When it comes to new ships launched this year, Norwegian Cruise Line stands front and center in innovation within the contemporary cruise segment, thanks to the new 4,100-passenger Norwegian Epic, launched a few months ago.
This largest “Freestyle Cruising” vessel doesn’t have the traditional look of some other cruise ships, but inside it’s a treasure chest of vacation experience. In a purely personal look at the ship, here are my gleanings about my favorite things onboard from a short cruise this summer.
1. The Solo Complex
Of all the innovative spaces onboard the new ship, the ship’s solo cruise cabin complex is superb. For years, most cruise lines have ignored single travelers by assuming that everyone has to be a “couple” to be happy on a cruise. Now, consumers who want to cruise solo have their own well-designed complex of 128 single cabins within the ship’s core. The 100-square-foot cabins are compact but well-designed with a full-size bed, private bathroom facilities, flat-screen TV, desk, and a huge round porthole-like window with views to an interior corridor.
So guests may sit on their studio cabin bed – watching TV and wearing their “jammies” – and view people passing along the corridor outside, yet do so in total privacy. No one in the corridor can see into the staterooms. Many of the studios connect so two adult friends may travel together yet enjoy their own private accommodations.
The corridor boasts hip, cool lighting and colors. It’s a world apart from the décor in other corridors within the ship. And, when singles want to socialize, the corridor will lead them to a key-card accessible Studio Lounge, an exclusive living room reserved for those in the studios.
2. Spacious, Hotel-Style Lobby
Cruise lines have been moving toward turning the purser’s desk into an environment that’s more akin to a hotel lobby. This ship takes that concept to a new level with a sweeping Atrium that delivers lots of open space. The configuration splits out cashier transactions at one counter from other purser’s desk inquiries (which are handled further down at another section of that long counter).
The Atrium area is also home to the cruise consultant’s desk, shore excursion desk and Atrium Café and lounge, a great spot for enjoying a freshly made latte, scrumptious pastry or glass of wine with friends. My personal favorite in the atrium, though, is the huge two-deck-high video screen, which constantly shows scenic videos, NFL games, movies and Wii tournaments.
3. The SVEDKA Ice Bar
I included this bar as one of the Norwegian Epic’s top entertainment features in my print story found within the September 27 edition of Travel Agent Magazine. So, while I won’t go into all the details here, let’s just say it’s a true ice bar and appropriately frigid at just 17 degrees Fahrenheit.
You won’t freeze, though, with NCL providing a faux fur coat, hat and gloves for your 45-minute venture inside. During my Norwegian Epic cruise, I ventured briefly inside during a time when the bar was not hosting guests. It was a bit eerie to have a crew member shut the freezer-like door behind me and find myself alone in a frozen world. It’s quite an experience, though, so many clients will likely opt to give it a go.
4. New Wave Staterooms
NCL thinks differently than many lines. For example, who says a cabin has to be square or rectangular? I stayed onboard for several nights in one of NCL’s New Wave Staterooms, a balcony cabin with plenty of curves. While the couch – like those on many ships – wasn’t that comfortable, overall I’d still recommend the New Wave stateroom concept to my friends. The curved walls in my cabin exuded a new age look and feel.
These staterooms sleep three with two lower beds that convert to a queen plus a sofa bed; the family deluxe version of these balcony cabins sleeps four and features the two lower beds, the sofa bed and an additional upper berth.
The “hanging clothes” storage in the New Wave Staterooms is just adequate, from my perspective. But storage space is absolutely abundant in terms of cabinets that open to shelves and bins. You’d have to bring your entire closet at home to fill up all the cabinetry in this stateroom.
The bathroom configuration in these staterooms has been a hot discussion point among both travel agents and cruise media. Some love it; others hate it, most of the latter citing a lack of privacy for the toilet and shower compartments. The sink is in the living area, which was fine with me, but on our cruise it was really difficult to brush one’s teeth or turn on the water without it spraying all over. Fortunately, NCL is changing the faucet hardware to address this issue.
One fellow journalist I know disliked the toilet compartment with its curved frosted glass door. She thought it small and said she was embarrassed to be in that compartment if a cabin steward or anyone she didn’t know might enter the room. Yes, you can see general forms and movement through the opaque glass, but it’s not translucent. For privacy, NCL has added a curtain that can be pulled between the toilet/shower area and the bedroom/living area.
Personally, I had no issues with the configuration, but it’s worth an explanation to clients so they understand the set-up. The shower is absolutely humongous for a balcony cabin.
5. Stunning Chandelier
Just head for the core of the ship and you’ll discover the largest LED chandelier at sea, a shimmering jewel that took three weeks to install and vertically spans three decks. You may view this shimmering jewel from various spots within the casino and other restaurants in the area.
Built in Vienna by glass crystal maker Kalmar and designed by UK-based SMC Design, the chandelier is a stunning work of art. It’s comprised of spiraling oval discs, each up to 30 feet in circumference. In addition, there are 112 suspended crystal encrusted balls of up to one foot in diameter; they orbit the main structure.
