Wednesday, 29 February 2012

More Savings From Oceania

Oceania Cruises is offering savings of up to £1,982 per person and a $500 per stateroom onboard credit (to use as guests wish in the restaurants, bars, spa and shops) for all bookings made by March 31.

Here are two great examples:

May 2: 10-night Mediterranean Tapestry cruise, Athens to Barcelona, now from £999pp plus $500 credit on newest ship Marina; the itinerary takes in the best of the Med departing from Athens for Kusadasi in Turkey, calling into Santorini, Sicily, Livorno (overnight), Marseilles and Barcelona (price excludes flights).

July 27: 12-night Italian Interludes cruise, Rome to Venice, now from £1,149, plus $500 credit; experience the very best of Italy and the central Med, including the islands of La Spezia, Capri and Sicily and port calls into Monte Carlo, St Tropez, Corfu and Dubrovnik. This voyage on Regatta was £1,690pp (a saving of £541pp), based on two sharing, and also includes all meals with no supplements for Oceania's excellent speciality restaurants, complimentary soft drinks and bottled water (excludes flights).

For booking details, be sure to check out this link with the UK's luxury cruise specialists, The Cruise Line Ltd.

Tuesday, 28 February 2012

Viking's New Douro River Voyages

Following demand from customers to create a new river cruise holiday along the River Douro, Viking River Cruises has announced a new itinerary for 2013: River Douro, Portugal’s River of Gold.

Named ‘River of Gold’ for its striking quality of light, the Douro winds its way through steeply terraced vineyards, rolling landscapes and pretty towns with colourful castles, baroque mansions and historic monasteries.

Viking guests will visit vibrant Porto, the medieval Spanish city of Salamanca and enjoy a two-night first-class hotel stay in Lisbon, with excursions within the capital, including a tour of the 15th century Jerónimos Monastery. Along the way, guests can indulge in delicious cuisine, including Portuguese specialities and the region’s famous port and tawny wines.

An exciting new itinerary calls for an exciting ship and the Viking Douro was built specifically to sail this scenic river. Spacious and supremely comfortable with panoramic views, large staterooms with French balconies and 360-degree views from the public areas, guests can sit back and relax as they immerse themselves in the glorious scenery.

For booking details, be sure to check out this link with the UK's leading river-cruise specialists, The Cruise Line Ltd.

Monday, 27 February 2012

An Epic Adventure - Finale

Final Thoughts

We are now home again after a painless debarkation process and easy drive back to Orlando, with time to digest the full week's cruise and reflect on the many different features we encountered along the way. 

Norwegian Epic itself is a marvel of a ship; as big ships go, only the mighty Royal Caribbean duo Allure and Oasis of the Seas can compete for entertainment and dining choice, and it is arguable they don't have the big-name variety that Norwegian have brought on board their flagship.

With the combination of Blue Man Group, Legends in Concert, Cirque Dreams, Howl at The Moon Saloon and Second City comedy group, plus Nickelodeon for kids, this is an unrivalled array of quality and choice and you need to work hard to make sure you fit it all in.

Dining-wise, there are five absolute gourmet-quality offerings and, if you have the benefit of The Haven and the additional Epic Club restaurant, you will struggle to give them all a try in the space of only a week. Nowhere did we have a bad meal, and the extra quality (albeit at a supplement) of the likes of Cagney's, La Cucina, Teppanyaki and Shanghai's really shone through.

The staff were unfailingly friendly, efficient and cheerful, making sure Norwegian's Freestyle policy of 'what you want, when you want' is carried through to the nth degree, smoothly and efficiently. That feeling was especially notable in Shanghai's, the Epic Club, La Cucina and even the Manhattan restaurant. Big kudos to Norwegian for their staff training - and delivery on such a large scale.

We are not especially thrilled by the basic cabin layout, which features a separate W/C (with frosted glass door that doesn't quite reach the top) and shower stall, and a (small) hand-basin in the cabin itself. These are not great design innovations but the comfort of the bed and the little details like coffee-maker, well-stocked fridge and the magnetic seals on the curtain (which really help to keep out all daylight and ensure a good night's sleep) just about make up for this. We know the layout is not popular with a lot of Norwegian passengers, but we honestly don't feel it is a big negative.
And then there's the entertainment - big, quality-conscious, fun and utterly magnificent. You just can't fail to enjoy your time aboard and the facilities for children are equally impressive. Both Blue Man Group and Legends in Concert cost big bucks at their Las Vegas locations but here it is just part of the cruise price. Just amazing.

Those looking for a more deluxe experience can also look to book a room in The Haven, the courtyard villa area that is completely separate from the rest of the ship and offers a true first-class, concierge feel. If you think big ships aren't for you, this will surely make you think again.

All in all, we enjoyed the week even more than we expected. We're pretty familiar with Norwegian's Freestyle approach but it really scales new heights on this ship. An Epic vessel in every sense.

Celebrity's Summer Savings

Celebrity Cruises is offering a range of phenomenal cruise holiday prices to showcase the many diverse destinations that can be reached when sailing out of Southampton on Celebrity Eclipse this year.

The savings – some up to £1,000 per stateroom - are being offered on a wide selection of sailings during spring and summer 2012.

Dubbed ‘The Eclipse Sale,’ the offer is available on a broad selection of voyages, including a huge £1,000 off a balcony stateroom on a 14-night Iceland & Fjords cruise. With balcony staterooms starting from an incredible £999 per person, savvy travellers are encouraged to book now as these incredible prices won’t be around for long.

Offers are available on a number of selected itineraries, including:

A 14-night Iceland & Fjords cruise now available from £1,549 per person (based on two people sharing a balcony stateroom) and calling at Reykjavik in Iceland and Olden and Bergen in Norway. Price is based on an August 4 departure.

Save £800 on a 14-night Scandinavia & Russia cruise, now available from £1,499 per person (based on two sharing a balcony stateroom) and calling at destinations such as St Petersburg, Stockholm and Copenhagen. Price is based on a June 23 departure.

For booking details, be sure to check out this link with the UK's luxury cruise specialists, The Cruise Line Ltd.

Sunday, 26 February 2012

Go Wild With Exodus

From gorillas in the dense jungle of Uganda, king penguins in the frozen plains of Antarctica and black bears in the National Parks of Canada, the world’s most beautiful and wildlife awaits with Exodus Travel. Responsible travel projects including Penguin Lifelines for the Antarctic penguins and the Bandhavgarh Project to conserve the Bengal Tiger.

Standing toe-to-toe with a Rwandan Mountain gorilla, looking down precision optics at a cheetah family or being just metres from a polar bear cub in the Arctic can be life-changing moments – and Exodus, the UK’s leading adventure tour operator, has a brand new brochure, Wildlife Encounters 2012–13, offering a selection of the best wildlife experiences imaginable. Here's an example:

Tigers in Focus - 11 days of wildlife in Bandhavgarh, one of India’s top tiger reserves, from £1,599, including flights. Next departure dates are March 8, October 25 and November 8. 

