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Archive for July, 2010

Norwegian Epic Day 2

Posted by Anita Dunham-Potter On July - 4 - 2010

If you read yesterday’s blog you know I was pretty harsh in my critique of Norwegian Epic’s New Wave staterooms. There are a few other quirks about the room, one being the bed is short, but I just found out from one of the onboard hotel personnel that the bed is standard size – the problem is the headboard is extending five inches over the mattress. The fix – pulling the bed out from the wall. That works, but it will limit the space to walk to the bathroom. The other issue is the 3rd berth is rock hard – my daughter is having a tough time sleeping on it. They are going to try using a duvet to make it softer for tonight. I also discovered that they will be changing all the sink faucets since they are getting a lot of complaints about them.

I had a good look at the staterooms today and there is a better New Wave layout than my current room. I have the New Wave design where the bed is first (right next to the toilet and shower) and the sitting area is by the balcony door. The other layout for the room is when the sitting area is first and the bed is next to the balcony/window. This much better as there is more space around the bathroom area. I’ve also seen the connecting cabins for these rooms, well, in order to have the door you will lose a closet and all the drawers. It’s always something.

Granted it was very bold for NCL to change the stateroom concept with the New Wave set up. I think a lot of passengers will grin and bear it. But I am sure there will be some passengers turned off by this and may not book Epic. Time will tell.

If I had my choice of accommodations on this ship it would be in the Villa Complex. This area at the top of the ship boasts 60 suites and penthouses with private pool, sunbathing space, restaurant and nightclub. The Travelocity Gnome is up there now sunbathing as I type this…(sigh)
Singles have the Studio area that offers 128 single cabins; each is just 100 square feet, but offers exclusive access to a lounge with TVs, a bar and space to hang out with other solo cruisers.

This morning it was breakfast with Sponge Bob. Yes, you can dine with the Nickelodeon characters and they even put on a show in the Spiegel Tent. Cost is $10 per child, $15 for adults – it’s a fixed breakfast menu.

The coolest place on the ship (literally) is the SVEDKA Ice Bar that is inspired by the original ice bars and ice hotels in Scandinavia. This frozen chamber is the first ice bar at sea and offers lighting that simulates the Northern Lights and creates a distinctive arctic atmosphere. The bar, walls, tables, stools, glasses and life-size sculptures all made from ice. You have to make reservations for this bar in advance as only 25 guests are allowed in for a limit of 45 minutes. Guests are given hooded coats and gloves to keep them warm, since the room’s temperature does not rise above 17 degrees Fahrenheit. Big tip — wear pants, closed toe shoes or you won’t last more than 5 minutes. Time is limited in the bar because in order to keep it frozen it must stay closed for 16 hours a day. The cost is $20 and includes two vodka drinks.

Dinner tonight was at Teppanyaki, a Japanese eatery where chefs cook at individual stations surrounded by 10 or 12 diners. The cost is $25 per person and the food is terrific. The best part is watching the dramatic knife wielding chef put on a show.

Another unique experience only on Epic is Blue Man Group. Guests in the theater’s front-row seats slip on plastic rain ponchos for protection from the messy onstage mayhem. It’s the best show at sea – not to be missed.

Stay tuned for more blogs from Epic! Including the NBC broadcast of Macy’s Fourth of July celebration.

Filled Under Blog, gallery, Reviews

Norwegian Epic first impressions Day 1

Posted by Anita Dunham-Potter On July - 3 - 2010

First impression on boarding the Norwegian Epic is experiencing the wide open spaces – it’s massive, yet offers abundant comfy nooks and crannies to relax in. The décor is lovely with tasteful coloring, lighting, and architectural design.

First stop was to eat lunch at Shanghais’ Noodle Bar where my family and I ordered delicious ala carte dumplings, spring rolls, lo mein, and rice dishes. It’s a great atmosphere as you watch your food being prepared in front of you. Cost is $2-3 per item. While eating we had the added pleasure of enjoying some terrific blues music being played across the way at Fat Cats.

Now it was off to find our stateroom on Deck 14. This took some major detective work as there are no markings and if a room steward hadn’t opened a corridor door we wouldn’t have known where to go. This area of the ship is where the family staterooms are located and they are just steps from the children’s play area and the pool area a deck above. Stateroom 14096 is at the very end of a winding hallway next to a secret door to the gym. The lack of foot traffic is a plus and being so close to the gym and spa is a bonus.

