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!

Norwegian EPIC - Continuation of Inaugural NOTES.


Okay, so I promised I would do this...I have been stalling because this ship is so big and has so many rooms, it's kind of intimidating. But, here goes: I will go thru it deck by deck, from stem to stern (thats front to back for you non-nautical types)


Coming off the forward elevators, forward is the lower half of the Epic Theater. This is not the entrance you would usually use. I'll reserve the description for later. Also that way are two meeting rooms. In case you didn't know, NCL does a great job with conferences and such. They have excellent facilities and state of the art electonics for any type of meeting, symposium, etc.

Heading towards the back is first, the Art Gallery. Paintings are set up. I didn't spend much time here. I got over my urge to buy art at sea when I found out those great auction deals are typically 300-400% of landbased gallery prices. But, hey, they do give you a glass of champagne, so that probably makes up for it.

Next up, to starboard is the Photo Gallery, which has really cool facial recognition software. Instead of wandering a hall looking thru a bazillion photos, trying to find one of YOU, you stand in front of the machine, it scans your face, and up on the screen come all your photos. Then it's just a matter of pushing a few buttons, scanning your key card for payment, and you get the printed photo. Very cool, very high-tech, and a little scary how easy "they" can figure out who you are...but I digress. There is also, tucked into this area, the Internet Cafe, with lot's of terminals, and a retail photography store, for your film and flash and memory card needs.

On the other side is Le Bistro, NCL's French Restaurant. I have seen several. This one is larger and a little lighter, decor-wise. I have never eaten at a LeBistro, because I am just not that into French food. Sorry.

Next, starting at the port side and going around the Atrium Lobby is the Shore Excursion desk, where you purchase your shoreside fun, the Cruise Consultant office, where you can get some great deals by booking your next cruise, in the middle of this one, the Purser's Desk, The Atrium Cafe, an "L" shaped affair with bar on one leg and coffee bar on the other, the WNCL Broadcast Studio, where, among other things the Cruise Director does his daily briefing, live on your cabin TV, and all the way around: THE Wii WALL. This is a 30 foot tall television screen. During our little trip I saw both Wii, and the World Cup Soccer. It's incredible! I don't think it, technically is "hi-definition", but the resolution was excellent compared to some stadium screens and such that I have see. I am already planning a Super Bowl Group Cruise, mostly because of this TV. It is also visible from upstairs in O'Sheehans Sports Bar.

The Atrium is also home to the largest LED Chandelier in the world...a massive beast that hangs from under Deck 8, all the way to Deck 6.

So, that finishes the circle around the Atrium...straight back, between the Pursers Desk and the Atrium Bar is TASTE one of the two main restaurants. It is also open above to a smaller atrium, with a somewhat less flamboyant chandelier.


Again, starting from the front is the main entrance to the EPIC Theater, home of the Blue Man Group. A 650ish seat showroom, with no columns to block sightlines, and excellent acoustics. Comfortable seats, theater style. This is the largest public space on the EPIC, and it is "quaint" compared to some of the showrooms on ships these days, which seat in the neighborhood of 1400-1500. The Jewel class ships of NCL were purpose built with for Freestyle Dining, but retained the large showroom. The EPIC is the first ship purpose built for Freestyle Entertainment. And the good part of that is, with so many small venues scattered around there is never a time when all 4000 passengers are trying to get in the same room. Granted there were only 2500 on this sailing, but there was never a real crowd, or much of a line.

Moving back from the Epic Theater, on the port side is the Spiegel Tent, home of the Cirque Dinner and Dreams. Small, close up cirque acts are performed as folks dine on a set menu. This is also where the Nickelodeon Character Breakfast and the Murder Mystery Lunch are held. I was there for the breakfast. It is an interesting room, but I didn't really feel the "Big Top" vibe, though maybe that is more obvious when the circus acts are there. To Starboard is Headliners. Definitely done in Comedy Club chic, with bare floors and the obligatory brick back drop on the stage. Second City performs here several nights a week, doing their improv sketch comedy. Alternating with them is Howl at the Moon, a dueling piano bar show. FINALLY. One thing lacking on NCL, in my humble opinion, was real PIANO BAR, like they do on Carnival. NCL, like most cruise lines, has piano players, some quite good, but in venues that are not at all interactive. Howl at the Moon is all about audience participation, singing along, doing requests and getting a little crazy. I loved it!

