Tag Archives: NCL

Should you dare to bare on board your cruise?

The discussion’s getting steamy today over on the First Time Cruisers section of the Cruise Critic message boards – in more ways than one.

When a new member called Beachbeeotch posted a query about how skimpy was too skimpy around the pool, she probably got more than she bargained for, from slightly angry-sounding ‘save-your-thongs-for-the-beach’ responses to veiled warnings along the lines of ‘Don’t distract the Dads who are meant to be supervising their kids in the pool’. Or the more amusing ‘Pictures would help decide the correct answer’.

How much is too much?

Whether or not this new member is simply having a laugh, the discussion throws up some interesting points.

Nobody is ever going to agree on what is and isn’t a vision of loveliness around the pool as beauty is, after all, in the eye of the beholder.

We probably all agree, though, on the etiquette of covering up inside, and having been squished up in the pizza queue on an Italian ship against sweaty men in nothing but tiny Speedos, I would like to reiterate this plea.

Meanwhile, here are a few more thoughts for those of you pondering the issue of how much to bare on board. Feel free to add to the list!

  • As members on the thread correctly point out, NCL has ‘Freestyle’ decks at the highest points on its ships, where you can go topless.
  • Europeans tend to be more comfortable with nudity than Americans and cruisers on both MSC and Costa ships seem pretty relaxed about going topless.
  • Topless sunbathing on beaches in Europe is widely accepted, although it’s not always legal. Maybe the south of France, Paradise Beach in Mykonos or parts of Italy would be a better bet for Beachbeeotch than the relatively conservative Caribbean?
  • For the truly committed, there are clothing-optional cruises; ships of Carnival, Celebrity Cruises and Star Clippers have all been chartered for naturist cruises in 2011.
  • If you must mince around in a thong on board, beware of teens bearing technology. As member Pattakins points out: “I’m afraid that if my 12 year old son saw a good looking girl with a nice body in one [a thong], he would follow them around like a puppy dog and drool. And then all his prepubescent friends would get a picture of it sent to their phones…”
  • Finally, for those who consider the cabin’s balcony a safe spot in which to bare all in privacy: If you can see the bridge wing (the bit that sticks out over the side), they can see you! SJB

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Sailing solo

Single cabins on cruise ships are all the rage now, what with the launches this year of NCL’s Norwegian Epic and P&O’s Azura, both equipped with shiny, new, headline-grabbing cabins for solos.

The trade publication Travel Trade Gazette has done a little price check on these single cabins, comparing similar(ish) cruises on Epic, Azura and Fred. Olsen’s Balmoral, which is also solo-friendly.

The cruises are all slightly different – Epic is nine nights and Azura, 14 nights, for example, and Epic is a fly-cruise while the other two are ex-Southampton. But if you distil it down to a straightforward price-per-night comparison, this is how it comes out:

  • Norwegian Epic £87.66
  • Azura £112.78
  • Balmoral £180.90

Big difference, isn’t it? If you’re buying purely on price, Norwegian Epic is a clear winner.

But do people really care only about the price, just because they’re single? Yes, it’s important and a matter of principle, too, but surely ending up on the right ship for you is a bigger factor?

There's more to solo cruising than the price

Couples and families who cruise for the first time are rarely encouraged to buy purely on price, yet with singles, it seems to be the only way in which cruises are compared, particularly at the moment, with all this focus on single cabins.

So, single cruisers, what’s your checklist when booking? Is it more than the money? A decent bar where you can feel comfortable, propped up alone with your Martini, or big, lively tables at dinner, or classes where you can meet like-minded people? We’ve compiled our own list of single-friendly cruise lines on Cruise Critic but we’d love to know your views!

SJB

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Epic vs. Oasis: Which Would You Choose?

The launch of the dazzling, 153,000-ton, 4,100-passenger Norwegian Epic is but a memory of fireworks, England vs. Slovenia and Blue Men, and the hype is cooling down.  Now, NCL has to get down to the serious business of filling the new, 4,100-passenger ship. But how does Epic stack up against the competition?

