Norwegian Encore is a big, big ship – 168,000 tons (bear in mind that Titanic was a mere 46,000), 19 decks and 4,000 passengers. But don’t let that put you off. The ship is cleverly zoned with the social spaces mostly on decks 6-8, and 15-18 so you aren’t needing to travel from top to bottom or end to end all day, and there are lifts aplenty. With so many different rooms and options to explore, you’ll find yourself covering most venues without trying over the course of a few days, with the added bonus of finding a surprise or two that you missed – a deckside cup cake or ice cream kiosk perhaps – some time later. Finding your way around the ship is helped by clear graphic displays at the lifts and by little fish images having been woven into the cabin deck corridor carpets. The fish swim towards the front of the ship, so you always know which way to turn as you leave your room. It’s simple but charming. And the ship is full of such good ideas.
Onboard toys to impress the grand kids
Norwegian Encore is custom-built for multi-generational holidays – with so many themes, options and varied facilities (the kids club is vast), there is a zone to suit you, your adult children and/or the grand kids. The size of the ship means it can pack a real punch when it comes to innovative onboard amusements, yet by corralling them on the aft upper decks, they don’t intrude on the overall design and upscale feel. There’s the longest Speedway go-karting track at sea with parts of its convoluted 330 metre double-deck route cantilevered out over the ship’s side. Kids over 4-foot tall, and adults with an inner child eager to get out, will love racing laps in groups of ten, and karts for two allow parents to take younger children out for a spin too. Nearby, the imaginative setting for the outdoor augmented reality Laser Tag combines the coils of an outsize serpent with a Graeco-Roman ruin – the columns make excellent hiding places. The indoor Galaxy Pavilion will delight video gamers young and old – it’s a 10,000 foot virtual reality treasure trove where with headset on, there are rollercoaster rides, simulated hang-glider flights, jeep drives through Jurassic Park (recommended!), hi-line walks between skyscrapers and shoot ’em ups aplenty to be experienced. For more physical fun, two thrilling water slides whirl around the stern, one offering tandem rides, the other starting with an almost sheer drop and switchbacking over the side of the ship in a double loop. Gulp!
Upscale décor and design
As the fourth of NCL’s Breakaway Plus class of ship (after Norwegian Escape, Norwegian Joy and Norwegian Bliss), Norwegian Encore retains the best of the original design with some of the classiest, most contemporary and enticing interior spaces at sea. The spacious Observation Lounge projects right over the bow and with a sheer wall of glass extending over two decks, it has a cathedral-like quality, creating a room awash with light and calm. Invitingly furnished with chaise-longs, curved sofas and footstooled armchairs in muted colours, the lounge also features a circular drinks bar and discreet buffet servery, making it easy to stay in this cocoon of understated elegance all day if you wish – I certainly would. Two decks up, The Haven – a rarified ship-within-a ship VIP zone with its own low-density pool area, restaurant and lounges – offers a similarly serene experience exclusively for Haven stateroom passengers. Access here comes with a host of included benefits, though you will pay quite a premium for the privilege.
A high standard of finish and well-crafted feel is felt throughout the ship however – it is German-built and it shows. The top deck pool zones are easy on the eye and despite Norwegian Encore’s size, the main bars and lounges are human-scale – there are no vast, soulless barn-like rooms here – which helps distribute the passengers evenly without crowding. There are few places where you are aware of just how many fellow passengers you are sharing the ship with. The only areas which struck a bit of an off-key note were on decks 7 and 6 where you have to walk through the Casino slot machines or the rather garish art gallery collection to move from one end of the ship to another. Other than this, there are attractive venues for every mood from the latin-vibes of the Sugarcane Mojito bar to the moodier Maltings whisky bar, from the classy A-List Bar (named after its retiring British CEO Andy Stuart) to The District Brewhouse with its biker-theme. The range of bars fits with the dress code of the ship – it’s very much wear what you feel comfortable in, with no designated formal nights. You don’t have to take a dinner jacket around the world with you here.
