A look at the Norwegian Epic
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Norwegian Epic

Out of the many ships available these days, one that stands out is the Norwegian Epic.The major cruise lines are continuously pushing the boundaries with innovations on board their ships and Norwegian cruise line are no different.

Difference in cabins

With seven categories of staterooms and twenty-nine different configurations, each one provides a different experience for holidaymakers.

The first thing you will notice when you arrive in your cabin is how good the decor and space settings are. The suites contain a ceiling window that will provide unforgettable sights of the stars at night. With a new system of family villas, guests are secured privacy around the ‘Member’s Only’ pool that has several Jacuzzis, and a relaxation area called Villas Courtyard. There is an adjacent upmarket lounge area as well called “The Epic Club”.

For the fitness minded cruise passenger, the SPA Deluxe Staterooms come with their very own key card which gives you access to the “Mandara Spa and Fitness Centre”.

Epic Haven Suite

The Norwegian Epic has a good number of studio cabins designed for the solo traveler. Prior to this concept a single passenger either had to share a cabin or pay double occupancy fees. This option makes it very affordable for those who travel by themselves.

Dining options

Norwegian cruise line are well known for their Freestyle Cruising concept, which came out ten years ago and revolutionised the entire industry. It is good to start off by heading to one of the many specialty restaurants. Options include the New York style supper club “The Manhattan Room“, the classic steakhouse “Cagney’s“, or “La Cucina“ which provide al dente meals prepared as old-world Tuscan fare.

There are also plenty of Asian restaurants which consist of the sushi bar “Wasabi“, the exciting “Teppanyaki“ bar where food is cooked right in front of you and an all-time favourite known as the “Shangha“, perfect if you want a variety of dim sum and other Chinese specialties.

Wasabi Sushi Bar

Freestyle dining means there is no dress code, with many of the eateries onboard. Smart casual is the order of the day. Have a quick bite or snack, during the day at several casual dining venues spread throughout the ship. Of course, 24 hour room service is available with meals delivered right to the cabin.

Recently NCL has introduced a pre-paid specialty dining option as an add-on to the price of the cruise which allows you to dine in almost any speciality restaurant for a set fee.

Activities and entertainment

There are so many activities and shows onboard the Epic; you will never become bored.

Some of the main attractions are the Aqua Park, a thrilling experience with its enormous Epic Plunge water slides, 2 pool areas and a children’s only pool. There’s a two storey high sports and gaming complex nearby with every arcade game and sport imaginable. Indulge in games such as basketball and hockey in their accurate arenas. The sports complex offers even more obscure sports such as a Squash court and a boxing ring.

epic water slide

The “Spider Bar” is a fun wall climbing attraction that allows visitors to test their balance and arm strength. There’s Bowling, as well as, a casino with all sorts of gaming tables and slot machines.  A wide variety of shows at the Main Theatre play each evening.

A Cirque du Soleil style show awaits visitors at the Spiegel Tent but for a more mellow experience, listen to the jazz music and comedy revue at the Fat Cats club.

The ICE Bar on board is the perfect place to chill out and cool off after a long day. One of only 14 bars carved out of ice in the world, the temperature sits at 17 degrees. Luckily, the fur hats, coats and gloves are provided to keep you warm.

Never mind a floating hotel, the Norwegian Epic is a 4,100-passenger vessel that can be considered a city. Traveling onboard the this ship will seem more like a land holiday resort rather than a cruise ship.

Images courtesy of Norwegian Cruise Lines

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Art Auctions at Sea
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cruise ship art

One of the most exciting side attractions on any major cruise ship is the art appreciation. It is not anything new to the cruise industry but like everything else, it has gone through several changes over the years.

The idea of art at sea came in the 1990s and turned into a wildly popular pastime especially for those days at sea. Passengers are treated to an array of authenticated and signed pieces of art on display prior to the scheduled auction.

For those who are new to the idea of obtaining a piece of artwork, it can be a bit intimidating, and the auctions at sea are the perfect opportunity for the novice to learn and take the first steps to starting a collection.

AUCTIONS BEGIN WITH LECTURES AND CHAMPAGNE

These auctions begin with a traditional serving of champagne and an enrichment lecture that gives passengers interesting particulars about the works on display. At times, a specific artist is emphasised in the opening talk. The selections available to bid on included original paintings, signed lithographs and etching, sculptures or even film cells of favourite Disney films enlarged, numbered and framed.

These series of auctions have been aboard Carnival Cruise Lines, Norwegian Cruise Line, Regent Seven Seas, Royal Caribbean International, Disney Cruise Lines and Celebrity Cruises amongst others.