Cradled between mountain ranges, Bandhavgarh boasts a breathtaking mixture of dense green valleys and rocky hills. This stunning park, home to a huge variety of wildlife, including leopards, Chital deer, wild boar, sloth bear and wild dog, as well as an astounding variety of bird species, is most famous for the density of its tiger population, the highest in India. Although Bandhavgarh is remote, the journey is well worth it and, with 8 included game drives, this trip will deliver unrivalled tiger-viewing success.

Saturday, 25 February 2012

Try A Family Med Cruise Bargain With Carnival

There’s no more relaxing holiday than sailing the Mediterranean from Barcelona, Spain’s most cosmopolitan city. And destination highlights with Carnival Cruises in 2012 include Naples, a city full of ancient treasures under its great volcano, Mt Vesuvius. 

From the famous walled city of Dubrovnik, Croatia, relive the dramatic history of this Adriatic fortress; then sail to Venice, where an extended overnight stay may enable you to explore the city’s piazzas and palazzos, bridges and great basilicas. 

Visit Messina, Sicily, beneath the snow-capped Mount Etna and gateway to the ancient theatre at Taormina; the French Riviera offers opportunities to visit to Monte Carlo or Marseilles, while Livorno, is gateway to the Renaissance wonders of Florence.

The brand new 3,690-passenger Carnival Breeze will also feature something for everyone, from dazzling public areas to intimate bars you can chill out in; from 'Serenity' adult-only zones to family restaurants; from the relaxation of a state-of-the-art spa to some of the most exciting stage shows afloat! 

This 12-night Mediterranean fly/cruise starts from just £1,179 per person (for a family of four) with reduced deposits from £266 per person. It departs from London on July 21 and includes scheduled flights between London and Barcelona and the full 12 nights on the ship on a full board basis per person, based on an inside stateroom.
For booking details, be sure to check out this link with the UK's leading cruise agent specialists, The Cruise Line Ltd.

An Epic Adventure Pt 9

Final Day

Continuing our day-by-day look at a typical voyage in the life of Norwegian Cruise Line’s wonderful Norwegian Epic, by World of Cruising editor Simon Veness

Our last full day aboard Norwegian Epic is slightly unusual in that it is a port day, but we don’t arrive in the Bahamian capital of Nassau until mid-day, which is fairly late in the day for a typical port arrival.

That means we can have a leisurely morning, soak up some sun on our balcony and catch up with a bit of email (albeit the internet connection on board is pretty slow – in keeping with just about every cruise ship).

But, almost before we know it, the island of New Providence is in sight and we are maneuvering slowly into the port of Nassau – with the Disney Dream, MSC Poesia and a Royal Caribbean ship already in dock and two Carnival vessels following us in. It’s going to be a busy day in a busy port.

True to form, the hustle and bustle around the cruise terminal is fairly intense, with several thousand people looking to get out, a myriad of taxis, horse-and-carriage buggies and tour vehicles all looking to do business. But, once we managed to work our way clear of the immediate harbour area, it is easy to wander around under our own steam unimpeded and unaccosted.

This is a friendly and open city, easy to navigate on foot, and we have sorted out our own walking tour, taking in the main sights and vantage points, including the Queen’s Staircase and Fort Fincastle. We stop for a welcome cold libation at Hotel Greycliffe – a former Colonial mansion – and visit the Colonial Hilton Hotel, which has provided the backdrop for several James Bond films, notably Live And Let Die.

A walk along Junkanoo Beach allows us to dip our toes in the sea and spy some fish and lobsters – extremely large lobsters – in the crystal clear waters. The Fish Fry is a famous area of Nassau, a collection of local seafood restaurants boasting plenty of the local delicacy, Conch – conch salad, conch fritters, fried conch and conch chowder. Perfect for a lazy lunch and a true taste of the Bahamas.

The 20-minute walk back into the heart of town is an opportunity for some more retail therapy. In all honesty, there isn’t anything we haven’t already seen in St Thomas or St Maarten, save for the new Straw Market, a huge indoor market of local arts and crafts – rows and rows of them – but it is ideal window shopping territory as we slowly wind our way back to the ship.

Once again, there isn’t anything we can’t live without, so our credit cards remain safe, but we do pick up a chocolate cake for our cabin steward, Winzyl, as a little ‘thank you’ for his non-stop efficiency and cheery demeanour.

Back on board, we enjoy some more balcony time as the other ships depart and get ourselves ready for our final dinner, at the Epic Club, courtesy of Hotel Director Richard Janicki, giving us another chance to check out the extra amenities of The Haven area.

Our waitress is Jo-Anne from Luzon in the Phillipines, and she is the epitome of gracious service as we enjoy tempura mushroom, roasted beets with arugula, salmon in lobster sauce, wild mushroom ravioli, pear and ginger crumble and a mango and raspberry soufflé, all washed down with a bottle of Ruffino pinot grigio. Simply sublime.

To complete our round-up of the ship’s vast range of entertainment options, we have a 9.15pm appointment with the Second City comedy group in Headliners, a chance to sample their improv act, which provides an hour of fairly knockabout humour in best ‘Whose Line Is It Anyway?’ style.

It just leaves the final night ritual of suitcase packing to be completed, with both suitcases duly loaded and left outside our cabin door with the appropriate labels on by 11pm. With a 7.30am wake-up call booked, we’re not looking for a late night, but we do manage a final quick visit to Fat Cats Jazz Club and a fond farewell to Charlie Love & The Silky Smooth Band.

It leaves us with an inedible memory of this amazing ship and its vast entertainment array; one that not just breaks the mould of traditional cruising but takes it and completely re-shapes it into something new, contemporary and exciting. And just a little exhausting!

Next – final thoughts on our Epic cruise.

Friday, 24 February 2012

An Epic Adventure Pt 8

More On The Ship
Continuing our day-by-day look at a typical voyage in the life of Norwegian Cruise Line’s wonderful Norwegian Epic, by World of Cruising editor Simon Veness

It just goes to show how much time you need to explore a big ship. Here we are on Day Six and we have only just discovered the perfect sea-day sanctuary, tucked away forward on Deck 18 (there is also a Deck 19 for those who don’t suffer from vertigo, as the sea seems about half a mile away from up there).

Our third sea day is another perfect day in the Caribbean; calm seas, unbroken sun and no breeze, with temperatures again in the low 80sF. Easy to burn on deck, hence we don’t spend long there (although the balcony is a whole ‘nother story). We also have Nassau tomorrow, so staying out of the sun is the percentage decision.

