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July 7, 2010

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WHERE'S JOHNNY JET?                    NCL'S EPIC

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Greetings! I hope you had a wonderful holiday week. I spent most of Independence Day aboard the Epic, the newest ship from Norwegian Cruise Lines (NCL). NCL had a preview cruise out of New York City, so I was able to witness Reba McEntire christen the ship with a bunch of other lucky guests. We departed from the Manhattan Cruise Terminal (Pier 88), and right next door was the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum. It's a New York museum that's been on my list but has long eluded me, and I finally was able to check it off. The Intrepid is an old aircraft carrier with tons to see including a retired British Airways Concorde. To see my pictures of one of the world's largest passenger ships, stick with me so I can show you the good, the bad, and the ugly.

If you have been following me on Twitter or Facebook, then you know that while I was in New York I made a six-minute appearance on ABC News talking about the Fourth of July and summer travel deals. I wasn't that nervous but I had a few brain cramps, so it's a bit painful to watch-especially for me. Hopefully, next time I can nail it.

Norwegian Cruise Lines (NCL) launched their first new vessel since 2007; they are billing Epic as 2010's most exciting ship. I think they are right, since the only cruise ship that can compete with it is Royal Caribbean's $1.4 billion Oasis of the Seas. Oasis of the Seas debuted in 2009 and is 225,000 gross tons, and holds 6,296 passengers and 2,165 crew. The $1.1 billion Epic is 153,000 gross tons and holds 4,100 passengers and 1,700 crew.

Norwegian's Epic two-day preview cruise was supposed to begin on Friday, but since I'm a regular contributor to Peter Greenberg's nationally syndicated radio show and he was taping from the ship on Thursday night, I boarded a day early. Hanging out with Peter has its privileges-not only did I get to hang out in the makeshift studio with Jonathan Tisch (owner of Loews Hotels & the NY Giants), Carolyn Brown Spencer (, and David Farley (author of An Irreverent Curiosity: In Search of the Church's Strangest Relic in Italy's Oddest Town), but I also got a tour of Epic from Norwegian Cruise Lines' CEO Kevin Sheehan.

Kevin Sheehan turned out to be an awesome guy. I learned he started out as a NYC taxi driver before turning into one of the savviest CEOs, who is widely credited with turning the long-struggling NCL company around after taking the helm just a couple years ago. After Peter's show a bunch of us had dinner together in O'Sheehan's, the ship's Irish pub that's open 24 hours and serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner without a surcharge. Obviously the pub is named after Kevin. The most popular item to get is the chicken pot pie and the fish-and-chips. FYI: Every time I walked by it was packed.

I really started getting excited about going on the ship Thursday morning, because when I woke up the event was all over the news-all the stations followed its approach to the entrance of the New York harbor, as it's the largest cruise ship to ever dock in the Big Apple. Epic was sailing in from her maiden transatlantic (6-day) voyage from Southampton, England, and the 200-foot-tall ship cleared the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge by just 24 inches.

All the lucky guests were invited to bring a guest of their own. I brought my sister Carol, since she's new to cruising and can use a mini-vacation from taking care of her wild kids. When we arrived to Pier 88 at 4:30 p.m. there was a huge line of unhappy Brits. It turns out the City of New York did a terrible job of welcoming the 4,000 passengers, as they didn't have enough customs officers available to clear passengers, so they had to wait on the ship for seven hours before disembarking, and then there weren't enough taxis-the unsavvy folks who either had too much luggage or didn't figure out the best place to catch a taxi was across the street waited over 90 minutes in the heat. If New York City wants to gain the business of these megaships they better get their act together, don't you agree?

There was no line for us to check in, as only 225 guests were on board Thursday night-mostly NCL's management team, as everyone else was coming the next day. The first thing we did after getting our key cards and going through security was drop off our bags in our room (11241). My first impression of Epic was she's huge (duh)! I kept getting turned around and never really figured out which way was the bow or stern when leaving one of the ship's 20 restaurants.

