NCL's new ships will emulate Norwegian Epic in Freestyle cruising but with an updated look.
Just four months after the inaugural cruise of Norwegian Epic, NCL is now announcing two brand new ships to sail into service in April, 2013 and April, 2014. The announcement is another affirmation of confidence by the cruise industry that the economic downturn will improve soon. Princess Cruise Line also recently announced two new ships to debut in 2013 and 2014.
The two new Norwegian Cruise Line ships will be similar in size and concept to Norwegian Epic, even though Epic was largely conceived by then company president, Colin Veitch, who was replaced by NCL management in 2009, about a year before the ship was finished.
The original order for the Epic project was for two ships, with an option for a third, but soon after the construction process began NCL gained a new equity partner, Apollo Management, with a controlling interest in the board of directors. Scaling back the Epic project was the first change attempted by Apollo.
The new NCL management went to the wanted to the STX shipyard of St. Nazaire, France, hoping to renegotiate the entire Epic project. But construction had already started on two ships, with one already pretty far along. When negotiations broke down the shipyard halted construction and reportedly started looking for another buyer for the project, but the design was too deemed to be "too different" for other cruise lines. The shipyard was essentially forced to return to negotiations with NCL who decided to finish only the first ship.
Why did NCL want to cancel the Epic project? First of all, the economic recession hit hard and suddenly. But additionally, Epic has received criticism for its oddly designed staterooms, especially having each of the bathroom elements (shower, sink and wash basin) in separate areas of the room and with limited regard for privacy.
In addition, while Norwegian Epic boasts some of the best entertainment at sea, the entertainment venues are inconveniently small. The main theater is only large enough to seat about 16% of the ship's passenger capacity while most ship theaters can accommodate 35 to 50-percent of the passenger load. Almost all of the entertainment on Norwegian Epic requires making reservations online before the cruise sails and then standing in line onboard the ship to get the best seats.
The exterior design of Norwegian Epic is said to be boxy and unbalanced with a big, square top forward superstructure to contain the entire Garden Suite complex which also cuts down on the amount of open pool deck area available to the rest of the passengers. The new ships will be slightly smaller than Norwegian Epic, coming in at 143,500-tons (vs. 155,000 for Norwegian Epic) and 4000 passenger berths (4100 for Epic). They appear to have a similar interior design to Epic, with the main changes to the exterior lines being mostly cosmetic - smoothing out and angling the Garden complex and other forward decks for the look of a more integrated superstructure. One can see the Garden Suite complex is still in the same spot, taking up the front one-third of the top pool deck, but it appears to have fewer decks than on Epic.
The top pool deck on the new ships still looks as limited as on the Norwegian Epic. The rendering does not have any water slides in place, but one can assume some kind of Water Park will be added to the design eventually. Also missing in the new rendering is the open-air aft nightclub on the pool deck called Spice H2O on Epic.
There has been no further confirmation of how the new ships will look internally except to say they will also feature the same "Freestyle Cruising" concept as Epic, which means a large variety of restaurants (many with a cover charge) and a selection of different nightly venues for a variety of entertainment throughout the cruise.
Norwegian Epic had a highly anticipated, radically new stateroom design, including a separate area just for single cruisers called the Studio Staterooms. Public venues like the Spiegel Tent, the Ice Bar and the extensive water park with three separate water slides were also exciting innovations. Norwegian Epic has some of the best entertainment at sea, and I would expect the new ships to maintain the quality of entertainment achieved on Epic. It is hard to imagine what main show NCL can find that is as universally appealing as Blue Man Group, however.
For the staterooms, my guess is that they will either revert to the standard square design, or that they will keep the "New wave" design but add open floor space by removing some of abundant storage. The bathroom design will most like revert to the approach on Norwegian Pearl, where the entire bathroom is completely isolated from the stateroom with the sink area in the middle, the shower fully enclosed on one side and the toilet equally isolated on the other.
In any case, while there are few new ships scheduled to debut in 2012, it is good to know the cruise industry has returned to ordering new ships to prepare for more robust economic times in the future.
For 2013, the new NCL ships will rival a brand new design coming from Princess Cruises which are smaller in size but with a similar passenger capacity. The new Disney ships, Disney Dream (2011) and Disney Fantasy (2012), will also be of a similar size and capacity to the Princess ships. That actually means the new "mainstream" NCL ships could be roomier than the designs coming from other lines generally considered to be premium; an interesting development.