The 3,998-passenger Norwegian Encore is a modern and sophisticated ship, with decor and public spaces that could rival a more luxury-oriented cruise line. It's a ship that aims to give everyone vacation choices, with multiple bars and restaurants, indoor and outdoor activities and plenty of evening entertainment. In many ways, Encore is the "big city" of cruising. Its 20-plus restaurants let passengers dine in a different venue every night (though not without a cost) and its Deck 8 indoor/outdoor restaurant and bar area makes an evening out feel more like a night on the town. The live entertainment is some of the best we've ever seen at sea -- with Broadway-caliber performers in "Kinky Boots" and "Choir of Man" -- and the bars mix it up with signature cocktails and unique vibes.
Thrilling activities run the gamut from freefall waterslides to go-karts, laser tag and virtual-reality play spaces. Those looking to avoid the crowds can escape to the spa's thermal suite or adults-only Vibe Beach Club, or cosy up with a book in the breathtaking Observation Lounge with two-deck-high windows at the front of the ship. And passengers who want the utmost in tranquillity can book into the Haven suite complex, where they can luxuriate in exclusive enclaves including a pool, sun deck, restaurant and lounge.
However, while Norwegian Encore is big enough to offer something for everyone, it clearly caters more to some people than others. Sun worshippers might be disappointed in the compressed pool and complimentary sun deck spaces, with outdoor thrill rides and extra-fee sun decks spanning a huge chunk of the ship's top decks. Families with young children are stuck with windowless kids club areas in the bowels of the ship, a small water play area and restaurants and shows that are very much geared toward adults. Travellers on a budget will find, even with promotional booking freebies, that there are a lot of surprise fees and pay-to-play areas; you definitely don't get the full wow factor of this ship by keeping your onboard bill to a minimum.
Overall, Norwegian Encore is a sophisticated ship, there's tons going on and you'll be wowed by the quality -- and quantity -- of the dining and entertainment. Yet because of this, a vacation here can cost more than on other "small-town" ships, and even if you do pony up for the fun, you simply won't have enough time to do everything. Make sure you budget accordingly and be prepared to book another cruise to experience everything you missed.
Daytime: Casual all the way, with most people wearing shorts and T-shirts inside the ship and bathing suits and cover-ups outside on the pool deck. Some activities, such as the racetrack and laser tag, require closed-toe shoes.
Evening: Anything goes at night on Norwegian, which carries an all-day casual dress code. You'll see people wearing any range of outfits, from capris and blouses to maxi dresses and going-out attire. In the Manhattan Room main dining venue and in the upscale speciality restaurants (Onda, Le Bistro, Cagney's, Ocean Blue), you'll need to dress up a bit -- slacks, nice jeans, dresses, skirts and tops for women, and nice jeans, slacks, collared shirts and closed-toe shoes for men. Norwegian Encore has no formal night, but there is Norwegian's Night Out, where men usually wear long pants (dark jeans are fine) and collared shirts, and women put on dresses or nice skirt-and-blouse combos. Norwegian does also have some themed events -- popular ones include the glow party, country night and various decade-themed parties.
Not permitted: Bathing suits are allowed in the buffet and outdoor venues, as long as you have a cover-up and shoes on. Tank tops for men, flip-flops, baseball caps, visors and jeans that are overly faded, with holes or tears and worn below the hips are not permitted in the main dining rooms or speciality restaurants. Kids under 12 can wear nice shorts into all restaurants.
Norwegian Encore's main theatre is the place to catch two great shows throughout your voyage: the Broadway and West End hit "Kinky Boots," and the boisterous "Choir of Man," which might just be the more popular of the two, despite being the lesser well-known. For those who don't know, "Kinky Boots" is a redemption story of a young man from a middle-class English neighbourhood who rescues his family's shoemaking business by creating sensational "kinky" boots (think red leather and 6-inch stilettos) for drag queens. It's all about accepting people for who they are, and you'll leave smiling. The show, which is 30 minutes shorter than the original version, does feel a bit rushed at times, but the performers give their all and the music (by Cyndi Lauper) will get you clapping. The second show, "Choir of Man," has no narrative but is instead a combination of music, dancing and outstanding singing. Get there early, and you can go on stage and have a pint at the bar, where you'll chat with the performers and other audience members. The show's premise is simple -- eight or nine guys, all close friends, meet in their local pub for a chat and a sing-song, to swap stories and have a few laughs. A narrator introduces each man, and what they are known for (the good looking one, the sensitive one, the one who always gets into fights), and they sing a tune, which the others join in. It's a joyous, rollicking, good-time-for-all affair, and we guarantee you will be standing and cheering at the end -- and if you wait till the applause dies down, you can get back on stage for another pint.
