I am reprinting this from my Facebook NOTES.  I meant to post them at the time, and just got busy...but now that I am heading out again, and getting ready to do a 7 day series on the EPIC, I thought I might give you all a preview:


I got to Newark at 6:30, hopped a bus in to Manhattan. Took over an hour to get thru the Lincoln tunnel. I wasn't aware the entire state of New Jersey was getting an early start to the 4th of July weekend by going in to the city. The bus dropped me in Times Square, and I thought to hoof it to the hotel. About halfway there, I realized I just wasn't in the mood to walk, so I tried to hale a cab - first time in my life I couldn't get a cab in New York City. Finally a Russian kid in a pedi-cab pulled up, and I said "Why not?". Suitcase in my lap, feeling very "tourist", I arrived at the Kimberly Hotel. I was running late, and my friend Marjorie, who was going with me to the little travel agent soiree next door showed up just as I was checking in.

Went upstairs to dump my bag and put some shoes on, and check out the suite. All I can say is "WOW"! I took some pictures, but they are a little grainy, as the lighting is not the best, but you'll get the idea. My little room has a full kitchen, living room, bedroom, 2 big flat screens, Wolfgang Puck coffee, robes and slippers, and bowl of Neutragena goodies in the bathroom. Having lived in hotels for 5 years, I have to say this is one of the best setups I have ever had, AND the location is excellent to tour Midtown. Walking distance to Times Square, Rockefeller Center, etc. If I could stay for a week at the rate I am getting I would jump on it. Sadly, I will be there about 12 hours.

So, After checking in I went next door to the Nikki Beach Club to meet a few of the agents going with me on the EPIC. Nice place, with long couches and lots of pillows around the walls. We were there at 9, and it was pretty quiet. I noticed later in the night, passing by, the place gets much younger, hipper and more crowded. Frankly, not my kind of place, but I did get to meet and mingle with a few people, before Marjorie and I decided to head out. It occured to me I hadn't eaten anything but a box of Crunch and Munch all day. We decided to find an pub and get some food. Walked over a block to the Pig n Whistle on 2nd Ave. Walking in was like, Deja Vu. The place was identical to Failte, Marjories favorite Irish pub, about 20 blocks south. Except with Midtown prices. We did get a table on the balcony upstairs, as it was a lovely evening with perfect weather. Had some BBQ pork sliders. Decided to try one more bar, and ended up at the Press Box. Nice place, great bartender. Pics to follow. Actually, pics at all three places to follow...as soon as I get them. Marjorie had to work today, so she hopped a cab home and I went back to the hotel, just in time for my cruise roomie, who had taked a later flight into JFK, and was just getting in.

After we got her all settled in, she was hungry, too, so...back to 2nd Ave to rustle up some more food. On the way she got a call from a friend who happened to be in the neighborhood, so we met up with her and tried the Press Box, again, but their kitched was closed. Went back up 49th and found Wollensky's Grill (the annex to Smith and Wollensky) was still serving, so we headed in and head what turned out to be a damn fine burger, with Bleu cheese and bacon. I did not get a picture of it. Sorry.

It was a little after 1am at this point, so I finally decided to head home, fell in the most comfortable feather bed I have been in, in a while, and slept like a baby til the street noise and sunshine got me up at 7. Time to head upstairs to the Rooftop Lounge for breakfast, and the OFF TO THE PORT!!!


I am going to have to do this in several installments. The Norwegian EPIC is not just BIG, it is jam-packed with so much stuff, it can't be described in a few paragraphs. And my day yesterday was filled with discovery of the ship, multiple activities, and too many food venues. There is the physical layout, and this ship has more public rooms than any two other ships I have sailed. There are also a lot of food venues, and I tried several of them. And, with the inaugural festivities and such I did a lot in a short time. I think I will start by briefly describing the things I did, and later in the day, do food reviews for all the restaurants, and describe the actual ship and it's public areas.

So, we got to the dock at a few minutes to 10am. The taxi unloading area at the Manhattan Cruise Terminal is about 20ft from the bow of the ship. It was quite an impressive sight, staring up at the EPIC. We went in to the Terminal, got in what looked like a million mile line, but actually got processed thru in 20-25 minutes and walked right on the ship. The first impression, entering the lobby was "elegant" and "cozy". Honestly, the interior of the ship is very different from other NCL ships. They are not competing with Carnival's colorful designs here, as they have on some others. The feel on the EPIC is much more, I would say, Celebrity. Not as light abd airy as Princess, more deep tones, but definitely upscale rather than glitzy.

