Is it a luxury ship with a race track? Or a contemporary ship with a luxury heart? Bernadette Chua sails Norwegian Encore‘s maiden voyage to find out.
We are sipping on cocktails in the Observatory Lounge on deck 15. It’s six in the evening and there is a convivial atmosphere in the air. Of course! It’s cocktail hour.
The waiters are serving canapés of vol-au-vents with smoked salmon and crème fraîche and glasses of Champagne are appearing in front of guests at the ornate circular bar. People are lounging on the opulent chaises, some reading books from the extensive library.It sounds, and feels, like a luxury cruise. Yet just two decks above us, people are donning driving helmets and racing go-karts at the Encore Speedway, while others are in the Galaxy Pavilion are fighting off monsters and escaping dinosaurs in life-like virtual reality games. There are not many ships where you find this melding of styles, tastes and ages.
Welcome to Norwegian Encore. Dubbed the new sweetheart of the Norwegian Cruise Line fleet, she’s the last ship in the Breakaway-class and boy, has the line delivered.
She’s more grown up and a lot more sophisticated than the other NCL ships. Looking around the atrium, the walkways, the bars, you can see the homage to Norwegian Cruise Line Corporation CEO, Frank Del Rio. He’s meticulous, with a keen eye for art, and it’s said that he was found in his casual wear in the early hours of the morning, personally hanging pieces of art on the company’s luxury line, Regent Seven Seas’ ship Explorer.
And in a nod to Mr Del Rio, Norwegian Encore is adorned with modern pieces of art. Even the chandeliers and light fixtures are exquisite. The main, wave-like light centrepiece in the atrium consists of around 30,000 crystals that reflect different colours when caught in the light. Harry Sommer, the new president of NCL, said that what you’ll find on Encore, a contemporary ship, is extremely similar to the plushness and luxuriousness of a Regent Seven Seas or Oceania ship.
She’s big – she can accommodate up to 3,900 guests – and, she offers a remarkable selection of 29 restaurants and bars. Among those, the most notable new addition is Onda by Scarpetta, an Italian-style eatery which could rival that of a local restaurant in Venice or Rome.
Positioned behind the Mondave Winebar, which is also found on her sister ship Norwegian Bliss, Onda marries the best of fine produce and vino to match. The menu is offered family style, for greater intimacy when dining with friends. When we stop in for dinner, we enjoy dishes like fresh tuna crudo, rich mushroom ragout with creamy polenta and melt-in-the-mouth short rib. One of our hand-pulled pasta dishes is served with a simple passata and fresh cut basil, the other features sweet spot prawns. By now, we’re filled to the brim, but the best is yet to come; giant crumbed veal cutlets and grilled steaks with seasonal vegetables arrive in front of us.
The repertoire of the NCL dining options includes the complimentary Taste and Savor restaurants, my favourite places for breakfast. The staff makes a delightful shakshukka – a Turkish dish of baked eggs with tomatoes – and I can’t disclose the embarrassing number of crispy hash browns I consumed on my three-day cruise.
In terms of specialty dining, the popular Teppanyaki makes an appearance, as well as the French Le Bistro and Cagney’s steakhouse. These are great options for guests looking for something extra outside the inclusive Manhattan Dining Room or The Garden buffet.
The accommodation aboard Encore varies, but the crunch line is that it can cater both for large families and solo travellers. NCL is perhaps the line that pioneered solo and single dedicated accommodation. Cabins are designed with a larger-than-average single bed and guests have access to a dedicated lounge area, mixers and cocktail parties for solo travellers, and will seat them together at dinner where possible.
The ocean-facing cabins are ideal for families with children, with interconnecting cabins so mum and dad can get some reprieve. Balcony staterooms are large and come with ample storage – plenty of hidden drawers, a large closet and lots of shelves – a comfortable king-sized bed, a small seating area and USB ports so if you’ve forgotten your converter for your phone, don’t fret. Inevitably though, the best thing about any NCL stateroom is the bathroom. No matter what category of cabin you are in, the bathrooms are extremely spacious; mine boasts not just a large shower, but a double vanity and the winning feature, no plastic shower curtains that stick to various parts of your body when lathering.
The top end of town has The Haven, NCL’s ship-within-a-ship concept. The cabins are luxurious and spacious. Accommodation ranges from spa suites with private Jacuzzis, which are outside The Haven but give guests access to the amenities of this exclusive area, to The Haven’s Deluxe Owner’s Suites with balconies and private sitting areas. Guests of The Haven have access to their own private pool deck with a retractable roof, a stunning sun deck and a restaurant and bar. For breakfast, you’ll find smoked salmon frittata as well as the decadent fruits de mer in brioche – who ever said lobster and scallops with eggs was too much for breakfast? The butlers of The Haven, like on any luxury ship, will organise shore excursions and treatments at the Mandara Spa, make dinner reservations or unpack your bags. It is the place to escape from the madness, frivolity and activities, and just unwind.
In contrast to The Haven, the Encore sees the return of one of the most fun rides I have ever been on at sea – the go-kart track. Another update for the line, the heart-pumping Encore Speedway has a longer racetrack than her sister ship, Bliss, and was built to hang four metres over the edge of the ship. Behind the racetrack is the laser tag course, built for teamwork and thrills, while on the top deck is the newest activities offering, the Galaxy Pavilion, a new concept with amazing virtual reality rides and games.
Deck five is where you’ll find the kids’ clubs. Catering for children aged as young as one year, the areas are large and designed with lots of open spaces. Books and water colours fill the Guppies playroom for toddlers and the teenager area has video games and handball courts to keep the kids entertained.
For its last hurrah in the Breakaway class, NCL has gone above and beyond to give guests something that everyone can enjoy; this ship deserves an encore.
Highs: The variety of food and bar options. The Encore Speedway and the Galaxy Pavilion are fantastic for the kids. Lows: Some of walkways feel slightly cramped and there is always a line for a mojito at the Sugarcane Bar. Best for: Multigenerational families, and couples who love big ship amenities, but want to escape to The Haven for peace and quiet.
For more information on Norwegian Encore visit ncl.com.