I was invited to partake in Norwegian Cruise Line’s Inaugural Event for their newest ship, the Encore, in New York City last week. I had honestly never attended something like that before and I wasn’t sure what to expect, but how could I say no? They had me at free buffet! I had two days onboard the ship to try out the restaurants, bars, pools, hot tubs, entertainment, and activities with travel agents from around the country, plus some of my favorite airline people in the business. The experience was incredible and has me begging to go encore.
Special thanks to ID90 Travel for inviting me along. I am so grateful for the opportunity to have experienced this brand new ship! If you’re an airline employee, or a friend of mine reading this blog, you get exclusive discounts on hotels, rental cars, all-inclusive resorts, and cruises through ID90 Travel. These people know that airline people love to travel, and we love to travel on a budget, so they specialize in scoring and sharing travel discounts exclusively to the airline community and their friends/family. You can even use this link to get $10.00 off your first hotel booking.
Norwegian’s Breakaway-Plus Class
Much like the airline world, cruise ships have just as much of a variety when it comes to the ship itself, the cabins, and the amenities. Norwegian Cruise Line has four ships in their famed Breakaway-Plus class, all with nearly a 4,000 passenger capacity: Bliss, Escape, Joy, and now the Encore. This is Norwegian’s way of saying you’ll be on a bigger ship with larger than life venues for everything from food to dining. While these ships are typically a little more expensive, you will absolutely get a return on your investment.
To be considered Breakaway-Plus class, the ship must have a minimum of 20 dining establishments, a theatre built to house abbreviated Broadway productions, an additional venue for comedy and cabaret shows, modern cabins, and some of the most unique onboard activities available in the industry. The Encore, in addition to Escape and Bliss, even offer studio cabins for folks who choose to cruise the seas solo, which I will discuss later. Breakaway-Plus is also home to The Haven, which features up to 80 suites with exclusive lounge access for cruisers who want an extra dose of luxury, pampering, and privacy.
The Encore’s Specs
This ship is a massive and impressive feat, housing 20 decks, 2,038 staterooms, a passenger capacity of 3,998, nine specialty restaurants, five complimentary restaurants (six if you are a Haven guest), three bakery/dessert shops, a Starbucks, 12 bars and lounges, a casino, a spa, two arcades, top-deck go-kart track, top-deck laser tag, a 10,000 square foot virtual reality play space, three pools, two water slides, a dozen hot tubs, and three age-specific play areas for infants, children, and teenagers. Like I said: massive and impressive.
Arguably my favorite reason to take a cruise is for the food. Duh. No cooking, no cleaning, just excellent flavors complimented by genuine and delightful service. Even the onboard buffet was full of friendly staff members who had a way of making me feel like I was home for the holidays, not onboard a cruise ship full of strangers. Here’s my takeaway for the restaurants we were able to enjoy:
This complimentary buffet serves up breakfast, lunch, and dinner across an expansive floor plan featuring gigantic floor to ceiling windows, comfortable seating, and incredible views from every table. Breakfast was quite possibly my favorite meal from this restaurant, with unexpected flavors and quality for being “just” the buffet. The bacon was actually crispy, not slimy, and my eggs benny were absolutely perfect with an explosive yolk and juicy ham. I also ate myself silly on the fried potato rounds and chocolate milk.
I’m not a fan of seafood (I know, I know, please put down your pitchforks), but even I was dazzled by the Seafood Extravaganza our second day on the boat. We had one heck of a time finding a table because I think every guest onboard was indulging in crab legs and shrimp. Janet, my coworker, got exactly what she was craving with Alaskan king crab legs, while I feasted on cakes and ice cream.
The Garden Cafe has something for everyone, with classic all-American dishes like burgers and hot dogs with fries, to a Chinese wok bar and Indian fare. I didn’t have a bad meal here and I honestly had many meals here because there was so much to see and do on the boat, I wanted the fastest meal offered. Plus there was wine on tap and hand-dipped ice cream, so I never once went wrong here.
I am not ashamed to admit that we shut down The Social dance club both nights on the boat. Sue me. Of course we were famished after hours of dancing and singing, so the menu and ambiance at this 24-hour eatery were exactly what my friends and I needed to recover. I had the fish and chips my first night which blew me “out of the water” you might say. The second night I enjoyed a tender and juicy chicken fajita bowl. Both were excellent in flavor and portion size. If you happen to eat here during “regular” meal times, you can sit along the balcony and watch live music or catch a movie on the two-story projector screen while you indulge in cocktails and food fare.
The Manhattan Room
Picture the fancy ballroom from Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, add a few extra tables, and voila! This is another complimentary eatery onboard, complete with candlelight and a fine dining experience. Sitting at a round table with my friends, most of whom I had never actually met in person, we sipped our wine and shared our life stories with each other. We cracked jokes and shared beautiful sentiments while a seamless dinner service experience was executed around us. Plates were cleared, new settings were placed, and wine glasses refilled without interruption to our conversations. The prime rib was absolute perfection and I practically licked the plate of my tiramisu cake clean, washing it down with a classic latte with just the right amount of foam. While the food was a savory and memorable experience, I was most impressed by the service in this room. I think you will be too.
