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….