Eventually, the ship’s art curator was able to secure items for high end buyers of original masterpieces. Those who have dabbled with the palette such as Warhol, Picasso and Dali and were not represented in the auction were obtainable for passengers through the ship’s art agent.

CRUISE SHIP ART AUCTIONS INCLUDE QUALITY REPRODUCTIONS

If owning an original such as that is out of the price range, then the best alternative is bidding on a high quality reproduction in the form of lithographs or etchings signed and numbered by the artist for the fraction of the cost. Not only do they add a lifelong memory of the cruise holiday, they serve as an attractive decor offering many years of visual pleasure.

Unfortunately, the age of the art auction began to decline a few years ago, although you can still attend them on some cruise lines. They tend to be held only on sailings going to the Caribbean.

Prior to even setting foot on the ship, passengers can check out the pieces selected for their sailing on-line.

Some ships have developed new art based activities to replace the fast pace auctions of the past.

One of these alternatives is the enrichment programs that feature art related trips in ports. On the trips, sights related to the arts are seen in museums and personal collections, in galleries to places of worship and local iconic monuments. Back on board, a lecture and Q & A takes place.

If one wants to see art at their own leisure, the interactive art tour program is perfect from them. Some lines such as Holland America offer downloadable MP3s for tablets for museums and other points of interests. The MP3s even include a tour of the ship’s artwork featured throughout the public areas. These walking tours average a half an hour and contain intriguing items such as interviews and pointing out lesser known art of interest.

SOME CRUISE LINES INVITE FAMOUS ARTISTS ONBOARD

Other cruise lines, such as Celebrity Cruises, go so far as to invite renowned artists on board for their meet and greet series, as well holding live interviews and lectures. Of course, this leads to the artist’s work being prominently featured, as in the case of pop artist Peter Max who celebrated his birthday in 2010 on the Celebrity Solstice.

Sometimes, artists will even create works of art on site, such as marine life artist Wyland, who came up with a portrait of dolphins in the pool of the ship.

Most ships still maintain an art curator or art gallery manager who can be instrumental in helping a passenger obtain a piece of art, whether on-board the ship or held in any world-wide gallery. Art collecting is fun, invigorating, exhilarating and mind expanding.

Buying a piece from the vast array of visual art offered on a ship need not be a daunting process. Even if a passenger prefers browsing to buying, they are most welcomed to view and ask questions.

The magnificent colours, shapes, designs and concepts can be seen in the home or office each and every day with a signed reproduction or an original piece of art purchased on-board.

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Sicilys three Main Cruise Ports
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Sicily is a total contrast full of history, art, and natural beauty. Cruise holiday makers get to experience some of its secrets whether in port or out on an excursion. There are three main ports (Catania, Messina and Palermo) which service the largest island in the Mediterranean.

However, if that’s not enough, then you can arrange a prearranged excursion from the ship’s tour desk. Here’s a sampling of what’s available in Sicily.

Catania

Located on the eastern side of Sicily, Catania is the city closest to Mount Etna.

Its landmark is the Cattedrale di Sant’Agata, also known as Cathedral of the Archdiocese of Catania. The cathedral was built in the 11th century and is designed in an appealing Sicilian baroque style. The cathedral’s Italian namesake is Saint Agatha of Sicily, the Patron Saint of the city and Sicily as a whole.

Another icon of the city is the Palazzo Biscari, a 16th century palace constructed on behalf of the will of the princes of Biscari after the 11th of January 1693 earthquake. Each room within contains their own unique items but the best place to view is the Princess Apartments which has remains of the Roman pavement.

Other things to see in the city include the Amphitheatre of Catania, which was built by the Romans in the second century and the Castello Ursino, which was built in the 1240s and serves as a location for the Museo Civico.

Catania

Messina

Messina was well known as being a hub for both trade and transportation, but the city’s fortunes sadly changed after a disastrous tsunami and earthquake hit in the early 1900s. Located on the northeast portion of Sicily, the town has been rebuilt.

The Duomo of Messina is a 12th century cathedral that is a testament to the longevity of the city. The cathedral was originally designed in the Norman style where it persisted for many years until the aforementioned tsunami and earthquake, the façade of which can still be seen. The bell tower of the church contains one of the largest mechanical clocks in the world and its statues depict scenes from the history of the city every day at 12:00 noon.

The Fountain of Orion was completed in the year 1553 and was built by Giovanni Angelo Montorsoli, a former student of Michelangelo. It served not only as an embellishment to the plaza but also as a way to transport water. The fountain is designed in an appealing Renaissance style and depicts scenes from mythology.