There is also a lot going on around the ship and it is easy to drift from activity to activity. The indolent rhythm of a sea day is hard to escape, hence we don’t try.

The one thing we do discover, though, is the open space on Deck 18; an area hitherto unknown to us (and, we suspect, the majority of our fellow passengers). It is hard to pinpoint on the ship deck plans and is accessible only by the one-off lift next to the Great Outdoors grill/buffet on the pool deck (15).

The neat glass-fronted lift goes directly to 18 and a surprisingly open expanse of deck space, complete with the requisite loungers and two shower units in which to cool down when the sun becomes just TOO powerful (which, for us, is usually within 15 minutes!).

Our other big discovery for the day is The Haven, the ship-within-a-ship on the topmost three decks that essentially forms its own Concierge Class of accommodations, amenities and style. Thanks to our own personal tour by Etienne from the Hotel Manager’s staff (and we also had a great meeting with Hotel Manager Richard Janicki, a long-time Norwegian veteran), we were given a full tour of this part of the ship which, due, to its clever self-contained design, many passengers may not even know exists (a bit like Deck 18).

Complete with its own pool, expansive sun decks, gym, sauna, steam room, lounge, restaurant (both inside and out), deck bar and two Spa treatment rooms, The Haven is exactly what it sounds – a 75-cabin sanctuary that effectively reintroduces first-class cruise travel in an unobtrusive and contemporary way.

All the cabins are suites, and the décor is notably fresh and modern without being overly bright or glitzy. The Epic Lounge is like a snap-shot of a smart, modish nightclub, the restaurant is quiet and graceful and the whole concierge-equipped area has an atmosphere of relaxed elegance.

Having completed (finally!) our full tour of the ship, there is still time for lunch in Taste (definitely our favourite of the two main dining rooms), trying to keep things simple in advance of dinner at the Teppanyaki Room tonight. Soup, salad, Vietnamese spring rolls and a wild mushroom omelette were the sum total of our gustatory exertions, leaving us perfectly positioned to take in a stroll of the jogging track on Deck 7 and then our afternoon highlight, a talk from the members of the Blue Man Group.

We had hoped for a genuine behind-the-blue-paint revealing of the hows and whys of their innovatory show and we weren’t disappointed, with the three ‘Blue Men’ and one of the musicians all taking turns to answer questions and detail their background in music, comedy and theatre – which explains the unique mix of artistry that goes into the on-stage antics.

By late afternoon it was time to show a little more purpose and direction, hence we returned to our cabin to shower and change ready for the evening.

In keeping with the ultimate egalitarianism of Freestyle cruising, there is no dress code, hence we can dress up or down as much as we prefer for the evening. Shirt and shorts? Fine. Long trousers and T-shirt? That’s OK here. Shirt and tie? Go right ahead, sir. Full suit or cocktail dress? Yes, that’s perfectly permissible, too. There is no wrong attire, hence you will find the full mixture aboard at any one time.

Our first destination for the evening is the Legends In Concert show (again pre-booked in advance), with the chance to enjoy Steven Tyler (of Aerosmith) and Lady Gaga. Sadly, ‘Elvis’ was off sick for the evening, but the one-hour show still rattled along nicely, backed by a four-piece band who really knew their rock ‘n roll stuff.

Tyler as both a lookalike and soundalike was simply superb; Lady Gaga perhaps sang a bit TOO well to complete the sound comparison, while the looks were good without capturing the true bizarre persona of the real Gaga (and, in all honesty, if she is genuinely deemed a ‘legend,’ then so are a million other pop singers of both past and present). She probably appealed to the younger element of the audience but I think the majority were left a little underwhelmed by the sheer non-legendary status (when considering we might have had Rod Stewart, Tina Turner, Madonna or, frankly, any one of another 100 pop and rock performers of the past 30 years we could name during the course of the show).

Dinner this evening was the aforementioned Teppanyaki, one of our most anticipated pre-cruise highlights, and it absolutely didn’t disappoint. The show-style nature of the Teppan grill cuisine is always great to see and our chef pulled off the usual combination of cooking and showmanship with great aplomb. The jumbo shrimp was superbly succulent; the scallops intensely satisfying; and the melt-in-the-mouth filet absolutely to die for.

Topped and tailed with edamame, miso soup, a Japanese-dressed salad, fruit sashimi and green tea ice cream, it was, again, too much food to comfortably ingest at one sitting – and a truly memorably dining experience. Yet another big plus mark for the Epic’s immense culinary capabilities.

Finally, to complete an evening of rock-themed entertainment, we headed for the Headliners show-lounge and a chance to sample the dueling pianos of Howl At The Moon Saloon. With alternating twin pianists, and a small drum kit, with each of four performers taking turns at both, we rocked the night away to a wonderfully raucous selection of 70s, 80s and 90s standards, all given the singalong treatment in best bar fashion.

It was neither overdone nor under-performed, and we were left in awe of the performers’ sheer range and catalogue of material, as well as no small amount of musical ability at the ivories, and some great vocal talents to boot.

Without time appearing to pass, it was suddenly midnight and gone, and we wended a weary but extremely happy way back to cabin 10308 for more guaranteed solid slumbers, another day of varied and quality-conscious cruising safely tucked under our belts.

And tomorrow it’s time for Nassau….

Welcome Back The Spring With Hurtigruten

As the snow slowly melts away, the sun ventures back above the horizon and the days get longer, the Norwegians celebrate the return of spring. Now, for the first time, guests travelling with Hurtigruten between March 15 and May 31 can enjoy their journey under a brand new ‘Arctic Awakening’ theme. This includes a wide range of shore excursions and onboard activities and the celebration of the Norwegian National Day on May 17.

Shore excursions take guests closer to the marine life, migratory birds and coastal animals and allow them to experience the Norwegian spring awakening first-hand. Included is the brand new ‘Kayaking in Tromsø’ excursion where participants paddle along the coast surrounded by an impressive mountain landscape. 

Other excursions include a trip to the largest seabird colony in Scandinavia on the bird island of Runde and to the national park on the Varanger peninsula, which is home to an overwhelming number of different species of birds.

The theme of the activities on board is ‘Secrets of the Sea’ and guests will get the opportunity to learn different skills, such as how to shell prawns and fillet fish, all under the guidance of local fishermen who come on board especially for this purpose.

The zest for life shown by Norwegians during spring finally culminates in the National Day, which is celebrated on board all ships in the Hurtigruten fleet, with guests and crew coming together to celebrate with handmade banners, singing and dancing. 

In the ports, guests can mingle with the locals amidst a great deal of excitement and laughter, with many locals coming on board to sample the delicacies of the Norwegian cake buffet. A variety of talks are also offered on the ships, providing guests with information about the history of National Day, the royal family of Norway and the national costumes.

For booking details, be sure to check out this link with the UK's leading adventure-cruise specialists, The Cruise Line Ltd.

Thursday, 23 February 2012

An Epic Adventure Pt 7

The Story So Far, Pt 2

Continuing our day-by-day look at a typical voyage in the life of Norwegian Cruise Line’s wonderful Norwegian Epic, by World of Cruising editor Simon Veness

Day 4: Our first port of call, Dutch St Maarten meant we were able to stretch our legs (and wallets, at the many shops), enjoy some beach time and feel like we had actually seen the Caribbean, as opposed to just soaking up its sun.

That evening, we took the Chinese restaurant, Shanghai’s, for a test-drive. And were mightily glad we did. While La Cucina gave us the hint of old Italy, Cagney’s served up fine steaks and the Manhattan dining room offered a nice, cosmopolitan mixture, Shanghai’s is the real Chinese deal (at $15/person).

We were greeted immediately and made to feel extremely welcome, with another perfect window table-for-two. With prawn crackers and a selection of three dips (including a wonderfully spicy little number) to goad our none-too-reluctant appetites back into gear, we enjoyed barbecue pork spare ribs, salt-and-pepper calamari, hot ‘n sour soup, egg drop and corn soup, sweet and sour chicken, steamed mahi-mahi, Malay lamb curry, Peking noodles, egg fried rice and a really different dessert of crispy chestnut and red bean triangles (in filo pastry) with green tea ice cream and caramel sauce.

If that sounds like a lot, it was. Our diets went straight out of the window, and on to Neverland. If it all sounds delicious, it was. If you were wondering what the Malay lamb curry was like, wonder no more. It was the best curry dish I have sampled in many an age, and a truly authentic taste of Chinese-Malaysian cuisine (one of the chefs is a Malay Chinese, apparently). With deeply ingrained fusions of kaffir lime, coconut milk and other Asian spices, it lingered long, slow and richly on the palate, and was easily voted our Dish of the Cruise So Far.

Dinner was followed by another trip to Fat Cats (can you see a pattern here?), where the Manhattan Jazz Ensemble were in residence for the evening, offering a more laid-back style to the blues of Charlie Love and Co. We would have stayed longer but we had another confirmed appointment – with some men in Blue.

Living in Orlando, we are fortunate to have a permanent theatre for the renowned Blue Man Group and, two years ago, when Norwegian announced that one of the star turns aboard their latest ship would be a show by the same Blue Men, it was clear this would be a sea-going headline act unlike any other.

When our cruise booking was confirmed, the very next thing to book was a night with Blue Man Group, and that was for the 10pm showing tonight. Arriving 45 minutes early meant we were among the first in line and guaranteed a seat near the front, and the next 1hr 20mins were pure outrageous, zany, unpredictable fun with the Blue Men.

Put simply, there is nothing quite like a BMG show. Their lively, rock-music-backed humour comes directly from the Planet Tharg and is slightly anarchic, slightly child-like, slightly odd and wholly entertaining. To see this quality of show, live at sea, is an utter triumph for Norwegian. The fact they can stage it so well, multiple times every cruise, is astounding.

Day 5: Another port of call, this time St Thomas, the largest of the US Virgin islands. If there is any particular typical Caribbean island, it borrows heavily from St Thomas – steep hills, stunning bays, brilliant beaches, thick tropical greenery and that delicious, laid-back vibe that could only be the Caribbean.

Yes, there is also shopping; LOTS of shopping, of the heavily duty-free variety, which also attracts cruise ships; LOTS of cruise ships. There are 5 in port today, two from Celebrity and two from Royal Caribbean, including the massive Oasis of the Seas. It amounts to some 17,000 visitors on an island with a population of only 60,000. The shops will have a good day; the taxi-drivers will have a good day; and the beaches will have a good day.

If it sounds like an uncomfortable day to actually BE one of those visitors, you could also be pleasantly surprised. The harbour itself boasts a mini shopping mall that soaks up a lot of visitors; the town has plenty of alternatives to lure a few thousand more of those keen maritime shoppers; and the island’s fleet of taxi-cabs, mini-buses and coaches dashes hither and thither to spread out the rest. And it all works remarkably well.

After a relaxed breakfast at O’Sheehan’s (corn beef hash, eggs, toast, coffee and orange juice), we amble off the ship for a wander round the port’s mini-mall, then head for the taxi rank to find out a price for a visit to Mountain Top (the island’s principal lookout point) and a trip to the beach. It turns out it is actually cheaper to take a guided tour and be dropped off at a beach (about $25/person), so we jump aboard a taxi-cab with two other couples and are off for an impromptu bit of sight-seeing.

Mountain Top, with its peerless overview of stunning Magens Bay (above, one of National Geographic’s top 10 beaches in the world), remains a must-see destination on St Thomas, both for the view and a drink at the World Famous Banana Daiquiri Bar. The full two-hour tour offered a comprehensive view of this island, with plenty of social commentary from our driver, and being dropped off at Morningstar Beach Resort (below) then supplied the necessary beach walk and lunch.
By 3pm, a short taxi ride had us back at the ship and we were able to enjoy the 4pm sail-away from our balcony as another blissful Caribbean day started to draw to a close. The weather for both our first two ports of call had been perfect – almost unbroken sun and around 86F – while the sea remained calm and the deepest of blues.

This evening, we had an early dinner that required us to be showered, changed and  at the Spiegel Tent shortly after 5pm. Cirque Dreams & Dinner is another Norwegian innovation, a purpose-designed, small-scale, theatre-in-the-round, with entertainment of the Cirque du Soleil variety – i.e. acrobatic, athletic, inventive, musical, humorous and breathtaking – along with a set-course dinner (in this case, a starter trio of chicken satay, crab cake and lettuce wedge; a main course of prime rib and shrimp; and a ‘trilogy of sweets,’ consisting of a red velvet cupcake, a vanilla bean pot du crème and a mini flourless chocolate cake).

And, yet again, we are left in awe of what Norwegian have packed into this unusual setting, a 90-minute cavalcade of eye-catching calisthenics, dance, aerial feats, balancing, trapeze and even a quick-change couple who defied the imagination. OK, it cost an extra $20/person but it is a superb addition to both the dining and entertainment choice and, along with Blue Man Group, gives Norwegian Epic two genuine headline sensations.

Amazed but also slightly exhausted by the array of feats set in such close-up detail, we took ourselves off for another standard feature these days – movies under the stars (or the Dive-In Movie, as Norwegian likes to call it at their Spice H2O pool area). Tonight’s film was Soul Surfer, the true story of a young Hawaiian surfer girl who managed to follow her dream to become a pro surfer despite losing an arm to a shark attack. I don’t think anyone is likely to be going swimming at Nassau, our next port of call!

