Richard Janicki is living his lifelong ambition. “I was very fortunate in that ever since I was a kid, I knew what I wanted to be. I always wanted to work in a big hotel and see the world.” The hotel that he now manages is indeed big - - each week it serves more than 4,000 guests. It also takes him to numerous countries in Europe and the Caribbean. Moreover, Norwegian Epic has been praised as one of the most innovative ships in the cruise industry.
“I feel we really are steps - - and I put an 's' after the word 'step' - - up [from other cruise ships]. It is a new way of cruising, offering something really different. In the past, when we started with the Freestyle cruising, it was all about you can dine whenever you want but we have adapted that philosophy to everything now.”
For example, with Epic, the Freestyle concept has been expanded to entertainment. On more traditional ships, the main entertainment event each night is usually in the ship's theater, with one show for guests dining on the early seating and one for guests dining on the late seating. Even on ships that have both traditional dining and a flexible dining option, the timing of the shows is still linked to the early and late seating dinner times.
On Epic, “you can go to your show whenever you feel like.” Since there are no fixed dining times, the timing of the shows is not linked to the dining. In addition, the shows are repeated during the cruise so if seeing a particular show is not convenient one night, you can see it another night.
Also, the show in the theater is not the only significant entertainment event taking place each night. Epic also has shows going on in the comedy club, the jazz club and elsewhere.
In these various entertainment venues, Epic features “high professional quality entertainment. The people really enjoy this and get something valuable for their money.” This includes “name” performers with established reputations such as The Blue Man Group, Legends in Concert, The Second City and Cirque Dreams.
The latter perform an extraordinary European-style circus while guests are having dinner. “Everyone comes out with their eyes wide open. You spend two hours and you totally forget where you are.”
“The jazz club with Slam Allen is a big winner and the Howl at the Moon - - that is great too. This is what creates the life and flow aboard. You forget you are on a cruise ship. Some people call us the Las Vegas at sea and you get that ambiance here.”
Because there is more than one main entertainment venue, the venues can be smaller and more intimate. For example, the ship's theater is smaller than those found on many cruise ships. “What's the point in putting 2,000 people in a theater and to the people who are up high the singer or actor is the size of a coin. Having a theater like this brings you a totally different experience. With the Blue Man and the Legends, you really feel the show because you are close to them.”
Along the same lines, the fact that “the Second City [troupe has its] own room now brings that to another level. On the other ships, they play in the theater but now they have a real comedy cabaret.”
This expansion of the Freestyle concept has had another effect on the onboard atmosphere. On a more traditional ship. When “the show is over you have a thousand or two thousand people moving at one time to the other side of the ship to go for dinner and vice versa. And in between you have this empty time, empty locations, when sometimes you feel that the ship is empty. With the Freestyle and with the way the layout of Epic has been done, there is life all the time because there is no beginning and there is no end.”
Above: Mr. Janicki fielding questions at a senior officer question and answer session.
“We have also stepped up our game with the food.” Epic has versions of such Norwegian Cruise Line classics as Le Bistro. Cagney’s and La Cucina. However, “we always look for new experiences and much wider choices for our guests.” Consequently, Epic also premiered new dining concepts including a Brazilian steakhouse, an Irish bar and grill, and a chef's table experience. One of the main dining rooms features live music and dancing with dinner. And as noted earlier, guests can have dinner while experiencing the Cirque Dreams performance.
Even in the classic venues, Norwegian has made enhancements. “We have just also re-vamped the Italian menu. It is constantly moving up, moving up, you need to. There are new things coming out in the market and people want new things. There is always the search for more, more choice.”
Epic during the day
Thus far, we have only focused on Epic at night. What about Epic during the day? “It is a ship for the entire family. The kids, the parents, the grandparents - - you can have three generations onboard having fun together but also having fun on their own. When they split up, everyone can do something for their own taste and for each generation. That is what makes the family happy.”
“We have an aquapark and we have set up a new program for the kids called the Splash Academy.” In addition, Epic offers a breakfast with the Nickelodeon characters as well as the opportunity to be slimed Nickelodeon style.
For adults, “of course, the center of the pool is where the action is but you also have other areas on the ship where you can just lay down with a good book without having music in you head and simply enjoy the calm moment. We do some games by the pool but we don't force anybody [to participate] and we don't grab people from the deck chairs to do a limbo dance. If you want to be part of it, you can be part of it.”
“In Spice H2O, we reserve access to adults so they do not have kids running into them and people appreciate that. There is always a place to be whatever you want. If you are someone who likes to do games and all that, we have that. But we do not make that our main thing during the day. Some people just like to lay down and sleep or read a book.”
While Epic is family-friendly, it should also be noted that another of its innovations was the introduction of studio cabins for solo travelers. (See separate article).
“Whether you are with a family of 10, whether you are traveling alone, whether you are on a honeymoon or on a 30 years anniversary or on a bachelor trip or girls trip, we have something for everybody. You will have the opportunity onboard to do the vacation that you want. After all it is your vacation and you decide what you are going to do.”
Of course, all of the innovative concepts and new facilities would be for naught if Epic did not have good service. Therefore, Janicki stresses to his staff that regardless of how many awards Epic has won, they cannot ever rest on their laurels. “It doesn't matter how good you were last cruise or how good you are going to be next cruise, [for the guests, what matters] is what is happening right now. They have saved money to come on a cruise and they have given us the responsibility of their vacation. It is quite important. People have expectations and we need to over-deliver and give more than they expect.”
“The Epic is the first of its kind. The Breakaway, the Getaway and the ships that are coming in the future - - the backbone is here.” Thus, Epic can be viewed as the first in a new innovative generation of ships. The subsequent ships may have new features and styling but the underlying concept was born here.
But some of Epic's fans have expressed concern about what will happen to Epic once Norwegian Breakaway and the other new ships enter service? “The Epic will go on the same. There is no reason for the Epic to go on differently. There is no reason for Epic not to be working the way it is right now. We are prepared for the transition and we are doing what we need to do to make sure that no one feels the difference.”
Cruise interview - - Norwegian Epic - -Norwegian Cruise Line - Hotel Director - Richard Janicki