As its name suggests, NCL’s Norwegian Epic is enormous: 153,000 tons, with a capacity of 4,200 passengers.
It’s not the biggest afloat (that’s Royal Caribbean’s Allure of the Seas) and its boxy hull is not going to win any beauty contests, but Epic is highly innovative, with all sorts of ‘firsts’ on board. three waterslides, an enormous complex of suites with their own pool and restaurant and the first ice bar at sea (modelled after the Absolut Ice Bars in Stockholm and London) all add up to something pretty special.
|Passenger capacity: 4228|
|Passenger Decks: 15|
|Gross Tonnage: 153000|
|Exclusively For Adults: No|
Norwegian Epic is, effectively, the next generation in freestyle cruising, a concept invented by NCL 10 years ago. the idea was to deconstruct the traditional cruise, doing away with formal dress codes and fixed dinner sittings.
Yes, she might be huge but that doesn’t mean the spaces inside are designed for mass herding of passengers. On the contrary, the restaurants and bars are relatively small. There is no main dining room and even the theatre only seats 685 so nowhere on board feels cavernous.
NCL’s typical style is bright, funky and occasionally startling décor and the Norwegian Epic doesn’t disappoint. The Atrium, where you board, is dominated by a huge, two-deck-high screen showing calming scenes of seascapes or woodlands (although it came in handy for world cup matches during my cruise). A vast, glittering, colour-changing Swarovski chandelier hangs over a second atrium, over the Taste dining room, while Bliss Ultra Lounge, the very cool nightclub, has a dance floor in sparkling gold and crushed-velvet day beds.
The standard cabins (New Wave Staterooms) are a departure from normal cruise ship accommodation in that the walls are curved. Input from a yacht designer means they have an exceptional amount of storage but they’re long and narrow, so two people getting ready for dinner are constantly squeezing past one another. The toilet and shower are in separate corners, so there’s no bathroom, as such, and the loo door is see-through.
On the plus side, all outside cabins have a balcony, another first in the cruise industry, and of note are the 128 studios, and the 60 villas and suites, the most expensive cabins, situated on the two highest decks.
Service is difficult to judge on the first cruise of any ship, as the crew is still getting used to the vessel and there are inevitable stresses. Some areas didn’t cope well with the pressure; the coffee bar in the atrium always had long queues, and making restaurant reservations was tiresome and longwinded; do these online before you leave.
Norwegian Epic has 21 places to eat, 11 of which carry a supplement, ranging from a few dollars to full a la carte. The rest are included in the cruise fare.
Casual restaurants include O’Sheehan’s Neighbourhood Bar & Grill, the sports bar, open 24 hours and the Garden Cafe, a big, informal buffet area.
Other restaurants with no supplement include The Manhattan Room, an elegant supper club with a huge window overlooking the ship’s wake and a big dance floor, and Taste, on Deck Five, which serves traditional and contemporary cuisine.
Restaurants that carry a supplement include Cagney’s Steakhouse ($25) and the neighbouring Argentinean Churrascaria ($18), with an excellent salad bar and meat served on huge skewers. Japanese chefs perform amazing stunts with eggs and knives in the Teppanyaki restaurant for $25 (this one is always busy so book ahead). Le Bistro ($20) serves classic French cuisine while La Cucina ($10) is traditional Italian. Or there’s Chinese in Shanghai’s ($15).
Cirque Dreams & Dinner is a new dinner show in the vein of Moulin Rouge (the film) in an opulent, striped circus ‘tent’ on Deck Seven. There’s a supplement of $15 for this, or $20 for the best seats. The show was too long and the food poor, but the acrobatics are worth waiting for.
Top billing though goes to the world-famous Blue Man Group, who perform a bizarre but breathtaking mix of comedy, mime and theatrics in the 685-seat Epic Theatre. Entrance is free; exceptional value when you think that tickets ashore cost $100-plus.
Daytime activities are mainly based on sport, including a basketball court, several pools and a batting net, as well as a rock climbing wall, a rappelling wall, bungee trampoline, a rope-walking challenge and a high-tech climbing cage called the Spider’s Web. Below decks, there are bowling alleys in two separate venues. Expect queues for everything when the ship is busy.
The pool deck is always busy and not especially relaxing, with constant pool games and thumping music. Spice H20 on the aft deck has all the makings of being the place to hang out; it’s a terraced, adults-only pool area with a big screen and live music at night.
One complaint, though; the casino, which occupies a significant chunk of Deck Six and is effectively a corridor, is horribly smoky.
Shore excursions are geared to American tastes, so the tours in Europe are mainly sightseeing, rather than activity-based. In the Caribbean, there’s a wider choice and more emphasis on participation. All tours are categorised by activity level and length in the sophisticated online search facility; you can even search by word, for example, ‘riding’ or ‘swim with dolphins’. Some tours are designated family-friendly, too.
The Mandara Spa is huge, with more than 50 treatments for women and men, as well as teen spa treatments, couples’ treatments and a ‘medical’ spa offering Botox and wrinkle-busting fillers. There’s a cavernous gym, too, with all the usual classes (spinning and yoga for example, for which there’s a supplementary charge).
The children’s clubs occupy extensive space on Deck 14, with three age groups, two to nine, 10 to 12 and teens. Diversions include everything from Wii games to karaoke and a separate teen disco (alcohol-free, of course). NCL has announced a partnership with Nickelodeon, so smaller children will be able to meet characters like Spongebob Squarepants.
Norwegian Epic is a lively, fun-packed ship with a huge array of dining choices – even more if you’re prepared to fork out for the supplementary restaurants. The constant buzz, the relaxed, informal lifestyle and the top-rate entertainment make the ship ideal for families, while the nightlife and the 128 single cabins are bound to attract young, single travellers.
As far as budget goes, Norwegian Epic works out cheaper than rival Royal Caribbean’s Oasis of the Seas, with attractive rates for children and competitive pricing in the single cabins.
FINAL VERDICT 73%
NCL Tel: 0845 201 8900; www.ncl.co.uk
DESTINATIONS: The ship will spend the coming winter cruising the Caribbean from Miami, alternating seven-day Eastern and Western Caribbean itineraries. The big news, however, is that Epic will be based in Barcelona from May to October 2011, sailing sevennight itineraries to Florence/ Pisa (Livorno); Rome (Civitavecchia); Naples, and Palma along with two full days at sea.
WHO TRAVELS: The breadth of choice on board makes Norwegian Epic suitable for a wide range of markets, including families, groups of friends, seasoned cruisers and new-to-cruise. NCL passengers are typically younger than more traditional lines and enjoy the Freestyle Cruising concept which offers freedom and flexibility on board.
CURRENCY: US Dollars
GUIDE PRICE: Prices start at £1,079 per person for an Eastern Caribbean fly-cruise departing October 2010.
★ Tonnage: 155,873
★ Length: 329.5m/ 1,080ft
★ Beam: 133ft
★ Draft: 8.7m/28ft 5”
★ Cruising speed: 22 knots
★ Decks: 19
★ Passengers: 4,100
★ Crew: 1,708
★ Cabins: 2,114 total guest staterooms
★ Suites: 75
★ Balconies: 1,351
★ Spa staterooms: 39
★ Family staterooms: 372
★ Inside: 560
★ Studio: 128
★ Wheelchair accessible staterooms: 42