(5 p.m. EDT) -- Neither shipyard fires nor controversial semi-transparent cabin bathrooms could stop the Champagne from smashing against Norwegian Epic's hull today in Manhattan, as NCL officially welcomed its largest and most ambitious ship into the fleet.
The ceremony was a multi-act affair, broadcast live from around the ship at several of the the 4,100-passenger, 153,000-ton Epic's many entertainment venues. Dueling pianists from "Howl at the Moon" performed a mini-medley of "rock hits on request" in Headliners, the comedy and nightclub; Nickelodeon stars Dora the Explorer, Sponge Bob and Jimmy Neutron danced with younger cruisers in the atrium (two of said youngsters were pied in the face); and a trio of confused mutes from Blue Man Group created an impromptu Epic poster in the Epic Theater by using drumsticks to send green and red paint splattering around a stencil of "Norwegian Epic." Attendees in each venue watched performances from other locations on giant movie screens.
Comedian and "Curb Your Enthusiasm" star Jeff Garlin served as host, adding a touch of boisterous humor to the highly choreographed event, and poking fun at his teleprompter ("Jeff adlibs for 10 seconds," he read to the audience). "I didn't have a big interest in a ship so big," said the comedian as he opened the ceremony. "I feel teeny ... I feel like a pretty little girl." Of Epic's first-at-sea 17-degree Ice Bar, Garlin joked, "because often you're on land and you think, could they do this at sea?" Brother Robert Connely, the principal from NCL CEO Kevin Sheehan's Catholic high school, provided the traditional invocation, blessing the ship and wishing it smooth sailing through peaceful waters. Garlin, retaking the stage, said he found the sincere and reverent invocation "lighthearted and bouncy."
The culmination of the event came when the ship's godmother, country music icon Reba McEntire, appeared on stage to push a digital Champagne bottle on the big movie screen in the Epic Theater, triggering a seconds-long video of a Champagne bottle smashing against the ship's hull, and signifying the official debut of Norwegian Epic. During her brief speech, McEntire revealed that she's a legitimate NCL fan, and that her latest voyage with the line was a Norwegian Gem sailing to the Mediterranean.
Also on hand were NCL executives, including CEO Kevin Sheehan, top brass from NCL part-owner Apollo Management, and upper management from STX Europe, the company responsible for building the ship at a shipyard in St. Nazaire, France.
While the ceremony was overwhelmingly upbeat -- basically a highlight reel of Epic's innovative entertainment -- Sheehan took a moment to reflect on the difficult road Norwegian Epic had navigated from initial concept to launch."We faced lots of challenges," he said, "but we rose to the occasion." It has indeed been a hard slog for NCL. Contractual disputes between the line and the shipyard resulted in the cancellation of the originally planned second Epic-class new-build, as well as some heavy fines for NCL to pay (€100 million for the cancellation; €55 million for design changes). A trio of suspicious fires broke out on the under-construction ship in May and June of this year, and the yard suspected arson. A malfunctioning propeller shaft, which limited Epic's top speed, was fixed in Southampton only 10 days ago.
There may still be some kinks to work out. The ship's controversial New Wave cabins have semi-transparent doors for the separate toilet and shower areas (a curtain divides these areas from the rest of the cabin), and a shallow sink that tends to splash water in all directions. Initial response has been mixed, with many passengers complaining about sink water ending up on the cabin floor (and uncomfortable with seeing their partner's shadowy outline in the loo).
Norwegian Epic will set sail this afternoon for a two-day preview cruise, before returning to the pier the morning of July fourth to host the Macy's 4th of July Fireworks Spectacular. After that, the ship will head to its Miami homeport for another two-night mini-cruise before beginning in earnest its maiden Caribbean season. The ship will sail alternating Eastern and Western Caribbean cruises.
--by Dan Askin, Associate Editor
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