Additional Eateries on Board
In hindsight, I wish I would’ve tried the handful of other restaurants available to us. But truly, I was so overwhelmed by everything else the boat had to offer that the food took a backseat. Shocking, I know!
The complimentary eateries on board include: Savor, The Manhattan Room, Garden Cafe, Taste, The Local, and The Haven Restaurant (which technically is only complimentary and available to The Haven guests).
For a surcharge, you can also partake in delicious menu offerings from the specialty restaurants, which include Ocean Blue, Q, Food Republic, Cagney’s, American Diner, Teppanyaki, Los Lobos, Le Bistro, and Onda by Scarpetta. Ocean Blue and Cagney’s offer waterfront seating that is worth the specialty pricing, trust me. Just remember your jacket! For a sweet treat, you are invited to visit Coco’s for specialty chocolates and crepes, Starbucks for a savory taste of home at sea, Dolce Gelato for the Italian version of ice cream, or The Bake Shop for macaroons, bon bons, and cupcakes. You can read all about these eateries on the Norwegian Cruise Line website.
Bars & Lounges
I was wildly impressed by the offerings for cocktails, wines, and microbrews onboard. That’s right. Microbrews. And not just any cocktails. Craft cocktails. Plus cocktails and wine on tap. This isn’t a dream, this is real life, and it can all be yours on the Encore.
The District Brewhouse
If beer is your jam, you’ve selected the right ship for your adventure. This bar carries over 50 varieties of bottled beer and 22 selections of beer on tap. But even though there were countless options for beer, I opted for the two cocktails on tap to quench my curiosity. I was not disappointed by the cucumber concoction with vodka and gin or the sensational mixture of raspberry and rum.
Sugarcane Mojito Bar
I wanted to try everything on the menu, trust me, and I don’t even like mojitos. I had no idea these drinks could come in such a variety of flavors and styles, but I’m a believer now thanks to my indulgence of the Pineapple Coconut Mojito and the Jalapeño Cucumber Mojito. They even offer a mojito flight. Yup. Okay, sold.
I only took photos here because a private event was about to commence when I arrived, but I can assure you that you will feel like you’re in a private wine cellar at this establishment. Find a cozy chair at the bar and taste your way through the unique vintages offered here.
Maltings Whiskey Bar
I. Love. Whiskey. This is no secret. I was so impressed by this bar and all of the craft cocktails they pumped out as I sipped on a Rusty Nail. The bartenders were excellent and far surpassed all of my expectations. I felt like I was sitting in a speakeasy.
Sometimes you just need a quiet place to recharge and relax, but you don’t want to spend that time in your cabin away from the action. That’s why the Encore built the expansive observation lounge, complete with multiple self-serve hors d’oeuvre bars and an actual bar-bar. The room is full of couches, chaises, cushioned chairs, and high-end decor, accented by windows that run floor to ceiling around the entire perimeter of the lounge. I imagine that when Encore sails to Alaska, many passengers will take advantage of the unbeatable views while staying warm and cozy in a chaise lounger. That’s exactly what I would do!
Additional Bars and Lounges Onboard
I’m embarrassed to admit that I didn’t try all of the bars onboard either! This ship was too massive and the options far too plentiful. For a complete list and description of all the bars and lounges onboard the Encore, visit the Norwegian Cruise Line website.
I hope you’ll be onboard more than just two days because the offerings of entertainment from comedies to musicals to cabarets is exceptional. I nabbed a seat at the abbreviated Broadway production of Kinky Boots and was blown away. I laughed, I cried, and then I laughed and cried some more. Other featured shows include The Choir of Man and Happy Hour Prohibition: The Musical. This ship also boasts two standup comedians and a Beatles cover band.
Whip around hairpin turns and zoom over the edge of the ship on this 1,100 foot long go-kart track. I thought we would just a couple laps and that would be it, but we were able to drive for six full minutes. This is a standard go-kart track, but on the top deck of a cruise ship. You have to do it! Not only was the driving fun and exhilarating, but my friends had fun watching and taking photos from the observation deck. The best part about the observation deck is certainly the great views, but I have to tell you about the “Boost” play.
You can help your friends get “boosts” in their go-karts, which makes them go faster, by using a laser tag gun on the observation deck and firing at the sensor on the go-karts as they whiz by you. I believe there are eight laser guns in total, four on each side of the observation deck, with scorekeeping screens located just across the track. I thought this was a genius way to participate and have fun without adding a surcharge to your cruise bill. I was up there for hours!
I was so bummed when the weather in New York turned sour and our top-deck laser tag game was cancelled. While I can’t speak to what participating in the game itself is like, I can tell you that the course is like something out of a movie. A giant snake seemingly slithers over the top deck surrounded by faux ruins. I wouldn’t want to play this game at night because honestly the snake kinda scared me.