Oh, almost forgot: between the Epic Theater and the Spriegel Tent/Headliners is The Box Office, a kiosk where you can make reservations for all the entertainment on board.

Continuing back on Deck 6 you hit a bit of the Casino, before you get to O'Sheehans Sports Bar. Awesome! A central bar, 3 lane bowling alley, pool tables, darts, air hockey, and food service (basically pub grub) everywhere. All done in Irish Pub. And the seats against the rail, looking down on the Atrium Lobby on Deck 5 have the best view of the 30 foot big screen in the Lobby. It is a REAL sports bar, and huge.

Past O'Sheehans you get to the Casino proper (there are banks of slot machines nearly the whole length of Deck 6), where it widens out and there are tables and wheels and the cage and the players club and all that. In total, the Casino is 13,000 square feet. Again moving back thru the slot machines, on the starboard side you come to Shanghai's. In the back is a sit down restaurant with a great Chinese/Asian Fusion menu, and out front is the Noodle Bar. Very cool and nicely decorated for a Chinese feel. Directly across, to port, is Fat Cats Blues and Jazz Club, with entertainment by a variety of musical acts. It too, is well done with an urban jazz club feel to it. Between the Noodle Bar and Fat Cats is the Cascades Bar, with video poker in the bar, it being the tail end, finally, of the casino.

After the casino is the Manhattan Room Supper Club, the other main restaurant. Full width, and all the way to the stern, so there are windows on three sides for a view of the ocean. The central portion rises two stories. All done in very elegant dark wood paneling. A bandstand and dance floor for dinner music, which sometimes includes the Legends in Concert Unplugged. I happened to catch that show and it was a blast.


Again, starting all the way forward is the Bliss Ultra Lounge. Sexy with a capital Sex. Honestly. As you walk in to the foyer, there are two 10 foot tall high back black leather chairs, and two 10 foot tall horse sculptures. Entering the actual room (which at night means going thru a mist curtain with the DJ projected on it), the floor around the central bar is a gold glitter thing with "depth". It is a bit dirorienting to walk on, and I am not sure how that's going to work with the drinkers, but...oh, well. Directly forward is the stage. On either side of the stage are, yes...wait for it...wait for it....CAGES!!! For all the ladies that want to get in touch with their inner cage-dancer. You really should pack some Go-Go boots! To port all the way over are three bowling lanes with cool blacklights and strobes. Between there and the bar, standard lounge seating in a bewildering array of colors and animal prints. Almost as wild as my closet! And on the other side, past the cocktail tables and chairs - THE BED. Yep, a black four poster, with (and this is by actual count), room for 7 minimum.

If you can drag yourself out of Bliss, and head back there are shops. Tons and tons of shops. I am not much of a shopper, so all I can say is it appeared uncrowded, with very nice displays and cases, very light and airy. Past the shops you come to the top of the atrium for your best view of the largest LED chandelier in the world. Pretty cool. Kind of spirally and chrystally, and it, of course, changes colors. I am not an expert on these sorts of things, but I liked it. Anyway, right before the atrium is Svedka, the only Ice Bar at sea. Kept at 17 degrees, with ice furniture, etc. Being a non-drinker, I didn't even try to get in, but it does look pretty neat (you thought I was gonna say "cool" there, huh? sorry, too obvious). The only problem is, there is a serious "flow" problem here, and I daresay NCL is working right now on a way to fix it. See, the hallway narrows there, and you can only go on the Ice Bar side. Seating in the Ice Bar is scheduled, on the hour, and when everyone lines up for their turn it gets a little tight. And then the guys come down the line handing out parkas and gloves, and it's complete stoppage. Again, only 2500 on this cruise, and it was bad. With 4,000+ it's going to be chaos. But I am sure they will figure something out, like maybe assembling farther back where the hallway is wider, then marching 'em all in together or something.