But, before that, we have another sea day to enjoy. More of that soon…

Save Big On On The Mekong With AmaWaterways

Here's another great saving worth highlighting for those who enjoy the luxury river cruise scene:

From exotic floating markets to bustling cities, AmaWaterways cruise from Siam Reap to Ho Chi Minh City meanders along Asia’s magnificent Mekong River, taking in life along its banks with daily included excursions to temples, markets, cities and riverside villages. 

A week's stay on board the majestic La Marguerite, the most luxurious ship on the river, now costs from just £1,295 per person on the March 19 sailing, a generous saving of £328pp. The price includes all meals on board, complimentary wine, beer and soft drinks with dinner, daily excursions and nightly entertainment on board.

For booking details, be sure to check out this link with the UK's luxury cruise specialists, The Cruise Line Ltd.

An Epic Adventure Pt 6

The Story So Far, Pt 1

Continuing our day-by-day look at a typical voyage in the life of Norwegian Cruise Line’s wonderful Norwegian Epic, by World of Cruising editor Simon Veness

For those who may be new to the Blog, having trouble keeping up or just plain not paying attention (and there WILL be a test at the end), here is a potted history of the cruise so far.

Day 1: Embark Miami (surprisingly efficiently), settle in, enjoy a wonderful dinner at the Italian restaurant La Cucina (for a $10/person fee) and discover Fat Cats Jazz Club and the amazing Charlie Love & His Silky Smooth Band. Hugely promising start.

Day 2: At Sea, sailing past the Bahamas. Chance to relax, unwind, explore and enjoy some more good food. Missed breakfast (bad for the Blog, good for our diets), had an early lunch at O’Sheehan’s, the pub-style bar and grill (corned beef and vegetable soup and a small Cobb Salad), watched ‘Before They Were Famous’ at the Headliners entertainment lounge (presenting the story of famous former Second City comedy performers) and were invited to a reception of the ship’s officers and hotel staff at the Epic Lounge (part of the concierge-level Haven, which consists of the top three decks forward).

Dinner that night was booked for the supper-club-style steakhouse of Cagney’s ($25/head), which we couldn’t fault for quality and size (we HATE over-large portions, but the option of a 5 or 10oz Filet was ideal for us; and 5oz is just right), and savoured over almost two hours. Just idyllic.

By the way, a quick diversion, which is important for most Norwegian Cruise Line ships these days but especially Norwegian Epic. Booking your dining (and entertainment as well, in this case) is important to get the most out of your cruise. Their unique Freestyle system (Norwegian were the first big-ship line to de-construct the traditional cruise experience by allowing open-seat dining at all their restaurants and, in the case of Epic, removing the traditional two-seating show-times as well) is perfectly suited to the more modern cruise ethos by allowing people to dine when THEY want to, not when they are assigned to.

But it does also raise the issue of people needing to know their options in advance and either pre-booking online or early on aboard the ship. Many of the top restaurants – notably Cagney’s and the Japanese-themed Teppenyaki – book up well in advance and you are not likely to get a table at many of the specialist restaurants just  by turning up.

OK, a diversion-within-a-diversion here. There are TWO types of restaurants aboard Norwegian ships, and especially their giant flagship. There are the standard restaurants – two main dining rooms, the Manhattan and Taste, the Garden Café buffet option, two day-time pool-side grills, the Great Outdoors and Spice H2O,  and the almost-24-hour pub-style of O’Sheehan’s – and then there are the speciality choices, which all come at a small supplement (from $10-$25/person).

There are fully seven of these (plus the Epic Club for those in the Haven), in addition to a Sushi Bar and Noodle Bar for light eaters, so the choice alone is borderline bewildering. It’s vital to read up in advance on what most appeals to you, and then book it to avoid disappointment.

Anyway, back to the story…

After Cagney’s we enjoyed the Manhattan Motown Cabaret in the main restaurant and then some more lively blues sounds from Charlie Love and Co.
Day 3: At Sea. More chill-out time, but we did at least make it up in time for a proper breakfast at Taste (the full-service dining option in the morning). Fresh fruit, coffee, yoghurt, granola and an omelette; a perfect scene-setter for the day.

Finding space on deck for some sun-time was slightly more problematic. It seems a lot of people (shame on you!) head up first thing in the morning, leave towels on all the loungers, then don’t bother turning up until late morning, leaving those who arrive around 10am without anywhere to stretch out. Not very American.

We briefly flirted with the idea of throwing all the unattended towels in a heap in the corner and enjoying a good row with the owners when (if?) they turned up, but discretion proved the better part of sun-bathing in this instance. We persevered with our search and did, at last, find a couple of un-toweled loungers on the sports deck for an hour or so.

We were quite happy with that, and happy to pass on our loungers to another couple who were equally frustrated by the be-toweled-but-unoccupied phenomenon.

Next up was another novelty. Presumed Murdered is a murder-mystery lunch show in the Spiegel Tent (usually home of the Cirque Dreams dinner show, which we’re due to see tonight), performed by the cast of Second City and given a great comedic improv flourish as we dined on shrimp salad, meatloaf or chicken entree, and chocolate éclairs. It is a novel and hugely entertaining addition to the typical at-sea variety of activities and another example of Norwegian’s creative thinking to both amuse their guests and maximize their revenue (there was a $15/head charge).

We had intended to take in one of the Pub Trivia sessions at O’Sheehan’s that afternoon but instead were sidetracked by a game of shuffleboard on deck with another couple from Houston, who proved extremely amiable company while we took turns to hurled our shuffleboard discs either into the far distance or nowhere-near-far-enough, in technical terms. Simple good fun and a nod to cruise tradition when deck games and the occasional round of bingo were pretty much the sum total of daytime acitivities.

Going for another casual wander afterwards, we were inveigled into a slightly more dangerous activity – Margarita Tasting at the Maltings Bar on Deck 7. For $15 a head, we got the chance to try no less than five different flavoured Margaritas (and not small measures, either), and were then offered a guide to help us back to our cabin. OK, I’m making the last bit up, but the volume of chatter, laughter and sheer nonsense by the end of the session was distinctly different from the reserved, quiet tones at the start.

There was a Grand Margarita, a peach one, a Margarita based on a classic Fuzzy Navel and another one with blue curacao, triple sec and cranberry as well as the tequila, plus the final one, which was pink, semi-frozen and MAY have had Grand Marnier in it as well. Seeing as it was hard to see straight and remember our own names at that point, it’s probably best not to dwell on the detail.

Remarkably, we were ready for a 7pm dinner at the Manhattan Restaurant, which was our big test of the main dinner choice (both Manhattan and Taste offer the same menu in the evenings), to see if Norwegian somehow scrimped on the regular (i.e. non-fee-based) offering while upping the ante at the many specialist choices.