Welcome to 10,000 square feet of Virtual Reality paradise. I’d never played a VR game before, but jumped right in for the jurassic-style Jeep ride, Formula One race cars, paragliding in the Alps, and a zombie takeover. The race car and the paragliding made me feel a little fuzzy afterwards, but overall I thought this was a fun room, especially if you happen to have a rainy day at sea. Even if you don’t play the game for yourself, it’s fun to watch other people experience VR. I asked a staff member what the surcharge would be on a “regular” cruise, to which she explained they would cost $8.00 per person per ride. That seems too steep for me, like the state fair on steroids, but I will say the $8.00 is worth it just for the bragging rights of playing a VR game in the middle of the ocean. #extra
P.S. “The Descent” game was terrifying and a little too real for me!
Aqua Park & Kids’ Aqua Park
The pools weren’t heated for this event, so I steered clear of anything that wasn’t a hot tub. On a “normal” cruise though, you have access to two multistory waterslides that are impressive just to look at! You can see in the photo a children’s pool/splash pad-style area with kid-friendly waterslides, in addition to a three-feet deep pool for older kids. At the base of the photo begins the main pool area.
Because this ship houses a laser tag course and go-kart track on the top deck, expect a much smaller pool area than a traditional cruise ship. I was surprised by the size of the pool considering this ship holds nearly 4,000 passengers, but I also had to bear in mind that this ship’s home port is Miami with sailings through the Caribbean. If people want to be in the water, most can just opt for the ocean at port towns. The good news is, if the pool if full of people, just lounge on the deck with a drink from one of two bars on deck.
Note to self: there is a private two-story club onboard for guests 18 and older with access to a full-bar, fruit skewers, chilled towels, chaise lounge chairs, huge hot tubs that sit over the edge of the ship, and more. While there is a surcharge to this exclusive area, the serenity and space seem well worth the investment for a quiet and more relaxing day on deck. Read more about Vibe Beach Club on the Norwegian Cruise Line website.
I’m not a big gambler because I just have bad luck with gambling. When I turned 22, my friend bought me 22 lottery tickets. Twenty two. Guess how much money I won….
Zero. Zilch. Nada. So I’m a penny slots kinda girl. The casino had plenty of games to choose from and plenty of table games too, complete with a high stakes room for those folks who can afford to swim in their own money instead of the ocean.
If you lose all your money at the slots, have no fear. The spa will put you right back on track and help you feel more relaxed about that. You can enjoy a salt room, steam room, snow room, or have a hot-stone massage.
I honestly don’t know who in their right mind would want to work out while on vacation… but I do have mad respect for the people that do! We toured the fitness area within two hours of getting on the boat and there were already people working out. Mind blown. This space has plenty of workout equipment from treadmills to weight machines, or you can partake in a RYDE cycling class, guided meditation, or yoga practices.
As a parent myself, I wondered what would possess someone to bring their child into the open ocean on one of these ships. But then I took a tour of the kids’ area, Splash Academy, onboard and holy mackerel, I understand it now. The supervision is completely free and all you have to do is register your child for the club. I really like that the clubs were designed with children’s ages and interests in mind so you don’t have to worry about teens running amok with toddlers in tow. The areas are divided into three age groups, divided between infants and toddlers, children, and teenagers.
When you want some child-free time, you simply drop your child off in the designated room based on the child’s age and you’re given a special pager. If the staff needs you for anything, or if the child needs a diaper change or has an accident, you are paged immediately. If you want to go ashore for an excursion, you can even leave your child in the play area so long as one person from your party remains on the boat. Fancy that. I also liked that there was a private area to nurse your infant in the under-3 room. Kudos, Norwegian!
I’m the type of traveler that doesn’t care where I sleep, as long as the bed is clean, so you can imagine how plush and pampered I felt in a balcony stateroom. I could get used to this! The rooms are narrow, but offer plenty of storage space for suitcases, clothing, and alllllll the camera gear. A nice touch are the USB chargers built-in to the bedside sconces. If you’re trying to save money on your cruise, I vote an inside cabin stateroom because you can enjoy the views during the day on the deck or the observation room. With so many amenities onboard, you’ll really only use your stateroom to sleep.
I was able to take a peek inside a Studio room, which quickly became my favorite room onboard. This space is ideal for solo cruisers, with just the right amount of amenities. I really liked the thoughtful add-on of a live webcam view through the bedside television so it felt more like an ocean-view room than an interior cabin. Don’t worry, there is also a regular television across from the bed so you can comfortably watch a movie after a long day of play. Plus, guests in a studio get exclusive access to a keycard-access lounge where they can mingle, meet other solo cruisers, order room service, or have a drink at the bar. If I ever need some me-time, this is exactly the kind of room I will book.
Full-disclosure: I didn’t take a photo of my balcony stateroom, so here’s what the studios look like! The shower is located directly behind me to the left and a private toilet behind me to the right.
Take Me Back!
I honest to goodness did not want to disembark after two days. The amenities, food, drinks, hot tubs, entertainment, and activities kept me going nonstop. I feel like I need a vacation from my vacation, and thanks to ID90 Travel, I have an idea of how to do just that.
Want more delicious photos?
Check out my photo blog from the inaugural events and feel like you were there.