Norwegian Epic Cruise offers a luxury vacation amid a pandemic

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At the end of the hit Broadway show Priscilla queen of the desert I cried last week on Norwegian Cruise Line’s Epic. No, I haven’t shed tears because a son was finally reunited with his long-lost drag queen father. I didn’t cry either because the men on the show were wearing high heels with a lot more confidence than I could ever be.

I cried with relief that it is still possible to have fun again.

As the actors strolled on stage in their colorful costumes to take their final bow, their eyes shone with pride, not just because of their outstanding achievements, but because they were able to share their talent with an audience again.

Lavish restaurants, breathtaking Broadway musicals, meetings and conversations with strangers have not been part of my life for almost two years, and suddenly, on board the cruise ship, it all came back in an exciting rush.

Many industries have experienced a setback amid the COVID crisis, but cruises have been particularly hard hit. In the case of Norwegian, their ships did not carry customers for 500 days and did not return to service until July, said Nick Wilkinson, the company’s regional vice president for Israel, the Middle East and Africa.

With its water slides, whirlpools and mini pools, the upper deck of the ‘Epic’ is fun for the whole family. (Credit: NOA AMOUYAL)

How many have I wondered how to stay safe on a cruise during a pandemic, but NCL managed to create what is possibly the safest vacation today.

The company requires all guests to be fully vaccinated, which unfortunately means children under the age of 12 are not yet allowed to crossbreed. Each crew member is also vaccinated and tested once a week. In addition, the ship is equipped with temperature monitoring devices in several ship areas, which, as an additional measure, secretly measure the temperature of the guests.

Upon arrival, guests arrive in a huge terminal where they receive a rapid COVID test. Those who are negative will be taken on board and begin their vacation. Those who test positive, Wilkinson assures, are also looked after by the company that sets them up in a COVID hotel and monitors them until they can test negative.

While the Epic can typically accommodate 4,100 people, Norwegian has currently only allowed half of them so the ship is not at full capacity.

“We want to be seen driving health and safety standards in the industry,” he said, adding that the additional regulations and costs the company incurs are seen as a long-term investment that reassures its customer base that everything is the high seas are okay – even in today’s uncertain times.

And you know what? It’s a formula that seems to work because, aside from wearing masks indoors on the ship, the guests – myself included – were happy to chat, eat, drink and be cheerful with the COVID headache behind us let us concentrate on the offer.

And these offers are plentiful.

The ship, which was built in 2010 and renovated last year, has 15 restaurants, 17 bars, a fully equipped spa, an extensive casino, three gigantic water slides, a bowling alley and a theater that hosts lavish Broadway shows like the above Priscilla.

The interior of Norwegian Cruise Line's balcony staterooms.  (Credit: NORWEGIAN CRUISE LINE)The interior of Norwegian Cruise Line’s balcony staterooms. (Credit: NORWEGIAN CRUISE LINE)

LET’S START with the food. In a word, it’s spectacular. Whether you’re enjoying the cheesy spinach and artichoke dip in O’Sheehan’s Bar & Grill or a juicy steak in Cagney’s Steakhouse – one of the specialty restaurants – it’s impossible to be hungry on board the Epic.

On the cruise, the Premium Beverage Package (PBP) card is your friend. This card gives you unlimited access to the myriad of beverages on board and is available to guests who choose the Free at Sea package when booking. My favourite drink? Your “perfect” margarita, which lived up to its name.

Free at Sea has four premium options for you to choose from (currently their website has a sale for all four). In addition to the premium drinks package, you can also receive free WiFi, credit for the upscale specialty restaurants on the ship and discounts on excursions.

While the ship’s endless activities are tempting, there are a few destinations that need to be explored. On our itinerary, we stopped in Livorno, Italy, and had a delicious “light” lunch at Fattoria San Donato – an organic wine farm tucked away in the Tuscan countryside. This “light” lunch was quite a spread with all the ingredients from the region and sourced from neighboring farms. Salami, olives, Gorgonzola and bread soaked in garlic and olive oil were offered, along with generous carafes of Chianti and a Vernaccia white wine, which the owner Federica Fenzi encouraged us to eat.

Then we took a leisurely stroll through the medieval walls of San Gimignano, a beautiful Tuscan town that has looked practically untouched for hundreds of years. We marveled at the intricate towers from the 13th and 14th centuries, enjoyed delicious ice cream and took a few little things home – especially small saffron packets that turn even the simplest dish into a gourmet masterpiece.

An ornate chandelier hangs in the middle of the ship, giving guests a sense of the luxury that awaits them on board.  (Credit: NOA AMOUYAL)An ornate chandelier hangs in the middle of the ship, giving guests a sense of the luxury that awaits them on board. (Credit: NOA AMOUYAL)

After a packed day on land, the night has only just begun, as dinner and exploring the nightlife on the ship can be enjoyed until the wee hours of the morning. The most entertaining was the Ice Bar, in which guests are offered various types of vodka at -17 degrees Celsius. I wish I could tell you what these offerings were, but I was too cold to take in what Ralph – our kind of earmuffs and gloved waiter – was telling us. However, I know the orange cocktail I enjoyed was delicious.

How much would this all-inclusive extravaganza cost? Surprisingly, it’s not as steep as you’d think, especially given the value for money. Balcony rooms cost between $ 1,600 and $ 2,000 per person, depending on the season; The lavish and newly renovated Haven Suites cost between $ 4,000 and $ 7,000, and the studio rooms, which are ideal for single travelers, cost between $ 1,450 and 1,650.

“After 500 days with no customers, this is the big cruise comeback,” said Wilkinson.

This comeback includes the introduction of new ships into their fleet, including the Prima, which will make her sailing debut in August 2022.

Wilkinson is particularly interested in Israelis participating in the company’s growth, given that the Jewish state is the sixth largest international market for the cruise industry.

To that end, much is planned for Israelis planning Passover in 2022 and beyond, with several cruises having Israel on their itinerary. The Epic itself will be back in Mediterranean waters in April next year.

While Epic may have been my first cruise, it won’t be my last.

The author was a guest on Norwegian Cruise Lines.


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