Once inside the balcony stateroom, well, I sounded like Nancy Kerrigan after she was hit in the knee with a crowbar – why, WHY, W-H-Y!!!??? What a design disappointment these New Wave staterooms are. It’s cool looking with the contemporary curved walls and ceilings that supposedly maximize the living space. As for the bathroom – there isn’t one. Somebody thought it would be crafty to break apart the shower and toilet and put them behind retracting smoked glass doors. There’s a curtain to separate the shower and toilet, but the sink is outside in the cabin area. My quad stateroom is 216 square feet, but it feels so much smaller. There are two lower beds and floor-to-ceiling glass door that opens to a big private balcony, a sitting area, a flat screen television, mini-bar, and a tea and coffee maker. The closets and drawers are across from the sitting area (3rd berth) and when the ceiling bed (4th berth) is retracted you can’t open the closets. My family and I are literally colliding into each other. These rooms are fine for two people, but for a family of three or four it’s just too cramped.

It’s a shame I had to devote so much negative space to the stateroom issue because the rest of the ship and the crew are fantastic. The gym is the biggest I’ve seen on any ship and is equipped with abundant exercise equipment, work out rooms, and a squash court. The spa is lovely and offers an escape from the non-stop action around the ship.

This ship is hopping with activities from bow to stern. The pool deck is huge and offers a lot of sun and shaded areas. The slides are huge with the 200-foot-long Epic Plunge being the highlight. The rock climbing and repelling wall (the only one at sea) is pretty cool as is the outdoor ice rink (not real ice, but oiled Teflon that ice skates can glide across), spider web climb cage, and bungee jumper area.

For dinner it was off to the Cirque Dreams and Dinner show that is a two hour theatrical dining experience held in the Spiegel Tent room. Cover charge is $15 for general seating and $20 for premium seating. This one of a kind interactive theatrical dining experience is performed in the air, while juggling a four course, fixed-menu dinner. The food and acrobatics were excellent; however, the pantomime show in between acts was loud and very annoying at times. Additionally some of the dialogue was not suitable for young people.

After dinner it was off to observe all the nightlife and no other ship on the high seas can touch this vessel in the sheer number of bars and entertainment options. It’s truly…Epic.

Stay tuned: Tomorrow we’ll talk more about staterooms, breakfast with the Nickelodeon characters, Svedka Ice Bar, O’Sheehans, bowling, Teppanyaki, Blue Man Group, Fat Cats and more.

Filled Under Blog, gallery, Reviews

Celebrity Eclipse lures landlubbers to sea

Posted by Anita Dunham-Potter On July - 2 - 2010

Celebrity Eclipse
As I boarded the Celebrity Eclipse in Southampton two words reverberated from the British passengers around me. Brilliant and stylish. The wow factor is exactly what Celebrity Cruises is striving for on Eclipse. But before the line’s newest ship carried any paying passengers it was called to carry out a mission like no other.

To the rescue

Eclipse didn’t set out to be a hero ship on its first cruise with passengers, but that’s just what happened right after it left the shipyard. The vessel’s late April inaugural celebrations were put on hold to participate in a unique and unprecedented rescue mission. Eclipse sailed to Bilbao, Spain to pick up more than 2,000 British tourists stranded by the shutdown of European airspace following the Icelandic volcano eruption.

Simon Weir, Eclipse’s hotel director noted that a party at that time was frivolous. “We had a window of opportunity to do something extraordinary – we had to help out.” And, boy did they. Rescued tourists traveled back to England in the lap of luxury onboard the 122,000-ton, 2,850-passenger Eclipse. Weir said many rescued travelers told him Eclipse was far better than the land-based vacation they had in Spain and were sold on sailing the ship for their next vacation.

Eclipse is easy on the eyes

The line hit a homerun with the launch of Celebrity Solstice two years ago and Eclipse carries on the captivating qualities. Like its two sister ships (Solstice and Equinox) the big appeal is the seamless blending of differing characters throughout the ship. Passengers who have been on the aforementioned sister ships will find themselves in familiar territory. Eclipse offers The Lawn Club, with real, growing grass; The Hot Glass Show, a glassblowing show and studio developed with The Corning Museum of Glass; 10 dining venues, along with vast entertainment offerings including shows with breathtaking aerial acts. But there are some interesting new additions and changes.