The Lighthouse of Messina, also known as the San Ranieri Lighthouse is another symbol of Messina. It was finished in 1555 by Giovanni Angelo Montorsoli and guided ships to the sickle shaped harbour for years.

MSC ship in Messina

 Palermo

Palermo is a melting pot port city that dates back to the 8th century BC. Inhabitants who left their mark include the Persians, Romans, Normans and the Byzantines amongst others.

The Palermo Cathedral, also known as the Cattedrale della Santa Vergine Maria Assunta, built in the 12th century is the main cathedral in Palermo. This cathedral is known for its potpourri of architectural styles that give it an iconic look.

Another noteworthy church to visit here is the Basilica of San Francesco d’Assisi built in a very appealing Romanesque-Gothic style. It was built as a tribute to St. Francis of Assisi and hails from the 13th century.

The Fontana Pretoria is located in the middle of the Piazza Pretoria. Depicting mythological creatures, such as nymphs and river goddesses, the Renaissance style fountain was constructed in the 1500s by Francesco Camilliani.

For history buffs, the best place to visit is the local archaeological museum. This museum is arguably one of the most significant museums in Sicily and houses a huge array of historical artefacts, with some pieces dating back to prehistoric times.

Palermo

Optional Excursions

  • Agrigento – This 580 BC village, known as the “Valley of the Temples” is a Greek archaeological site. There are  eight temples within the impressive Temple of Concordia’s Doric columns.
  •  Savoca – Walk the steps of Michael Corleone in this Sicilian town used for the film, “The Godfather”.  Nothing has changed since the filming except its name.
  • Siracusa (Syracuse) – This World Heritage Site located near the south eastern corner of Sicily is filled to the hilt with antiquities that rivals Athens and Rome. The ancient Greek settlement dates from 8th century B.C.
  • Taormina – The very impressive Greek-Roman Theatre is perched up high with open views of Mt. Etna and the crystal clear Giardi Sea.  Meander through the cobblestone streets in this artists village.

No matter where your ship stops in Sicily, you will always have a lot of shore excursions to choose from.

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Royal Caribbean’s New Dynamic Dining Options
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Silk Restaurant

Cruise holidays have changed through the decades. In the early 20th century, they were a means of getting from one place to another in style. Then in the 1960s and 70s, they became a form of Las Vegas style entertainment with a few places of interest thrown in. The 1990s introduced the ‘bigger is better’ concept and every year cruise lines have inaugurated mega ships that are cities within themselves.

Change has been constant in the cruise industry and one staple that remained unchanged was the main venue for dining. The cruise lines kept the main dining room intact but have introduced specialty and/or flexible dining options for their passengers. However, that could be about to change with the main dining room going the same way as the dinosaur.

Royal Caribbean are well known for their top notch service in all areas, and their dining is no exception. They wowed crowds recently in New York City when they decided to unveil their new dining system. This system, called ‘Dynamic Dining’, is due to revolutionise the eating experience on a cruise ship and is as simple as it is genius. No expense has been spared when it comes to the restaurants on board these two ships.

Dynamic Dining is going to premiere on the new ships Quantum and Anthem of the Seas before eventually being rolled out on RCCL’s other ships. Say goodbye to the dining experience of the past!

Quantum of the Seas

The biggest change is going to be in the main dining room. Instead of having one restaurant, there are going to be five separate dining venues in the area, each with its own cuisine.  A completely new reservation system that promises to make it easier to secure a time and day for trying one of the dining venues will be in place.

The selection on the Quantum and Anthem are vast. These restaurants consist of The American Icon Grill, providing regional comfort foods from the USA with a road trip décor, Chic, a contemporary spot that serves contemporary cuisine; Silk, which features delectable pan-Asian dishes.

The Coastal Kitchen serves up Mediterranean food in a Californian style but only passengers booked in suites can dine here. The Grande will be a more familiar sight to avid cruisers and situated in a refined and formal setting.

Royal Caribbean Grand Restaurant

It should be noted that smart casual attire is the order for dining with the exception of The Grand, where guests can clad in elegant and formal evening wear. The Grand pays homage to those grand ladies of the sea that are long gone with a nostalgic flair.

While these dining areas all sound tempting, Royal Caribbean have also outdone themselves with their specialty restaurants. Famous British chef Jamie Oliver is planning to open up an Italian restaurant that is sure to please the palate.

Other options include Wonderland, which offers a surrealistic surrounding to its range of international food, the British themed Michael’s Genuine Pub and the Devinly Decadent at the Solarium Bistro that offers healthier dishes.

Wonderland Restaurant

Mainstays from other Royal Caribbean ships will be available here such as their popular Izumi Japanese Tapanyaki, Chops Grille steakhouse and the Chef’s Table.

Ultra casual dining can still be located at their self-service Windjammer Marketplace buffet. SeaPlex Dog House is the first ever food truck at sea serving ‘street food.’ The Café @ Two70° will sit in the crow’s nest of the ship with 270° panoramic sea views.

Sorrrento’s, Café Promenade and Johnny Rockets are familiar to fans of RCCL and will be available for all guests.

The Quantum of the Seas is due to debut in autumn of 2015 with a total of 18 dining facilities. Both the Quantum and Anthem have scheduled many “firsts at sea”. How about indulging in a skydiving experience? It will be available as well as riding high above the ship for unlimited panoramic views in a glass pod called the ‘North Star’. Reservations are open but it will certainly be difficult on deciding which restaurant to dine in.

Images courtesy of Royal Caribbean International

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An Insight into Viking River Cruise Vessels
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After making cruising history by christening no less than 16 ships in 3 different countries – all in less than 24 hours – Viking River Cruises are enjoying a great start to 2014. Not only were these magnificent events attended by some of the industry’s top brass, but seven ships were even gifted their own ‘godmother’, as hundreds of invited guests watched Champagne smashing against the various hulls via video link.

From Mary Berry, iconic host of The Great British Bake Off, to France’s multi-award winning singer Mireille Mathieu, no expense was spared in the celebration and promotion of Viking’s new range of vessels. But when we take a closer look at the ships themselves, just what is it that makes them stand out of the crowd? Quite simply, the answer is everything.

Longship: The Unprecedented Expansion

The Longship design, which Viking began rolling out in 2012, has helped to bolster the company’s vessel numbers from 35 in 2013 to 52 in 2014 – an unprecedented expansion to say the least. With room for 190 passengers to enjoy spacious and bespoke luxury, the Longship boasts the largest river ship suite in Europe as well as completely redesigned cabins and corridors.

Furthermore, the Longship’s design was voted Best New River Ship by Cruise Critic Editors in 2012, due to their “sleek lines, stunning atrium, balcony cabins with full-sized verandahs, and hotel-style suites.” Viking  aren’t running out of superlatives either, describing their vessels as “revolutionary” and “inspired by Viking gods”, so just why is the Longship so heavenly?

Well, to start with, the Longship series has been built by Neptune Werft, the historic German shipbuilder at their Mecklenburg-Vorpommern shipyards, and designed by one of the world’s leading maritime architect companies, Yran & Storbraaten.

Viking are also awaiting patent on the designs too, which include French balconies, full-size staterooms and verandas offering 270 degree views in their 445 sq.ft Explorer Suites. And that’s not all; the rooms are quite a talking point as well, with HD entertainment and deluxe spa products in the bathrooms as standard.

Environmentally Friendly Features

Based on the ancient Nordic vessels, Viking River Cruises has tried to encapture the spirit of Norse mythology within their Longships by naming them after characters featured in Scandinavian folklore. Furthermore, with more and more people travelling by river and cruise ship than ever before, ensuring vessels are environmentally friendly has never been so important.

Not only is the Longship built with hybrid engines that reduce noise and vibration on board, but they’re also fitted with solar panels too, supplementing the fuel requirements of the engines. You’ll even find an organic herb garden on the sun deck for the chefs to source fresh seasoning.

There’s no doubt that Viking represent the future of river cruising, not only in Europe but also throughout the globe. And although their new range of Longships has been attracting all the attention as of late, they also offer numerous other vessels for their cruises to Russia, China and Southeast Asia.

The Russian fleet, which includes the Helgi, Truvor, Rurik, Ingvar and Kaun, have recently benefited from a comprehensive upgrade, offering deluxe staterooms and public areas comparable to the Longships. Guests can also enjoy panoramic views from the luxury restaurant, laundry service and even an on-board doctor.

Viking Truvor

The state of the art Viking Emerald is the stand alone ship representing the China fleet, and built in 2012 it really is a giant among men. Offering 128 staterooms, an on-board tailor and boutique, spa facilities and even a library, it’s a shame that its longest cruise is only 18 days. This is a ship you really can live on.

Viking Emerald

River cruises have always been popular, but if you’re looking for an alternative type of holiday that packs in the best of Europe’s cities and waterways, it’s hard to look past Viking River Cruises. 2014 is set to be a busy year for the company, and with their huge increases in bookings already, maybe it’s time to order a brochure.

For more information visit www.vikingrivercruises.co.uk