There's something going all the time on Norwegian Encore, with trivia sessions, Ping-Pong tournaments, group dancing lessons and much more filling up the daily schedule. Much of the action is centred in the atrium, with its large screen and plenty of seats in front of the stage, as well as viewing areas one deck up at The Local. Most activities are complimentary, although you will pay for bar-based events such as wine or whiskey tastings, or games of chance such as bingo. One of the most popular attractions on Norwegian Encore is the extra-fee Galaxy Pavilion, a virtual reality arcade, which, at 10,000 square feet, has everything the avid gamer might expect. There's everything from a VR hang-gliding experience (not for the motion-sensitive) to a Jurassic Park/World drive-through and a simulated roller coaster ride and a walk-through a VR maze, where you shoot at rabid rabbits or Indian Jones-style villains. Other options include F1 racing, which you can do with a group, competing against each other or on your own (there's room for a passenger seat ride-along); a soccer game where you try to kick the ball past the goalie; and some cool VR pods where you can play video games like Robo Wars. While each game costs $8 to play -- the solo F1 race car is $20 a ride -- it might end up being more economical to buy a pass; four-, eight- and 16-game passes are offered, but the line said it is planning to offer hourly and weekly passes, eventually. Prices and details for all passes were still in flux at the time the ship launched.
The space also has two Escape Rooms ($15 per person), which are full of high-tech twists. We don't want to give them all away, but there is a fun virtual-reality segment at the start. The rooms, which are identical, can take up to six people on a team, and sessions last 45 minutes; the levels of difficulty can be set ahead of time, and if you're running behind, hints are offered to help you out. Hourly passes can be purchased for the Galaxy Pavilion; the cost is $29, which includes all rides *except* the F1 racing car and escape rooms. A weekly pass is $199. Other popular daytime activities include the water park, go-kart race track and the laser tag arena.
Norwegian Encore is at its most energetic at night when the bars are hopping with live music and dancing, and the various stage shows are going. In addition to "Kinky Boots" and "Choir of Man" in the main theatre, cruisers can take in comedy once or twice per cruise in the Social Comedy & Night Club or attend the extra-fee (and definitely not kid-friendly) "Prohibition: The Musical," also in Social. One of the most popular venues in the evening is the Cavern Club, particularly on nights the Beatles tribute band performs. Generally, the band offers three shows per sailing, with two performances of each show. Shows are themed around the early, middle and late years of the Beatles, and band members dress appropriately for each era. Once the shows are over, the nightclub part of Social gets going, with DJ'd music and a "silent disco" at least once per cruise. Live music is everywhere throughout the ship -- for great Latin music and dancing, you'll want to check out Sugarcane Mojito Bar -- and goes late. And, there's always the casino, with its plethora of slot machines, along with table games including poker, roulette, blackjack and craps. Various tournaments are held throughout the cruise.
Anyone looking for a tipple, quaff or swig will find plenty of spots onboard to imbibe, from the pool deck to Vibe Beach Club to the restaurant-side Mixx Bar and Skyline Casino Bar. But there are far more options, many dedicated to specific drink styles (beer, wine, mojitos, whiskey, etc). What's fantastic about the bars on Norwegian Encore, and its sisters, is that the spaces are generally smallish, generating an intimate atmosphere on such a large ship. We also love that many of the bars have their own specific drink menus, which means you can easily pick a different one to hang out in every night, without your palate getting bored. Several of the bars also offer outdoor lounge space along The Waterfront on Deck 7, which allows you to sit outside during nice weather. Highlights include:
Social Comedy & Night Club (Deck 6):
A multi-use venue, the Social is home to comedy shows, the extra-fee and risque "Prohibition: The Musical" and nightly DJ'd music. It's a large space, with two smaller rooms off to the side.
District Brew House (Deck 7):
A beer-lovers delight, the District offers 50 different bottled and 22 draft beers. It's got a dark, woody feel but also has a wall of windows that let in plenty of light. There's comfy couch seating, tall wooden community-style tables (used for tastings from time to time) and seating at the bar. The District can be quiet during the day, but the pace picks up at night when a piano player tickles the ivory, sings crowd-favourite songs and keeps the audience amused. Don't forget to duck into the photo booth in the back (for an extra fee, of course) and then stick the printout of you mugging for the camera on the photo board.
The Local (Deck 7):
Norwegian's signature pub along The Atrium, (it's called O'Sheehan's on most other ships), The Local is the place to watch sports and grab traditional pub grub, free of charge. It's pretty crowded throughout the day, particularly on weekends during any major sports season.
