The announcement is significant for a two reasons. One, Epic is the largest ship -- passenger-wise -- ever to spend a season in the Mediterranean. Royal Caribbean's Independence of the Seas, which sailed Europe cruises from the U.K. in 2008, has a leg up on tonnage, but its double occupancy capacity is 3,634 to Epic's 4,200.
Also, NCL's the second mainstream line this year (and it's only January!) to announce it will dedicate its newest, biggest ship to the region; Carnival just last week revealed that its upcoming Carnival Magic has a Mediterranean season on tap. Both are positive signs of recovery for the industry, after a weak economic period in which many cruise lines kept ships closer to home.
Norwegian Epic will sail 22 seven-night cruises roundtrip from Barcelona, calling on Livorno (for Florence or Pisa), Civitavecchia (for Rome), Naples and Palma de Mallorca with two days at sea. There are also, naturally, repositionings to and from the Caribbean on both ends (an 11-nighter from Miami, with one stop in the Azores, departing May 7, 2011, and a 13-day transatlantic sailing back, scheduled for October 23, 2011 with stops in the Azores and St. Thomas).
Once back in Miami, Norwegian Epic will sail a series of 23 seven-day Eastern Caribbean cruises from November 5, 2011 through April 7, 2012. Ports include St. Maarten, St. Thomas and Nassau, plus two sea days. Itineraries beyond that date have not yet been revealed.
Norwegian Epic's 2011 and 2012 cruises go on sale to members of NCL's past passenger program, Latitudes, on January 27, 2010, and to the general public on January 28, 2010. Mediterranean weeklongs start from $699 per person.
--by Melissa Paloti, Managing Editor