Just returned from a sneak peek on the inaugural mini-voyage of NCL's Norwegian Epic, their new multi-million-pound cruise ship. Exciting news for fans of cruises and spas because the Epic boasts the largest spa facility at sea, totalling more than 31,000 square feet. I stayed in a comfy spa-suite balcony cabin, just a few seconds' stroll from the Mandara Spa reception; perfect for when you have a treatment which leaves you wanting a snooze, or have oily hair and don't want to bump into anyone!
So what does 31,000 square feet of spa actually mean? Well, a gloriously spacious spa with lashings of loungers and heated ceramic beds all looking out to sea. There are 24 treatment rooms, again, mostly sea-facing, two rhassoul rooms, and a great hydrotherapy pool area with swan pipes and Jacuzzis. One feature I loved was the roomy sauna, which looked out to sea, and the aromatic steam room which was zingingly minty.
For those who prefer to be in women-only spaces, there is a sauna and steam room in the well equipped changing area, too. Twinkly ceiling lights are everywhere. The spa was spotlessly clean and the waffle-cotton robes were comfy.
I was a little baffled by one feature in the hydrotherapy pool. I've not encountered rails just under the surface of the water before. Were you meant to sit on them? Hold them? After a few minutes of puzzling, I discovered that if you wriggled up and over the rails, you could lie back, head supported, with warm water bubbling away under your whole body. Glorious! An underwater lounger.
The spa area also has an enormous gym, with Pilates and yoga studios. Plus, two systems that I hadn't seen before: a TRX system which uses a simple strap-based suspension trainer to use your own body weight to create a workout, and a Gravity Training System, which uses a sliding board machine to work core muscles. Both systems are completely adjustable for beginners through to boot-camp level. So, if you want to kick-start a fitness routine, this would be a great place to start... although the 20 different dining options on the boat could be awfully tempting.
The Mandara Spa have tried to make sure everyone is included in the spa experience. There are over 50 treatments to choose from, including treatments for men, couples and even special teens and kids treatments; these range from ice-cream pedicures (so wrong, but oh, so very yummy!) to mother and daughter massages.
I tried the signature Epic 24 Karat facial ($325, for 75 minutes). This is based on an Elemis anti-ageing facial, but with the exciting addition of a mask of pure gold! Part of me can't help thinking that gold is just a blingy extravagance, and applying the gold leaf is a fiddly process. The mask goes on after a layer of collagen-boosting serum, and I felt the application was quite ticklish. My therapist, Fleur, took around ten minutes to slowly peel small pieces of gold leaf from backing sheets and apply them to my face. Whilst the gold was doing its thing (apparently it boosts the circulation, which helps revitalise cell renewal -- I've searched for some evidence of this, but so far, haven't found any!) Fleur gave me an absolutely outstanding scalp and foot massage.
The 24 Karat facial is a very results-driven facial. I definitely looked refreshed afterwards, and the fine lines around my eyes had faded. My skin, two days later, still feels baby-soft. But $325? A penny-pinching part of me thinks you'd get the same results with a regular Elemis facial at half the price! But if money is no object and you've always fancied going for gold, just do it. It's ahem, an Epic experience.
7th March 2014
Instant results; jasmine and frangipani scents; hot steam rooms; a good selection of magazines; modernist decor.
Whale noises (on CD, not in the pool hopefully); hard massage beds; tiny toilet cubicles; being spoken to like a child; lukewarm pools.
Behind the scenes