Anyway, the Atrium area on Deck 7 is, more or less, Bar Central. From the Ice Bar, to port, in quick succession is Shaker's Martini Bar, Maltings Whiskey Bar, and the Humidor Cigar Lounge. Each decorated differently and all very "bar".

On the starboard side is, rather like the Chinese restaurant/Noodle Bar one deck down, the Teppanyaki Room with several Teppan tables, in the back, and up front, Wasabi Sushi Bar. The sushi was excellent, fresh and with an extensive menu. Past the Sushi Bar is a largish Duty Free shop for your booze and smokes. Prices were excellent.

And then, an actual Barber Shop! For those of us guys who just want a shave and a haircut, without the mani-pedi and hot stone aromatherapy rejuvenation treatment. Two chairs, and looking an awful lot like the shop I got my "regular boys" haircuts as a kid. I was not in need, or I would definitely have tried it.

Finally at the stern end of Deck 7 are the Moderno Churrascaria and Cagney's Steakhouse. Cagney's is an NCL staple, with great steaks and even better Fries. Seriously, the Cagney's Fries, topped with garlic and parmesan cheese, then drizzled with white truffle oil are to die for. But, hey, been there, done that, so I tried Moderno this time. Even better. A meat eaters dream with 10, count 'em 10 meats to choose from (not counting the meats on the salad bar). Both rooms are very elegant, with dark woods and carpets, and large enough to not feel crowded, though they were both pretty full when I was there.

DECK 8, 9 AND 10

All Staterooms


All Staterooms, but with the Studios Complex. The Studios are the next big thing, as far as I am concerned. Single occupancy cabins, sold with no Single Supplement. I will get into the details of the actual staterooms in the next Note, but the Complex itself is cool. It's all inside, with private key card access for Studio passengers only. It takes up a significant portion of the inside of Decks 11 and 12. The hallways are very long and kind of narrow, and have Neon blue LED lighting. The folks I toured with compared it to The Death Star. But in a good way. Several places along the hall are snack rooms with vending machines with chips and cookies or sodas. And in the middle is The Living Room, a great little space with a Bar/Coffee Bar, which will be staffed in the morning and evening. A limited liquor inventory and an espresso machine. Several couch/table conversation areas, another bar with two big screen TV's and another long area with small cocktail tables and chairs/couchettes. Very nice for the Solo traveler. I can definitely see myself going to the Living Room for coffee in the morning, in my robe. Or hanging out in the afternoon, to see if anyone else would like to have dinner, and not get those looks you get when you are in a restaurant alone. And not in a "singles" pick up kind of way. I know lot's of people who cruise solo for lot's of reasons besides looking to snag someone. And we are tired of paying double. I am sure that is why NCL assiduously avoids the word "single" and stresse "solo". I really think NCL has hit a home run with the whole Studios idea.

DECK 12 AND 13

All Staterooms


All the way forward is La Cucina Italian Restaurant. Floor to ceiling windows right at the bow of the ship afford great views of where you are going. Nicely done is a rustic Italian sort of way, with, of all things a REAL olive tree right in the middle. How cool is that?

Back a ways on Deck 14 is Recess, the Kids Club, which was huge and bright and looked like a lot of fun, though they discouraged me from using the jungle gym. Also, the staterooms immediately surrounding Recess are the Family Balconies, which, if you've ever lugged a sleeping child to your stateroom a mile away, you realize how nice that is.

Again moving back is Pulse Fitness Center which is huge, and one wall is windowed so you can look out over the ocean while you sweat. I have to say, I am not much of a gym rat, but the equipment was all state of the art and plentiful. There is also a large aerobics room right off the gym.

Back from there, starting to port and moving around the stern of the ship is the Fitness reception center, the Hair Salon, Mandara Spa, Smile Spa and Medi Spa. You'd have to ask someone else what that's all about...I am the barber shop guy, right? But it was all very pretty, and smelled wonderful and, like everything else on this ship, very large. Also, clustered in this area are the Spa Balconies, with private access to the spa area, etc.

