Entertainment of Epic Proportions

by Gray Cargill on July 23, 2010

Blue Man Group

Blue Man Group

I swear Norwegian Cruise Line knew exactly what they were doing when they named their newest ship the Epic.  They knew travel writers wouldn’t be able to resist riffing on the name in our headlines.  But honestly, with a ship of this size, with this many restaurants and entertainment options, who can blame us for a little lack of originality?

Maltings Whiskey Bar

Maltings Whiskey Bar

In my last post about the Epic, I noted the many daytime entertainment options aboard the ship that solo travelers could indulge in during those days at sea between ports. Today, I’m going to cover the bars/lounges and shows available (minus the kid-focused, family-friendly Nickelodeon options, which I figure most adult travelers cruising solo would not be all that interested in).

O'Sheehans Bar and Grill

O’Sheehans Bar and Grill

There are numerous bars and lounges available to you in your quest for the ultimate relaxing vacation beverage.  There’s Maltings Whiskey Bar, which has dozens of varieties of whiskey available; The Humidor Cigar Lounge, if you like a smoke with your drink; the Waves Pool Bar, for those frozen beverages that go so well with sitting poolside in a lounge chair; a Sake Bar on deck 7; O’Sheehans Bar and Grill (a pub experience featuring games like pool, air hockey and  a dart board, not to mention bowling lanes); the Atrium Bar, and more.  I didn’t do a lot of drinking during this trip, despite the open bars. (As a reminder, I–and pretty much everyone else aboard–was hosted by Norwegian for this inaugural cruise.)

Big Screen at Spice H2O

Big Screen at Spice H2O

Spice H2O is a day beach club and deckside nightclub.  I only saw it during the day when it wasn’t even serving as a beach club (I believe they were setting up for the 4th of July fireworks at the time).  The NCL website describes its intentions for Spice H2O:  “As the sun sets, Spice H2O transforms into an adults-only, sultry, steamy, Ibiza-inspired beach club. The entertainment is non-stop as the pool floor rises to become a dance floor. A giant screen projects hypnotic visuals under a starry sky. Aerial performers mix dance moves with acrobatic choreography. And you find yourself in the center of it all, delighted that you’re old enough not to have a curfew.” If this turns out to reflect reality, I’d certainly go check it out.  It sounds lively.

Seating at Posh

Seating at Posh

Posh is a bar/club you can only access if you’re staying within the Villas Complex, a private access complex aboard ship (meaning I’ll probably never see it again!).  It’s supposed to have bottle service (which will obviously cost you extra for the booze) and a DJ. It’s a lovely setting up on Deck 18, overlooking the ocean.  There is  comfy overstuffed furniture set up in cozy seating areas around the deck, as well as bar seating.  I had a rum and Coke there. It was fine.  How solo-friendly is it?  Hard to tell. I was there for a press mixer, which was kind of an odd, cliquey affair.  I stuck like glue to one friendly cruise writer I met at the bar, who wound up being one of the most interesting people I’ve met recently and a pleasure to talk with.

Cosmo at Shakers Martini Bar

Cosmo at Shakers Martini Bar

Shaker’s Martini Bar is located on Deck 7, very near Maltings. I asked the bartender what the most popular drink at this particular bar was, and he told me a Cosmo. So I tried one.  Whoo-eee. I am such a lightweight. It was so strong, I could only take a few sips.   These bars on Deck 7 were pretty packed every night.  I have no idea if they still will be when it’s not an open bar.

Bliss UltraLounge

Bliss UltraLounge

Bliss Ultralounge on Deck 7 is actually open during the day, because it has three of those bowling alleys I told you about previously.  But at night, it turns into a music venue with DJ.  The decor is awesome.  It’s a really attractive (though dark) space.  Because it’s so dark, your eyes are drawn to the bar, which is all lit up in the center of the room.   Not much was happening there on a Saturday night at 10:30 during my cruise, which seemed very odd to me. There were two large groups seated in two sections of the lounge, talking, but no music yet, and absolutely no other solos that I could see. I didn’t stay.  But again, this was not a normal cruise.  And I’m also thinking that 10:30 might be a little early for an Ultralounge to start hopping.  It probably doesn’t kick into high gear until midnight. Which makes me way too old for that shit.