The Cellars (Deck 8):
There's no better place onboard Norwegian Encore for oenophiles than The Cellars, a Michael Mondavi Family Wine Bar. With hundreds of vintages including a selection of sparkling, kosher, no-sulfur-added, vegan and biodynamic wines, most cruisers would be hard-pressed not to find something they like. Don't know what you like? Ask one of the three certified sommeliers for a recommendation or check out the venue's classes ($22 plus 20-percent gratuity per person, per class): wine and cheese pairing, black glass blind tasting, Old World vs. New World, and wine and chocolate pairings. There's even a class on Riedel glassware. Located just in front of Onda by Scarpetta, it's a perfect spot for a pre-dinner drink.
Maltings Whiskey Bar (Deck 8):
Diagonally opposite The Cellars and right beside the Cavern Club, Maltings is another cosy "corridor" bar where you can sit inside the space but still watch all the people walking by. It's a popular spot and always seems to be full, with a long sit-up bar and various comfy sofas. As the name suggests, this bar specializes in whiskies, including scotches, single malts and bourbons, cocktails and whiskey flights starting at $19.95. There are some delicious creative cocktails, too. As with all the venues on this deck, it has direct access to The Waterfront, and there is a small bar outside. You can also smoke a cigar (not cigarettes), in a small, sealed adjacent Humidor Cigar Lounge.
Sugarcane Mojito Bar (Deck 8):
This is a hopping spot with a small dance floor and a live band at night, a long bar, and access to The Waterfront with an outside bar. It's Latin-themed, with the emphasis on a variety of mojito cocktails (can't choose? try a mojito flight -- six for $19.95); and various other Latin-inspired drinks. We loved the spicy jalapeno cucumber mojito, as well as the dangerous wiki rum punch.
The Cavern Club (Deck 8):
This replica of a Liverpool club from the 1960s is the site for the ship's Beatles tribute band, which plays two shows most nights. The shows usually have a theme -- early or late Beatles -- and the band members dress appropriately. This space can get packed, so if you want to catch this show, come early.
The A-List Bar (Deck 8):
This is a favourite for a lot of passengers, not because of its atmosphere -- it's a square bar squished between Cagney's and Los Lobos -- but because it's the best spot onboard for a variety of gin and tonics. Named after former Norwegian Cruise Line president Andy Stuart (and his wife, daughter and son, all who have names starting with A), the menu even includes a G&T named in honour of Stuart's favourite soccer team, Arsenal.
The Observation Lounge (Deck 15):
One of the highlights of the Breakaway Plus class of ship, The Observation Lounge is a gorgeous, sprawling 20,000-square-foot lounge dedicated solely to relaxing, reading and quiet sightseeing in the day; there is a piano and light music plays at night. Two-story windows provide excellent views, and the loungers are so comfy, you'll want to stay there all day (unfortunately some people do, which can make it hard to claim a spot). Smaller seating areas around the sides have snack bars for light breakfast, lunch and snacks. There's also a lovely bar. Don't miss spending some time here.
The Haven Lounge (Deck 17):
The Haven Lounge is a comfortable, country-club style bar and lounge open only to suite passengers staying in The Haven or select Haven-designated suites around the ship. What makes this venue different from other bars onboard is its Bespoke Cocktail Experience. Developed in collaboration with bar chef Kathy Casey of Liquid Kitchen, the menu starts with a compass of taste. Working personally with the bartender in the Lounge, cruisers place themselves on the compass, then answer specific questions about their likes and dislikes and their mood. The bartender then prepares a cocktail created specifically for that person. The best part is it's included for suite guests, because it's covered by the Premier Beverage Package, which they receive as part of The Haven fare.
Norwegian Encore has two pools and a kids' splash park on its Deck 16 lido area. The adult pool is closer to the Surf Bar and also has a great view of a big screen that broadcasts music, concerts and movies. The second pool is shallower and is right next to the Aqua Park. There's also a bar here for parents to hang out, while keeping an eye on their kids in the Aqua Park. Four hot tubs on Deck 17 are cantilevered over the edge of the ship. The complimentary Aqua Park has a variety of elements for kids, including a fun dunk bucket. Kids have to be potty-trained to use the pool or water park.
The Haven has its own indoor pool and hot tub with a retractable roof, dedicated for suite passengers. The pool is shallow, with loungers placed in the water. While the atmosphere of The Haven is generally serene, it's not a kid-free zone, so you might find children, depending on the sailing. The Haven's dedicated sun deck, on Deck 19, has two outdoor hot tubs. Within the confines of the for-fee sun deck area Vibe Beach Club, you'll find two hot tubs, but no pool.
