And the winner is EPIC


(eTN) – I’ve invented a new award I call the E.P.I.C. (Entertainment Prize in Cruising), and I award it to the Epic, Norwegian Cruise Lines’ (NCL) new mega-ship that ushers in a new mentality and creative genius. The Epic is to cruise liners what the Eiffel Tower is to building icons and impressionism is to fine arts.

Gone are archaic notions about form and substance. For example, the Epic has a 13th floor, when most structures pretend floors jump from 12 to 14. Epic dares to be different.

NCL has managed to create a cruise ship that rushes the brain’s right hemisphere into synaptic fireworks. Imagine staterooms with wave-shaped walls rather than the stale box design. Imagine circular and ice-cream-cone shaped mattresses. Imagine a collection of Gibson guitars that can be borrowed like DVDs at Blockbuster. Imagine a Svedka ice bar on the tropical seas. Imagine every single outside stateroom graced with a balcony. This is epic, and this is Epic.

A billion dollars will buy an impressive ship, but that’s what NCL wanted to do: impress. The Epic doesn’t just have a man juggling for your entertainment; she has an entire Cirque Dreams under a big top. That’s not all – throw in Legends in Concert (tribute artists like Elvis, Madonna, Tina Turner), a comedy show by Chicago’s Second City, dueling pianos show “Howl at the Moon,” Blue Man Group, an olde Irish pub (with three bowling lanes, dart boards, pool tables, air hockey, and arcade games), and even dancing “angels.”

We were invited by NCL to sail on its Miami inaugural, embarking July 8. From the moment we walked aboard and saw brick walls, we knew we had entered a uniquely designed ship.

I hear that some people think the ship is beauty-challenged. That’s got to be some of the best news NCL can receive. In Jill Jonnes’ book “Eiffel’s Tower: The Thrilling Story Behind Paris’s Beloved Monument,” she documents how critics misjudged it as an inartistic, ugly eyesore.

You have to escape mediocrity to elicit such a strong reaction.

Even the impressionists were rejected by the Salon de Paris when they dared to imagineer. Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Claude Monet, and Camille Pissarro were told their paintings were “ugly” by critics lacking an eye for talent. When I enrolled in fine arts (oil painting) at Indiana University, my professor, Dr. Stuart Green, gave us some wonderful pearls of wisdom. Among them were “Not everyone has the intellectual perception to recognize genius.”

The Epic is laden with invaluable art. I saw Chagalls and Picassos lining the walls of Le Bistro French restaurant. In the atrium sparkles the largest chandelier at sea, fitted with 40,000 pieces of crystal glass.

My favorite gem on the Epic is the Cirque Dreams dinner, aptly described by NCL as “opulent eccentricity à la entertainment extravaganza presented with an array of world-class talent, Broadway acrobatics, a touch of whimsy, and tasteful participation.” The costumes are cinematic quality, the acrobatics rival the best in China, and the dinner is epicurean.

There’s another big fan of Norwegian Cruise Lines – Reba McEntire.

“I met Reba and her family on Norwegian Gem,” said NCL’s CEO, Kevin Sheehan. “Later, I discovered that they are frequent customers on our ships.”

According to the “Reba McEntire Biography” by Megan Rubiner Zinn, “McEntire holds the record for the most Academy of Country Music Top Female Vocalist Awards (seven) and American Music Awards for Favorite Country Female Artist (twelve).”

A few days past, Reba christened the Epic at the New York inaugural, becoming the first country star ever to serve as godmother for a cruise ship. Finding the perfect entertainment icon to fill those shoes, someone who broke all barriers while remaining authentic, unique, and steadfast to her core beliefs, was a monumental task. Reba McEntire was a shoe-in for the honor.

On August 18, 1997, I taught a class at Oakland Community College about the life of Reba McEntire and her importance as an artistic pioneer. That was before she had a television show, before Reba was a household name.

Ms. McEntire rewarded me by mailing me a pair of her size 7, leather, autographed tennis shoes. One of them became a prize given away in our Reba 101 class, the other remains a classy prize in my curio of spectacular memorabilia. I’ve heard of people so generous they’d give you the shirt off their back; Reba gave me the very shoes off her feet. To me, they’ve become the proverbial ruby slippers, and I’m head over heels about this brilliant belle.

The entire Epic experience is ambrosia for the mind and soul. I have tasted the sweet nectar of creativity, and I want more.

Norwegian Cruise Lines has allocated four group sailing dates on the Epic for Teddy Bear Ministry, an Ecclesiastical Corporation which provides Teddy Bears to hospice, hospital, and nursing home patients. Sailings are: Thanksgiving week (November 20 to 27, 2010) Miami, St. Maarten, St. Thomas, Nassau, Miami; Christmas (December 25, 2010 to January 1, 2011) Miami, Costa Maya, Roatan, Cozumel, Miami; Winter Break (February 19 to March 5, 2011) Miami, Costa Maya, Roatan, Cozumel, Miami; St. Maarten, St. Thomas, Nassau, Miami; Easter (April 23 to 30, 2011) Miami, St. Maarten, St. Thomas, Nassau, Miami.

See discounted group rates at .