Not a bit of it. Not only did we have a wonderful table for two right at the stern, to watch the dying embers of another perfect Caribbean sunset, our server Kerwin was a delight and we were excellently looked after, with a truly tempting array of dishes. Between us, we sampled the roast corn and cheese soup, Greek Salad, Lamb Shank, Louisiana-style Red Snapper, and a gorgeous Tiramisu.

If that was an accurate test, anyone who ate here ONLY for each night of the voyage (as would be the case in more traditional times) would still be royally dined and happy with their lot. Of course, knowing that there ARE so many alternatives just whets our appetite!

Wednesday, 22 February 2012

Zegrahm’s Ultimate Galapgos Cruise

Join Zegrahm Expeditions’ expert leaders Jack Grove and Greg Estes aboard the elegant Isabella II, a luxury yacht carrying only 40 passengers, on their Ultimate Galapagos voyage departing June 21. 

This 13-day expedition is designed to give travelers a comprehensive overview of the islands, with in-depth exploration of both the marine and terrestrial worlds.

Taking full advantage of Jack and Greg’s knowledge and years of experience, they offer travellers a truly behind-the-scenes look at the Galápagos. 

Jack, a former islands resident with decades of experience ranging from marine research to conservation efforts, also wrote the comprehensive volume The Fishes of the Galápagos Islands, while Greg, a licensed naturalist guide, has written a book on Darwin called Darwin in Galápagos.

For booking details, be sure to check out this link with the UK's adventure cruise specialists, The Cruise Line Ltd. 

Tuesday, 21 February 2012

An Epic Adventure, Pt 5

The Cruise

Continuing our day-by-day look at a typical voyage in the life of Norwegian Cruise Line’s wonderful Norwegian Epic, by World of Cruising editor Simon Veness

Having spent the first few days detailing the remarkable vessel that is Norwegian Epic, it probably makes sense to look at the voyage itself, where it goes and what it offers for the 4,000-plus folks who have decided this is the holiday for them.

Well, after sailing out of Miami at 4pm on Saturday, we charted a course almost directly south-east, passing north and east of the Bahamas and the Turks & Caicos Islands on a line for Puerto Rico. At roughly 8 o’clock on Monday evening we veered around the latter and cut south past St Thomas, enjoying a superb southern coast cruise along the night-time façade of the US Virgin Island.

By first thing Tuesday morning we were pulling slowly into the Dutch/French island of St Maarten (Sint Martin on the northerly, or French, side).

The beautifully green and hilly island is studded with wonderful sandy bays, ringed by typical ‘paradise island’ beaches, the sea that breathtaking aquamarine that comes only from shallow, sun-bathed waters on sand-covered sea-floors.

There are dozens of official ship-organised shore excursion options (including many water-sports opportunities) but, having been here multiple times before, we are happy to wander and explore by ourselves.

Shopping is No 1, 2 and 3 on most people’s radars for any visit to St Maarten and, while the merchandise varies mainly from jewellery, electronics (cameras, etc) and typical tourist apparel to liquor and fragrances, there are scores of outlets to choose from, both here in Philipsburg, the capital, and in neighbouring towns.

There are some 20 casinos on the island (probably not a great attraction seeing as the ship has all the gambling action anyone could possibly want) and some large self-contained resorts, but much of the development is relatively small-scale and you feel St Maarten manages its tourism profile extremely well, even when there are six ships in port (ourselves, two 138,000-ton vessels of Royal Caribbean’s Voyager-class, the Celebrity Constellation, the luxury style of Regent’s Seven Seas Navigator and the chic sail-cruise ship of French line Club Med).

After breakfast on our balcony to soak in the first of the Caribbean sun, we opted for a stroll into town and some gentle retail therapy. It is easy, clean, safe and hassle-free to wander the two main streets (the boardwalk-style beach-front and the aptly-named Front Street) and, while there is nothing hugely imaginative about much of the offerings, it is convenient, easy on the eye and pretty good value.

For those who can’t make the 20-minute walk (or 5-minute water-taxi ride), there is even a mini shopping village right at the open-plan cruise terminal, which provides all the same range of shopping and bars in town-like microcosm.

Sure, it could be any of a dozen Caribbean islands with the identikit shopping format but, under the best winter sun imaginable (a balmy 84F), it is just a joy to be out and about and soaking up that laid-back island vibe. The close proximity of the port means it is easy to return to the Epic for lunch, where a sandwich and iced water at O’Sheehan’s is the perfect mid-day tonic.

Afterwards, we had decided on a trip to Maho Bay, where St Maarten’s Princess Juliana International Airport backs on to the main beach. Which means you can sit with your feet in the sea and watch some seriously large planes come in right over your head at a height that can only be described as “you-must-be-joking!”

The twin highlights of the day are the departure of a KLM Jumbo Jet, the force of which with its engines turned back to the beach acts like a gigantic sand-blaster for anyone foolish (or unwary) enough to stand their ground as it lumbers down the runway; and the arrival of the big Air France flight, roaring over the beach seemingly at touching distance.

It is a spectacle that draws hundreds of tourists every day and is amazing to see first-hand, even if the majority of planes are twin-prop island-hoppers. But, ouch, that sand can sting!

The airport anorak in us suitably satisfied (along with a couple of beers, naturally), we jumped in a taxi back to Philipsburg and the port ($10 a head, one-way, for the 25-30-minute drive) and a much-needed shower to clean all the sand and jet-engine grime out of our eyes, ears, nose and throat (actually, that’s a wild exaggeration, but it doesn’t half get in your ears).

Tonight, we sail at 6pm, off to St Thomas for port of call Number 2 (little more than two hours’ sailing away, hence the captain will not have his foot on the gas tonight!). We have another day at sea on Thursday and then it’s the Bahamian capital of Nassau on Friday, prior to our return (sadly) to Miami.

A typical eastern Caribbean itinerary, but one that still holds much promise for the genuine chill-out opportunity this region does so well.

An Epic Adventure Pt 4

The Cabin

Continuing our day-by-day look at a typical voyage in the life of Norwegian Cruise Line’s wonderful Norwegian Epic, by World of Cruising editor Simon Veness

Starting a cruise with a full sea day is always a good idea. Starting it with TWO sea days is even better, especially when you have a ship of the size and complexity of Norwegian Epic.

This modern colossus boasts an extraordinary variety of options, facilities and amenities for just about everything, and having plenty of time to explore and discover early on is ideal for ensuring you get the best out of your cruise.

We completed our first full day at sea with dinner at Cagney’s, Norwegian Cruise Line’s signature steakhouse, which offered another high-quality take on modern maritime dining. The elegant surroundings, smooth service and truly succulent cuts of Filet Mignon ensured a second successive memorable evening meal in this ship that specialises in a myriad of choices.