The wet fun continues on Deck 17, where you can access Norwegian Encore's two waterslides, Ocean Loops and the Aqua Racer. The Ocean Loops is a freefall waterslide with two loops that are see-through in sections and extend over the side of the ship (in case you weren't scared enough). You need to prep to go on this one -- all jewellery must be removed and you need to wear swimsuits that won't cause drag on the slide (so no swim skirts or shirts or even fabricky tankinis). If your attire isn't spot on or if you move around too much, you will not have the momentum to crest the top of the second loop and will get stuck at the bottom of the loop. This is a surprisingly common occurrence, and there's a crew member stationed to rescue trapped sliders who sees plenty of activity. (On the plus side, he gets you out rather quickly.) Riders must be taller than 48 inches and weigh between 120 and 300 pounds (i.e., this one's not for young kids). To ride the much tamer but still fun Aqua Racer, you get in an inner tube -- either one or two people -- and ride down the slide, where special lighting changes colours and patterns. You must be at least 40 inches tall to ride, with a maximum weight (for one person alone or two people together) of 300 pounds.
Don't want to get wet? No worries. The back of Deck 17 has you covered with two for-fee attractions -- the go-kart speedway and laser tag. The go-kart speedway on Norwegian Encore isn't new to the line -- the speedy electric cars debuted on Norwegian Joy and were enhanced on Norwegian Bliss. But the racetrack has been lengthened and widened on Encore, with room for passing, and extends over the deck in some areas. Also new to the speedway -- laser guns for viewers, who can "shoot" drivers to give them bursts of more speed. Speed is relative here -- you can't go faster than 30 mph. You're also not supposed to treat the speedway as bumper cars; if you drive too aggressively or stop to take selfies, you'll be thrown out. There's a weight limit of 265 pounds and riders must be at least 55 inches tall to have their own car; smaller kids can ride in a two-seater with a parent during limited hours, as long as a helmet can safely fit. Children who meet driving requirements but are under 18 cannot share a double go-kart with another minor, only an adult. Also, some might find the helmets and the balaclavas you need to wear under them somewhat claustrophobic. The ride costs $15 for a 6 minutes. Reservations are recommended.
Norwegian Encore's open-air laser tag course is Atlantis-themed and has impressive features for hiding, including a gigantic serpent. A maximum of 20 people can play at a time in two teams of 10; kids can play as long as they can hold and operate the laser guns. The system does not require wearing bulky chest pieces; targets are on the guns and the shoulder strap. Recharge stations allow players to arm up quickly after "getting killed" so play is fairly continuous. The arena contains virtual reality elements; if you shoot at some of the pictures around the periphery of the course, you can see creatures jump out of them in your gun's viewfinder. Check video screens to see which team is winning and your personal score. Because the guns use an attached cellphone-like device as a viewfinder, we found that it was difficult to play in bright sunlight because you couldn't see the laser beams very well. Course attendants concurred that playing after dark is much better. (There's also funky arena lighting if you play after dark.) Prices are $10 per person, per game, and reservations are recommended. Set-up plus game play takes about 30 minutes.
The largest sun deck real estate on Norwegian Encore is dedicated to the Vibe Beach Club, which comes to Encore with much more space and real estate than you find on its sister ships. The for-fee sun deck area now has room for 300, seated in a variety of cushy deck loungers. The adults-only (18 and over) space has two hot tubs, as well as its own bar and waiters who hand out chilled towels and fruit skewers; on a sunny day, there's no reason to leave. Best of all for Vibe aficionados -- you'll be able to book a Vibe pass (length of the cruise only) online before you go, as opposed to racing to guest services in hopes of getting a slot. Passes for Vibe cost between $99 per person for one day to $259 per person for a 12-plus day pass. A one-week pass costs $209 per person. Vibe also features cabanas for rent. Cabana pricing, which also includes Vibe access for two people, ranges from $278 a day (port day) or $308 a day (sea day) to $768 for 12-plus days. A one-week rental costs $648. The Haven has its own sun deck for suite passengers, which takes over the front of the ship on Deck 17.
Outside of Vibe and the somewhat crowded pool deck (Deck 16) there's not a whole lot of sunning space on Norwegian Encore. We predict space will be at a premium on warm-weather cruises, arrive early to the pool for prime sun deck seating.