There are some cosmetic differences with the interior color scheme, artwork, and various refinements that make the ship even smarter and improve the overall guest experience. One very welcomed change is the modification of the entrance area to the AquaSpa that separates the spa reception area from the entrance to the gym. The previous design had guests funneling through the spa reception area to get to the gym.

Tweaks in the design aside, it’s the new offerings onboard that are making this ship better than its predecessors. The most unique addition is Qsine, a new restaurant by Jacques Van Staden, Celebrity’s vice president of culinary operations. Qsine turns the dining experience upside down—literally. The quirky venue is enveloped in avant garde décor, furniture, and large table lamps hanging upside down from the ceiling. Even the menu presentation is gimmicky – diners are given Apple iPads with descriptions of the main menu offerings and the desert menu is a paper cube that you unfold to find the selections. The menu features childhood favorites with contemporary touches served in small portions. It’s all-you-can-eat for the $30 cover charge.

The food was delicious and a lot of fun. The menu selection called Crunchy Munchies is an assortment of fried items presented in a paper cone. Sushi lollipops are served on a stick. Spring rolls are presented in vertical springs. An assortment of three cold soups is served in test tubes with a straw. Popcorn fish and chips were served in a red-and-white popcorn box. Other options include Kobe sliders, ceviche, tacos, and lobster and escargot fritters.

Another new feature on Eclipse is the Celebrity iLounge, a hip computer center stocked with Apple products, including 26 MacBook Pros. The ship also is authorized to sell Apple products as well as offer classes on how to use them. The iPhone/iTouch classes onboard were standing room only. Clearly a big hit.

Celebrity targets landlubbers

Weir tells me that Celebrity no longer competes with other cruise lines but with the great hotels of the world like the Bellagio. “We’re not just an American product, but an International one and we will adapt to sailing in differing regions,” added Weir.

Celebrity is targeting the cosmopolitan, upscale resort crowd and the Solstice-class ships like Eclipse are the perfect bait. It’s a large ship with a lot of passengers, abundant space, yet it’s still intimate and rarely feels hectic or crowded. Best of all it manages to be two things that many cruise ships aren’t these days — to be exhilarating and classy at the same time.

If you go:

Celebrity Eclipse cruises its inaugural season with sailings from Southampton with various cruises ranging from 14-night Baltic and Mediterranean sailings that begin at $1,913 per person. On October 31, the ship will sail a transatlantic voyage to Miami, Florida, where it will begin a series of alternating 7- night Eastern and Western Caribbean voyages through April 2011. Prices begin at $649 per person. All aforementioned prices are based on inside staterooms, double occupancy. Visit Celebrity Cruises Web site for more details.

Norwegian Epic makes a BIG splash in New York City

Posted by Anita Dunham-Potter On July - 1 - 2010

Norwegian Epic, the largest ship ever to dock in the Manhattan Cruise Terminal, arrived today for her official inaugural festivities following her maiden transatlantic seven-day voyage from Southampton, UK. Norwegian Epic with a height of 200 feet cleared the Verrazano Bridge by approximately 24 inches at 7:40 a.m.

The 153,000 gross tons, 4,100 passenger Norwegian Epic, Norwegian Cruise Line’s largest and most innovative ship ever, enjoyed a smooth and successful first sailing before arriving in New York this morning. The ship, billed as the world’s largest floating entertainment venue with world-class entertainment unlike anything before seen at sea. There are 20 dining options, a Svedka ice bar, a 2-story Wii, two 3-lane bowling alleys, a rock-climbing and an aqua park, among other fun features.

The ship will be officially christened by country music superstar Reba McEntire at 2 p.m. ET on Friday, July 2. Comedian and “Curb Your Enthusiasm” star Jeff Garlin will serve as host of the ceremony. The ship, which is docked at Pier 88 at the Manhattan Cruise Terminal, will then sail on a two-day preview sailing, before returning to the pier the morning of July 4th to host the Macy’s 4th of July Fireworks Spectacular.

Filled Under Blog, gallery