Epic’s arrival is sandwiched between those of two other mega-ships, Royal Caribbean’s 225,282-ton, 5,400-passenger Oasis of the Seas (last November) and its twin, Allure of the Seas (coming this autumn). Fans of each line will already have their favourite. But to the first-time cruiser, is the proposition for any of the three particularly different? To the uninitiated, they’re all huge, floating resorts, with multiple bars and restaurants, spectacular entertainment, loads going on during the day and similar, seven-night Caribbean itineraries out of Florida.

So price is going to be a big factor and some digging by our sister site, www.cruisecritic.com, has uncovered an interesting trend in how the two lines compete on price in the USA.

Norwegian Epic, although newer, is consistently cheaper than Oasis of the Seas, or the yet-to-launch Allure of the Seas.

We’ve done our own research and have found that it’s much the same for UK cruisers. For example, an inside cabin on Oasis costs £599 per person for a week, cruise-only, in September, while an inside on Epic is only £429 for the same week. Over Christmas, an outside on Oasis is £801 per person for a week, or £114.42 per night, while a balcony cabin on Epic (on which all the outside cabins have a balcony), is £654, or £93.42 per night.

Moving onto peak Caribbean season, January, and adding Allure to the picture, you’ll pay £899 for an outside, cruise-only, on Oasis; £803 on Allure (a newer ship, but remember Oasis may by now have a loyal following and command higher prices); and £674 for a balcony cabin on Epic.

There are big differences in the Easter school holidays, too. An inside on Oasis costs £1,031 for a week in April; Allure comes in at £998; and Epic at just £609.

Of course, individual cruise specialist travel agents have their own deals and their own buying power when it comes to flights; we priced out two fly-cruises with Iglu, and Epic actually came out more expensive, at £1,099 for a week departing September 17, versus £1,012 on Oasis. But the Epic package includes a hotel in Miami for one night pre-cruise, which explains the differential.

We haven’t factored in any additional expenses on board; let’s not forget that both lines charge for eating in some of the speciality restaurants, shore excursions, spa treatments, drinks and gratuities.

If price doesn’t swing it for you, what about the onboard lifestyle? Royal Caribbean’s style is busy and action-packed, with elements of traditional cruising like fixed dinner sittings (if you choose), whereas NCL’s Freestyle cruising is equally action-packed but unstructured – you eat when and where you like.

Oasis comes with its own leafy park, boardwalk and high-diving displays – but Epic has three waterslides, an ice bar and a big top.

Evening entertainment is world-class on both lines and deserves more space in a future blog post, but meanwhile, which would you choose! Epic or Oasis? Or neither? Vote here in our poll!

SJB

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Norwegian Epic: Members’ first impressions

Cruise Critic’s members don’t hang around when it comes to reviewing a new ship! Congratulations and thanks to our first four reviewers of Norwegian Epic, all of whom were among the first paying passengers on the one-nighter from Rotterdam to Southampton on Monday.

Not surprisingly, there was good and less good. Let’s get the negatives out of the way first, which focus mainly on the cabins.

While there are no complaints about the décor of the new, wavy design, space could be an issue. Member RussellF notes: “There’s a ‘no passing zone’ bottleneck at the foot of the bed, which means that even with just two people in the cabin, you’re forever getting in each other’s way.”

More toilet talk

And those bathrooms. Nobody is yet saying ‘Ooh, goody, a cabin with no proper bathroom, what a great idea.’ Member Sandra Barnes comments: “We had a balcony cabin on deck nine which was the only thing that we did not like about the ship. We did not like that there was no bathroom and although the shower and toilet doors were not see through they were not soundproofed!”

Member Clydecruiser adds: “The big but here is the basin is the wrong side of the curtain so when you come out the toilet you touch the curtain before you can wash hands – probable norovirus source in the future, I think.”

RussellF comments: “When you have a shower, all the water that normally ends up on the bathroom floor now ends up on the cabin floor. It’s not helped by the fact that all the towels are stored by the washbasin in the main cabin anyway. So if you forget to pick up a towel before you step into the shower, stand by for a flood!”

That’s entertainment

Moving on, entertainment gets top marks from everybody. All our reviewers (and everybody I was travelling with this week) loved the Blue Man Group. “I think the Broadway at sea concept will really catch on across many companies,” says Clydecruiser.

RussellF raves about Cirque Dreams, the dinner show in the purpose-built ‘Big Top’. “Think Cirque du Soleil in a much more intimate fashion and then some. It’s billed as the first ‘big top’ at sea, and it’s a dazzling two hours of acrobats, muscle men, trapeze artists, music and comedy all taking place in a 10ft-wide circular area in the middle of the room just feet away from the audience at their dinner tables.”