The Deck 6 atrium with its two-deck-high video screen is home to guest services, shore excursion booking, future cruise sales and an internet cafe with IT support for all your Wi-Fi issues. Norwegian has three internet packages. The Unlimited Social Media Wi-Fi package is $14.99 per device, per day, and gives access only to major social media and chat sites. The Unlimited Wi-Fi package is $29.99 per device, per day, and allows for email, social media, web surfing and app usage. The Unlimited Premium Wi-Fi package is $34.99 per device, per day, and adds streaming services. Wi-Fi packages are slightly discounted if purchased online prior to sailing. Also on this deck is the photo studio and art gallery, and, tucked away down a small corridor off the atrium, the library and a card room. Most of Norwegian Encore's shops can be found on Deck 8, midship. Tradewinds Tax and Duty-Free shops include Norwegian logo items, duty-free liquor, high-end jewellery and watches, designer purses, cosmetics and perfume. A special Bvlgari store sells jewellery, watches and purses by that label. Also here is the photo gallery where you can buy not only photos but camera equipment, lanyards and items for displaying photos. A box office on Deck 7 forward by the Encore Theater is the place to sign up for shows (like "Kinky Boots") and make reservations for laser tag and go-karts. A medical centre can be found on Deck 13 by the elevators, and there are two meeting rooms on Deck 6. The ship does not have self-service laundry, but you can pay to have items laundered or pressed.
The Mandara Spa on Deck 16 offers a wide variety of spa treatments and salon services (for women and men), along with a relaxing thermal suite. The large thermal suite has heated ceramic loungers, a thalassotherapy pool, a snow room and salt room, and several saunas and steam rooms. It's a true getaway, but you'll pay for the privilege and only those who purchase a day or weekly pass can enter -- you don't receive entry for booking a spa treatment. Treatment prices in the spa are about what you'd pay in a high-end spa in New York City (read, expensive) and incur automatic 20-percent gratuities that you can't change. You'll find a slew of massage and facial options, plus there are medi-spa treatments like Botox, teeth whitening and ionithermie, even acupuncture. Prime spots fill up quickly so it's best to book what you want, for when you want it, on the first or second day of the cruise. Keep an eye out for port day pricing, which is slightly lower than on sea days, or buy three "signature" treatments, and get 10, 20 and 30 percent off. The space, which smells florally divine from the moment you walk in, also has a relaxation room, but during our time onboard we were forced to sit in the lobby to wait for our massage therapist instead. While that didn't take away from the great Thai poultice massage we received (you get to keep the poultices), it was rather awkward for people who came in their robes.
Located across the hallway from the spa on Deck 16 is the fitness centre, where cruisers will find an array of equipment, along with a dedicated spin/power rowing room and a separate TRX room with TRX, free weights, conditioning ropes and more. Use of the fitness centre is free, but most classes (spin, Pilates, TRX, etc.) cost extra. There's a cool screen when you enter that tells you when the classes are and how full each is. There's also an outdoor jogging track on Deck 17. Keep in mind, part of the track runs through a small piece of American Diner and is near the waterslides so it can get quite congested; non-runners have priority in these areas.
With more than 20 places to eat onboard, passengers can enjoy dining in a different restaurant every night on Norwegian Encore. The good news is that the quality of the included venues is reasonably good; in recent years, the line has improved the food and decor of its main dining rooms. The bad news? The speciality restaurants are enticing -- and expensive, with most having a la carte charges, as opposed to a set cover price. You'll want to choose the speciality dining package as part of your Free at Sea booking perks if you're a foodie or someone who loves choice; this is a ship where you could very well have FOMO if you stick to the included venues only. You will need to make reservations -- the earlier, the better -- if you are determined to eat at specific venues at preferable times. If you want to walk in, go early or late. Most restaurants have options marked for vegetarians and gluten-free diners. If you have food allergies, however, you will likely want to talk to the individual restaurants to see how they can accommodate your needs. (Many of the vegetarian options are pastas or fried, so not particularly healthier than the other choices.) All extra-fee restaurants tack on a 20 percent auto-gratuity on the final bill, so factor that cost into your dining budget for the ship. (If you choose a dining package as a free booking perk, you will also be required to pay the 20 percent gratuity on the line's estimated retail value of the package. For example, a three-meal package on a seven-night cruise would require $20 in auto-gratuity.)
