Dispatch, Norwegian Epic 3: One of a kind, and staying that way

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Cruise editor Johanna Jainchill attended the Norwegian Epic's July 2 naming festivities followed by a two-day preview cruise from New York. Her final reports follows.

One of the unique features of the 4,200-passenger, 150,000-ton Norwegian Epic is that there will be only one of them.

No mass-market cruise line in recent memory has built a ship, certainly not one this large and expensive, without plans to build at least one other.

NCL quashed that possibility when it canceled a plan to build a second $1 billion Epic in 2007, due to problems it had with the shipyard, STX Europe, and its own change of guard when Apollo Management took a 50% stake in the cruise line that same year.

NCL's executives here hinted that they do plan to build again: NCL CEO Kevin Sheehan said that with the current drought in orders, along with the deflated euro, European shipyards were making shipbuilding deals look very attractive.

Conditions were so favorable, Sheehan said, that he predicted several cruise lines would begin placing orders in the next year.

Sheehan also said that NCL's financial condition was much better than when he came onboard, owing to much better business practices under a reorganized company.

But NCL is mum on when they might place an order or what shipyard they would work with.

Representatives from both Fincantieri, the Italian yard, and Meyer Werft, the German yard, were onboard the Epic.

NCL's next ship, Sheehan said, would retain many of the attributes of the Epic, in terms of its entertainment and restaurants, but its cabins would probably not have the features like the "Wave" cabins, with curved walls, because it made the ship much more complicated to build.

Sheehan also said that the next ship would not be as big as the Epic, but also not the same iteration as its last newbuild, the Norwegian Gem.

"We'd probably build a Carnival Dream-size ship," Sheehan said, referring to Carnival Cruise Line's 3,646-passenger vessel.

Sheehan said that the size and cost of the Epic were beyond NCL's ideal target.

"A billion-dollar price tag for our size business is pretty significant," he explained.

For more on the Epic, read the first and second dispatches and view the slideshow.

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