It culminated a lazy day of sunbathing, browsing the six onboard shops and taking in a video show on ‘Before they were famous,’ the early days of the likes of Mike Myers, Steve Carell, Tina Fey and Bill Murray with the Second City comedy troupe from Chicago, one of the two alternating entertainment options at the Headliners Club with Howl At The Moon Saloon.

Dinner was followed by the live music of Manhattan Motown Cabaret, another imaginative use of the main Manhattan Dining Room with its bandstand and stage area, and a great chance to see some of the ship’s many talented performers in a smaller-scale setting.

From Motown to Chi-town – we were back at Fat Cats Jazz Club for another session of Charlie Love & The Silky Smooth Band, who have quickly become a minor addiction. The quality of the band – guitar, bass, drums and keyboards – allied to Charlie’s evocative blues delivery makes for a compelling musical interlude.

And, to be able to enjoy this quality of musicianship up close and personal is a real triumph of Epic’s entertainment offerings.

Another good night’s sleep in our standard balcony cabin promptly followed, which probably is a good point at which to introduce our accommodation (I’m afraid I can’t use the modern affectation of ‘stateroom,’ not unless it is some kind of penthouse suite. Sea-going accommodations are primarily cabins and should always be known as such).

Anyway, our cabin is pretty much the identikit blueprint for the majority, decent-sized without being especially roomy; well provided with storage space, equipped with a stocked mini-fridge (just in case you need a drink in your own company or, interestingly, a pack of gummy bears), coffee-maker, interactive flatscreen TV, hair-dryer, room safe and the all-important balcony – a near- vital requisite for being able to enjoy the Caribbean air (or any cruise location that has a strong outdoor lure).

When Norwegian was designing Epic, they gave their architects free rein to come up with a different approach to cabin essentials, i.e. the overall layout and functional elements. Put simply, they attempted to reinvent the wheel in bathroom terms.

True, they did give the traditional (and ultra-dull) boxy format a tweak with a sinuous, curvy-linear overlay that makes one side of the cabin feel softer and more organic, a cosy touch that works especially well with the built-in beds and headboards.

But the same approach with the dressing-table area makes things slightly awkward for one person to be sat in front of the mirror and the other to move around the cabin. Like, 10 out of 10 for style, but minus-five for practicality.

Likewise the ‘bathroom.’ Instead of one small self-contained unit within the cabin, Norwegian’s designers decided on a more ‘open’, deconstructed approach. Hence the W/C forms its own closet (with a frosted glass door), the fully-enclosed shower stall is another separate element on the opposite side, and the handbasin and bathroom cabinet have their own corner, in the main cabin area.

It is an unusual arrangement; still easy to use and with everything you need close at hand, but oddly awkward for two (or more) people to use with any real sense of privacy. There is a curtain that closes off the two main bathroom elements from the rest of the cabin but it still feels slightly awkward not to have a fully separate unit for one’s, ahem, ablutions.

However, for all the fact we are surrounded, top and bottom, with other cabin decks, this is an amazingly quiet retreat. The level of sound-proofing is remarkably high and we have yet to be disturbed by any sound at night.

Would we like a bit more space (and a different bathroom arrangement)? Probably. Do we NEED more space. Probably not.

And, with our efficient cabin steward, Winzyl, we are more than adequately cared for in real creature-comfort terms. The towels are always fresh and fluffy; the shower blasts out hot water whenever needed; and the ice bucket is constantly refreshed. We have room to work in and the balcony to relax on. And the siren lure of the Caribbean air – not to mention the sight of the occasional flying fish and hungry sea-birds trying to snag an unsuspecting fish – from our own private deck space is just too precious not to savour over and over again.

Oceania Introduces New ‘Grand Voyages’

For the first time, Oceania Cruises has introduced an exciting series of 23 to 71-night Grand Voyages to offer guests the opportunity to explore the world more extensively, yet still return each day to the comfort and luxury of one of their mid-sized luxury ships. 

The Grand Voyages are created by blending two or more itineraries, to two or more continents, thereby tailoring an exceptional voyage of discovery and creating an ultra-memorable experience several weeks, or even months, long.

All cruises include complimentary soft drinks and bottled water, fine dining in Oceania's variety of restaurants - with no speciality supplement - and a 5% saving for those booking two or more cruise sectors, as well as free pre-paid gratuities and a $250 per guest credit.

The Voyages include Marina’s 48-night Rendezvous to the Pacific sailing (departing Dec 10), from Rio southwards around the coastline of South America calling into Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay and Chile, across the Pacific to Chile’s Robinson Crusoe Island, the volcanic island of Hanga Roa and the Pitcairn Islands, to spend a final 10 days cruising the idyllic island paradises of French Polynesia.

Christmas Day is spent cruising the Pacific Ocean between Puerto Montt and Valparaiso in Chile to ensure a relaxing time spent on board and the cruise costs from £4,821, including all meals, complimentary bottled water and soft drinks (excluding flights).

For booking details, be sure to check out this link with the UK's luxury cruise specialists, The Cruise Line Ltd.

Monday, 20 February 2012

Tromso and the Northern Lights

Continuing Steve Newman's 'live' blog on the classic Norwegian coastal cruise with Hurtigruten

The Lights came out last night at Lofoten and they were INCREDIBLE. Flashes of yellow and red in a green bamboo curtain that kept twisting as we watched.  Brilliant last night as well as we found ourselves berthed alongside the southbound Hurtigruten.

Everyone piled off the ships to explore the other one for half an hour before we had to sail again. A Norwegian man visiting the dentist two stops down said they had superb views of the Lights last night so, perhaps, we will as well again tonight.

We're off to the city-port of Tromso today and, hopefully, we'll get views of the Northern Lights like this over the city. I love Tromso and am so looking forward to dining in one of its excellent fish restaurants. 

As we're at sea most of today, in between brief calls at the small ports that make up the 'taxi' route north, I may even take a dip in the pool or the outside jacuzzi!

Sadly I'm getting off at Tromso to fly home (you can get here from five UK airports now) so here's hoping for some spectacular Lights tonight! 

For booking details, be sure to check out this link with the UK's luxury cruise specialists, The Cruise Line Ltd.

Sunday, 19 February 2012

An Epic Adventure, Pt 3

The Ship

Continuing our day-by-day look at a typical voyage in the life of Norwegian Cruise Line’s wonderful Norwegian Epic, by World of Cruising editor Simon Veness

So we’re well under way, enjoying two full sea days to begin the cruise, and can now report back on the ship itself.

Completed in 2010, Norwegian Epic is a complete one-off in the Norwegian Cruise Line fleet, more than half as large again as any of her siblings at 150,000 tons. It goes without saying this is a big ship. Very big. Big as in head-scratchingly vast, unfeasibly high and positively elephantine. And not quite as pretty.

There are only three bigger vessels currently in the world’s cruise fleet, and two of those are the Royal Caribbean behemoths Allure and Oasis of the Seas, which are not so much ships as floating cities. This is most definitely still a ship in the more conventional sense, albeit one that has slightly taken leave of traditional maritime design aesthetics.