The stairs are color coded. The blue side was for the ones closest to the odd-numbered rooms and the orange set of stairs were for the even numbers. The hallways aren't a mile long, either-they break them up to make it seem like the ship is smaller, but that messed with my mind a little the first couple of times, since I kept thinking, This can't be it, the back of the ship is so close-when in reality another hallway broke off from there.

Epic has six types of rooms to choose from (here's the list). We were in one of their 851 New Wave balcony staterooms (they also have 560 New Wave inside staterooms). They are named Wave because they have a unique wavy design.

The wave design isn't the only innovation the rooms have: They broke the bathroom into three separate pieces, so when you walk through the cabin door the toilet is on the right, the shower is on the left, and the sink is in the middle of the room below the flat-screen TV and on top of the dresser. It's a cool idea, since a family of three (maximum amount of people) could be productive-one could be on the loo, another in the shower, and one brushing their teeth, but they missed miserably by creating a toilet door that isn't soundproof. It's uncomfortable to hear your cabin mate do what they gotta do. More of Epic's accommodations.

Although rooms are a bit on the small side (two people can't walk past the bed at the same time), the shower has plenty of space. In fact, I could even bend down and touch my toes without hitting my head, and the water pressure was excellent. FYI: Each shower comes with shampoo/conditioner and soap in wall dispensers. The ingredients aren't listed so bring your own if you have allergies, but my sister said they were high quality.

Some passengers complained that the bathroom and shower doors are see through, but that's not true-they are glazed, so you can't see anything with any detail, and there's a curtain that separates the bathroom area from the bedroom and living area.

When we walked into the cabin our bed was made as a queen, but since I was traveling with my sister we asked the cabin attendant, who was a super friendly and caring Filipino, to split them into twins, and he said No problem. There isn't a lot of space between the beds, only about four inches. Also, the beds seem a little short to me-they are probably six feet long, and my feet seemed to dangle off the edge. The good news: The linens are really comfortable.

The rooms have nice wood interiors, lots of mirrors, a little workspace with a stool, hair dryer, two electrical outlets, a lot of light from the recessed lighting and domed ceiling, two snake reading lights next to the bed, plenty of storage//closet space, minibar, modern easy-to-read phone, curvy uncomfortable couch, and a large deck with two chairs and a table. Another cool feature is that the blackout curtains have magnets to keep the ends shut. The outside of the room also has a dial to alert the cabin attendant to make up cabin, turn down cabin or do not disturb – no more fumbling with hanging door signs. Here's more on Epic's new staterooms.

STATEROOM TIP: Next time, I would get a room that has the bed near the balcony instead of in the middle of the room. That way you will have more space by having the couch in between, and your head will not be within earshot of the toilet.

One of the coolest and most industry-changing aspects of the ship is that Epic is the first cruise to offer studio rooms (128), so solo travelers don't have to pay double the price, as they have had to do in the past. The studios are cute, have an Austin Powers/George Jetson feel, and are in the mid area of the ship, so the window doesn't look out over the ocean but rather the corridor-you see out, but others can't see in. Studio passengers have private access to a communal lounge where they can hang around and meet other solo guests. Some studios also have connecting rooms, but they can't be shared by couples. More Studios info from Epic.

Another unique room idea Epic boasts is the largest suite complex at sea. They have 60 rooms that are more like the upscale Seabourn experience. It's basically a hotel within a hotel, like the Four Seasons Las Vegas in Mandalay Bay Hotel and Casino. If passengers want all the action of a big ship, they have it, but they can also chill in their little private areas to get away from the commoners. These suites and villas are on two private decks at the top of the ship and accessible only by private elevator. The secluded courtyard area has a private pool, two hot tubs, gym, saunas, sundeck, indoor/outdoor dining, and a bar/nightclub. It also might be the only place on the ship where loud music doesn't play. FYI: These rooms come with butler and concierge service. More Villa info.

One thing that's for sure is that passengers on Epic will never be bored. In fact, some might not even want to disembark the ship to check out ports of call-that's how much stuff there is to do and see. First of all, adults will love most of their seven main shows, which include the first Blue Man Group at Sea (it's very entertaining).

