The Norwegian Encore was launched in November 2019 to relatively little fanfare. Still, because it is a new ship, we couldn’t resist booking the inaugural voyage from Southampton to
Miami New York City. Since then, we’ve been able to experience the ship again to see how well it’s aging.
First and foremost, there are risks in booking a maiden voyage with just about any cruise line (read this interesting article). Knowing the risks and knowing that NCL usually manages problems pretty well when things don’t go as planned, we jumped on the chance to be one of the first people to sail on The Encore.
I had originally wondered why there wasn’t much news surrounding the launch of a huge new cruise liner like there usually is with other cruise brands and I quickly realized that the excitement was muted because it’s basically a twin of the Norwegian Bliss.
The itinerary for the NCL Encore
The Norwegian Epic was due to depart Southampton England at the end of October headed to Miami. This was perfect as I had plans to be in Europe during October anyway and head back to the gulf coast in November. The itinerary was nice for a transatlantic cruise including a stop in Madeira Portugal (LOVELY!) and a day in NYC with a final destination of Miami.
Fast forward a few weeks and I get a disconcerting email from NCL saying they are going to cut 3 days off the cruise, skip Madeira and stop in NYC, not Miami. HUGE BUMMER! However, they offered to credit the 3 days pro-rated (as expected) and then also threw in some onboard credits and an additional discount on the overall trip to sweeten the pot.
I found this itinerary change quite annoying, however, for me, the circumstances of being in Europe and needing to get back to the USA regardless if it were by ship or plane made the trip still worth it (considering airfare was about the same price).
Onboard the Norwegian Encore
Having been on all types of cruise ships from luxury to basic older ships, I can say the interior of the NCL Encore is absolutely stunning! The design elements and color choices are top-notch and some of the best I’ve seen in the 20+ years of cruising. There is a caveat to the amazing aesthetic though – the material choices. While much of the furnishings and common area decor was amazing, you could tell it was made of material that was not going to wear well over time potentially leading the beauty of the ship becoming quickly tarnished. It’s as if the designers didn’t consider the abuses that furniture and fixtures get on cruise ships. My concerns quickly became reality when I saw a sofa rapidly destroyed with spilled drinks and food. It wasn’t the type of material that was going to recover easily from a good cleaning or steaming! Very unfortunate.
Overall the interior of the ship felt like you were inside a luxury Las Vegas hotel.
The Shopping Arcade on the Encore
The shopping experience is as expected on the NCL Encore. An arcade style / mall style area filled with small shops selling just about anything you could imagine. They were all very tidy, with a good selection of products and again, beautifully designed. So for those who like to by the one off souvenir or luxury watch while at sea, the Encore will not disappoint.
The Casino aboard the NCL Encore
The casino is often the heart of the nightlife on cruise ships because of the whirl and buzz of slot machines, large bar areas, and/or groups cheering alongside the lucky craps and roulette players. While the casino on the Encore was as beautiful as the rest of the ship, it was more spread out and less intimate than most other cruise ships. The bar area wasn’t inviting and never really had many people while the machines largely sat empty as people just passed by and looked out of curiosity. Almost NONE of the gaming tables were ever in use, leaving the staff to appear bored and disinterested. Overall this was the most disappointing space on the Encore and had it been given a more cozy or intimate feeling, it would have been a space worthy of spending some time (and money) in.
Food and Specialty Dining on the Encore
Aside from the occasional miss with an overcooked (or undercooked) meal, the food on the Encore was some of the best we’ve had. The open-seating restaurants were spacious and beautiful with attentive service and the food was often simple but well prepared with a good variety. Unfortunately due to the weather, many of the outdoor dining options weren’t open or were not sufficiently closed enough for comfortable dining, but when they were open, they had the typical fare found on the lido decks of many ships including burgers, hot dogs, pizza, etc.