Yes, it is not an eye-pleasing ship, externally. Many have gone as far to call her downright ugly. And, with the three concierge-level decks added forward and above bridge level, plus the flatter-than-ironing board-flat stern, Epic is never going to win any beauty contests.

But, just as in the saying beauty is only skin deep, so it goes for the lack of eye appeal. And, get below skin level with this ship and you encounter true splendour, an abundance of bountiful magnificence that does, indeed, take the breath away.

Because this ship is all about what it’s like to be surrounded by a high level of glamour and glitz, and a not inconsiderable amount of sophistication; it is not meant to be viewed from the outside and the hell with what other ship’s views might be.

Epic is also fun. No, belay that. Epic is F-U-N, and then some. It is not Party Central in any massively overt and brash way but it does have considerable party credentials and is ready to boogie on down with the very best of them. Musically, it offers a wide and healthy variety of live options, all of which have been sourced from genuinely quality-conscious origins, like the Legends In Concert series in Las Vegas, the lively Howl At The Moon Saloon piano bar duellers and our friends from last night at Fat Cat’s Jazz Lounge, Charlie Love and the Silky Smooth Band from Chicago.

But there are also the typical Caribbean band, the song-and-keyboards duo, a guitarist, an easy-listening pianist, another dance band, a solo performer and two full-time DJs. There is karaoke, a comedy club (provided by Chicago’s superb Second City troupe), and, tonight, the Manhattan Motown Cabaret, utilising the main restaurant’s stage as yet another entertainment alternative (once the main dining is completed).

Did I also mention there are two three-lane bowling alleys aboard, a full array of pub games (in the superbly-equipped O’Sheehan’s Bar & Grill, which not only functions as a genuine inn-at-sea but is also a versatile – and complimentary – dining alternative for breakfast, lunch and dinner), a huge fitness centre, sports court, jogging track, shuffleboard and deck quoits (possibly the only trace of ‘traditional’ cruise style anywhere aboard), shopping mall, Mandara Spa and library?
The winding two-storey Atrium boasts a massive high-def LED video screen for films and game shows, while the aft area is given over to Spice H²0, an adults-only area of sun-loungers, twin Jacuzzis, plunge pool, bar, grill and, yes, another massive high-def LED video screen, for ‘movies under the stars’ and added nightclub vibe.

The old (as in it’s-so-old-it’s-got-hair-on) complaint of there not being enough to do on a cruise is just so much hot air in this case.

You want peace and quiet? You can find that, too. During the day, Fat Cat’s Jazz Club is a neat little hideaway, as is the Library, Atrium coffee bar, the foyer of Cagney’s Steakhouse and the little seating area almost aft on the port side of the Lido Deck, deck 15. And, if all else fails, you can just retreat to the Mandara Spa and chill out in ultimate pampering luxury.

True, there are strong Las Vegas overtones in the extensive casino that occupies much of Deck 6, and the element of high-tech glitz is quite strong with features like the Ice Bar (kept constantly below freezing for that properly-chilled Martini!), the ultra-popular Aqua Park, the Epic Theater (home of the Blue Man Group and Legends In Concert), Bliss Lounge and the Atrium area.

But equally this is not glitz-for-glitz sake. There is a high level of comfort and user-friendliness to all the above and much of the detail is refreshingly stylish, with a great sense of fun that positively demands you relax and unwind. After all, cruising has always been the great get-away-from-it-all holiday option, and the Epic simply builds on that ethos with enough features to fill the average theme park.

There is also a comprehensive array of children’s facilities and clubs, which add the likelihood that you can come on as a family and, very possibly, not see your kids for fully seven days straight!

So, if all that lot doesn’t whet your ocean-going appetite, I’m not sure what will. Oh, and did I mention the food’s pretty good, too…?

An Epic Adventure, Pt 2

At Sea

Continuing our day-by-day look at a typical voyage in the life of Norwegian Cruise Line’s wonderful Norwegian Epic by World of Cruising editor Simon Veness

Our first full day is a day at sea – the perfect way to start any cruise. It is a chance to slow down, get in rhythm with the ship and really explore your maritime home for the next 6/7 days. Last night was also a great introduction to what Epic does, fairly epically. Entertainment. And food. Great food.

Let’s start with the former. It is pretty clear when you have headline acts like Blue Man Group and Legends Live In Concert (in place of the usual variety and musical song-and-dance shows in the main theatre) that you have moved into a different area of cruise entertainment. This is not your usual feather-and-furs variety of middling acts – it is an all-out attempt to be big, bold and, above-all, quality conscious.

Just one quick tour of the ship at night is perfect testament to that. Even the main dining room, The Manhattan Room, has live music, and you can hardly go a few steps without encountering something new. Our choice last night was Fat Cats Jazz Club – a Chicago style live music nightspot, on this cruise featuring Charlie Love and the Silky Smooth Band, an impressive five-piece who belted out classic Motown, blues and soul hits from the 1960s and 70s with enormous gusto and style.

It grabs you immediately and won’t let go – you WILL be entertained, and probably seriously impressed along the way.

Dinner was also a fabulous introduction to the ship’s multi-faceted dining options. True, there is a supplemental charge for many of them (although there are still four free-to-eat, dine-anytime-you-like options, including the two main dining rooms) and it is advisable to book at least a few hours in advance. With Norwegian’s excellent online system, you can even book up as soon as your cruise is confirmed and, for the likes of the six five-star restaurants, that is highly advisable.

This is, of course, the home of Freestyle cruising, the modern cruise ethos of do what you want, when you want, with whom you want. Set dining times with the same dinner companions are a thing of the past here, which obviously takes away from cruise tradition but is an undoubted hit with the majority of cruise newcomers.
We opted for the Italian charms of La Cucina, tucked away in a forward eyrie (and accessible only from the Garden Café on Deck 15) and with a truly beautiful aspect at sunset. The faux library styling is vaguely reminiscent of being aboard the Captain’s quarters of a 19th century galleon and sitting down with a glass of wine to watch the sun slowly dapple the rear horizon in pale pink and orange was one of those timeless moments that all good holidays should produce.

The meal itself was wonderful – a plate of anti-pasti, fagioli and pasta soup, tomato and mozzarella salad, classic osso buco and a succulent pork saltimbocca, followed by a panna cotta sampler plate of lemon, chocolate and amaretto delights.

At a cost of $10 per person, we felt we ate like royalty and were wonderfully served by our Nicaraguan waitress Odesa and her team. Nicaragua? Yes, absolutely. Our cabin steward is also from that Central American country and their happy-but-efficient disposition is infectious to be around.

Yes, our first full evening aboard was a resounding success. And now we get to chill out for the day…