Svedka Ice Bar

Svedka Ice Bar

My favorite bar, though, was the Svedka Ice Bar, the first ice bar at sea.  This bar, sponsored by (you guessed it) Svedka Vodka, is entirely made of ice–the bar, the walls, the benches, the stools, even the glasses are made of ice. The bar uses LED lighting to simulate the Northern Lights on the walls.  There are even ice sculptures of a polar bear and a viking, which make for great photo opps.

Gray in Ice Bar

Photo opp, taken by NCL photographer

Yes, it’s a bit gimmicky, but you have to try it, because it’s great fun.  It carries an extra fee of $20 for a 45-minute appointment. For the $20 entrance fee, you will receive two drinks.  We, however, were allowed to sample as many as we wanted.

Ice Bar Parkas

Ice Bar Parkas

When you arrive for your appointment, you will be given a pullover hooded parka and a pair of gloves, and even these won’t keep you warm enough. Good luck lasting 45 minutes in here. The bar is kept at 17 degrees Fahrenheit.  Now, I’m from Vermont, and I’m used to winters where the temperatures can get as low as 50 below with the wind chill factor.  But I was shivering uncontrollably as soon as I walked into the bar. Why? Because underneath that parka, I was wearing capris and flip-flop sandals!

Svedka Ice Bar

Svedka Ice Bar

17 degrees is longjohn weather.  Have you ever packed longjohns for a Caribbean cruise?  I didn’t think so.  But the cold is really part of the fun and helps you bond with everyone else in the bar as you grin at each other through chattering teeth and huddle together for warmth. (Just kidding, there’s no huddling.  But feel free to start that trend.)

Svedka Ice Bar

Bartender in Svedka Ice Bar

I felt so sorry for the bartenders.  Our bartender told us for every hour they work, they get a 10-minute break to go outside and warm up. But still. That’s a cold job.

Svedka Ice Bar

Svedka Ice Bar

The drinks in the bar are mixed with (you guessed it again!) Svedka Vodka, as well as Inniskillin ice wine. They very wisely blend them with colored mixers to add a splash of extra color to the otherwise stark landscape. There are about six choices of drinks you can order, as well as two nonalcoholic drinks. They have fun, themed names like Polaris, Northern Lights, and Nordic Apple Juice.  I tried two–maybe three–of the drinks (they were in small sampling sizes), and they were all quite good.  But I had to leave after ten minutes. I was freezing.

If you are going to spend extra money on anything aboard Norwegian Epic, let it be this.  It’s a one-of-a-kind experience.  TIP:  Make a reservation as early in your cruise as possible, or beforehand, if you can.  This place books up fast. If they tell you it’s totally booked, see if they’ll let you be a “stand-by” in case someone with a reservation doesn’t show up.

Fat Cats Jazz & Blues Club

Fat Cats Jazz & Blues Club

Now, on to the shows.  Epic boasts Las Vegas-caliber entertainment, and has some very creative offerings.  I’ve already mentioned that I didn’t care for Cirque Dreams and Dinner, so let’s move on.  Two prominent acts featured on this ship are Legends in Concert (celebrity singer impersonators) and the Second City comedy troupe. The only time I saw either of these was during the Christening Ceremony, when we got a brief glimpse of the talent.  I wish I had had time to see both perform in person.  Second City’s Christening Ceremony skit about the hand sanitizers aboard the ship had me cracking up, and the performers portraying Madonna and Elvis from Legends in Concert seemed pretty good.  There is no extra charge for either of these shows.  There is also a Murder Mystery lunch featuring a mystery written by author Scott Turow that carries an extra $15 charge. I did not attend this, either, so I can’t tell you anything about it, except I think it’s a neat idea, if executed properly. (No pun intended.)