So, we went on up to the stateroom. The whole New Wave stateroom thing works for me! The curved walls and dome lighting are so different than anything anyone else has ever done in a cruise ship, it's hard to describe. Yes, the stateroom is narrower. The purpose of the wave thing is to allow a narrower cabin, and still have adequate walk ways. But narrower isn't really smaller. The stateroom is long, with the shower and toilet on each side of the door, a good sized curved couch and bed along one wall, and the sink, closet, vanity/desk, TV and another closet along the straight wall. The balcony, while narrow, is also pretty deep, and a square is actually more usable than a wider, shallower balcony. My balcony is completely covered. There are balconies on Deck 8, between the forward and midship bulges that are completely open, for the hardcore sun worshippers, and another section on Deck 9 between the mid and aft bulges that are likewise open on top. As near as I can tell all the other balconies are completely covered, with no sightlines to balconies below. I'll have more on the staterooms later.

So, we got to the room, unpacked and took a walk around Decks 5/6/7 where pretty much all the interior public space is. I will got thru that room by room in the next note. Suffice it to say that the understated decor carries on thru most of the "Hallway", but the various rooms range from English Club-y, to the Bliss Ultra Lounge which is pure glitz, glam and hedonism.

After touring the inside areas we headed to O'Sheehan's, the Irish Pub/Sports Bar. Easily the largest sports bar at sea, with 3 bowling lanes, two pool tables, arcade games, air hockey, darts lanes, and overlooking the two story tall big screen that starts in the atrium lobby below. NCL has combined the food from the Blue Lagoon on the Jewel class ships, changed the menu up a little, and consolidated it with the sports bar. Sadly, the menu has suffered. The Blue Lagoon "comfort food" on other ships is still there, but prepared backstage somewhere, and just not as hot, fresh and delicious as I have had on other ships. Not really "bad", just kinda blah. And that's one of my favorite NCL eateries.

Anyway, after our nosh it was almost time for the big Inaugural Show/Celebration. Everyone was assigned different lounges/theaters/etc to view the festivities. It really worked out well, with Jeff Garlin officiating in the Epic Theater, while the broadcast cut to other venues for live sections from Blue Man Group, Cirque, the Blues Band, the dueling Piano Bar "Howl at the Moon" and Second City. So, everyone got to see a live segment, and watch all the others on TV's in their assigned venue. Very nice. Finished off with Reba McEntire in the Epic Theater, making her remarks and then putting her hand on a a heart on a big touch screen, which set off the champagne bottle breaking on the bow. Hard to describe any better, but very nicely done!

Also, for me, touching. I am not just a cruiser, but a lifelong lover of all things nautical, spending a lot of time on the ocean in everything from my little trawler, to sailing yachts, to, well...THE EPIC. The traditions around building and then christening a new ship, while they have been somewhat mangled by the modern cruise industry, still speak to me at an emotional level. No, the champagne bottle crashing on the bow didn't make me cry...but I thought about it.

So, after all that, it was up to the Sushi bar for a bite to eat, before a little more exploring. Went up to the Garden Cafe. This is the buffet at the front of the pool deck. Some nice touches there, like an ice cream station with 8 or so flavors, plus the usual soft serve. Plenty of action stations, and it appears to be well laid out in terms of flow when it gets crowded. Just outside of the buffet is an outdoor patio area with tables and chairs, then the Waves bar, probably the busiest bar on the boat. A couple of pools, bandstand and deck chairs similar to other NCL ships I have been on. We couldn't get out to see Spice/H20, the adults only pool area which becomes an outdoor nightclub at night. Macy's took over the boat for the NBC broadcast of their 4th of July fireworks extravaganza, and NBC had that area blocked off the whole trip, setting up their equipment and such. But above that, we checked out the sports deck, with a full basketball court, the "Euro-bungee", rock climbing and rappeling walls, and a bizarre contraption called The Spider, a climbing enclosure for the kids.