Taste and Savor (Deck 6) and the Manhattan Room (Deck 7)
Meals: Breakfast (B), Lunch (L), Dinner (D): Norwegian has three main dining rooms, each of them with the same menus. Taste and Savor are small, more intimate venues across the hall from each other with a bar separating them. Because of their size, there's more of a feeling of dining in a speciality restaurant than of being in a cruise ship banquet hall. You'll get that in the Manhattan Room, with two-story-tall ceilings and a more cavernous space. It's only open for dinner. You don't need to make reservations for these venues, unless you're in a party of six people or more. #
Breakfast (in Taste and Savor only) is a nice sit-down alternative to the buffet, where you can order a wide variety of breakfast items, both hot and cold. Express egg options are also available. Lunch has several course options, ranging from soups and salads to sandwiches and more substantial fish, pasta and meat entrees. At dinner, the lights are dimmed and the restaurants display a casually elegant (but not stuffy) feel. Service is attentive, but not obtrusive. Menus offer an extensive array of appetizers, including salad, soup and other starters. Entrees include classic choices (like rotisserie chicken and New York strip steak) that are always available, plus featured selections for that day, with meat, seafood, chicken and vegetarian options. In addition to the main desserts, passengers can order a fruit plate, cheese tray or selection of ice cream or sherbet.
Garden Cafe (Deck 16)
Meals: B, L, D: The Garden Cafe is Encore's pool deck buffet restaurant, and it manages to look as elegant as the sit-down venues onboard. It's huge, with some repeating stations and some surprise standalones, so make a full pass of all the stations before loading up a plate. We particularly enjoyed the Indian station, which offered excellent dishes for all three meals, with many vegetarian choices. You can find it at the far forward of the buffet on the left side. You won't find an outdoor terrace (though there is some table seating on the pool deck), but the forward-most seating area has lovely views out the Observation Lounge's two-deck-high floor-to-ceiling windows.
The Garden Cafe is open long hours for breakfast, lunch and dinner, but is not open between meals or late at night for snacks. Self-service ice cream stations blend in with the walls and are easy to miss; we're told they come online at 8 a.m. We were pleased with the quality of the food for a buffet, and the multiple stations did a good job of spreading people throughout the venue. You can buy Starbucks coffee in the Garden Cafe, as well, from self-serve machines. Keep in mind, the drinks cost extra even though the prices aren't shown, (a note does tell you that you'll pay a 5 percent gratuity on a cup). It's almost impossible not to indulge in Starbucks on Norwegian Encore because the free coffee that's available is almost undrinkable. Self-serve wine kiosks are also positioned around the buffet, as well as complimentary drink stations serving juice, water, tea and coffee. For any other beverage needs, there's a staffed bar.
Breakfast has every breakfast food you could want: eggs (both premade and cooked to order), breakfast meats, hot and cold cereal, yoghurt, fruit, baked goods, pancakes/waffles, cheese and cold cuts. Lunch has the most variety with stations for hot entrees, burgers and grilled items, pizza, Indian food, carving and wok stations, salad, soup, pasta, bread and cheese, and desserts including ice cream. Encore doesn't have another no-charge casual venue for burgers or pizza by the pool, so the Garden Cafe is the spot for apres-swim noshing. At dinner, the most forward buffet stations close, likely because a large percentage of Encore passengers choose to sample the speciality restaurants or sit-down venues for dinner. The open stations mimic lunch with hot entrees, burgers and pizza, pasta, salad, Indian and dessert.
The Local (Deck 7)
Meals: B, L, D: The Local has a pub name but the space is much more light and airy than you'd find in most bars. The venue wraps around the atrium, and has several components: the bar seats around the atrium where you can watch people below; the actual bar, where you can watch TV; restaurant seating off to the side; and a games area where you can play pool or arcade games. Because it's open 24 hours, the space is almost always hopping. The breakfast menu is limited, and has a buzzier ambience than the quieter main dining rooms, but you can still order eggs, omelets and waffles. For lunch and dinner, the menu offers more standard bar food, with sandwiches and fish and chips. The Local gets another run of people late at night, coming in to fortify after an evening of bar-hopping or dancing.
Observation Lounge (Deck 15)
Meals: B, L: The Observation Lounge is meant as a place to come and relax, so why leave to get food? Light bites -- such as yoghurt parfaits, fruit and finger sandwiches -- are available here at breakfast and lunch time, as well as pastries and snacks in the afternoon.
The Haven Restaurant (Deck 18)
Meals: B, L, D: As befits its status as a private enclave within the ship, The Haven restaurant allows suite guests to dine within their own restaurant for all meals. The menus are more sophisticated than what you will find in the main dining rooms, as is the execution. The chef in The Haven is also adept at special menu requests, with advance notice.
Teppanyaki (Deck 6); $39 per person
Meals: D: Particularly popular with kids and families, Teppanyaki is a fun, hibachi-style Japanese restaurant where the chef's knife skills are a part of the meal. Shrimp will flip, egg snakes will move, chefs (and diners) will shout for more. This is the only speciality restaurant onboard Norwegian Encore that is a fixed price, which means it can be a good value.