Specialty dining on the Norwegian Encore
The specialty restaurants that have become popular add-ons to most cruise lines are often hit or miss and make customers wonder if it’s worth paying extra for. I can say, however, that the food at the specialty restaurants was the best I’ve had at sea on a major cruise line. Unfortunately, I was unable to try ALL of the restaurants since there were so many options.
The only restaurant that made me feel like it was an afterthought was the Asian Fusion at the Food Republic
The Rooms & Cabins on Norwegian Encore
The cabin interiors on the Encore are as you’d expect from a cruise ship. Approximately 140 sq feet for a typical cabin. In keeping with the look of the ship, the interiors were quite nice with a lovely color palette and comfortable beds. Thankfully the cabins are fitted with a standard-style restroom unlike other ships (the Epic comes to mind) where there is little or no privacy between the toilet area and the sleeping and living area. Gone are the days of the glass walls between the toilet and the bedroom (hopefully!).
There was plenty of space to store all clothing and empty suitcases under the beds.
One thing to note on the design of the cabins: half of the cabins have a bed as you enter the room and the other half have a bed closer to the window. With the bed close to the entry, you have to squeeze around it to use the lounge area which makes it feel very tight. However, the exact same square footage where the bed is closer to the window makes the overall space feel more usable and more like a living area than a tiny bedroom. Customers with mobility issues should also consider this, as the space is more open and usable.
For families and groups, some cabins have doors to adjoining cabins and are indicated on the deck plan.
The Spa Experience on NCL Encore
Keeping up with the beauty of the cruise ship, the spa (run by Mandara) is simply stunning. The decor, while modern, is also welcoming and fresh making it a place where you feel compelled to stay and hang out. With that comes the fact that a LOT of people tend to stay and hang out in the relaxation area, making it a bit overcrowded. As with most spas on cruise ships, the spa on the Encore offers access to the wet areas and use of the facilities for a fee. In the past, I’ve taken advantage of the spa during transatlantic voyages because it offers a place away from otherwise crowded spaces. However, in this circumstance, while the spa claimed they restricted the number of passes sold, it seemed that quite a few more spa passes were sold than they claimed, making the space very busy during some parts of the day. If I were to do another long voyage on the Encore, I would likely not purchase a pass to the spa, but rather use the facility on the odd day I get a massage, etc.
But not all is lost, when the spa was not busy – the experience was lovely. There were multiple warm loungers, hydrotherapy pools, jacuzzis, steam rooms, dry saunas, cold therapy rooms, and a salt therapy room.
As for the treatments, I tried one of the basic massages and it was quite good! However, the rooms they do the treatments in have some strange choices of lighting which makes it a little hard to relax. But the treatment itself was as good or better than most treatments at sea I’ve experienced.
Entertainment aboard the Encore
When NCL announced its entertainment aboard the NCL Encore, I was excited to see the variety and wide appeal for many audiences. SO! I tried them all. The initial thoughts:
I’m a huge fan of Kinky Boots and was thrilled to see the show announced on the Norwegian Encore. However, the reality is that the show was pretty bad. It pains me to say this because I know the performers work very hard to make a great show, however, I’m not sure if it was the acoustics, sound engineering, or what – but it really felt like a high school play gone wrong. My hope is that since the crew was new, and the venue was new there were a lot of kinks (pun intended) to work out. So I do hope it improves, but it was in fact a disappointment. There is hope though. I have hope!
The Choir of Man
I had never heard of this show. WHY NOT! I have no idea. But it was simply AMAZING! Brilliant! These performers are top notch and their show is thoroughly entertaining. They entertain the audience from the moment they walk in the theater doors by inviting them up on stage for a beer (yep, just go up and grab a beer on the set and talk to the cast!)
As the guests are ushered off the stage and the show begins, it is a mix of theater, an awesome musical, and downright fun entertainment. Just a really GOOD time to be had.
I almost skipped the performance not being familiar with it – but I recommend anyone who is on the Encore to see this. Well worth the effort!