They also have a show called Cirque Dreams and Dinner, which has some amazing Cirque du Soleil–esque talent, but parts of it are really bad and just too long. They would've done better to make it an hour show and cut out the fluff and dinner.

Other entertainment options include a Legends in Concert tribute show (I saw Madonna, Elvis, and Tina Turner), Fat Cats (they play jazz till the wee hours), the Second City comedy troupe, and the Howl at the Moon dueling-piano show.

NCL not only partnered with the entertainment companies above, but they also joined forces with Nickelodeon™ at Sea, which is exclusive to Norwegian Cruise Lines. They have daily shows and three character breakfasts on a seven-day cruise ($15 for adults, $10 for kids). Characters include SpongeBob SquarePants, Dora the Explorer, and more. To learn more, visit

But what's really going to make the kids (and some adults) not want to leave the ship are the three water slides. They were just like the ones at Splash Lagoon in Erie, PA. The purple one is specifically designed for the not-so-adventurous and zips straight through the rock-climbing wall (BTW: they have two 33-foot-high and 64-feet-wide walls where passengers can either climb or rappel). The green slide is for the more adventurous, as it twists and turns down three stories, mostly in the dark and sneaks out over the edge of the ship. The grand finale is the orange and yellow Epic Plunge, which requires an inner tube to travel through a 200-foot-long tube before dumping you in something like a gigantic toilet bowl. The Epic Plunge was the only one with a wait; if you are just going down the green or purple slide you can whizz by the line. The slides definitely transformed me into a kid-at one point I was arguing with a seven-year-old in line about which slide was scarier.

The Aqua Park also includes two main pools with water fountains that illuminate at night, five hot tubs, a wading pool, and a kid's pool that features whimsical sculptures, water sprays, and a slide.

On the top deck there's also a sports complex with a full-sized basketball court, batting cage, a weird plastic ice rink, a 24-foot-tall enclosed climbing cage called the Spider Web, and a trampoline jump.

There's a kids' club-which will have to be a separate article-and a teen lounge called Entourage, which is designed like an adult lounge, minus the adults. It's filled with things important to the 13-to-17-year-old crowd including self-serve food and soda stations. During the day they can stay busy with PlayStation® 3, air hockey, pinball, foosball, a video jukebox, and nine large flat-screen televisions. In the evening, Entourage turns into a teens-only nightclub with a space for dancing to a video jukebox and trendy seating arrangements for just hanging out. There's also an arcade nearby for everyone to use.

Speaking of nightlife, a few times when I was walking the ship I felt like I was in a gigantic Las Vegas hotel-not only do they have a casino about the same size, but they have a dozen or more clubs, bars, and lounges.

The coolest-pun intended-is one of only 14 ice bars in the world. It's the first true ice bar at sea. The $20 surcharge includes two colorful drinks (not in ice glasses). Guests are given a faux fur coat and gloves (you can keep the gloves) and get to spend up to 45 minutes hanging out in one of the ice chairs. Most people don't last that long since it's a nippy 17 degrees but it was a fun experience (similar to the ice bar I went to in Iceland).

In addition to the gaming in the casino, guests can play video poker from their room or blackjack outside on the Lido Deck near the Aqua Park.

One thing I didn't get to do that I really wanted to was bowl. That's right, the ship has six bowling alleys: three lanes in O'Sheehan's Neighborhood Bar & Grill and three lanes at Bliss Ultra Lounge. There is no surcharge and guests have to bring their own socks (same with the rock climbing wall).

One will never go hungry or complain about food options on Epic, because they have 21 different choices, including room service. Out of the 21, 11 don't have a surcharge (including room service), and some of the options are an upscale steakhouse, a traditional Brazilian-inspired churrascaria, a French restaurant, Italian, Chinese (yum), sushi, authentic Teppanyaki (has seating for 115 and costs $25 pp, but it is worth it-our chef was hilarious and very entertaining), and your traditional buffet in the Garden Café, which has a wide variety of options for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and late-night snacks. My Garden Café; favorites were the Cinnabons ,blueberry soup, ice cream, and Indian food. NCL's signature restaurants are also on Epic, like Cagney's steakhouse ($25 pp) and French Le Bistro ($20 pp).