Clydecruiser enjoyed Manhattan, where the tribute act from Vegas, Legends in Concert, plays, commenting that: “The dinner show or dance concept is a good idea.” RussellF bills the duelling pianos of Howl at the Moon “Another amazing show.”

Given that our first reviewers were only onboard for one night, they haven’t commented on all the bars, although Clydecruiser sampled the Ice Bar and says: “The $20 surcharge included two strong cocktails so was probably a fair charge for the 45 minutes. You do need to book, though.”

Food for thought

Food, of course, came under the scrutiny of our reviewers. Clydecruiser says of the Argentine-style Churrascaria, with its huge array of meats and salads: “The experience did not disappoint. More than worth the $18 per person surcharge.” Everybody praises the seating arrangements in the Garden Café (the main buffet) where head-miked waiters communicate with one another to find available places. RussellF breakfasted in O’Sheehan’s Bar and Grill, not the first place you’d think of first thing in the morning, but pronounces the ‘country breakfast’ “excellent”.

Some of our reviewers express concern about the space on deck.  “The pool deck was very cramped,” says Airlinesteward. “Not much deck place. The two pools were very small.” Clydecruiser, although impressed by the waterslides on the main deck, comments: “There were seats on the promenade deck but with the lifeboats hanging here, next to no view.”

One member felt a bit let down about the lack of razzmatazz on arrival in Southampton. “Maybe NCL was ashamed about the late arrival, or they just did not care,” says Airlinesteward. “It was like a normal arrival. We were also surprised not to receive a certificate as it was the first sailing for the ship. What a shame, as we were expecting more from this sailing and also by being the first passengers sailing on the ship. It looks like we were more guinea pigs instead.”

And finally, just to show how diverse our members’ opinions are, two opposing views of Norwegian Epic. RussellF’s conclusion is: “There’s no doubt about it: Norwegian Epic is a beautiful ship. The crew are wonderful, the food is excellent and the entertainment is probably the best you’ll ever see at sea.”

While Airlinesteward, although impressed by the food and service, says: “The ship was just OK and not very well designed. It looks more like a rushed job. Nothing to compare to Oasis Of The Seas, which has got a WOW factor.” Ouch!

You can read the reviews in full here: http://tinyurl.com/24t85o4. Meanwhile, do send us your own opinions; we know from our Epic forum and this blog that members have plenty of questions!

SJB

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Football Fever

Fans watch England beat Slovenia on board Norwegian Epic

We were surprised by the response to a pre-World Cup poll on Cruise Critic, asking you where you were going to watch the football. More than half of you weren’t planning to watch it at all, 38% opted for viewing at home, 3.96% had a date with the pub and only 5.45% were going to watch on a cruise ship.

A lot of cruise lines were pretty late announcing their World Cup coverage, presumably because they were still negotiating for the rights to screen the matches. This could explain why so few Cruise Critic members had planned cruises to coincide with the football.  But a cruise ship is actually a great place to watch a match, and football widows and widowers can hardly complain about having nothing to do — I imagine there were plenty of spaces available in the spa on Norwegian Epic yesterday when England played Slovenia.

And what an afternoon it was! I only rarely follow football, but I wouldn’t have missed this for the world. All the business sessions stopped (this was a trade-only preview cruise), and people packed into O’Sheehan’s, the onboard pub, and around the Atrium Café one deck below, where there’s seating around giant screen that normally shows calming images of waves breaking on beaches.

Up on the top deck it was even better; a blisteringly hot afternoon in the English Channel (for once), free-flowing beers and hundreds of fans crammed onto the tiered sunbathing areas of Spice H2O, which I predict is going to be one of the places to be on Epic, especially when the pool and hot tubs are working. The clarity of the huge screen and the sound quality are fantastic, and although the initial mood was admittedly tense rather than jubilant, once Defoe had scored in the 22nd minute, it really felt like the party had started.

Mind you, this was tame compared to the match I watched on Costa Serena two years ago when Spain beat Italy on penalties in Euro 2008; imagine the atmosphere on a ship packed with both Italian and Spanish fans, all in football strip and all in full voice. The downside is what came next; half the ship (the Italian half) was in official mourning for several days afterwards.

