Fans of Norwegian’s brand of fun at sea will find more to love in the line’s newest ship, the Encore. The ship resembles sisters Norwegian Joy and Norwegian Bliss, and has kicked things up a few notches to create some features that are better and some, not so much.
For many cruisers (like me), dining options and dining quality are critical to a trip’s success. During a two-day ship visit prior to Encore’s inaugural, I sampled some options and ogled others. The ship has 29—count ‘em—29 dining options, so depending on budgets and appetites, it’s possible to have a gourmand getaway during a week-long cruise.
Most highly publicized is the new Onda by Scarpetta, the upscale Italian restaurant that matches its land-based Scarpetta sisters. However the specialty dining venues like Onda are as expensive as upscale restaurants on land. For example, my favorite cuisine is French, and a glance at Le Bistro’s menu revealed that a dinner for two here with an app, entrée, dessert and the listed champagne could run up to $200. Obviously passengers who wish specialty dining options need to purchase packages with their fare.
However, a sampling of the included restaurants, Taste and Savor, provided some truly delicious dishes. Also notable was the Seafood Extravaganza that took place in the Garden Café Buffet; it included such luscious (and expensive) treats as lobster tails, snow crab claws and stone crab claws. Starbucks fans will be pleased that the Encore version resembles those you’d find in a good hotel.
On The Waterfront, a quarter-mile-long promenade around the ship, you’ll find lounges along with some outdoor dining venues, including the new Onda by Scarpetta, Cagney’s Steakhouse and Los Lobos.
Entertaining passengers has been one of Norwegian’s strengths for many years. The popular Broadway show, Kinky Boots, performed on the Encore, was a high-energy crowd-pleaser, as was the newer, vibrant Choir of Man.
Beatles fans will find the Cavern Club is still providing echoes of songs and albums past. The Social can be a dance club and a show venue, which currently features “Happy Hour Prohibition: The Musical,” with Prohibition Era specialty cocktails served during the show. Different styles of music appear at other bars and venues throughout the ship
Fun, Fun, Fun
The Speedway racetrack that debuted on Norwegian Joy keeps getting bigger and better. The track now is wider and goes out over the side of the ship, with an added “laser” feature. A new observation platform allows friends and family to watch the racers.
From the observation platform, it’s also possible to look into the laser tag arena, where a serpent monster is the star of lost city of Atlantis theme. Like so much on this feature-packed ship, these games are not included in the fare.
The majority of high-tech games in this dazzling playground involve virtual reality, though there are traditional arcade-style games; all should delight teens and the young-at-heart. All come with a price, so families with kids would be wise to purchase a package with the fare.
Mandara Spa & Thermal Suite
The enormous 10,000-square-foot Mandara Spa and Thermal Suite is the best ship-based facility I’ve seen in a very long time. The mani-pedi chair, with a beautifully decorated foot basin and a full ocean view, was so tempting that I almost ponied up $120 (tip extra) for the basic mani-pedi. I stopped myself with a reminder that I could have a no-frills, no-ocean-view version at home for a third of the price.
Seriously, the prices here are high, as they would be at a fine resort. The only sort-of bargain was the one-day pass to the Thermal Suite. For $59, passengers can experience the full-size Thalassotherapy pool, the salt room, the snow room and several different steam and sauna variations. For relaxation, there are thermal loungers with ocean views.
Still another venue for relaxation is the new Vibe on the upper deck. Replacing the Spice H20 adults-only sundeck, the Vibe has shaded cabanas and hot tubs as well as loungers. There are charges for this venue, though there is an abundance of Observation Lounge indoor space for relaxing and just hanging out.
As always, the cabins and perks in this ship-within-a-ship are a lot nicer than those available to passengers paying regular fares. For example, one of the larger cabins I saw had a spectacular bathroom with a glassed-in shower and a bathtub with a full ocean view. Also special: the day I visited, the Haven was fully booked, yet all the areas were so quiet, it was easy to relax just about anywhere. And although I haven’t sampled the Haven’s dedicated restaurant, I was told by those who had dined there that it was the best one on the ship.
As for cocktails, while mixologist Kathy Casey has developed individual and interesting menus for most of Encore’s bars, those at the Haven bar are custom-created or “bespoke,” created each passenger’s particular preference.
This past fall Norwegian made a commitment to banish plastic water bottles on all ships by early 2020. On my preview cruise passengers sampled Just Water, with a carton made mostly of paper, and a cap made of sugar cane. It was a crowd-pleasing innovation, as was the absence of plastic straws along with single-use plastics for bathroom amenities.
Currently there are no liners for garbage bins, though NCL is searching for substitutes. And as I was leaving ship, I noticed that big, heavy duty paper bags and some fabric ones were being used to take used linens to the laundry.
Norwegian Encore homeports in Miami and will depart every Sunday on seven-night cruises to the Eastern Caribbean, through April 19, 2020. When the Caribbean season ends, the Encore will reposition to New York City for summer cruises to Bermuda, through November 22, 2020.
Norwegian Encore ship photo courtesy NCL