After checking out pretty much all the main public areas, it was time for the Sailaway. If you've never sailed from Manhattan, you really should! First we backed out of the pier, and reloaded the 5 lifeboats that had to be dropped so the ship would fit against the dock, then sailed down the Hudson, with the Manhattan skyline for a back drop (or New Jersey, depending on where you were on the ship). Then past Ellis Island and Liberty Island. Being the 4th of July weekend, sailing past the Statue of Liberty seemed like the perfect way to start. We were escorted by a fire boat, and a news chopper, and finally went under the Verazzano Narrows Bridge. I am kind of a bridge junky. I love sailing under iconic bridges with just feet to spare. In this case, approximately 24" from the tip of her tallest antenna to the undergirdings of the bridge. Sadly, there is no pedestrian access on the Verazzano, so no opportunity to converse with ship junkies on the bridge, as you can going under the Golden Gate. Anyway, that kind of ended the Sailaway for me, once we hit Long Island Sound. I then realized I hadn't eaten in well over an hour, so:

We got dressed for dinner, and found out that, unlike during regular cruising, they didn't hold out any tables for walk-ins in the premium restaurants. So, we ended up in the Manhattan Room. Which is okay, because, while all the premium restaurants were available to me, and comped, I thought it was important to check out the venues where most of my clients will be taking most of their meals. Anyway, the Manhattan Room was great, and the food was "good" to "excellent".

After dinner, a brief sojourn to the Casino. The casino on the EPIC is ginormous. Basically the entire length of the promenade from the Manhattan Room to the Epic Theater, with a brief time out for O'Sheehans. Along side the Casino are the different clubs and lounges, like Fat Cats. I figured out this was to help out us smokers. Since the casino is about the only public room you can smoke in, by laying it out the length of the hallway there, you have access from the dining rooms, theaters, shops, etc along both sides, in a reasonable distance.

Between bouts with the slots and the roulette table, I stuck my head in to Fat Cats, Headliners, O'Sheehan's, Bliss, etc to see what all was going on. Finally, at 11:30, went to the Noodle Bar for a little bedtime snack. Met two of the Executive Chefs from NCL Headquarters in Miami. One of the cool things on these inaugural events is just these little chance meetings with people from the company. We had an interesting conversation about what it takes to get 21 restaurants opened at once. From new menus and new dishes, to training all the staff, these guys were at the end of a very busy couple months. They also seemed real interested in our opinions on the restaurants. They were very receptive to the feedback, good and bad.

For those of you who haven't sailed Freestyle before - one of the features on NCL ships is an electronic board, at various places around the ship, that lists all the restaurants, and has each hour designated with a green, yellow or red light. Green meaning plenty of tables still available, yellow, that it's filling up, and red being full, or with a line, or no reservations available. It's a good system, if you don't really know what you want, but you don't want to stand in line. IF that board shows up on the interactive TV in the staterooms any time soon, I am taking credit. It seemed like a natural to me, but when I said it to one of the chefs, you could almost see the light go on.

So, after noodles and a quick look see in Bliss (which wasn't really hopping), it was bedtime. So ends DAY ONE.


So, 4 hours sleep, and now its 6:30, and I'm wide awake. This is when the whole writing thing fell apart. I am an early riser. When the sun gets up, so do I, regardless of what time I finally hit the rack the night (or early morning) before. Anyway...when traveling, I use this early time to catch up on work, and do my blog posts (and get my caffeine and nictone blood levels up to the appropriate range). So, I got up, went upstairs, got some coffe, busted open the netbook, typed four words, and some travel agent, ( who shall remain nameless), from some large 'net based agency, (which will also remain nameless), sat down at my table (there were at least a hundred empty tables in spittin distance) and began to regale me with tales of his 6 month career in the travel business. Being by nature polite (on the outside. If people only knew what was going on inside my head, they'd never talk to me), I listened, and tried to type, thinking that might dissuade him. However, he was very impressed with himself, and seemed to think I shared his opinion. Finally, I had to just get up, because it was time for the Nickelodeon Character Breakfast. I am sure he is still up there talking. But, things snowballed from there, and I was unable to get any writing done from then til this morning.

