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Some highlights from Cruise Year 2010

It was the year that…

Oasis of the Seas was replaced as the “biggest ship in the world” by Allure of the Seas, which won the competition by one-fifth of an inch, or five millimeters — the fact is the two Royal Caribbean siblings are identical in size when it comes to the number of passengers each can carry…about 6,000.

Norwegian’s star-crossed Epic arrived, surviving two fires in the shipyard in France in May and a few controversies once it hit the water with passengers in the summer (an aside here…while this ship is different from any other, our first-hand experience is that it’s a great ride).

• Cruising booms were felt in Australia, China, Europe and Cuba.

• New cruise ship godmothers (or godmothers-to-be) ranged from Queen Elizabeth to Reba McEntire to Mary Hart to Princess Maxima to Shrek’s wife Fiona…joining a list that already included Tinker Bell, Whoopi Goldberg and Sophia Loren, among others. Note: It was the second ship offspring for Queen Elizabeth.

Celebrity’s Eclipse, Holland America’s Nieuw Amsterdam and the Seabourn Sojourn joined new ships on the seas.

• Hurricane predictions threatened to be a record high, and there were 19, but none of them came close to rivaling the damage done by the earthquake in Haiti  and the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, tragedies which both involved but didn’t threaten cruise ships.

• A fire on the Splendour left the Carnival ship drifting off the coast of Mexico, powerless for three days and helpless to a barrage of criticism that came mostly from the shore.

• The Splendour escaped with no injuries, 100 passengers were injured when Brilliance of the Seas rolled sharply after being caught in unexpectedly rough weather.

• The 100-passenger Clelia II was damaged after hitting massive waves on its way back from Antarctica, and a video shot from a rescue coast guard ship was all over YouTube.

Starbucks opened a cruise-ship store (Allure of the Seas).

• The controversial Alaska head tax was reduced from $46 to $34.50, which made everybody happy, especially people who believed it was going to severely impact cruises to the 49th state.

• Small-ship line Cruise West folded after more than a decade in business, leaving its flagship Oceanius in Newfoundland, and so much for that world cruise.

• Ship entertainment welcomed a cast of new characters from Dreamworks (Shrek) on Royal Caribbean and Nickelodeon (SpongeBob SquarePants) on Norwegian, leaving competitor Pixar (Toy Story) adrift.

• The most bizarre happenings were ash, of all things, from a volcanic eruption in Iceland delaying thousands of passengers trying to catch cruise ships…and a woman having a baby on the Carnival Paradise (doesn’t anybody check on these things in advance?).

President Obama signed the Cruise Vessel Safety and Security Act, a list of safety requirements that must be upheld by all ships sailing into and out of U.S. ports.

Cunard broke with a 170-year-old tradition and put a woman at the helm of one of its ships, the Queen Victoria.

• The most controversial “float-out” of the year was when Carnival floated the idea of charging for steak in the main dining room, and the jury is still out on where that will go from here.

Did we miss anything?

NCL Epic: Good, Bad and Amazing

Yesterday, New York City. Today, Reba. Sunday, the 4th of July fireworks. What a life! Oh to be the Norwegian Epic.

The big ship is here, finally. It became the largest ship ever to dock at the Manhattan Cruise Terminal yesterday, clearing the Verrazano Bridge by just 24 inches. The Queen of Country, Reba McEntire, will “christen” it and become the Epic’s godmother today, a ceremony you can watch at 2 p.m. EDT on the web after registering here.

Tomorrow, and you don’t have to register to see this, Macy’s will take its fireworks on board — how do they get THAT through security? — for the telecast (NBC) of its holiday fireworks at 9 p.m. EDT.

Here’s what Norwegian is saying about its new flagship…
• Its 7-day sailing across the Atlantic was smooth.
• It is the world’s largest floating entertainment venue.
• The “big top” at sea means Cirque Dreams and Dinner, by Cirque Du Soleil, an interactive dining experience.
• Innovations like curved state rooms, 60 suites and villas on two private decks, and Nickelodeon-themed entertainment with character meet and greets.

Here’s what those who nave been on the Epic are saying…

Gene Sloan, USA Today:
“Does this new open bathroom plan work? It definitely saves space and adds to the spacious feeling of the rooms, which is a plus. But personally, I’m not thrilled at all with the design. Despite the addition of a sliding curtain that creates a barrier between the bed area and the toilet and shower area of the cabins, I think it just won’t be private enough for many American vacationers — particularly those traveling with older children. I know my own pre-teen and teen girls would feel uncomfortable preparing for the evening in such an open bathroom arrangement with me in the room.
“Cirque Dreams and Dinner is the one show on the Norwegian Epic that comes with a cover charge: $15 for general seating and $20 for a few premium seats. But don’t be put off by the extra charge. This is a small price to pay for a show that is among the best if not the best we have seen at sea.”

Fran Golden, AOL Travel:
“Now I will admit I am not always a fan of cruise ship show productions. I generally find them pretty darn boring. But I was awe struck by the dinner performance of Legends in Concert in the Manhattan Room restaurant (one of the ship’s two main dining rooms). No, that’s not Tina Turner, but a really good Legends impersonator.
“There has been much discussion about the bathrooms, which feature separate, translucent toilet and bath or bath/shower, and sink. But there is a curtain you can pull to separate the compartments from the bed area, and I like the look. And the colors are nice, cream and purple. There is an elegance you may not expect from NCL.”

Cruisemates:
“Best for people who want a fun mega-ship with lots of nightlife, great entertainment, romantic staterooms and a large variety of alternative restaurants.
“Should be avoided by people who prefer quiet settings, understated decor, all-inclusive cruises where all dinners are taken at pre-set times in the dining room with the same table and waiters every night.”