The shimmering effect comes from 40,000 crystal glass pieces of differing sizes. Completely illuminated by LED technology, the chandelier uses more than 10,000 diodes.
I absolutely loved this 21-foot-high chandelier and its chameleon-like color changes. It has the ability to display up to 255 different coloring variations. During our cruise, I felt it never had the same look but was always distinctly brilliant whatever color was displayed.
photos courtesy of Susan J. Young and NCL
You feel as though you’re entering another world when you saunter into Bliss. Yes, you’ll find this venue on some other NCL ships, but this all-day entertainment and nightclub concept is still blissfully unique. During the day, guests may relax, enjoy a refreshment, hang out with friends or even go bowling.
Kids and teens are welcome during the day but Bliss turns into a pulsating adults-only nightclub in the evening. Only those 18 and older are admitted after 10 p.m. Plasma screens display music videos. Clients might dance the night away or just enjoy a drink nestled in a cozy, custom lounger. On White Hot Night, guests are encouraged to wear white to a party that’s a wonderland of white. Expect to see white feathered boas.
7. Splish Splash in Epic Fashion
Your clients may suit up and splash down at NCL’s first Aqua Park. Three multi-story water slides – of various skill and excitement levels – await. The first is the milder one – but it flows through the rock climbing wall. The second is a bit more adventurous, as it twists and turns down three stories.
The mother of all water slides, though, is The Epic Plunge, a tube slide at sea that combines inner-tubing with a bowl slide and then a thrilling drop through a 200-foot long tube.
Clients will also delight in the two main pools with arching water effects that light up at night. Those who want a good soak for tired muscles after a long day ashore might head for the five hot tubs. Kids enjoy a wading pool plus a kid’s pool with whimsical sculptures, a slide and water sprays.
8. O’Sheehan’s for an Irish-Style Pub Experience
This is the kind of place where you can feel comfortable day or night, and always get a meal or snack, along with your favorite drink or brew. Your clients will enjoy such casual fare as burgers, fish ‘n chips, sandwiches, chicken pot pie and meatloaf.
Open 24 hours, this Irish-style pub is a vibrant sprawling venue and a great spot for people watching. Some clients might want to grab a stool ringing the atrium’s interior and gaze down onto the huge movie screen mentioned in #2 above.
You’ll find plenty of flat screen TVs spread around the pub itself if you want to catch your favorite athlete action. The pub is also home to several bowling lanes, dart boards, foosball, arcade games and pool tables.
9. The Villas Complex – A Ship within a Ship
Those lucky enough to be staying in Deluxe Owner’s Suites, Owner’s Suites and Courtyard Villas essentially are getting an exclusive area all their own – the Villas Complex, essentially a ship within a ship.
“The Villas Complex on Deck 16 and 17 is private for all of our suite guests,” explains Anne Marie Mathews, NCL’s director of communications. She says access to the villas complex is available exclusively to 60 suites within that complex area and about 10-15 suites (including spa suites) located on various decks.
What are the perks of this complex? “There is the Epic Club which is the restaurant with both indoor and outdoor seating, the Concierge Lounge, a fitness center, spa treatment rooms, a sauna and the [Courtyard] pool area, which includes a pool, hot tub, loungers and bed loungers,” says Mathews. “This is all just for suite guests.”
10. Freestyle Cruising
One can point to Norwegian Epic’s many innovative features as new, but for me, Freestyle Cruising remains the top draw on this ship and others of the line. You dine when, where and with whom you choose.
On Epic that’s up to 21 dining venues, 11 of which are included within the cruise fare; the others carry a per person cover charge, which varies.
I love the eclectic dining options – everything from the fun of the Asian-style teppanyaki room, where chefs chop, twirl, grill and “ham it up” to the romantic elegance and fine French cuisine at Le Bistro or an Argentinian-inspired churrascaria with meat grilled or skewered to order.
To get the maximum satisfaction, clients do need to understand the Freestyle concept and how it differs from the traditional dining approach of having a set time and table in the dining room. Agents are clearly invaluable in explaining the choices and best practices before the guest sails.
From NCL’s perspective, “we have enough restaurants on board that there is always something available,” notes Mathews. She says that guests who want to have all their dining booked in advance can do that online or upon embarkation, “but for those who want to go spur of the moment that is fine too and we have the dining boards around the ship indicating which restaurants have availability and which are full.” The line provides beepers so the maitre d’ may call clients waiting for a table.
When I sail, I prefer Freestyle. It’s just my personal preference. But I do think clients who are best for this product must travel with a flexible attitude while onboard and also do a bit of advance planning to secure dining reservations at their “must have” dining venues. If they do, the Freestyle concept provides a great way to enjoy new experiences on a nightly basis.
So, these are my impressions of Epic. What are your experiences or tips for clients sailing on Epic?