A First Look at the Norwegian Epic | TravelResearchOnline

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A First Look at the Norwegian Epic

On June 22, I boarded Norwegian Epic for inaugural ceremonies in Europe. First impressions?

It’s big and boxy on the outside, busy and noisy on the inside. With 20 dining options and 20 bars and lounges, NCL Epic features industry-first solo traveler cabins and innovative balcony staterooms, plus a lot more. Will you love it or leave it?

As our motorcoach approached the Southampton docks, I braced myself. Before me was a vessel that looked nearly as much like a container ship as it did a cruise ship. In the glow of a Southampton sunset, Norwegian Epic’s towering exterior appeared odd, with a flat aft and a Lego-like forward section, unlike any ship I had ever seen.

I was part of a press group invited to see Epic before it set sail across the Atlantic to America, where she will be christened by country music star Reba McEntire before entering service in the Caribbean. Epic returns to Europe for the summer of 2011.

The Verve And The Curve: New Design For Staterooms On NCL Epic

Despite its odd design, Epic represents what NCL hopes will be a turn-around for the company, or as NCL CEO Kevin Sheehan put it during a press conference on Epic, the incarnation of  “the new NCL.”

As a reporter, I’ve covered NCL for nearly 20 years. During that time, the company has struggled with its brand identity. As NCL’s Sheehan noted, in the past several years NCL had complicated its product offering. “Every time Carnival or Royal Caribbean or Celebrity or Princess came out with something new, we would say, ‘Well we’ve got to do that too.’ What happened was that we were doing way too many things, and it made it very complicated. We were not doing a superb job on everything.”

Indeed, many of the travel agents who I am in contact with say they steer clear of NCL. The product just hasn’t been consistent enough for them to sell with confidence. My question before boarding Epic was whether the ship would, in fact, redefine NCL. I harbored hopes that it would.

At first glance, however, I had my doubts about Epic. Entering the ship did little to ease my doubts. Big and boxy on the outside, Epic was busy and noisy on the inside.

Epic’s Din & Decibels

Even with half of the full passenger complement, fewer than 2,500 press and travel agents, NCL’s public areas were densely peopled, the bars and restaurants crowded. There was no place devoid of decibels.


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I was ready to give up hope. But hold on, I thought to myself, I am a professional. Make an objective assessment. I had just come off of Crystal Symphony, carrying slightly more than 900 passengers. Epic could top out at more than 4,600. I had to remember that I was going from a vessel in the luxury segment, with a much higher price point, to a vessel in the contemporary or mass market segment. Add to that that this was not a regular sailing but rather an introduction of Epic to travel agents and press.

Three successive thoughts help me temper my initial culture-shock about Epic: 1) British travel agents on something like a holiday, 2) only two nights to party, 3) and this one is important, open bar. Oh, and England was competing in the World Cup on a large-screen television. You get the picture.

Brits On Holiday? Open Bar & Big Screen

Several hours late boarding (due to Epic’s late arrival in Southampton), I was paraded directly to my stateroom to drop my luggage then to the Argentine-inspired Moderno Churrascaria, which shares space with Cagney’s Steakhouse. The presentation of meat carved at the table was well done, and the food was good.

Salma Hayek? No. But she is a star at tableside presentation at Epic's Moderno Churrascaria

After a quick dinner, our group proceeded to the Manhattan Room for entertainment by Madonna, Elvis and Tina Turner look-alikes, and desserts. Again, great entertainment; tasty sweets.

Desserts With Tina In The Manhattan Room

Marching again, we headed to the upper decks to Spice H2O for a FABBA performance, where high-energy performers entertained us with ABBA favorites.

FABBAlous!

Around midnight, we stopped in at Headliners, where dueling piano players performed a mostly comedic act in “Howl at the Moon.”

Dueling pianos in Headliners

After four hours of nonstop entertainment, my ears were buzzing when I returned to my room after midnight.

Bath & Bed

I was unable to immediately assess whether I liked my stateroom or not. As has been widely publicized, Epic’s staterooms are more curvy than boxy. The bathroom configuration turned out to be a point of controversy. Some loved it; some hated it. The toilet is in an enclosed capsule on one side as you enter the room, the shower is in an enclosed capsule on the other side, and the sink is close enough to the bed that I could have brushed my teeth with my head on my pillow.

