A Round of Applause for The Encore, NCL’s latest hit
by Anne-Marie Macloughlin
When choosing a sunny getaway the choices can be overwhelming. Gone are the days of the basic three meal deal and limited entertainment while landlocked: nowadays cruise lines are the vacation of choice for couples and families alike and with good reason. Finding a versatile package that caters to all tastes and demographics can be challenging when seeking a spot that satisfies sun worshippers, sportsmen, foodies and fans of live entertainment. With customer satisfaction a top priority Norwegian Cruise Lines’ latest addition to the fleet does just that.
Christened in the fall of 2019, The Encore revolutionizes cruising as we know it. Flexibility is the name of the game when booking a holiday so NCL took note and provides guests with an experience they can tailor to their needs. Mealtimes are flexible, dress code relaxed and entertainment varied. Accommodations range from solo traveler staterooms to suites and their “ship within a ship” the Haven. No ship would be complete without a few state-of-the-art recreational options and the Encore delivers with an 1150 foot-long 2-tier go kart race track on the top deck which reaches 13 feet over the side of the ship!
A big part of the excitement of cruising is when you embark on these behemoths of the seas. As we arrive at the Port of Miami we’re greeted with a line up of dazzling white palaces, the port having the honour of being the busiest cruise terminal in the world. Even for experienced cruisers it can be baffling when seeking your vessel but with the Encore, NCL has made it easy to identify. A dazzling splash of colour adorns the hull courtesy of Eduardo Arranz-Bravo, an award-winning Spanish artist. Inspired by the vibrant experience that is cruising on the Encore, Arranz-Bravo’s mural makes the Encore a standout amongst vessels.
After wrangling busy airport line-ups and transfers nothing hits the spot like a sumptuous lunch and cool drink. The self-serve Garden Café offers a mouth-watering selection that pleases all palates from tasty barbeque dishes to vegan and vegetarian options. The well-stocked bar provides cocktails for every taste and the knowledgeable staff are happy to advise baffled passengers spoiled for choice. No shipboard buffet would be complete without an ocean-themed spread, this pescatarian overwhelmed with the choice of giant tiger shrimp, calamari and juicy salmon steaks. Dinner options offer specialty dining including the award-winning Onda by Scarpetta, Mediterranean charm and classic elegance all round. For lovers of Art Deco and the choice of modern and classic dishes, the Manhattan Room offers delicious fare with distinguished presentation, the high ceilings and retro décor evoking 1920s decadence.
After a short apres-dejeuner nap it was time to explore. The Encore offers diverse entertainment and recreation including the aforementioned go karts, laser tag and a virtual reality experience at the Galaxy Pavilion. As a transit user who doesn’t drive I couldn’t wait to try my hand at go karting which is a popular choice requiring early booking. As the staff helped me into my cart I started to lose my nerve and felt slightly claustrophobic when they snapped on the helmet; that said I was happy to experience the unusual sensation of whizzing around sharp bends with the ocean in the background.
For younger guests the Encore provides a children’s aqua park and for the older set, the Entourage teen club where music, video games and movies provide an alternative to hanging out with the parents. Early years coordinators assist parents with the youngest guests at Guppies, sensory activities and toy time providing self-guided play. Grown ups can bust a move at the Pulse Fitness Centre or unwind in the Spa, hot stone massage and a relaxing steam room just a few of the pampering options on offer.
A relaxing vacation wouldn’t be complete without the first brew of the day. I was cheered to see an actual Starbucks onboard with the usual selection and even some winter-themed drinks on offer (think Gingerbread Latte). Be warned though, the lineups are ridiculously long and the staterooms have a coffee maker handy for the queue-averse. For a post-dinner beverage pick your poison; rum-lovers will gravitate towards the Sugarcane Mojito Bar where I highly recommend the Jalapeno Mojito. For a more vintage experience the Cellars Wine Bar and its resident sommelier is an educational experience whether you favour a beefy Merlot or flirty rose. My favourite was the Mixx Bar where the experienced mixologists provides happy Canadians with a first class Bloody Caesar!
When traveling to warmer climes it makes sense to stay hydrated and a major initiative for the Encore is the elimination of plastic water bottles with the aim to be plastic free by Jan 1 2020 with its new plant-based cartons courtesy of JUST Inc. With the temperatures reaching the high 70s it made sense to stock up for our day trip to Great Stirrup Cay, NCLs private island. Part of the Berry Islands, GSC is a former military base that’s customised for guests of the cruise line, its meals and drinks included. As we disembarked from the short tender we were overwhelmed with the smell of bbq beach fare, fresh ocean air and the fragrance of lush tropical blooms. Sun loungers are plentiful, towels preplaced on each and a variety of watersports are available including parasailing, stand up paddling and for the more timid, floating sunbeds.
For the savvy souvenir shopper check out the Berry Market where you can hunt down colourful garments and shell jewellery; I even got a speedy hairdo courtesy of local stylists. Although the traditional braids feel a bit like a bargain facelift they’re the perfect do for a hot day in the islands and last for a few weeks. NCL also runs several daily excursions to Treasure Island to see the famous Bahamian swimming pigs; due to the popularity of this tour book early. Also be aware that the island vendors only take US dollars and there is no debit or credit available.
After a languid day of sea, sun and sand we return to the ship to freshen up for dinner, cocktails and a show. Evening entertainment is hard to pick; do we rock along to the Tony Award-winning show “Kinky Boots” or sing along with “The Choir of Man?” Maybe an intimate evening with a Beatles cover band in the cozy Cavern bar or some stand up comedy at The Social Club? The Encore has it all so we finally enjoyed the antics of the rabble-rousing reprobates of “The Choir of Man” and their energetic cover versions of beloved popular songs set in an Irish pub.
Cruise life isn’t for everyone; if it’s a quiet getaway you seek the amount of on-board amenities can be overwhelming and the size of the Encore alone can be confusing. That said, where else can you access 5-star dining, luxury shopping, VIP spa treatment, Broadway-calibre shows and the opportunity to swim with pigs on Treasure Island? Many of us are seeking a break from real life where we can recharge and regenerate and pack as much as we can into a vacation. In this, the Encore delivers.