Norwegian Cruise Line's long-anticipated Epic has finally arrived, and it rocks.
Long an industry innovator with a list of firsts that includes the first alternate-dining restaurant at sea and a secluded complex of luxury villas atop the ship, NCL yet again breaks new ground in maritime entertainment, dining and ship design.
There is so much live entertainment aboard Epic, you won't want to put your head on a pillow until the wee hours.
Some of Epic's hallmark entertainment is unique: For example, you won't see the renowned Blue Man Group on any other ship. As usual, this trio of men in blue greasepaint were a howling hit.
In Fat City, something akin to a Greenwich Village cafe, you hear cool jazz.
It doesn't stop there: Other diversions include Chicago's Second City improv comedy; a Cirque du Soleil-inspired dinner theater with stunning acrobatics; dueling pianists, who toss songs to one another like hand grenades; and "Legends," a show with performers impersonating Elvis, Michael Jackson and Tina Turner. For a truly cool experience, there is even an Ice Bar.
NCL also stepped out of the box by transforming the boxy cabins typical aboard most vessels into curved-walled staterooms with a radical bathroom design that puts the bathroom sink outside the bathroom and the commode and shower behind matte glass but otherwise in the open and in your face — a mistake, according to many passengers.
Pioneers can expect to make a few mistakes.
What NCL did get spot on are its specially designed 128 studio cabins for single passengers. With most lines, singles must pay a premium for bunking alone. On Epic, they not only get 100 square feet of tastefully crafted cabins without surcharge but also a singles lounge for their exclusive use.
NCL also expanded on its already very popular Courtyard Villas concept, essentially an upscale small ship within a larger ship. It offers a private complex of 60 suites and penthouses on Epic's two uppermost decks. Here passengers share exclusive areas loaded with luxury options, such as their own dining area, nightclub and fitness center, plus a private pool deck area.
Despite all its novelty, including a huge water park, Epic probably makes its biggest splash with its refined eateries — some 20 dining options; nine of them require a surcharge ranging from $10 to $25.
Considering the quality of Epic's signature restaurants — the French Le Bistro, Cagney's Steakhouse, Italian La Cucina, Wasabi (sushi and sashimi) and Teppanyaki — passengers apparently do not object to an added tariff.
New to Epic are Moderno, an Argentine-style restaurant; Shanghai, a noodle bar with a la carte pricing; O'Sheehan's, an Irish pub with chicken pot pie and fish and chips on the menu (and a magnet for the 24/7 crowd); and the Manhattan Room, the closest thing Epic has to a main dining room.
Unfortunately, the success of these dining venues has unintended consequences.
Years ago, NCL introduced "FreeStyle" cruising as way of offering passengers more dining choices and the flexibility to choose where, when and with whom they want to dine, said Andy Stuart, NCL's executive vice president of global sales and passenger services. But Freestyle isn't always about spontaneity.
So popular are the specialty restaurants that it's often hard to pick a dining option without encountering either standing-room-only notices or long lines. To offset that, NCL does allow passengers to book restaurant reservations 45 days before departure.
Though Epic is huge, designers succeeded in seamlessly melding one area into another so passengers are led from restaurant, to lounge, to cafe, to theaters without need of a GPS.
With Epic, NCL took on some epic challenges and countered with some epic changes and once again set a new bar for entertainment and dining on the briny.
Passenger capacity: 4,100
Overall length: 1,081 feet
Maximum width: 133 feet
Cruise speed: 22 knots
For a 7-night eastern Caribbean cruise sailing round trip from Miami, fares range from $679 per person, double occupancy, excluding taxes and port charges for an inside cabin, and $979 for a balcony stateroom, to $1289 for a spa suite. Studio cabins begin at $839, single occupancy. On some sailing dates, a free stateroom upgrade is included. Seven-night western Caribbean fares round trip from Miami may vary slightly from eastern Caribbean voyages.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun