Norwegian Epic is one of the liveliest ships in the industry, with a wide variety of onboard dining, drinking and entertainment options. Never mind the comments about her awkward profile, on the inside she offers a ton of fun for people of all ages and nationalities - especially this summer in Europe. The itinerary - designed to attract local Europeans from Spain, France and Italy in nearly equal numbers - makes her especially unique.
For the summer of 2012 Epic is offering a very port-intensive seven day Western Mediterranean itinerary that has just one day at sea. But adding to the variety of guests, passengers are welcome to board in Rome, Barcelona or Marseilles and stay aboard for a full roundtrip seven day cruise, or make it a shorter three or four day cruise and disembark in a different city.
All together, the seven-day cruise offers these ports:
- Sunday - Barcelona
- Monday - at Sea
- Tuesday - Naples, Italy
- Wednesday - Rome, (Port: Civitavecchia), Italy
- Thursday - Florence/Pisa (Port: Livorno), Italy
- Friday - Marseille, (or Cannes), France
- Saturday - Palma, Majorca (Spain) (Or Marseilles)
An alternative itinerary goes to Cannes (France) on Friday and replaces Majorca with Marseilles on Saturday. The three night cruises sail on Sundays from Barcelona to Rome with one day at sea followed by a day in Naples. Or you can book a four night cruise sailing from Rome to Barcelona and calling at Florence and Marseilles with a visit to either Cannes or Majorca. Because most Americans prefer European cruises in the 10 to 12-day range, this series of short "Med cruises" is largely designed to cater to the European market. But Norwegian may not have planned it that way originally. Norwegian planned to have Epic sail from Miami in the winter and move to Barcelona during the summer way far back in 2008, but it was a very different economy in Europe then.
Sound like a nice itinerary? Comment here.
In the last few years the bustling city of Barcelona has slowed down as a source for local cruisers. It is pretty isolated in the southern Iberian Peninsula, making it less accessible for other European nationalities. Recently, Andy Stuart, VP of Cruise Line's sales and marketing for Norwegian commented that Barcelona used to be a strong drive market but now the line also needs to bring in customers from France and Italy. The easiest way to do that is to let them come aboard while the ship visits those countries.
The practice of allowing people to join a cruise already underway in various ports is called "interporting." It may feel new to the industry - but it has certainly been done before. It is more common with pan-European cruise lines like Costa and MSC Cruises, but it will also be coming to the Caribbean soon; to be offered by NCL and Royal Caribbean.
Is Interporting a Good Idea?
Interporting certainly makes sense from a marketing perspective. If you can get a group of Italians onboard your vessel for just three nights chances are they will make the most of their time by staying up late, drinking, dancing and gambling. People tend to spend much more time and money in the open public spaces on a ship during shorter cruises. They catch up on their rest when they get off the ship.
As a former crewmember, however, I can tell you that interporting is tougher on the crew because of constantly changing names and faces every few days. I worked aboard a Holland America ship in 1993 that was not interporting, but it was sailing from Vancouver to Juneau and letting people off for land tours and then picking them up a week later.
The hardest part of this practice is the mandatory lifeboat drills for the crew, now an essential part of every port of call where passengers are embarked. Thankfully, passengers are still only required to take one drill, but the crew must participate in three each week. Housekeepers must also prepare a certain number of staterooms for new guests every two or three days and restaurant waiters never know who they might encounter.
I only bring up this point to say that crew life in these situations can be very stressful and inconsistent, so do not expect especially personalized service on such cruises.
How does Interporting sound to you? Comment here.
Mediterranean Cruise Bargains on Epic
The prices are certainly right, however. You can book the full seven-day cruise out of Barcelona to Naples, Rome, Florence, Cannes and Marseilles for as little as $479 this summer - balcony cabins are just $699. That is an amazingly good deal on a European cruise with a nice variety of ports of call. Or take the same cruise out of Rome for as low as $499, but with higher balcony cabins prices at $899 per person.
The three-day Barcelona to Rome cruise starts at just $379, with balcony cabins for $479. For the rooms, meals and transportation to Rome this is great vacation value, plus you get to see Naples along the way.
The four-day cruise starts in Rome and stops in Florence, Provence, Majorca and ends in Barcelona. This cruise has balcony cabins for just $549 per person. An alternative four day itinerary goes to Florence, Cannes and Marseille before Barcelona, but this costs more ($509 inside and $674 balcony) and in my opinion is the less attractive itinerary.
The difference is visiting Majorca rather than Cannes. Both ports are known as Riviera "celebrity getaways," but having seen both I can say Cannes is a sleepy town with a big yacht community that does not even seem to come to life until 6:00 pm, while the island of Majorca is teeming with young people, shops, artists and cafes that are open all day long. The only trick to Majorca is getting to the old town - there is not much to see in the port area. Taxis are very affordable (about five Euros each way) but if you wait too long it can be hard to find a cab after the 6:00 rush hour. Even though Majorca is a tiny island, it attracts tourists in the tens of thousands in summer and the crush of pedestrians can feel like Las Rambla in Barcelona.
In any case - it is interesting to see ships like Norwegian Epic adapting to the European market. I am certain the onboard nightclubs are as lively as any ship at sea. Especially since Norwegian Epic is one of the few ships anywhere to always cater specifically to the solo cruiser market. No one can party like young Europeans with money to spend. They stay up all night and sleep all day - especially on shorter cruises. Ladies, if you want the bragging rights that you have been pinched on the cheek(s) by a young and handsome Italian man then Norwegian Epic is probably the perfect "Med cruise" for you.
Sound like good deals to you? Comment here.