I think I will close now. From Deck 15 up, it's mostly the pools and such, and the Courtyard Villa Complex, each of which is worthy of their own Note. Good nite for now!
DECK BY DECK, continued

Okay, where was I? Oh, yeah:


All the way forward is the Garden Cafe. Buffet open for Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner. Multipe action stations, and some cool touches like a real ice cream stand, with a half-dozen or so flavors, as well as the usual soft serve, and a Kid's area with low tables and chairs. It was never crowded that I saw, but with a small complement of cruisers. This could change when she is full, especially on boarding day, as people wait here for their cabins to be open. It did seem well designed for traffic flow, and was quite spacious.

Heading out of the Garden Cafe you hit the Great Outdoors area, for dining al fresco. Large canvas awnings keep it shady and cool. Plenty of tables and chairs, but again, we'll see when she sails full. I am guessing tables might be hard to come by on a balmy day at lunch time. This is also where the burgers and fries stuff is, on one side, and pizza on the other.

Past the Great Outdoors, to port is the Waves Bar, easily the most crowded spot on the ship. But then, it was open bar, so...

Continuing along is the pool area. A large bandstand in the middle, two good sized pools and a few jacuzzis. Lots of shaded seating and plenty of loungers in the sun. There are stairs up to the Sun Deck on 16, where, again there are lot's of loungers. In fact, too many. When we went up their to watch the Sail Away, you had to step over or move the little tables between the lounges, as they were packed in solid. But, I digress.

At the back end of the pool area are the waterslides. Three of them. One for the kids, that wraps around and goes thru the rock climbing/rapelling wall on the other side, one regular old slide (though it was apparently quite fast), and the Epic Plunge, the first tube slide at sea and the first bowl slide at sea, where you come out of the slide, take a few turns around the bowl before dropping thru the middle. It's kind of like being flushed down the toilet, but in a fun way! The slides are accessed by two towers, and in between the is the Kids Aqua Park, a bunch of splash and spray type areas...again, I was discouraged from flopping around in there...

On the other side of the towers as you move back is the Rock Climbing Wall and Rapelling Wall. Not the largest rock climbing wall out there, but tall enough, and the rappeling wall is a sea-going first. Seeing as how I do some climbing and rappeling up and down actual rocks, the whole wall thing seems rather ludicrous to me, but, whatever...

Farther back to port is the Video Arcade and The Marketplace. Whatever that is going to be, wasn't evident while I was on board.

And finally all the way to stern on Deck 15 is the Spice H2O Pool and Grill. This is the Adults Only sanctuary. Sadly, NBC had it all closed off in preparation for the Macy's 4th of July Fireworks broadcast. But it is a large area with tiered seating, another big screen almost as big as the one in the atrium, and a pool, which at night is covered to make a dance floor for a South Beach style outdoor club. I really wish I had gotten to see it in action, as it sounds very cool. Guess I'll have to check it out next time.


All the way forward is the Courtyard Complex, which will be dealt with seperately. Midships, all the way back on 16 is Sun Deck for grabbing a tan, until you get to the back, port side, where you will find the Entourage Teen Center. Since I neither have, nor like, Teenagers, I didn't really check it out.


But from there you go up the stairs to the Sports Complex. A full basketball court, a Euro Bungee (bungee cords and a trampoline...looks fun, I guess), some weird climbing contraption for the kids called the Spider, and a view of the climbing and rappelling walls.


Forward, more of the Courtyard Complex, and midships, the entrance to the water slides

Deck 19

The top of the Courtyard Complex

And there you have it...all 19 Decks of public space, less the Courtyard Complex, which I will get to soon!


I failed to post my Facebook Notes, re: The Epic Inaugural cruise I went on this last 4th of July weekend.  So, for your perusal:

I am giving this area it's own Note, because it nearly is it's own ship. Within a ship. Private, key card access for Villas guest only. Actually, a private elevator. Hoi polloi can't even get to your deck, much less your cabin. Like being on a private yacht with 100 or so of your best friends. Everything you need, right there in the complex.