The shows I did sample were:

Blue Man Group

Blue Man Group

Blue Man Group: I’ve seen Blue Man Group before, in Las Vegas, and love them.  So naturally, I was thrilled to go to this show. Blue Man Group plays in the Epic Theater, which seats 681. It’s a difficult show to explain to people who haven’t seen it before, except to say it’s a little experimental, very funny, and a little odd, with great music and visuals.  Two “volunteers” are pulled out of the audience to assist with a couple of the sketches, and my show was lucky enough to have a female volunteer who pretty much brought the house down by going above and beyond.  Blue Man Group does not carry an extra charge, so why not go see it?  The worst that will happen is that you won’t like it.  But I bet you will.

Howl at the Moon Piano Bar

Howl at the Moon Piano Bar

Howl at the Moon:  This is the ship’s piano bar.  If you’ve been reading my blog for awhile, you know I’m a huge fan of going to piano bars when I am traveling solo.  If the show is done right, it can be so much fun, and you’ll feel like you’re surrounded by a hundred or so of your new best friends.  This show wasn’t quite like that during the hour or so I sat in on it.  The pianists are very talented, to be sure, but the singalong aspect of a piano show wasn’t happening at full force with this crowd. (I’ve seen video of another sailing where people were up dancing around during the show, so it was clearly this particular audience that was more sedate.)  Bring some dollar bills to this show so you can request songs.

Slam Allen

Slam Allen at Fat Cats

But the real surprise hit for me was Fat Cats Jazz and Blues Club.  When I say it was a surprise, I don’t mean it surprised me that I loved it, because I love blues and jazz.  What I didn’t anticipate was how enormously popular it would be with everyone else aboard the ship.  The venue featured Slam Allen playing the blues during my cruise, and damn, that dude is fantastic!  The venue is way too small for this band.  The place was standing room only the night I went, and more people kept trying to crowd in.  This band drew people of all ages.  I saw young 20-somethings all the way up to senior citizens, and everyone was tapping their toes and clapping and having a great time.  I felt sorry for the waitstaff who were trying to go back and forth with people’s drink orders, because people kept getting in their way.  Norwegian needs to seriously create a bigger venue for this show, stat, because they’ve got a monster hit on their hands.

My recommendation to you is that you make show reservations before you even arrive onboard the ship if you really care about what you see and when.

SoloFriendly July 27, 2010 at 2:18 pm

I hate the cold, and even I loved it.

Sabina Lohr July 26, 2010 at 9:44 am

Oh, that ice bar looks sooo worth freezing over! I'm no fan of the cold, but I would gladly hang out there until I turned to ice. Cool! Another great review, Gray.

Gray Cargill July 26, 2010 at 11:52 am

I’m no fan of the cold either, Sabina, but it was a blast! So worth it.

SoloFriendly July 23, 2010 at 8:45 pm

I know, it blows my mind that Blue Man Group is included in the cost of your cruise. How much does it cost in Vegas now to see this show–$65 for cheap seats and over $100 for everything else?

joanna_haugen July 23, 2010 at 8:03 pm

I'm really stoked that Blue Man Group is free. After talking about all of those extra fees, I thought you were going to see that they charge for the show too. I'm glad they don't.

SoloFriendly July 23, 2010 at 4:12 pm

It truly is, Christine. The Ice Bar rocked (even though it was cold)! I highly recommend. I was a little surprised that I remembered so many of the Blue Man Group sketches (I saw the show back in 2001 or 2002). It was still fun, though. I laughed a lot throughout the show.

GRRRL TRAVELER July 23, 2010 at 2:42 pm

Wow, this ship is ginormous!!! Also, I'm so envious that you got to experience an Ice Bar, despite the uncomfortable, freezing cold aspect. I've always wanted to try one! Also, sounds like the ship is trying to be a bit of a Las Vegas on water. It might be nice if they showed different performances- something I didn't see in Vegas.

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