NCL’s forthcoming Norwegian Epic.
Photo courtesy of Norwegian Cruise Line

At first sight, the appearance of the newest ship in the Norwegian Cruise Line fleet may strike many longtime cruisers and maritime enthusiast as decidedly un-ladylike – particularly considering her name: Norwegian Epic.  Lacking a true promenade deck and sporting two decks of suites towering over her navigation bridge, the ship appears ungainly and top heavy.  More recent rendering show this area sporting blue paint accents instead of the stark white that accompanied earlier images. 

Further aft, her designers chose a pair of thin, swept back funnels placed alongside each other and resting atop a blue superstructure block.  Immediately ahead of them, multicolored waterslides wind and weave over the top deck.

The lack of open public deck space is immediately apparent.  The views from the uppermost pool deck seem obstructed by large, glass windows instead of lower, waist-high railings. The top of Norwegian Epic‘s “crown”,near the radar mast, will almost certainly be exclusive to suite guests only, and the small forward viewing balconies below the navigation bridge may or may not be available for public access.  Forget about strolling along the promenade deck for views; NCL’s lifeboats rest on this level, obscuring the ocean from sight.

Without her top-heavy superstructure or odd funnels, she would resemble the Norwegian Gem and MSC’s MSC Fantasia merged together.  However, the end result looks more like her designers split a case of beer, snuck into the yards at STX Europe armed with a welder’s torch and made off with bits and pieces of other ships already under construction.

In stark contrast, her interiors are decidedly exciting, different, and some of the most downright well-designed and potentially innovative spaces afloat.

The (very) cozy Studio Staterooms onboard Epic.
Photo courtesy of Norwegian Cruise Line
The biggest innovations start at the staterooms level, where NCL has pulled out all the stops to not only offer more accommodation choices than ever before, but to also challenge the idea of what exactly constitutes a ‘stateroom.’
Ambient lighting, dark woods, bright furnishings, and curved stateroom walls create a living space unlike any other ship at sea – or even many land-based hotels, for that matter.

As with most ships, strong emphasis is placed on a wide variety of suites incorporating a variety of perks and comforts that are virtually unrivaled.  NCL turned heads in 2001 with the introduction of the Norwegian Star, which boasted sumptuous Garden Suites so large they even include their own baby grand piano and private entrance.  Priced in the $20,000 per person region for most seven-day cruises, perhaps the most surprising aspect of these suites is that they sell out regularly – which may explain why a quick look at the suite designators on the Norwegian Epic’s deckplan tend to more closely resemble a schematic.

Spa Suites onboard Norwegian Epic.
Photo courtesy of Norwegian Cruise Line
NCL also focused its creative energies on an unlikely source: new staterooms for those who care less about space and more about price.  Naturally, this is also in the line’s best interests – smaller staterooms take up less space and allow the overall capacity of the vessel to increase exponentially.  NCL could have just added small inside staterooms and priced them accordingly, but instead they chose to re-invent the wheel, with particularly exciting results.
The new Studio Staterooms are small inside cabins designed for two passengers.  They feature a porthole window looking out into the corridor (with blinds, of course), as well as funky ambient lighting and a clean, European look and feel.  Because of the small size of the staterooms – barely over 100 square feet – the sink and shower facilities are located within the living space of the cabin itself.  Only the toilet is separated by its own door.
At first, passengers might balk at the small size and mid-range price compared to standard inside rooms.  But, like the suites high atop the ship, there is an element of exclusivity to this new type of stateroom – it’s new, it’s different, and for those who are only truly in their cabin to sleep and change clothing, this may truly rival the much higher-priced suites in terms of popularity.  To sweeten the deal, guests staying in Studio Suites have access to their very own private lounge – one that not even the suite passengers have access to.  A smart move on NCL’s part to woo cruisers concerned about the size of the room.
Fine dining at Cagney’s.
Photo courtesy of Norwegian Cruise Line
Of course, all of this is a gamble – curved walls have never been done before, and could pose some teething problems as far as things like electrical and plumbing are concerned, or how they will withstand a few hundred voyages worth of luggage being bashed into them.
All of this innovation comes with a steep price.  Last minute design changes by stakeholder Apollo Management resulted in substantially higher costs and ultimately led to a dispute between STX Europe and NCL and the eventual cancellation of her unnamed sister ship.  This means, currently, Norwegian Epic is a one-off; the only vessel in her class.  Reading between the lines, it also indicates that a sister ship would have been absurdly cost-prohibitive to build – a potential sign major design changes were planned for Hull D33, as the dispute itself concerned Norwegian Epic – then known as Hull C33.

Is this a ship?  The AquaPark on the upper deck.
Photo courtesy of Norwegian Cruise Line

Much like Royal Caribbean did with Oasis of the Seas, but on a larger scale since NCL’s chequebook doesn’t reach quite as deeply, Norwegian Epic will be true all-or-nothing gamble when she debuts this July.  If passengers take to her, it could be the best move they made since the introduction of the Norwegian Sky in 1999 and the line’s foray into Freestyle Cruising in 2001.

Are we lukewarm on Epic?  A little.  She’s an oceangoing enigma for us: a bizarre and unappealing exterior design coupled with what could be some of the most innovative, beautiful, and downright strange public rooms afloat, but relegated to running a ho-hum collection of Caribbean itineraries – much like Oasis of the Seas.  The proof, as they say, will be in the pudding.

This is the moment the last eleven years have been building up to for NCL – the biggest launch in the history of the line.  The curtain will be raised on Norwegian Epic when she sails into New York City at the start of July for a Fourth of July extravaganza.

For more information on Norwegian Epic, be sure to visit NCL’s website.


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