Happy Hour Prohibition
The Musical: Sadly. I can say NOTHING good about this. The concept takes place in the mixed-use area that is also the nightclub after hours. (which in itself is a disappointment compared to other ships). You pay an additional fee to see this show and it touts that “all drinks are included”. Which is fine – but most people have some sort of drink package, so really what are you paying for? Well – I’ll tell you. You pay for B- entertainment staff doing things like dragging guests onto the stage to do embarrassing things to them (make them drink cocktails, etc). Well – the irony has it that one of the members of the audience was a friend of mine who didn’t drink. Awkward! REALLY AWKWARD! She had fun though, regardless. But let’s discuss the “included” drinks. Things from the prohibition era like the Moscow Mule (they say). But they were serving drinks that were only able to be made in pitchers and in bulk. This of course makes sense given that you are serving a hundred or more people drinks in a rapid-fire and theatrical way. However, if they are going to serve “drinks” they need to at least make them drinkable. They were simply awful and most people took 1 sip and put the drinks down, not to be consumed. The general consensus among our group was that it was an unfortunate waste and we lost the opportunity to do something more fun. Most people (read: ALL people) we talked to felt like this should have been free entertainment.
The Washy Washy Staff Becomes Automated (Hygiene)
We all know the washy-washy girls on the NCL cruise ships! They are still there, but there are so many more automated stations to sanitize your hands as well as areas for hand washing around the eating areas. Unfortunately, not all guests see the importance of sanitization which sadly has helped perpetuate the negative image some people have of cruising because of the spread of various bacteria, etc. SO WASH YOUR HANDS!
Embarkation was flawless and fast. It took a little longer because the check-in staff had to explain the new RFID room keys and how they were used for everything on the ship just by waving your card on one of the many monitors throughout.
Debarkation was as expected for a ship this size. But for the most part, with it being an inaugural voyage, the staff, all porters, etc had their A-game on. It took about 2.5 hours to completely disembark.
Some of the features we didn’t like on the Encore
First and foremost, the Norwegian Encore is a beautiful ship and there are very few things not to enjoy. Though there are a few which I will list here :
- They seem to have done away with dedicated space for a “nightclub” or “disco”. Instead, the Encore has a space in the center of the ship that serves multiple purposes which include a late-night disco. The space was honestly too small for this purpose and not well set up. There always seems to be a demand for a late-night venue on cruise ships regardless of the demographic of the customer, so why Norwegian has done away with the dedicated space for this is confusing. I miss the purpose-built space you find on the Epic (Bliss Lounge), etc.
- The center of the ship / Atrium contains too many functions stuffed into one place. It’s here where things like games with the Cruise Director are played, movies are shown, demonstrations are given, etc. As with most atriums on cruise ships, there is a bar as well as guest services and a Starbucks coffee shop. The biggest problem with this is the upper floor which has the all-day/all-night dining venue called The Local Bar & Grill looks into the atrium space. This in itself is a great design – until you are just trying to have lunch at The Local but the event below is so loud or obnoxious that you can’t enjoy the meal.
- Norwegian Cruise Line is notorious for the onboard gaudy sales events in the main corridors and around the shops. I felt this was too frequent and a little too pushy for my taste.
A few additional notes about the NCL Encore. This is the most technologically advanced ship I’ve been on (from the customer’s standpoint). Gone are the directories and deck plan signs. Everything is now large touch screens. I think the concept is great but it was obvious many people were confused. To add to the confusion is the way to reserve show tickets and specialty dining. This is also done via the same large screens throughout the ship. While some of it was intuitive, you could see older folks struggle with the concept leading to frustration. I almost feel like they should have had a quick video on the in-room television on how to use the system.
Additionally, those cruisers who love to have their room cards punched so they can put it on a lanyard will be disappointed. Room keys are all RFID so they can be used throughout the ship for different purposes. So if you punch the key to hang on a lanyard, it stops working.
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