Q Texas Smokehouse (Deck 6); a la carte
Meals: D Carnivores, rejoice! Tucked away on the other side of the atrium, far from the rest of the restaurants, the Q Smokehouse is spacious, with a roadhouse feel (at night, live country music plays). On the menu, you'll find comfort food like Lone Star chilli, potatoes in various forms (sweet, baked, salad, fried) and crispy okra. But meat is the star, with brisket, short ribs, pulled pork, spare ribs, chicken, turkey and sausages available (as well as broiled salmon and Cajun shrimp skewers). The Pitmaster Platter ($25) has food for a crowd.
Ocean Blue (Deck 8); a la carte
Meals: D: One of Norwegian Encore's date-night restaurants, Ocean Blue offers upscale seafood, in a venue that is located on The Waterfront (for great sunset views). Appetizers and light bites include shrimp, scallops and calamari while entrees can be surf and turf, fresh fish, seafood linguini and fresh grilled fish.
Onda by Scarpetta (Deck 8); a la carte pricing, $10 to $35 per dish
Meals: D: Onda by Scarpetta is new to Norwegian Encore, but the partnership with the upscale Italian restaurant (known for its city hotel-based restaurants) has proved so popular that it will be added to some of the line's other ships. The space is small and books quickly so if you want to get a seat, make reservations in advance. We found that Onda lived up to the hype on our sailing, with appetizers that were perfectly seasoned (and in portion sizes that won't make you sick). The pastas are standouts; we loved the short rib ravioli and the mezzelune so much, we didn't make it to the regular entrees. Save room for desserts; the towering tiramisu was to die for. Onda is not a cheap date, and once you figure in dessert and wine you're looking at meal for two that easily rivals a relatively fancy night out on land. We're not saying that it's not worth it -- the food definitely ranks as some of the best we've had at sea -- but budget accordingly.
Cagneys (Deck 8); a la carte pricing
Meals: D: Norwegian's signature steakhouse appears on Encore in an elegant, dark and moody enclave near the A-List Bar. Another restaurant that's tops for date night, Cagney's has steakhouse staples, including a selection of beef, chops, seafood and classic sides such as creamed spinach and mushrooms. Prices at Cagney's are comparable to what you'd find in a small city, with steaks ranging from $26 to $37, depending on the cut. The quality is high -- our steak was perfectly cooked and the rest of the meal is what you'd expect from a decent steakhouse. Cagney's does have an outstanding wine list, for those who want to splash out. With so many other speciality restaurants to try onboard, a steakhouse can seem rather prosaic, but for those who need meat on their date night, it's the best choice.
Food Republic (Deck 8); a la carte
Meals: L, D: Fans of global international cuisine will be drawn to Food Republic, which has yummy "handhelds" like Thai chicken lettuce wraps, sticky pork belly buns, Peruvian beef skewers, shrimp pad Thai, hamachi taquitos, shitake and water chestnut dumplings, and Tijuana street fries. While some combos seem a bit puzzling -- tuna poke nachos? -- it's a fun spot, with a sushi counter and its own speciality cocktail menu. Food Republic is primarily a dinner venue but will open for lunch on sea days if the demand is high enough.
Los Lobos (Deck 8); a la carte
Meals: D: Upscale Mexican is the star at this restaurant, across from Cagney's near the A-List Bar. It's a great place to come with a group, as the plates are designed to share. You'll find fresh guacamole prepared tableside, shrimp ceviche, carne asada, and delicious burritos, tacos and enchiladas. Don't miss the margarita menu and -- on a nice night -- an outdoor table on The Waterfront.
American Diner (Deck 17); a la carte
Meals: L, D: Conveniently located not far from the Galaxy Pavilion and outdoor recreation areas, the open-air (but covered) American Diner serves up a classic diner menu of apps, burgers, sandwiches and fried food. Expect to have some selfie-takers near you, as some of the booths are cleverly carved in the shape of classic American cars. Sadly, it's not a great spot for dining on days when the weather is windy and rainy.
Le Bistro (Deck 17); a la carte
Meals: D: You have to work hard to find Le Bistro, which is tucked away on Deck 17. It's a romantic spot, and Gallic favourites like escargot, onion soup, coq au vin and duck a la orange make it a line favourite. This is also considered one of the ship's more upscale options, and you'll want to dress appropriately.
Coco's (Deck 6); a la carte:
Meals: Snacks: Cruisers with a sweet tooth gravitate to Coco's for its array of delicious indulgences, from several different gelato flavours -- which you can have by the scoop or in large, colourful sundaes -- to sweet crepes, small chocolate bites and a variety of cakes.
