kinks’ are worked out, the dining team will be speedier in delivering entrees to ensure freshness and correct temperature.

In addition to the two main dining options, there are a number of other complimentary dining options onboard including The Garden Cafe, a pleasantly bright and airy space with a massive amount of choice.  Several ‘action stations’ offer prepared to order items ranging from pasta to crepes and paninis.  The carvery station offered cuts from a full roast with all the trimmings, and I particularly loved the salad bar with nice touches like freshly shaved parmesan for caesar salads, or quality feta cheese to accompany a greek salad or the olive bar selections.  The ice cream bar, also complimentary, offered 12 varieties including a couple of sorbets and sugar free options. 

The specialty dining venues are where NCL really stands out.  During our two days onboard we tried La Cucina which serves up casual Italian fare in a relaxed atmosphere.  Perched high atop the ship at the front, we had great views of the sunset across the bow of the ship, and the antipasta and bread selection was outstanding.  Our entrees of veal saltimbocca were not bad, but a little bland, however both our appetisers and desserts were tasty and of a high standard.

My favourite venue is the Churrascaria - truly a beautiful room - clubby in feel, and very atmospheric.  A meat lovers heaven, this restaurant occupies one half of a complex with NCL’s signature Cagneys Steakhouse in the other.  I also tried Shanghai’s - a chinese eatery onboard, which offered up good quality dishes, albeit a little on the small side.  Another standout specialty restaurant is Le Bistro which is tucked away on Deck 5 and is a classic continental look and feel that goes well with the menu featuring items such as Escargot, Coq au Vin and Beef Tenderloin.

Top Tip:  Onboard the ship you can visit any of the restaurant reservation desks and purchase a reduced rate Specialty Dining pack that offers 4 experiences at any of the above restaurants for just $48 per person - averaging out at just $12 per restaurant - a great deal and one which will enable you to enjoy several great dining options during your cruise, cost effectively.  Balcony and MiniSuite / Suite guests can pre-book specialty restaurant reservations 48 hours ahead of time, and we strongly recommend advance booking onboard to secure your preferred table size and time.

So tell me about the onboard digs...

Well, once again Epic is anything but your typical cruise ship.  Standard accommodations include ‘New Wave’ balcony staterooms or interior cabins (there are no oceanview cabins - all have balconies).  The balcony staterooms feature chic decor and look great - but are definitely compact.  The bathroom is actually a European open plan concept that some may find a shock to the system; the shower and separate toilet face each other across from a wooden floored area next to the entry door.  The sink/vanity is located in the main cabin interior area.  While there is a privacy curtain that screens off the bathroom/shower area, it’s a little shall we say “intimate”.  The plus side is that the open/separated design allows for a larger shower area and toilet than typical cruise line bathrooms.

A completely new concept at sea is the creation of two decks of Studio accommodations.  These are unique in that they are designed AND priced for either solo travellers, or are also perfect for two friends travelling together whom want their own beds/private space - but still want to be ‘together’ - the majority of Studio’s have an interconnecting door that can be opened/closed between two units.  While certainly compact at 100 square feet, the design is ingenious and the space really works for one traveller.  A window looks out into the corridor which helps give the feeling of more space, and the Studio’s have access to a private ‘Living Room’ with keycard access that offers a social space to mingle with other solo guests.  Complimentary espressos and cappucinos, light snacks and a full service bar with some large screen televisions and plenty of seating make this a fun place to stop by for the morning java or an evening drink before hitting the rest of the ship.

Top Tip: Currently classified as ‘Deluxe Balcony Staterooms’, come April 2011 these will be reclassified as MiniSuites.  With almost 30% more interior space than standard Balcony Staterooms, the difference is significant - especially given that the interior space of a regular balcony cabin is actually only 151 square feet (even if they are very well designed!)  Paying an extra $200 or so per person could be well worth it for the extra room of the Deluxe/MiniSuite accommodations.

Also, when booking any of the ‘New Wave’ accommodations, we highly recommend that all guests choose a unit that has the bed nearest the balcony, and the sofa in the middle of the room.  With the sink located in the middle of the stateroom, cabins that have the bed in the middle rather than nearest the balcony make for a tight space for two guests to get past one another, and the sink ends up being positioned at the corner of the bed.  We highly recommend choosing a unit where the sofa is in the middle providing much more room to use the sink/vanity.

Balcony Stateroom - modified accessible.  All staterooms with new Bliss Bedding

Studio’s, compact - but designed and priced for solo guests, internal corridor

Where Epic really shines is in their Suite, Penthouse and Villa accommodations.  Perhaps one of the best highlights of all is that guests in these accommodations get access to three exclusive private venues in their own complex perched high atop the ship:

Epic Club - Bar, Lounge and Dining Room:  The elegant private dining room offers open seating and a level of quality and service that would rival any specialty restaurants on other cruise lines.  Complimentary and exclusive to suite guests, the service and cuisine is superlative.  Flanked by a spectacular lounge with panoramic views across the pool deck, and two private bars, this facility has it’s own dedicated service team on hand to provide exceptional levels of personalised service.

The Courtyard:  An expansive private, two level sheltered courtyard with balinese loungers, a private pool and hot tub, as well as Cabana’s and hammocks for daytime relaxation.  There is even a private gym, change room and steam room adjacent to the complex.

POSH Club:  A first of its kind beach club at sea that offers Villa and Suite guests the sizzle of South Beach in an exclusive, adults-only setting. During the day, guests can lounge on white-cushioned day beds and in private cabanas by the pool. At night, Posh becomes an open-air nightclub with exclusive bottle service, gaming tables and a DJ to spark the energy for a late night party.  While we commend NCL on the concept, I believe it will be interesting to see whether this venue really takes off - the assumption being that the suites and villas will all be filled with affluent 20 to 40-somethings looking for the South Beach/Vegas scene.

Epic Club - private dining room for Suites

View of sink/vanity in room.  Above - Standard balcony sink.  Below - larger Deluxe Balcony vanity

Samuel at POSH club with bar and outdoor lounge seating

Private courtyard with pool, hot tub, hammocks and cabanas

Samuel checks out the larger-than-life private Epic Club lounge

Epic Club private dining room offers fine appointments, and a view

Final Thoughts?

Epic is truly unique.  Whether it’s the staterooms, the 20 dining options, the diversity of brand name entertainment, or the innovative outdoor features - there is nothing ‘traditional’ about this ship.

Families with kids will appreciate the waterslides, daytime diversions, not to mention four separate kids clubs and teen programs onboard, including Entourage - a private lounge just for the 12-17 set with funky lounge seating, fuss-ball tables, Playstation set-ups everywhere, and their own activity and entertainment schedule including private shows, late night movie and dance club parties to name just a few. 

For adults, diversions ranging from the spa life, to white hot nightclub action - not too mention the largest casino at sea - all add up to a South Beach/Vegas style experience that is unmatched by any other ship and is certainly unique.

With competitive price points, and good availability of ‘triple and quad cabins’ that sleep three or four guests (perfect for families), Epic might be just the ticket for your next vacation - even if you are the type that would normally never be caught dead on a cruise ship!

Samuel aboard Norwegian Epic inaugural, overlooking the pool deck from Deck 18

Norwegian Epic sails 7-night Mediterranean, 7-night Caribbean, and 11-night Transatlantic voyages.

Contact us today for a detailed proposal, including any promotional amenities or stateroom category upgrades.

Tel: (403) 245 0003 or 1 800 516 9030            Email Us!

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