Norwegian Epic has some of the best and worst attributes ever built into a cruise ship, which is why it earned its moniker at the "ugly duckling."
Norwegian Epic may be referred to as the "ugly duckling" of the cruise industry, but what is lacks in design it makes up in service and amenities.
Sometimes the confluence of time, money and power leads to “one of a kind” creations. The Saturn-V rocket and the entire moon landing are good examples. The economic boom of the early 2000's brought other “wow factor” projects, like Steve Wynn’s eponymous Las Vegas hotel and the world’s tallest tower, the Burj Khalifa in Dubai.
The cruise industry also caught “wow-fever” during this time and gave us sailing wonders unlikely to be equaled for decades. In 2006, Royal Caribbean conceived its “Genesis Project, ” constructing the two largest and most technologically-advanced cruise ships ever - Oasis of the Seas and Allure of the Seas.
To compete, the smaller but scrappier Norwegian Cruise Line created its own mega-ship design in 2006. It was dubbed “F3, ” signifying the third generation of “FreeStyle Cruising” - a term NCL coined to describe cruise ships with “no set dining times, no assigned tables, a relaxed dress code and more restaurants than days in the week.” F3 was touted as the epitome of the “FreeStyle” concept - an would become the third largest ship in the world.
Norwegian placed a firm order with a top shipyard in France for two new, identical F3 vessels in 2006 – with the discretionary option for a third. That third ship was never built; in fact, neither was the second. Only Norwegian Epic was finished – and within its “hull and timbers” are some of the best and worst attributes ever built into a cruise ship.
For this reason, I like to call Norwegian Epic the "Ugly Duckling" of the cruise industry. I just returned from my second sailing on the ship last week. My first was the inaugural cruise in June 2010, from Southampton to New York City.
What is Wrong with Norwegian Epic?
Epic is widely regarded as the ugliest cruise ship in existence, as the blog UglyShips.com shows in a pictorial. Carnival’s top cruise director, John Heald, wrote on his FaceBook page, “it was a beautiful day in St.Thomas … though there were puddles of vomit along the pier. Then I realized we were docked next to the Epic.”
But as with the original Ugly Duckling, first impressions can be wrong, and Epic actually has some of the finest cruise ship features at sea. But first a dish of old-fashioned schadenfreude (a German word that means taking joy in the misery of others).
The gracious and majestic profiles of passenger ships have been celebrated for centuries. But it is hard to imagine a less appealing visage than Norwegian Epic's - especially its protruding Frankenstein’s monster forehead dominating bow of the ship, evoking exactly the opposite impression of streamlined vessels cutting through the wind and sea.
Then there's Epic’s body, like a stack of Lego blocks. In an odder-than-life coincidence, I found a picture of a real 1995 Lego Toy Company box known as the Color Line Promotional Set: Cruise Ship. UglyShips.com suggests Norwegian used this picture as the inspiration for the ship design – and they could be right.
This actual box from 1995 contains building blocks from the Lego “FreeStyle” product, which Lego created in 1995 - a decade before Norwegian adopted the word “FreeStyle” in a hale chorus for its style of cruising.
Ugly is Not Only Skin Deep
And that's not all. Norwegian Epic has the worst stateroom design ever. Norwegian boasted “a unique bathroom treatment where every area is separate, including the shower and a modern vanity sink. The walls are curved to create a modern and chic living experience.”
In fact, the bathroom treatments are only semi-private and not soundproof at all. The toilet and the shower are only separated from the main room by partially closed frosted glass panels. Anyone inside either “facility” becomes a blurry image with little left to the imagination. To top it off, they are each located on either side of the front door, so if your room steward walks in at the wrong time someone could get an eyeful.