MIAMI - It's not the largest cruise ship in the world, but the newly launched Norwegian Epic, making its maiden port call to Miami this week, has plenty of firsts and superlatives to brag about.
It's the first ship to offer studios for single passengers. It has the largest spa on any cruise ship. And its entertainment and lifestyle options make it a floating Las Vegas, where passengers can go from getting a shot of Botox to front-row seats to see Blue Man Group or a circus called Cirque Dreams and Dinner. Elsewhere on board, there are 20 restaurants to choose from.
Epic debuted last month, leaving England for its first trip across the Atlantic. The ship spent July 4 in New York City and arrived in Miami Wednesday. It is due to set sail Saturday on its first official cruise to the Caribbean.
The 1,081-foot-long ship weighs in at over 150,000 tons, has a capacity of 4,100 passengers, and is the latest in a string of enormous new megaships ordered by the ambitious cruise industry.
Andrew Stuart, executive vice president for global sales and passenger services with Norwegian Cruise Line, is confident Epic will do well despite the lagging economy.
He said what sets Epic apart from even larger ships like Royal Caribbean's Oasis of the Seas, which launched last year, and Allure of the Seas, launching later this year, is its wide-ranging entertainment options.
"The brands tell the story," Stuart said, pointing out the cruise line's exclusive agreement with Nickelodeon to have characters like SpongeBob SquarePants aboard, and the presence of established acts like Second City comedy and Blue Man Group.
"We'll attract people by having the most exciting ship in the industry," he said.
This is a ship full of mosts, firsts and other superlatives.
It has more than 2,100 guest rooms, including 128 single-occupancy rooms - the first ship to provide rooms designed for one.
For kids, it has a rappelling wall, the biggest slides in its on-deck waterpark, and the most bowling lanes at sea.
For adults, the spa offers three different kinds of massages, teeth whitening, acupuncture and a medi-spa doctor on hand to administer Botox and other cosmetic injections. Its casino is Norwegian Cruise Line's largest, with additional slot machines lining the entrances of many of the ship's 20 bars and lounges.
For foodies, restaurants include a sushi bar, steakhouse and French cuisine.
The all-inclusive atmosphere is what travel agents say is sustaining the expansion of the cruise industry in a time when most industries are cutting back.
Wes Rowland, president and CEO of the online travel agency CruiseExperts.com, said bigger ships like Epic are filling a niche in the market for those who like all the onboard options and amenities.
"Some people love megaships and some people love smaller ships," he said.
Rowland said the new megaships don't risk crowding the market because much of its potential remains untapped, with 85 percent of the public never having gone on a cruise.
Andy Melilli, vice president of the same company, said Epic's entertainment options and other attractions will generate bookings.
"I think people want to take a vacation, and they want to have it all," he said. "That's what these ships are trying to provide, they're like a floating resort. You can do it all, or do nothing."
The ship was launched with a string of high-profile inaugural ceremonies. It hosted the live TV broadcast of Macy's July Fourth fireworks in New York and was christened by country music star Reba McEntire, who was named the ship's godmother.
Dwain Wall, senior vice president and general manager of CruiseOne travel agency, said the fanfare helps attracts customers. "When you're dealing with frequent cruisers, they always want to be on the newest ship."
Wall, a 30-year veteran of the industry, said cruising keeps getting bigger and bigger.
"Millions more people cruise now," he said. Once you're on board, "you don't have to worry about what you're going to spend on food, on entertainment. It's a great value."