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…?