Anyway, on to breakfast. The Nickelodeon character breakfast was a lot of fun. Full Disclosure: I am the World's Greatest Uncle, and as such, have occasion to watch waaaay to many cartoons. Sadly, I am more familiar with Patrick and Sponge Bob, than anyone who has won an Emmy in the last ten years.

Breakfast was routine, with the exception of the neon green food coloring added to the pancake syrup to make it look like "slime".

During breakfast, SpongeBob Squarepants and Patrick Star, Dora the Explorer and Diego, Aang (from Avatar), and Jimmy Neutron come in, do a little musical number with the MC, Austin, and as breakfast is winding down, they call people up by tables, to go around the room, to get photos with each of the characters (and their "autographs" on the place mats). Kind of fun. I have a great picture with Jimmy Nuetron (who is taller than he looks in cartoons), and then my camera died. Fortunately, a travel agent friend took some photos for me, and I am waiting for her to email them to me. I will definitely post them.

After the breakfast, I went to the Garden Cafe for breakfast...couldn't help it, I just had to have an omelette. Then down to the Atrium Cafe for some custom coffee. Finally I got going on the "Backstage Pass" thing.

We were given a card with 20 different venues all over the ship, and had to get them stamped by NCL folks waiting at each place. While I would have toured the ship in any case, it was nice to have a little structure. While finding the 20 on the list, you have to go past EVERYthing on the ship. Suffice it for now, that I will post later, details of the ship and it's various areas, but it took me every bit of 4 hours to find and visit everything on the list.

After that, I hit the Sushi Bar, and then met up with some colleagues to tour staterooms. They had attended the Murder Mystery Lunch, put on by Second City. I did not attend, but from everything I heard it was a lot of fun. Anyway, on to tour the staterooms. NCL gave us all a list of staterooms that would be open during the day. Pretty much one in every category, from Studios, to Spa Suites, Family Balconies, and the Courtyard Villas. Again, took us over an hour to find them all, and I will detail my findings, later.

Upon finishing up there, it was crunch time, as we had an early reservation at the Charascaria, in order to make the Cocktail Party, etc. So, I let my roomie go up to try the Epic Plunge waterslide, while I tried to track down whether or not I had a reservation for the Cirque Dinner and Dreams. While talking with the chefs the night before, one of them offered that he might be able to pull a string and get us in (with only 217 seats, and four shows, for 2500 guests, it was THE hot ticket on a two day cruise). Sadly, even Executive Chefs couldn't get us in. A little disappointing, but, in retrospect it was all to the good since I would have had to miss dinner at the churascaria, which was the highlight of the trip, food wise. So, we got dressed and headed in. I will give a full review later, but for now, let me tell you it was the best meal I have eaten in months, if not years. Excellent in every respect.

Next there was a private cocktail party for the 100 of us who won the trip thru an essay contest put on my NCL University. It was in the Bliss Ultra Lounge. Bliss is a very cool room, with a great vibe. Among other things, there is a large canopy bed on one side. I couldn't help climbing on the bed, and having all the ladies sitting around the edge lean in for a few photos. At least 6 people took shots, and I am waiting for SOMEONE to send me one. PLEASE! Anyway, we sat around and nibbled on various appetizers and the Grand Prize winners of the contest were announced. After that I mingled a bit, and ended up being interviewed by Mike Bradecich, one of the Second City Troupe who does all the videos for NCLU. I won't bore you with all the details, but the identity of the Dean of NCL University is a closely held secret, and, like many of us, Mike was trying to find out...or he knows, and was deliberately feeding the mystery...either way it was fun, and who knows, the video of the event may pop up, somewhere. If so, I will definitely post it.

Did a little more time in the Casino before heading to see Blue Man Group. Quickly becoming the signature event of the EPIC, Blue Man's first and only show on the high seas is as good as the land based show I saw in Vegas a while back. Amazingly, since we weren't anywhere close to the head of the line, when we walked in there were two seats, front row, almost center. Had to put on the poncho and everything. The Epic Theater, where they performed, seems to have been purpose built for them. The acoustics were excellent (which is necessary as they are LOUD, and bad acoustics would make the show painful), the sightlines all unobstructed, and at 650 seats, perfectly sized. Big enough to allow a full stage, small enough to feel intimate, at least compared to some of the 2,000 showrooms now common on cruise ships. Again, one of the high points of Freestyle crusing. With so many different, small venues, doing all sorts of entertainment, there is NEVER a crush of people. The only exception to this is the Ice Bar. More on that later, though I suspect they'll have that fixed soon.