29 dining options
The variety is staggering, from the first-time-at-sea ‘Onda by Scapetta’ celebration of modern Italian cuisine to ‘Ocean Blue’ for seafood to ‘Teppanyaki’s’ Japanese fare to Cagney’s Steakhouse to the Asian fusion choices at Food Republic. Plus French, Mexican, American Diner and BBQ options. All of these are speciality restaurants that are charged extra for on a dish by dish basis, and good as they are, they come with London restaurant prices – $19-39 for restaurant main courses, $15-19 for more informal meals. Plus 20% service on top (but see point 5 below). The evening dining that is included in the price of your ticket is, however, very good and includes three main restaurants – the large Manhattan Room across the width of ship’s stern and two smaller Taste and Savour restaurants, both with lovely sea views – which all feature a common menu. And we found that the classic fare served here to be both delicious and well-presented. The surf and turf lobster and fillet steak combo hit the spot for us, after caviar and duck carpaccio starters and followed by a chocolate mousse bombe and tiramisu cake. We would happily eat at the included restaurants for most of a cruise, perhaps adding the speciality dining simply for a change of scene. Given that the ship is designed with US passengers most in mind – although there is an international mix on board – many of the paid-for outlets had a casual American feel. So strangely you can end up paying extra to have a less sophisticated meal – though the grandkids may well be happy with that! Also included in your cruise fare is the Garden Café, the main buffet restaurant, which staged a magnificent Seafood extravaganza one lunchtime with lobster claws, Alaskan King Crab legs, tiger prawns and all manner of fish for the taking. The impressive display even included a slowly defrosting, full-size swordfish.
NCL’s £99 ‘Free at Sea’ deal
Recognising that the cost of speciality dining and drinks could be prohibitive – with draft beer at $9 and prosecco $10 a glass – NCL’s ‘Free at Sea’ deal is a must-have. For an additional £99 you can choose two of five benefits including a Premium Drinks and Speciality Dining package. These will ensure that drinks by the glass up to a value of $15 are free, and provide three opportunities on a 7 night cruise to dine out – although you may still have to pay extra for the most top-end dishes. It is worth reading the small print carefully (bottled water and speciality coffees other than in the dining room are not included), but this package still represents excellent value and covers the 20% gratuity charges on your drinks and dining too. Norwegian Encore is a ship that tempts your wallet however – general service charges come to £160pp per week (these can be pre-paid), Wi-Fi is best bought as a package (from $19.95) and all the toys mentioned in point 2 come at a cost (about $10 a time for Speedway racing and Laser Tag). But they are also great fun!
Now that’s entertainment
Norwegian Encore’s evening entertainment programme is a quantum leap beyond the standard routines of the average cruise line. Instead, NCL has high-octane productions that properly deserve the description ‘West End quality’. ‘Kinky Boots’ has a cast of 35 and shimmied across the stage in 105 minutes of over-the-top fun. But it was ‘Choir of Man’ that had the audience up on its feet in a spontaneous standing ovation. It doesn’t sound much on paper – 13 blokes in a pub called The Jungle. But with an impressive two storey set, four musicians playing live and the rest performing amusing monologues, note-perfect songs and flawless dance sequences, the spirit of a Irish ‘craic’ soon takes over the stage, culminating in a brilliantly choreographed beer-jug dance routine that brought the house down. It was no surprise to see Arlene Phillips of Strictly Come Dancing fame in the audience.
Accommodation across the spectrum
Modern in style and with ensuites featuring glass-doored showers (no dank shower curtains, thank you), the cabins range from well-thought-out inside Studio rooms for singles (with access to a lounge shared with other Studio occupants) to off-the-scale penthouse suites. In the middle, the standard inside, outside and balcony rooms all feature tasteful colour schemes, clever storage, a fridge, hairdryer, coffee/tea maker, safe and US plug sockets. A number of cabins interconnect, perfect for multi-generational family holidays. The main benefits of a mini-suite over a balcony room seemed to be a power-shower with body water jets and a basin with twin taps – the balcony room suited us just fine. Adapted cabins are well-designed with wide door access and roll-in bathrooms with grab rails (the main cabins have unusually high bathroom thresholds but you soon adjust). For spa-lovers, there are rooms that offer unlimited access to the nearby Mandara Spa as well as featuring bathtubs by the bedroom window for the ultimate soak with a view. The Haven staterooms form a parallel universe of exclusivity high over the bow with privileged access to the separate pool area, restaurant and lounge. But whichever category you choose, you’ll be sailing aboard a cutting-edge ship that feels like a true city at sea.
Norwegian Encore’s itineraries range from Caribbean cruises from Miami in the winter (inside cabins from £539, balcony cabins from £819pp this December – flights extra) to Bermuda and New England voyages from New York in the summer – with Alaska sailings from Seattle to look forward to for summer 2021.
Gill was a guest of Norwegian Cruise Lines.