Cruise Critic:
“Some of the mini-suite balconies are uncovered (a la Princess’ Grand Princess Dolphin deck staterooms) and some are covered. If you don’t like being exposed to all and sundry on your verandah, check Norwegian Epic’s deck plans before you select your stateroom.”

That’s it, we’re done.

And Here Comes the Majestic Epic!

The long-awaited arrival of  Norwegian’s Epic has begun. Yesterday, the star-crossed star of the NCL fleet left Southampton on its inaugural sailing, a two-day return trip in waters off the coast of England for the benefit of media and special guests. In other words, a coming-out party.

Tomorrow, the Epic’s “epic” journey begins. The Atlantic crossing that will bring it to New York is sold out. That’s sold out, as in 4,100 passengers. The 7-day cruise will have the Big Ship in the Big Apple in time to be christened by its godmother, country music and sitcom star Reba McEntire, on July 2.

Another two-day inaugural cruise follows (that would be the North American inaugural cruise, as opposed to the European one), with the Epic’s return to New York coinciding with its first appearance on national TV. The ship will the site of Macy’s 4th of July Fireworks, an event broadcast live on NBC at 9 p.m. (EDT) on Independence Day.

Birth hasn’t come easily for the Epic. Three times during the four years it took to plan and build the ship, the Epic was damaged by fires at STX France, the shipyard where it was “born.” At least two of the fires are currently under investigation.

Now that she has escaped the alleged arsonists, the Epic is the subject of almost daily press releases from Norwegian. By launch time, it’s possible the media world will be Epic-ed out…and the number of launches continues to grow. After it leaves New York (the second time), the Epic sails to its home port in Miami, for yet another celebration and yet another two-day “inaugural cruise.”

The flagship of the fleet at NCL is introducing some high-tech features in the staterooms…like booking entertainment shows and shore excursions on your TV, and even playing slots and video poker without leaving your room. As attractive as that might sound, it would probably destroy our vacation budget!

Once it becomes just another working cruise ship, the Epic will be busy on 7-day to 13-day excursions through the Caribbean until it re-positions to Barcelona next May to spend the summer season in the Mediterranean.

And if after all this you still haven’t heard enough about the Epic, there’s still more…on YouTube!

That’s it, we’re done.

Cruise Ships on the Horizon

In the cruise industry, it is never a case of one size fits all. Ships of all shapes for desires of all sizes for passengers with bank accounts of all sizes. And that’s not about to change any time soon.

Take the ships that will arrive this year as an example. There are six still to be launched — two small, two medium, two large.

Here they are:

Avalon Luminary: Sister ship of the Scenery. The Luminary will be launched in Europe, during the first week in August when it sets sail from Zurich for Amsterdam, the second new launch for Avalon in 2010 — the Felicity arrived in spring. Capacity is 138.

Seabourn Sojourn: Sister of the Odyssey, reportedly an identical twin. The Sojourn (above) will be launched next month, blessed by its Godmother — Twiggy — and after spending the summer in Europe it repositions to Fort Lauderdale from November 3-19. Capacity is 450.

MS Queen Elizabeth: It replaces the QE2, now moored in Dubai, its future uncertain. Cunard designed it to recreate the golden era of cruising and at least one cruise writer, Phil Reimer, thinks the Queen herself will preside at its launch in October. Capacity is 2,092.

Nieuw Amsterdam: Another identical twin, of Holland America‘s Eurodam, dedicated two years ago by Queen Beatrix of The Netherlands. Its interior and art collection will reflect New York City, once known as Nieuw Amsterdam. Capacity is 2,106.

Epic: The giant of the Norwegian fleet is all about size and entertainment. Reba McEntire names it on July 2, with Blue Man Group, The Legends and Nickelodeon entertaining on it during Caribbean runs the rest of the year. Capacity is 4,200.

Allure of the Seas: Bigger than many small towns, this latest creation from Royal Caribbean is almost the same as the mighty Oasis, with some tinkering in design after feedback from passengers. The Allure’s maiden voyage is scheduled December 1, to RC’s private paradise, Labadee. Capacity is 5,400.

In the end, size matters, no matter what it is.

One Name Says All: Ship, Godmother

There is only one Ali, one Elvis, one Pele, one Madonna, one Tiger. Last names are immaterial, or unnecessary. In the cruise world, there is only one Epic (or about to be) and in country music there is only one Reba. Put them together and you have the godmother of Norwegian’s newest and biggest ship.

The Norwegian Epic makes its grand entrance in New York City, where its godmother parlayed her starring role on Broadway in Annie Get Your Gun into a TV show that everybody knows…by its one name. On July 2nd, it’s Reba who will christen the Epic, just before it hosts the July 4th Macy’s fireworks show, just before it leaves Miami on its first voyage into Caribbean waters, just before it introduces the world to impersonators at sea named Elvis and Madonna.

We have seen Reba as Annie, on Broadway. We have seen the TV show. We have seen her in concert. This makes us one of thousands of couples who have seen that Reba tripleheader. So isn’t Norwegian just capitalizing on her widespread popularity as a country music queen and acting star in naming her the ship’s godmother?

Not really.

Apparently, Reba and Mr. Reba (his name is Narvel) like Freestyle Cruising and while on the Norwegian Gem in the Mediterranean, they met the company’s CEO, Kevin Sheehan. With a new flagship soon to be launched, what CEO would miss an opportunity like that?

Oh, and her last name? McEntire, but did you really need to ask?

That’s it…we’re done.

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