If you have never seen Blue Man Group, it's kind of hard to explain. It is music (mostly drums), lights, comedy and effects. It is also a Rohrschach for the audience. I have heard people describe it as mindless fun. I have heard others discuss the depth of the cutting social satire. It is all that, and more...or less...depending, I suppose, on who you are. Which is the real genius of it. Anyway, it was well done, with very high production qualities, especially considering it is done on a ship. And the fact you can see them "free" as part of your cruise is awesome. I know in Vegas we paid over $100 to get in, for the cheap seats.

After the show, I went back to the casino, managed to give back all the money I won on Friday night, and then ran into some friends who were looking to get some dinner. Shanghai was full, and I remembered someone told me the Legends in Concert were playing in the Manhattan Room, so we headed over there. We ran into a couple other friends, and ended up with a table for 8, and one more dinner. Good food. GREAT SHOW. Legends is the oldest celebrity impersonation show, having started in Vegas 20 some years ago. They now have a dozen or so theaters around the country. The talent changes all the time, so you never know who you might see performing. On this particular show we saw Madonna and Elvis, who each did a couple tunes. They were both good. But then the back up singers started (actually I think one of them was Tina Turner, but she didn't do any Tina at that show), and they were awesome. They performed for a half hour or so, but the highlight was a Motown Revue, with music by Gladys Knight, The Temptations, the O'Jays, etc. They were excellent and I just loves me some 70's Motown. On the way out, one of my tablemates was chatting up Madonna, so I went and got a picture with her. I guess to put with the harem shots in Bliss. By the way, the young lady looked like Madonna back in the 80's when she was still hot, not like the Skankapotamus she has become. Just sayin'.

I then went down to the room for a bit, to try and write, but that wasn't happening, so back to Bliss. The party was just getting started (it was only 10), so I ducked into Headliners to check out the dueling piano bar show, Howl at the Moon. Excellent. There are actually three of them, two guys, one girl, with two pianos, and the third person alternating with drums, guitar, whatever. Their motto or tagline or whatever is "You say it, we play it", and it really does seem, between them, they know EVERY song ever. From the 50's to now, from rock to rap to country to crooners, they played every request they got, period. And very "high energy" with it.

I also got to see a near cat fight, which is always good on a Saturday night. Seems an agent from one of those large online agencies brought the company mascot along. Now, I don't want to give the name away, but assume, for the sake of argument that a travel agency had a roaming...hmmm...lets say...Elf as their mascot. Only this was not an elf. Anyway, so, the lady put's her not-elf on the piano to enjoy the show. Some other group of agents decide it will be fun to swipe the not-elf. They proceed to perform various violations and molestations upon the not-elf, all for the camera. I am sure they thought they were just dealing with a commercial mascot, and having a little fun. Apparently the young lady (okay, young and very, very drunk lady) saw it as the desecration of a sacred object. She attacked with a venom and fury usually reserved for religious fanatics. I really thought (okay, HOPED) there would be fisticuffs, despite calmer heads from both groups trying to de-escalate. Fortunately the lady from the not-elf company ran out of cuss words, was reduced to insulting the other sides hair styles and wardrobe, and it just fizzled out. But it was fun while it lasted.

So, another stroll thru the casino, and back again to Bliss...by now (1ish) it was finally hopping. The DJ was excellent, the cages were occupied by dancers, etc. While it was a bit loud (or I am a bit old), it was full and everyone was having a good time. Spent a while schmoozing. Back out to the Casino, and then a late night stroll top side, to enjoy the beautiful summer night. Back to Bliss, etc, etc,

Finally gave it up at 3-ish and headed home to sleep for a minute.

Thus ends DAY TWO

As we know, all good things must come to an end, and so did the Norwegian EPIC Inaugural. Once again bouncing out of bed too early, I had some coffee upstairs by the pool, and admired the Manhattan skyline. Then packed up real quick and tried to pick up a land based wireless connection. Have I mentioned that the internet connection was shut off late Saturday night? I was trying to check in for my flight home and kept getting an error message that my account was inactive. I finally went down to the pursers office to see if anything was wrong, and to the internet cafe to see if I could use one of their terminals. Nothing. Oh, well.

