(11 a.m. EDT) -- Norwegian Epic hasn't even been officially named yet and we've already been told the ship is to be a one-off.
At a press conference onboard the vessel yesterday, NCL's CEO, Kevin Sheehan, said that there would not be an Epic Mark Two.
Originally, when Norwegian Epic was still only known by the codename F3, two vessels were planned (with an option for a third), but NCL declined the option and then cancelled the second ship in 2008 following a dispute with the STX Europe shipyard -- just as the global economy began to turn sour.
Fast forward to today. Epic is a $1.1 billion reality, and some big changes by a tough new management team have put the cruise line in profit. But when asked when the line would announce its next new cruise ship, Sheehan said carefully: "We will continue to evaluate our business and build when the time is right. Any new ship will not be exactly like this, but will allow us to take on the next generation of Freestyle Cruising."
Epic's status as one-ship class is highly unusual given the industry's heavy reliance on carbon copies, and the ship looks very different from its fleetmates. At 153,000 tons and carrying 4,100 passengers, the monolithic new-build is some 60 percent larger than NCL's next largest series of ships, the 93,500-ton, 2,384 passenger Jewel class. Epic also has a slieu of new-to-cruise features, like 128 solo cabins and an Ice Bar, unavailable on any of its fleetmates. It remains to be seen what type of impact this disparity will have, and how the line's new-build strategy will play out.
Factors that might encourage NCL to build more ships would include a less volatile stock market and a bargain offer from a shipyard, Sheehan said, adding that with orders for new-builds tailing off, Europe's big yards are getting increasingly desperate and are doing the rounds of the cruise lines, touting for business.
But NCL will probably want get to used to the revolutionary design of its new baby before contemplating yet another brand-new style of ship. The 4,100-capacity Epic has felt pretty crowded this week with only 2,500 onboard, although president and chief operating officer Roberto Martinoli has pronounced the executives 'quite pleased' with passenger flow -- and no ship can be judged fairly on its first couple of days in operation. "We will be ramping up to a full ship by late August/early September," he added.
Royal Caribbean did the same with Oasis of the Seas when it launched last December, waiting for several sailings before filling the ship to its 6,296 capacity and putting the crew under what must be considerable pressure.
Norwegian Epic leaves today from Southampton on its inaugural cruise, a seven-night transatlantic that'll end up in New York on July 1; a July 2 christening ceremony led by godmother Reba McEntire will follow. If you're on Epic's transatlantic to New York or one of the early cruises, do let us know how the new ship is shaping up on our Everything Epic forum.
--by Sue Bryant, Cruise Critic Contributing Editor
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