Wherever you’re cruising, enjoy Sunday’s game — and send us your party reports afterwards!

SJB

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Epic’s Deluxe Balcony AKA the Mini-Suite

“This is like the perfect London flat. Everything has a place.”

Carmen Roberts, BBC World’s “Fast Track”

It feels more like a yacht cabin than any other big-ship stateroom, with full walls occupied by built-in cabinets and small touches, from perfectly placed hooks to hidden but accessible electric outlets (both European and US).

I’m going to go against the grain here and say that for all its quirks — and this is the quirkiest modern stateroom design I’ve ever seen! — I really love my cabin. It’s not going to be for everyone (and we’ve not even gotten to the wacky bathroom analysis yet!). What’s important to figure out is whether this style is for you.

In this deluxe balcony (in human-speak it’s called a mini-suite) the walls indeed gently undulate. It’s very narrow and smaller than average, by industry standards, as NCL’s cabins typically are. The mini-suite is roughly two-thirds the size of a mini-suite on Princess’ Grand class (Princess’ are especially generous).

First the basics: All cabins come with flat-screen television, interactive system (with movies, shore excursions and the like), a coffee pot (bring your own teabags), a desk with chair, hairdryer (decent power) and beds that convert from twins to a queen. The duvet is a nice crisp cotton, as are the sheets. Beside each bed is a nice built-in shelf unit with a little bedside light. And all cabins have a sofa bed/loveseat.

Like all ships’ standard cabins these days, those on Epic are built in a cabin factory, are identical within each category, and are trucked to the ship and essentially slotted into place. They interlock with the cabins on either side like a set of Legos. That’s a challenge for these curving walls.

The biggest controversy about these cabins is the fact that the bathrooms (shower and toilet) are in separate compartments, and we’ve already addressed this to some extent (the issue is by no means over!).

Enough of that, let’s move on to pros and cons.

Pros:

  • The bed — and this is fantastic and cozy — is set into the curved wall. It gives you the sort of feeling of nestling in your mother’s arms.
  • The lighting … finally a cruise line has softened the lights (it’s not dark, just softer), though I still think dimmer lighting would be a revolutionary step!
  • Overall ambience is lovely. The color scheme is much, much softer than that on NCL’s Jewel-class ships — here we have earth colors with pretty, dark wood veneer cabins. There are lots of mirrors, both floor-length and otherwise.
  • A curved curtain has been installed between the bathroom/foyer and the cabin itself. It looks like a last-minute addition (and the curtain’s kind of cheap looking), but it does the job — which is to give privacy between the two areas.
  • The bed is flanked by built-in shelves (for eyeglasses, cell phone, book) and has accordion-neck book lights.
  • The bed’s marvelous. Could stay there all day.
  • Nice hairdryer, decent voltage
  • I always love a mini-fridge — don’t always use it, but it’s nice to know it’s there.

Cons:

  • This is a pro and a con! The cabin is definitely narrow. I didn’t feel it because of the placement of the mirrors and the curved bed (it’s harder to walk around your bed on Silversea’s Silver Spirit than in here); the mirrors help a lot, and so does the built-in cabinetry all along the walls.
  • I’m not going to be the first to say that the couch/loveseat (which folds out to a bed) is awful (attractive but of no use), but it is. Because of the cabin’s configuration, it was designed to wrap around the curve that bulges into the room. It’s not comfortable (very hard back) and you sit sort of twisted. At this point it’s become a storage facility for my stuff. I can’t sit there.

Next post: I’ll tackle storage. It’s pretty creatively designed.

CSB

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Balcony fun

On today’s home page poll on Cruise Critic UK, we earnestly ask what you like to do best on your balcony (keep it clean!). So far, reading a book is getting the grand share of votes, though 18 percent like the “get romantic” option. Dining al fresco gets a small nod, at 7 percent, but I think that’s more because most cruise lines don’t really go to any trouble to make a meal on the balcony an option (Princess Cruises does an amazing job with its balcony brunches and dinners, and Celebrity at least outfits some balconies with real tables rather than those the size of postage stamp).

