Norwegian Cruise Line's 153,000-ton, 4,200-passenger Norwegian Epic -- almost as notable for what's not onboard as for what is (there's no "main" anything, but lots of individual restaurants and entertainment venues) -- inched a step closer to launch at its mid-July 2009 float out. Currently under construction on the Atlantic coast of France at STX Europe's Chantiers de l'Atlantique shipyard in Saint-Nazaire, the ship's first cruise out of Miami will set sail on July 17, 2010. When Epic launches, it will be exceeded in size only by Royal Caribbean's Freedom-class trio (barely) and, of course, the giant among giants, the 220,000-ton Oasis of the Seas.
"Float out" is the maritime term for the process by which a dry dock, where workers have completed the exterior build of a ship, is slowly filled with water. Once the ship is floating, it is moved to a wet dock, where interior work commences.
One of the major highlights of the event was a chance to tour Norwegian Epic inside and out. It's the biggest cruise ship ever built at this yard and the biggest for the line -- and where the size is felt is actually in width rather than length. It's some 30 percent wider than the line's next biggest Jewel-class vessels. The cost of Epic: 735 million euros.
The interior is still very much a construction site (we toured Decks 5, 6 and 7), with wires and tools in spaces where there will eventually be hopping nightlife and the line's signature bright furniture. The restaurants and bars don't look like much of anything just yet, but the biggest impression we've gotten already is one of open space. On Deck 5, for example, a lot of the ceilings in these public areas are open to Deck 6 or Decks 6 and 7; in this way, the illusion of space is created by having mini atriums of two or three decks high throughout the length of the ship.
Meanwhile, up on the pool deck, you can make out the shape of the massive movie screen surrounded by amphitheatre seating, and the casings where the hot tub will be fitted. Smokestacks are accounted for, but the waterslides won't be installed until sometime next year. And, yes, the ship does look top heavy, which was a common criticism voiced after the first artist renderings of the livery were released -- but the trade-off on the unusual design is, of course, more space for more features (in this case, additional Courtyard Villas).