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An Epic Journey Ending In Caribbean

Barnacled and bruised, and beleaguered since birth, the Norwegian Epic is riding off into the sunset next spring. Perhaps the sun will be kinder to the big ship in Barcelona because, on this side of the ocean, the sun appears to have done melanoma-like damage.

EpicAmong the critics, that is.

The Epic arrived in New York in the summer of 2010. Despite her size (4,100 passengers minimum and close to 6,000 maximum), she was never the biggest. She was never the prettiest, sometimes derisively described as the ship with a box-top hat. She was never duplicated and when the idea of a potential sibling was aborted before Norwegian spent any more on the plan it only added to her unpopularity.

Yet we loved the Epic.

We were fortunate enough to cruise on her twice. She was the biggest “freestyle” ship anywhere, and that helped. She introduced Blue Man Group to the seas, and that was better than we anticipated. With a somewhat unorthodox traffic flow, there were pre-launch predictions of line-ups everywhere, but they never materialized. Only on the Epic was serious attention paid to accommodation for singles, and that made her a trend-setter.

Maybe it was because her first master, Trygve Vorren, was as nice a captain as we’ve ever met after being told he wouldn’t be, and because we had a chance to know him a little, not many months before he boarded the big cruise ship in the sky. And that his successor, Slam AllenFrank Juliussen, was just as warm, as honest and as entertaining…two years later. Maybe it was because Slam Allen blew us away with his performances at Fat Cats Jazz & Blues Club on the Epic, even though we’re not huge fans of fat cats, jazz or blues.

The disaster in the cabins — sort-of see-through bathroom doors — was so much a non-starter with passengers that two years ago (when she was a two-year-old) readers of Travel Weekly picked the Epic as the “best overall individual cruise ship” for the third year in a row, and that same year Porthole Magazine named her the “Best Mega Ship.”  She has also been decorated for her entertainment, new restaurants, gambling venue and family appeal.

In what has to be an unusual marketing ploy, Norwegian is promoting her final Caribbean cruises as the Epic’s “Farewell Tour in the Caribbean” when her cruising days there end next April. Judging by the ship’s passenger popularity, it’s probably a certainty to sell out.

Why is the Epic leaving?

Norwegian has launched two ships (Breakaway and Getaway) since the Epic and two more (Escape and Bliss) are coming. The place to start new ships is always in the Caribbean, the world’s cruising hotspot, and there is a limit to a cruise line’s capacity. So it is time for the Epic to move on, perhaps to calmer waters.

It’ll be interesting to see how Europeans take to her. Undoubtedly, the Epic will undergo some changes to cater to Europe’s tastes and culture. They’ll have her for three years, minimum, and probably longer. However, if she’s not welcome, there’s a lot of us who would take her back.


Today at portsandbows.com: The latest in cruise news

Carnival Sensation
4 nights
November 16, 2014
Port Canaveral (return): Freeport, Nassau
Inside: $119
Cost per day: $29

The Skinny On Building New Ships

When a cruise line that already has two new ships still being built announces that it is building two more, as Norwegian did on Monday, there's a tendency to think this is an unprecedented construction explosion.

It's not.

Aggressive…yes. Unheard of…no.

Starting with the Breakaway Class, by 2019 Norwegian will have launched six ships in seven years. The Escape will introduce the Breakaway Plus Class next year, followed by the Bliss in 2017 and two more as-yet unnamed ships in 2018 and 2019. Coupled Breakaway Pluswith the Breakaway (2013) and the Getaway (this year), that'll be six in seven.

Time for a little history lesson.

In one seven-year period (1998-2004), Princess launched 11 ships. In the same seven years, Carnival and Royal Caribbean both introduced 10 ships. From 1995 to 2003 (a nine-year stretch, Royal Caribbean's fleet increased by 14 ships.

The record for the "longest consecutive launching streak" belongs to Royal Caribbean: 10 straight years from 1995 to 2004. Second is Carnival with eight (1998 to 2005).

In fact, Norwegian's most productive period before the upcoming one was six ships in four years, from 2004 to 2007. That was followed by a relative drought, when only the Epic was added to Norwegian's fleet over five years.

The longest any of the so-called "big four" has gone without adding ships is four years. Before the Royal Princess was christened last year, the Ruby Princess was the line's last new ship, in 2008. Holland America, with 15 ships, has built only one ship in eight years and Celebrity, with 11, finished five in a row in 2012 and has no apparent plans to expand.

What Norwegian will accomplish by the end of this decade is it will have pretty well kept pace with its three principal rivals. From the start of the 21st century, Norwegian will have built 17 ships…Royal Caribbean 18, Carnival 16 and Princess 12. 

Unless, of course, more announcements are to come.

Today at Phil Reimer's portsandbows.com: Expedition cruising the Seabourn way

Celebrity Millennium
7 nights
September 5, 2014
AnchorageHubbard GlacierJuneauSkagwayIcy Strait PointKetchikanVancouver
Inside: $499
Cost per day: $71

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