The bed, though wide enough, missed accommodating the length of my body by about half a foot, and thus, I slept sideways. I appreciated the large, flat-screen television, the coffee-maker and the roomy balcony. Also, in a nod to environmental conservation, the stateroom keycard must be inserted into a slot to activate the light switches in the room. Kudos to NCL for that.

Similar to rooms at European hotel, keycards power the room.

The next morning, NCL’s publicist told me that tonight we would experience sensory overload. “I thought that was last night,” I jokingly replied.

The on-board ambience is intended to be busy and buzzing, NCL execs say. With 20 bars and lounges and an equal number (or possibly more – it’s difficult to keep count) dining options, Epic clearly follows in the wake of Oasis as an entertainment extravaganza.

On a weeklong cruise on either ship, I think I would miss the close connection with the sea. Epic is more like Vegas than it is a cruise ship. However, that said, Epic grew on me during the 36 hours I was on board.

Nothing Else Like It At Sea: Cirque Dreams & Dinner

The Blue Man Group put on one of the best shows I’ve ever seen, at sea or otherwise. And there is nothing at sea like the Cirque Dreams & Dinner, which featured a Broadway-style show and acrobatics. Cirque’s meat and potatoes dinner was a bit heavy, so I skipped it and hit the Wasabi sushi bar after the show.

Sushi from Wasabi.

NCL says that upscale cruisers would be happy in Epic’s Courtyard villas, which were not completed during our brief inspection. Perhaps, but it wouldn’t be my first choice as a luxury cruiser. Of course, I am one who is happier looking out at the sea than I am watching high-energy performances. With my children, however, there’s no doubt that Epic would be a hit.

Is this the ship that will launch the new NCL? I’m not sure. What is certain is that the new ship certainly represents an epic moment in NCL’s 40-year history.

Have something to say about this review or Norwegian Epic? Please share by leaving a comment below.

  10 thoughts on “A First Look at the Norwegian Epic

  1. John Frenaye says:

    Ralph–is that girl giving you the middle finger? You know, the one with the band-aid! 🙂

  2. Ouch! Looks like the knife might have gone too close!

  3. Ouch! That must have hurt!

  4. Don P says:

    Single cabins an industry first? How long have you been around cruising? 15 minutes? It’s only recently that the cruise lines have been building ships without single cabin categories.

  5. John Frenaye says:

    I took it as PRICING for singles in single cabins, not the the dreaded double occupancy rule. I have been in the biz since 1997 and aside from some “gentleman escort” rooms on some Cunard and Holland ships there have been no true “single” cabins where a single person could cruise without having to pay for two.

  6. Rick A says:

    I totally agree with Don P. I’ve been in the travel agency business since 1976 and there used to be many ships that had “true single cabins” with one single bed.

    The QE2 comes to mind. I also remember Norwegian America Line (not connected with NCL) and Royal Viking Line having singles. During the design faze, NCL gave no indication that the studio cabins were being conceived as singles.

    Singles are not a new thing but a return to a feature from the past.

  7. Thank you John for taking it correctly.

  8. Rick A says:

    John may have understood Ralph’s statement as intended, but the statement is still incorrect. Many lines had offered single cabins in the past at a single rate.

  9. Les-Lee Roland says:

    I will sail on the EPIC this week- and look forward to experiencing the innovations that NCL is touting.

    The one issue that troubles me is …
    “Indeed, many of the travel agents who I am in contact with say they steer clear of NCL….”

    Agents have to qualify their clients, and know which suppliers to recommend. NCL may not be the choice for every client, as CRYSTAL is not the choice for every client- or CARNIVAL, etc.

    Agents I have spoken to agree that the this ship opens a new dialogue for agents with their clients. The newness, the entertainment, the cabin choices, etc. And the committment that NCL has made to the agents and the consumer.

    EPIC is great for the cruise industry. And kudos to NCL. And hopefully, the agents that steered clear of NCL previously, will have an open mind to this ship..I know I will.

  10. Michael Berman says:

    I just got off the Epic and have been in the business 30+ years. Almost everything I would give an A+ but my clientel are older, widows and widowers traveling together and would not go into the single roome are they are very small, nor would they like to share a cabin where there is no privacy in the bathroom area. You literally walk into the room into the bathroom. Other than the rooms, entertainement, food, spa,waterpark, kids area, casino WONDERFUL and the staff was great.

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