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Regular Caribbean Cruises begin for Norwegian Epic this weekend.

Norwegian Epic Hits its Stride
The last 14 days of my life have been completely consumed by the brand new Norwegian Epic. I joined the ship on its first 7-day passenger cruise from Britain, and then stayed onboard for another two-day media cruise out of New York City. I then needed a full day for the flight home where I picked up a small viral hitchhiker that has my droopy eyelids in need of toothpick supports.

But enough about me - where does Norwegian Epic stand right now?

The media debut in New York City was followed by a night of playing host to the Macy's Fourth of July Fireworks celebration. On the 5th of July the passengers all departed and the ship deadheaded on a two-day, crew-only, cruise to Miami. Yesterday afternoon there was a celebration at Miami's Bicentennial Park starting at 3:00.

So, Epic is sailing, but is it now finally ready for service? Not exactly. In fact, if there was any one thing apparent about Norwegian Epic it is that it was put into service before it was technically "finished."

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From the day I boarded until the day I left there were several staterooms still not fully in working order. It is well known that many of the ship's most expensive Courtyard Suites were not ready for occupancy, still in need of basic finishing touches. The epic shows slated for the main theater, Blue Man Group and Legends at Sea were both put together at the very last minute. Blue Man Group missed its first performance and Legends as Sea was not ready for prime time until the third official cruise - the 7-day transatlantic which I sailed upon.

When I first joined the ship for that cruise in Southampton, U.K., I immediately started hearing about several standard cabins ship-wide in need of immediate repairs for several critical components. In fact, we only had about 70% passenger capacity and there were still many people occupying cabins with non-working telephones, televisions, safes and showers with faulty hardware rendering them unusable.

Still, my 7-day cruise progressed and I was fortunate enough to meet and get to know a top NCL executive rather well, Roberto Martinoli. Over the week we shared several meals, along with another very well-known cruise writer; Doug Ward of the Berlitz Guide. By the end of the cruise I was no longer hearing any complaints about unfinished staterooms -- until the New York media and travel agent crowd joined us at Manhattan's Pier 88 for a two-day media cruise on July 2nd. Then I was surprised to discover that the stateroom problems had not gone away at all, they were in the cabins not previously occupied.

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So, I just contacted Roberto last night and he hit me with a surprise - that he is leaving his current role at NCL to take over a job in his home town, Genoa, Italy, as the CEO of local passenger ferry line. He tells me he made this decision based on personal reasons and will "continue to help CEO Kevin Sheehan in re-organizing the company until the end of the year." He also mentioned that he will be working with them on a permanent basis by "overseeing the newbuilding for them."

Roberto is a really good person, and I am not sure what led to this decision right now, except the fact that Norwegian Epic is now almost fully complete and shipbuilding is Roberto's specialty. In fact, it is in his blood as his grandfather was one of the principle founders of the shipyard in Trieste, Italy, where the new Cunard Queen Elizabeth is close to completion. Roberto followed the family footsteps and spent many years working for Carnival Corp and Costa Crociere before he finally joined NCL. In fact, at the time NCL acquired his talents it was considered quite a coup for NCL.

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When Roberto was brought in NCL was close to foundering. The line had just ended one of its worst quarters ever, and the CEO which had served since 2000, Colin Veitch, was essentially handed his walking papers. Replacement CEO Kevin Sheehan came from outside the cruise industry, and Colin's right-hand man, Andy Stuart, was more known for sales and marketing than a mastery of nautical details. It was Roberto's experience as a ship builder that made him the right person at the right time.

The ambitious plan previously announced by Colin Veitch to build two sister ships in the "Free-Style 3" form of Norwegian Epic was scaled back to just one ship. It is said that the negotiations with the shipyard did not go well, and that the work that had been started on one of the hulls had to be stopped. NCL and the STX shipyard tried to sell the partially completed hull, but no other cruise line was interested in its "somewhat peculiar design." Reports came out that the cancellation of the second ship cost as much as $130 million dollars.

But the good news I got from Roberto last night is that the ship-building struggles for Norwegian Epic are nearly over. "As far as the problems on the Epic we are in very good shape. In fact, all the cabins are now fully operational - except 12 where we have to replace defective TV components that will be supplied in Miami. All telephones are now working well and we have also modified the appearance and functions of the phone touch screens to make them more user friendly, easier to operate and to fix remotely when needed."

Thanks Roberto - it's been a long road and we wish you the best. Hopefully, all Norwegian Epic cruises will experience smooth sailing from here on out.

Care to discuss this topic in our forums? Live From Norwegian Epic!

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new feature articles

Onboard Nieuw Amsterdam- Emotional Bell Opening and On Deck for the Cure Walk Ceremonies
This morning I witnessed one the most emotionally charged beginnings to the "On Deck for the Cure" walks I've seen on any ship. blue arrows

Where Norwegian Epic Excels
Many things about Epic that have surprised me, but the ship really excels in food, entertainment and solo cruising. blue arrows

Live From Nieuw Amsterdam
Join Kuki on the launch of Holland Ameriuca's newest ship sailing out of Venice to Dubrovnik, Croatia, and back. blue arrows

Legends on Norwegian Epic
Like many things about Epic that have surprised me, the debut of Legends at Sea last Sunday night was magnitudes better than I ever expected. blue arrows

Norwegian Epic Bathroom Controversy
If you haven't heard about the controversial New Wave Stateroom bathroom facilities on Norwegian Epic, where have you been? blue arrows

Dining on Norwegian Epic
The overall quality of the food on Epic is surprisingly good, but the specialty restaurants are not all equal in quality. I give a mini-review of each one. blue arrows

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Chef Matt Sigel's Cruise with CruiseMates
Join Chef Matt Sigel's on Norwegian Epic, Halloween Cruise, Oct 30, 2010 Travel from Miami to Costa Maya, Roatan Honduras and Cozumel - 7-days

Let's Get Lei'd 5.0
We're doing yet again - for the fifth time (because these cruises do so well) - We are going to Hawaii on a Princess ship, this time the mega-Sapphire Princess. We sail from Los Angeles and return to the same. Eight days at sea and five beautiful ports of call - four of them in Hawaii, plus Ensenada. February 26, 2011.

Allure of the Seas
Join your CruiseMates on the newest world's biggest cruise ship on October 2nd, 2011, on the sister ship to Oasis of the Seas slated to debut in early December of 2010. We have great prices and plenty of onboard fun in store for you!