(7 a.m. EDT) -- Norwegian Cruise Line is one step closer to launching its largest, trendiest and most innovative cruise ship after taking delivery of Norwegian Epic today from STX Europe's shipyard in St. Nazaire, France. A cruise line spokesperson confirms to Cruise Critic early this morning that the handover has indeed taken place; in industry parlance, this simply means that the ship is completed, paid for and officially owned by the cruise line -- a huge milestone after a two-plus-year construction process.
Norwegian Epic is handily the most anticipated new ship launch this year, ushering in revolutionary and exciting features such as:
Whopping 128 solo cabins. These studio staterooms, measuring 100 square feet, are all priced for single occupancy and appointed with single travelers in mind. The cabins (all insides) share a Studios Lounge which features a bar, a concierge for booking dinner reservations and shore excursions, and comfy seating for meeting and mingling.
A New, "Epic" Option for Solo Travelers
Exciting entertainment options. The Blue Man Group is headed to sea and will perform eight performance per weeklong cruise in the Epic Theatre (which, by the way, is nearly twice as large as the troupe's home theater in NYC). We're also looking forward to Cirque Dreams and Dinner, a combination alternative restaurant where the waitstaff are part of the show.
Norwegian Epic Cirque Dreams Photo and Video Preview
NCL Favorites, Reborn. Much of what already works on NCL's other ships -- multiple restaurants, bowling, lots of balconies -- is also on Epic, in some cases featured in a newer and bigger way. Take the line's signature Courtyard Villas: There are now 60 of them, located across a two-deck-high private complex, the largest "ship within a ship" at sea.
More Norwegian Epic Details!
The build hasn't been without its challenges -- including a recent spate of unexplained fires -- but now that the ship officially belongs to NCL, a busy schedule of pre-inaugural and christening activities can finally begin. A few highlights:
June 24: Epic makes its U.K. debut in Southampton
July 1: Ship arrives Stateside for series of preview cruises
July 2: Norwegian Epic is christened in New York City
July 4: Ship serves as host venue for Macy's 4th of July Fireworks celebration
July 10: Caribbean cruise season out of Miami begins
Through it all, we'll be offering photos, video and more -- so stay tuned! In the meantime, get to know the man behind all the "fun" stuff onboard, Norwegian Epic's hotel director, in this special-edition Q&A.
--by Melissa Paloti, Managing Editor