I was also wanting to check on some deposits and such, and finally just called my bank, and THAT was a mistake. How come errors only happen on holiday weekends? Anyway, I couldn't even figure out what the problem was without getting online, so I just bit down on the anxiety, went up for breakfast at the Garden Cafe, and to say goodbye to some of the wonderful people I had met over the weekend. Accomplished both.

Finished packing, lazed around the balcony til 9:15 (we had to be off by 9:30, so I was milking it, as I had a 3pm flight out of La Guardia). Finally made my way off the ship and called for a $20 shuttle ride, with $30 in my pocket. I was told they would be there around noon, and I still couldn't get online. Folks in New York are pretty zealous about securing their network connections. So, we started walking, looking for a Starbucks or McDonalds or something. Finally, after slogging a couple blocks, we asked a guy who pointed us in the right direction. Found Starbucks, logged on, discovered the problem (which could have been fixed on the ship, since it was an NCL issue, but of course I didn't know that). Amazingly, I got hold of someone at the bank, got kicked up to a supervisor who managed to fix the problem while I was on hold. So, three cheers for Chase (not my favorite bank, but they bought my favorite bank out of bankruptcy, so there you go). Next stop was a Chase ATM to take advantage of my sudden reversal of fortune, and pick up a little lunch money.

Walked back to the pier, about a half hour ahead of my shuttle and watched the chaos of three ships in port, one of which (the EPIC) was carrying everyone for the big Macy's Fourth of July Fireworks show.

The shuttle showed up on time, and I cruised around Manhattan picking up the rest of the vanload, then off to La Guardia, where I was doubly grateful at Chase for fixing the problem, and at NCL for turning off the computers. Had I checked in and gotten my boarding pass the night before, I would not have been offered a first class upgrade for $100. And I actually turned it down, until I tried to go thru security, and, for the first time in my life, had someone make me put my rolling bag in the little measuring box...and insist it was too big and had to be checked! The same bag, going on the same planes it had fit in just fine on Thursday!

So, I was going to have to pay $25 so my bag could ride in the belly - now the upgrade seemed like a much better idea...it was only another $75 to sit up front and eat actual food, and stuff. So I did.

And the flight attendant on the first leg, Leah, was just a doll. She obviously slipped thru the cracks at American Airlines. She was under 50, unbleached hair, a light dash of makeup, rather than a trowel load, and a pleasant demeanor. I am sure she won't last at American if she keeps that crap up.

But she did whip us up a pot of iced coffee, and share some of the chocolates I had stashed in my tote. So, the LGA to DFW leg of my trip was the best flight experience I have had with American in at least ten years.

Of course, as karma would have it, the DFW to Palm Springs leg made up for it. Starting with a standard issue late middle aged, bleached out, worn out and pissed off at the world Flight Attendant (whose name I still don't know because she never announced it, and on her name tag it was covered by her "PROUD UNION MEMBER" ribbon). Then, 20 minutes into the flight an electrical fire smell permeated the cabin, and the attendants were all scurrying about trying to find out if we would live or die. I am not a nervous flyer by any means, but when the phone rings, and your attendant get's that panicked look, and not only takes the cart back to the galley, but puts everything away, and secures all the doors? Unsettling at best. The First Officer came out of the cockpit, went to the back, there were various panic inducing whirs and clanks, the air went off for a minute, he resumed his place in the cockpit, and the smell went away. But I would like to thank the idiot Captain, and all the crew for NOT ONCE just getting on the PA and SAYING: "Okay, folks, we had a little problem, but it's fixed, we're not going to die today, please resume breathing". Obviously, whatever it was, was handled, but, you know, after you scare the piss out of people and make announcements to unplug all your stuff from the DC sockets, etc, a little reassurance might be in order. Instead they all just went back to work, like nothing ever happened. Oh, well, what are you going to do? And, all's well that ends well, I made it back to Palm Springs, and then home without further incident.

So, there you have it...the latest installment of "What I Did On My Summer Vacation".

As I said in earlier posts, I am working on some reviews of the various restaurants, and a detailed description of the public rooms and the various stateroom types, so...STAY TUNED!

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