Sixty or so accomodations. The smallest is the 322sf double occupancy Courtyard Penthouse. Then the 506 sf 2 bedroom Family Villa, which sleeps 6 (2 bedrooms and foldout couch in the living room), and finally the 850 sf, quad occupancy Deluxe Owners Suite.

These are arrayed, on two floors around the private Courtyard, which has it's own private pool, 2 jacuzzis, steam rooms, and BBQ area. Also on Deck 16 is a bar, the Courtyard Grill restaurant, the Epic Concierge Lounge, the Epic Club nightclub, and the Epic Club Lounge with another bar. And that's just the lower level. Up on Deck 17 is another private courtyard, the private Courtyard Lounge and a Fitness Center and Spa. Up one more is the Courtyard Sundeck and the private Posh Beach Club, a very Riviera looking space, with a bar in the middle, and nice padded wicker furniture, overlooking the pool and bandstand down on Deck 15. And finally, Deck 19, highest spot on the ship, is the Posh Sun Deck and the Freestly Sun Deck.

So, tally it up: 60 staterooms, 3 sun decks, 3 lounges, and one each nightclub, beach club, pool, restaurant. Oh, and two jacuzzi's.

And of course, butlers, concierge, room service from the premium restaurants, etc, etc, etc. So, while at first glance the price of the Courtyard Villas seems a little steep, the only thing to compare it to is, maybe Seabourn, in terms of size, amenities and level of service. And when do you suppose Seabourn is going to have Blue Man Group and Second City on board?

Checking the Weather for the EPIC Cruise

Looks like 84F and partly cloudy for Costa Maya, 83F and partly cloudy for Roatan, and we might hit some showers in Cozumel...but it will still be 78F.

All in all, I'll take it.  It's 48F and windy at my house right now!


How Awesome is NCL? Let me tell you...

So, 4 days out from my NORWEGIAN EPIC cruise, I get an e-mail from NCL's Public Relations Manager. She tells me she read on my blog ( http://daveholmanstravelblog.blogspot.com/ ), that I am going on the EPIC, for a full week, after having been on the two day pre-Inaugural from New York. She wants to know if there is anything in particular I would like to see or do, while I am on the ship. I have a hard time thinking of anything. I have already toured the ship pretty well, and I am not into being a diva and trying to get VIP treatment. But, I am a total ship junkie...and I mean the actual, physical ship. The engineering, navigation, propulsion and stuff. Having owned boats, and sailed a bit, I am fascinated by all things nautical, and these modern cruise ships are just incredibly awesome achievements. And one of the things I really miss from the good old days of cruising is that they use to do "bridge tours" where you could go up on the bridge and see all the navigation and communication equipment. Between security concerns, and the simple fact of so many people on the ship these days, bridge tours for the masses have all but disappeared. And the only people that DO get to go on the bridge are VIP's, Media types, and the REALLY frequent cruisers. I have a Black Card with Princess (Elite Level on their frequent cruiser program) and still can't get on the bridge!

So...I asked her if she could arrange a bridge tour, and, within an hour VOILA! I am going to tour the bridge on the Norwegian EPIC!!! So, along with notes of my daily activities and port stops, look forward to some commentary, and, hopefully, pictures and video, from the bridge of the Norwegian EPIC, starting SATURDAY!


Four Days til the EPIC Adventure begins

I'll be flying out late Friday night, on Spirit Airlines, arriving in Fort Lauderdale at 7:30 a.m.  From there it's a quick shuttle ride down to the Port of Miami, and I should arrive just in time to meet Alena a.k.a. The Cruise Girl , as she gets off the Celebrity Eclipse. 

Then, a short walk to the other side Dodge Island, where the Norwegian EPIC is docked. 

I have arranged a little Meet and Greet/Sailaway Party for 30 or so of my colleagues.  So as soon as I get onboard I have to contact Klaus or Tracy to set that up, and blow up some balloons or something to decorate the tables.  NCL is being kind enough to let us reserve some tables at the Spice/H2O pool area.  It's right on top and at the stern, so we can have a good view of Miami sliding away as we begin our cruise.