Dispatch, Norwegian Epic: A new dimension for Freestyle Cruising

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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. The first of three reports follows.

With the delivery of the 4,200-passenger Norwegian Epic, Norwegian Cruise Line has launched one of the cruise industry's most innovative ships, and re-created its Freestyle Cruising message.

NCL's first newbuild since 2007, and the line's largest vessel by 60%, allows NCL to reestablish the Freestyle concept as something beyond an array of specialty restaurants.

"Freestyle cruising had polarized into dining," explained Andy Stuart, NCL's executive vice president of global sales and passenger services. "As much as we said it's about a lifestyle, everybody pulled it back into dining and the freedom of choice in dining."

The ship features six well-known and varied brand-name entertainment: Blue Man Group, Cirque Dreams and Dinner, Legends in Concert tribute show, the Second City comedy troupe, the Howl at the Moon dueling piano show and Nickelodeon.

Stuart said with the new ship, NCL realized it had an opportunity to tell the broader story about Freestyle Cruising with entertainment.

"Entertainment has always been about the early show or the later show," he said. "It should be about, do you want jazz, Blue Man Group, Cirque __ that's the choice you should be able to make."

NCL has clearly defined entertainment as the Epic's hallmark feature.

Stuart said the decision to use brand-name entertainment made the breadth and quality of those choices a lot easier to explain.

"If we had our own medley of Broadway tunes and our own comedian there, it'd be hard to tell the story," he said. "The brands tell the story. It's not us saying it; it's the brands telling the story for you."

But even on the Epic, the 20 dining options certainly add to the Freestyle way. Epic has some new-to-NCL offerings like Moderno, an Argentine-style churrascaria that costs $18 per person, and Shanghai, a noodle bar with a la carte pricing.

The popular Teppanyaki restaurant is much larger on the Epic than on the other NCL ships, seating up to 115 people at once, at $25 per person.

New is O'Sheehan's, an Irish pub with chicken pot pie and fish and chips on the menu. O'Sheehan's, named after NCL CEO Kevin Sheehan, proved to be a popular place at all times of the day. The no-surcharge pub serves breakfast, lunch and dinner and is open 24 hours.

The Epic also has signature NCL eateries like Cagney's steakhouse ($25 per person) and French Le Bistro ($20 per person) as well as no-charge venues like Tastes and the lido deck's Garden Café.

The closest thing the Epic has to a main dining room is the Manhattan Room, a large dining room with a supper club atmosphere. There is an area for a live band and a dance floor.

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