Sunday, February 7, 2010

Norwegian Epic

The Oasis of the Seas was the Big News in 2009, and her sister ship Allure of the Seas will likely make a pretty big splash herself in late 2010. However, the ship to watch this year is the Norwegian Cruise Line Epic who will make her debut this summer.

At a “mere” 153,000 tons, she’ll not be quite the size of the 220,000-ton Oasis and Allure, nor will she sport their signature open public decks like Central Park and the Boardwalk. Passenger capacity is lower, too, at 4200 compared to 5400. But she’ll compete quite nicely in the innovations category.

For single travelers, long penalized on ships by having to pay double occupancy rates for the pleasure of staying in a cabin by themselves, the best news is the introduction of the Studios. These special cabins, designed and priced for single occupancy, start at $799 (cruise/port charges) on the ship’s seven-night Eastern and Western Caribbean itineraries, and there are no—repeat, no—single supplements added!

So, do the math here. Compare this price with a standard inside cabin on the Epic at $649 per person. When you add the single supplement, a person cruising solo would normally pay double the cruise/port charges amount at $1298. In a Studio cabin, this traveler will pay almost $500 less! That’s a considerable savings. Now, these cabins are smaller than normal cabins at just 100 square feet of living space, but they still contain a full-size bed and separate areas for the bathroom, sink and shower, all in a contemporary design. In addition, guests in the Studios have private access to the exclusive Studio Lounge. Here, guests can grab a cup of coffee in the morning, meet up with fellow cruisers, or relax with a drink in the evening. Since many of the Studio staterooms are connecting, there is also the opportunity for friends to travel together while giving each their own private space.

Stated Kevin Sheehan, NCL’s chief executive officer, in a recent press release, “We are breaking the mold of traditional cruising once again by offering a stateroom designed and priced specifically for solo travelers, making cruising a more attractive travel option.”

The Epic doesn’t stop with this new cabin category for single travelers , though. Ben and I met with some of our corporate staff over dinner in San Antonio last night (they are here for a conference), and we talked about some of NCL’s innovations over the years and how people sometimes forget the line’s contributions to the cruise industry. From delivery of its flagship Sunward in 1966 and the stretching of the Song of Norway in the late 1970s, to the addition of the Broadway show Grease, Freestyle dining, bowling at sea, and intra-Hawaii itineraries, this company has set more than one trend. Not every innovation has worked out as planned (Hawaii itinerary a great idea; three ships doing the same route, not), but then, with innovation comes risk.

Want an interesting read on cruise line history? Pick up a copy of Devils on the Deep Blue Sea—The Dreams, Schemes and Showdowns that Built America’s Cruise-Ship Empires, by Kristoffer A. Garin.  You’ll learn about some of the risks, successes, failures, and, most interestingly, the intrigue of this industry we’ve grown to love.

Back to the Epic. On this ship, you won’t find the traditional shows that rotate through one main theater on different nights of the week. Instead, you’ll be treated to vastly different shows, each in its own venue that you can see on almost any night of your cruise. Fat Cats is for jazz and blues lovers; head to the adult-only Spice H20 at the ship’s aft to swim by day and dance at night when the area is converted to a sultry, Ibiza-inspired beach club. Or, check out the Blue Man Group, Second City Comedy Troupe, or the Cirque Dreams and Dinner tent.

How about the only Ice Bar at sea—one of only 14 true ice bars in the world? Kept at the very un-tropical temperature of 17 degrees, the Ice Bar invites guests to don a cozy faux fur coat, a hat, and gloves to enjoy a cocktail. Frozen Margarita, anyone? 
And if you have no intention to cruise solo, maybe you’d prefer booking one of the largest Villas suite complex at sea—60 in all—or simply one of the Epic’s many New Wave Staterooms where you may find curved walls, concealed contour lighting, or even domed ceilings. Expect contemporary design throughout.

Learn more about staterooms here and public areas here.

There is much more news to come on the Epic, of course, and bookings are in full swing. She crosses the Atlantic to the US on June 14 and then does a series of inaugural sailings before her maiden seven-night Caribbean itinerary July 10. Our agency’s conference on this brand new ship—a huge coup for us—is set for October 16—we are psyched!

By the way, looking for a real deal on the Norwegian Gem sailing 14 nights roundtrip from Venice? We have a group established with a few cabins still remaining in the group inventory. Category BC balcony cabins are priced $800 below current published rates, and four Category J inside cabins priced $620 less. A deal! This is a back-to-back itinerary calling on the ports of Split, Corfu, Santorini, Mykonos, Crete, Dubrovnik, Athens, Izmir (Ephesus), and Nafplion. I don’t know how long NCL will let us keep these cabins, so call soon if you’re interested!

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