By Paul Motter
Just four months after the inaugural cruise of Norwegian Epic NCL is announcing two brand new ships to sail into service in April, 2012 and April, 2013. 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 2012 and 2013.
The two new NCL ships will be similar in size and concept to Norwegian Epic, even though the Epic design has been criticized in a number of ways including its oddly designed staterooms where each of the bathroom elements (shower, sink and wash basin) are in separate areas with limited privacy. A lot of the "blame" for design problems with Epic have been attributed to the former president of the line, Colin Veitch, but so far he has not commented.
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. The exterior design of Norwegian Epic is boxy and unbalanced with a big, square top-forward superstructure for the Garden Suite complex which also cuts down on the amount of open pool deck area available to the rest of the passengers.
In any case, we do not really know much about the new ships yet, but we hope to hear of improvements over the design problems of Epic as the new ship design develops. It is possible that what we see now will be much different in the end.
The new ships will be slightly smaller than Epic at 143,500-tons (vs. 155,000 for Epic) and 4000 passenger berths (4100 for Epic). The main changes appear to be mostly cosmetic to the exterior lines for a more integrated-looking superstructure. One can see the Garden Suite Complex still takes up the front one-third of the top pool deck, but it appears to have fewer decks than on Epic. The rendering does not have any water slides, but we assume a Water Park will be added. Also missing is the open-air aft nightclub called Spice H2O on Epic.
There has been no confirmation of the interior design 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 variety of different nighttime venues.
The Spiegel Tent, Fat Cats Blues Bar and the Ice Bar were exciting innovations on Norwegian Epic. I expect the new ships will maintain the quality of entertainment achieved on Epic, though it is hard to imagine what main show can be as universally appealing as Blue Man Group.
Norwegian Epic had a radically new stateroom design, including a separate area just for single cruisers called the Studio Staterooms. For the new ship, my guess is that they will keep the Studio concept, and either revert to the standard square design for the balcony cabins or keep the "New wave" design but add open floor space by removing some of the 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.
Discuss the New NCL ships here: NCL Orders New Ships for 2012 and 2013.