Soda is not free like the tea, juices, and water are, so if you want the fattening stuff it will cost you $50 for an adult soda pass for the week, or $33 for kids.

TIP: Some restaurants can be pre-booked 45 days in advance; don't take a chance if you really want to dine at one of them.

I didn't hit the spa or gym but I walked around them, and they were both impressive and huge (31,000 square feet). The spa is run by Mandara and the gym had plenty of machines and state-of-the-art equipment.

On Friday before we set sail, Epic held its naming ceremony. The host was comedian and Curb Your Enthusiasm star Jeff Garlin, who read entertainingly off the three teleprompters while broadcasting feeds of live performances from around the ship's many entertainment venues. The big moment came when country star Reba McEntire, the ship's "godmother," walked on stage to press a virtual button that released the champagne bottle so it could smash up against the vessel's hull. Reba seemed to be a perfect godmother, as she's a huge cruising fan and has been on NCL more than once. She told the crowd, "Cruising vacations are the best," and that, "I'm a big fan of Norwegian and of Freestyle." The freestyle cruising concept is what NCL is best known for and it basically means passengers have greater choice - there is no formal attire onboard the ship, no formal eating schedule, plenty of restaurants and entertainment to choose from.

-Passenger life-boat capacity is 4,600.

-When we cruised by the Statue of Liberty everyone hovered by the railings to snap pictures, and the DJ blasted Frank Sinatra's "New York, New York" and Jay-Z and Alicia Keys's "Empire State of Mind."

-We cruised up and down Long Island on the Atlantic side.

-I didn't feel even a bump, but the water was calm.

-The muster drill took place on Saturday and was the least painful one ever-no life preservers were required and the whole thing took 10 minutes. Did You Know: Muster drills are required by law to take place before, or within 24 hours of, departure.

-In order to open the casino, the boat has to be in international waters, at least 12 miles from shore.

-There were beautiful views.

They have a monster screen where they display calming videos of clouds, fish tanks, towns… they even set it up for a Wii contest.

-Epic supposedly for four years had 3,000 people working on the ship at one time.

-NCL had plans for a sister Epic ship but canceled them when the economy turned. They had to pay a $100 million cancelation fee. I guess I won't complain when I cancel my cell service before the contract ends.

Norwegian Epic will cruise seven-day alternating Eastern and Western Caribbean sailings out of Miami beginning July 10. Rates for balcony staterooms are from $1,215 per person. To find out more, log on to Epic Air Promo. For more information on Norwegian Epic and to book a cruise, consumers can also call Norwegian at 888-NCL-CRUISE (625-2784), visit, or contact a travel agent.

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Note: This trip was sponsored in part by NCL

Copyright 2010 JohnnyJet, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Pictures From

The Trip


About To Board




My Room


Another Angle










Do Not Disturb Sign


Our Route


Garden Cafe Host


Garden Cafe Buffet


Ice Cream


Spider Web




Too Funny


Ice Bar


Carol Inside Ice Bar


Bliss Night Club






Blue Stair Case


Peter Greenberg's Radio Show


Carol & Klaus




Kevin The Bar Tender




Ghost Bowling


Epic Theatre


Cirque Dreams


Cirque Performers


Suite Complex




Water Slides


Blue Man Group




Main Pool


Epic Plunge


Statue of Liberty


Cruising By The Statue




Slot Machines




Shopping Mall


Climbing Wall




Basketball & Ice Rink










Next Week


  • Great shout-out for the NYC Gay Pride parade. We loves us our straight allies. – Dan Woog, Westport, CT

  • I loved your feature this week. Dad

  • As usual I stop whatever I am doing and read the highlights of where you have been while I have been checking you on twitter. What a great seminar. I think you will be a headliner next year. 300 will be 3,000 next year in Vancouver. I was so jazzed to hear I am following you this week on the new cruise ship. I am a cruise gal and you can tell from my name –Sailinsal-so keep up the great pics and the food pics as well. If I am not cruising I check out the website CRUISE CRITIC.COM. Sailinsal - California

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