I frankly thought that our poll over on Cruisecritic.com, our U.S.-based site, was a tad sharper. (We were a bit obsessed about balconies yesterday!). There, the query was: What’s the most annoying thing people do on balconies? Far and away, people who smoke are the biggest irritants (and as I write this inside my cabin, with balcony door open, my next door neighbor is puffing away. I can smell it in here).

What’s your biggest pet peeve about balcony etiquette or lack thereof? Feel free to post it here — or go to Cruisecritic.com and vote!

CSB

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Dine With Nick Stars!

This morning I had one of the most lively breakfasts of my life. The location: The colourful Spiegel Tent on Norwegian Epic. The event: A character breakfast with the stars of Nickelodeon.

Now, since this isn’t a revenue cruise – and  the ship is mostly full of weary travel agents who may have had one too many glasses of Champagne last night – the atmosphere was perhaps not quite as electric as it would be on a regular cruise when families will be flocking into this eatery.

However, we got into the spirit of things, and as our cooked breakfast came out (sausage, eggs, bacon, pancakes),  so did the stars of the kids TV programmes.

SpongeBob Squarepants, Dora the Explorer, Jimmy Neutron (who posed for a picture with me!) and pals paraded on stage and sang their rendition of “Celebration” – that certainly woke us up!

There were a couple of children in the restaurant and when we were all given the chance to meet the characters, you could see the excitement on their faces. That’s not to say there weren’t plenty of fully grown adults standing in line to have their photos taken with the stars!

It’s a great addition for NCL, and if you’re planning to sail with your kids, definitely try to check it out – it’s on three times a cruise and you can book in the Box Office. For children aged 4-12 the cost is $10 per child; ages 13 and upwards, the fee is $15 per person.

KR

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Too Much Information?

There comes a point where a lady needs her privacy. And cruise ship designers of late seem to have developed a taste for translucent loo doors. Is this a good thing, we ask?

The majority of cabins on Norwegian Epic have the loo in one cubicle and the shower in another. Each has a frosted glass door. Now, while it’s a fair assumption that to be sharing a cabin with someone, you know them pretty well, there is a matter of keeping romance alive with an element of mystery.  Or am I being prudish?

I, for one, do not relish the thought of watching my partner’s shadowy figure doing whatever he has to do behind that glass door. And kicking somebody out onto the balcony just so you can use the loo with some privacy seems a bit harsh. I’m travelling alone on this preview cruise but in the interests of our more modest members, some of whom have questioned the see-through doors, invited a friend into the cabin to conduct the test. I was right; he could see me in the cubicle and worse still, I couldn’t see out.

I wouldn’t have given this much thought, were it not for an episode at the launch of Seabourn Sojourn a couple of weeks ago. While the ship and the party were spectacular, the doors of each cubicle in the ladies’ loo outside the main restaurant are horribly see-through. And when there’s a queue, where do you look? One lady of a certain age surveyed the scene, aghast, declared herself unable to use the public facilities with appropriate dignity and flounced off to her cabin.

I, for one, was mortified that the whole queue might have spotted me checking my Blackberry while taking a ‘comfort break’.

Like I said, way too much information.

SJB

Pictured right: Cruise Critic member Heinbloed obligingly demonstrated for us how private (or not) Epic’s loos are.

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Norwegian Epic’s trials: Are they over?

In a news piece yesterday, Cruise Critic’s Dan Askin writes about the varied and many trials and tribulations that Norwegian Epic’s experienced in its short life as a ship. The latest — the malfunctioning propeller that altered some preview cruises here in Europe and in England — is clearly on the minds of many and we’re working on a news item about that.

The ship arrived in Southampton late yesterday as you all know. For the expected next cruise, a two nighter to nowhere, which we’re on now, Epic’s stayed tied up at the dock. But good news! We’ve just learned that we’ll take to the high seas at 1 p.m. for a one night cruise to nowhere!

One of privileges of being able to experience a ship on a pre-inaugural basis is that you get to see it while it’s brand spanking new. One of the challenges is that all new ships come with kinks and they need to be worked out. Some require passengers onboard to help in discovering kinks. Others are mechanical. That’s the way it works. What I’m seeing now onboard is that everything is really coming together beautifully. As long as NCL gets the mechanical problem sorted, I think the lucky, lucky folks who are on the Atlantic crossing, which departs tomorrow night, are going to have a grand time.

CSB

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