Starbucks (Deck 6); a la carte
Meals: Snacks: A full-service Starbucks at sea, this venue is exactly the same as you'd find in a city or town near you with pastries and seasonal coffee specials. For those with drink packages, note, Starbucks beverages are *not* included in the package.
Dolce Gelato (Deck 8); a la carte
Meals: Snacks: Tucked away on The Waterfront, Dolce Gelato makes is presence known to you when you see other people walking by eating from small cups. Service is via a small window and there's a rotating list of flavours. Grab a cup and stroll or sink down into the cushy outdoor sofas nearby.
The Bake Shop (Deck 8); a la carte
Meals: Snacks: The indoor portion of Dolce Gelato, this sweets shop is where to go to sate your sugar fix along The Waterfront (as opposed to going all the way down to Coco's). Truffles, macarons and cupcakes are the stars here.
Meals: 24/7: The breakfast menu includes complimentary Continental selections of yoghurt, fruit, cold cereal, breakfast pastries and juices. For an upcharge, you can order hot selections like French toast or omelettes. The all-day menu offers a selection of soups, salads, sandwiches, pizza, hot entrees and desserts. A kids' room service menu has all the favourites: chicken fingers, mac 'n' cheese and PB&J sandwiches. Every room service order incurs a $9.95 charge, plus a 20 percent service fee. The only exception is Continental breakfast before 10 a.m., which is complimentary.
Norwegian Encore offers a vast variety of cabins, from compact inside "studios" for solo travellers, to luxury suites catering to families and well-heeled couples --- with pretty much every variation in between. Each cabin (except studios) has the following amenities: two beds that convert into one queen; a fixed desk with three 110v and one 220v outlets; interactive flat-screen TV; nightstands with shelves and a closet with hanging and shelf space; fixed touch-operated lights either side of the bed, complete with USB ports; a hair dryer; a for-fee mini-fridge and a safe in the closet. Bathrooms in most basic cabins feature toilets, stall showers with glass doors and fixed dispensers of shower gel and shampoo/conditioner combo, sinks with upper and lower shelves for storage, bar soap and body lotion.
The ship has more than 200 pairs of connecting cabins for groups and families; cabins marked as "family" might have extra space and a bathtub, or might simply feature extra berths, so check before booking. There are 43 accessible cabins in a range of categories from inside through suite. The Haven is the ship's suite complex with 50 cabins located in a keycard-protected area that also includes exclusive public spaces for residents; another 25 suites outside the Haven have access to its lounges, restaurant, sun deck and perks.
Cabin categories are:
Interior: There are 371 inside cabins, which measure 135 square feet. Most sleep two to three people, but family insides sleep four with two pulldown bunkbed-style berths. Prepare to be cramped if you squeeze four into one of these windowless spaces. Inside cabins have a desk but no sitting area.
Studio: Eighty-two solo cabins are designed and priced for single cruisers and are unique to Norwegian. They are similar to Japanese-style capsule hotels, though not quite as small, coming in at 99 square feet. They each have a twin bed. The bathroom is divided in half, with one stall for the toilet and sink, and another for the shower. A nice feature of the rooms is a virtual window, which offers some light. The window displays images piped in from cameras mounted on the outside of the ship, so you’re seeing exactly what you’d be seeing if you had a "real" window. The studio enclave has a separate keycard entrance, along with an exclusive lounge where solo cruisers can hang out and meet one another, have a light breakfast or snack, and even have a drink, from for-fee wine dispensers.
Oceanview: Of the 111 outside cabins with picture window, Deck 5 midship cabins measure 160 square feet, with forward cabins on higher decks measuring 197 square feet. Most sleep two but some sleep up to five. Family oceanview cabins range from 240 to 372 square feet and can sleep four or five; some have shower-bathtub combos. Oceanview cabins are generally laid out identically to inside cabins, though family oceanviews have pullout sofas.
Balcony: Balcony staterooms make up the bulk of Encore's cabin inventory, with 1,090 in total, ranging from 213 to 425 square feet, with balconies ranging from 38 to 155 square feet, depending on category booked. From this category and above you'll find a pullout sofa bed that can sleep two. Balconies are furnished with two chairs and a small table.
Club Balcony Suite: There are 306 of these, all with balconies. Most are 249 square feet, with 42-square-foot balconies. However, Club Balcony Suites with Large Balconies are 329 to 439 square feet with balconies ranging from 102 to 140 square feet. If you're expecting an industry-standard mini-suite with extra floor space between bed and sitting area, you will be surprised; Encore's Club Balcony Suites are largely the same as balcony cabins with the same narrow layout. The main difference is in the larger bathroom, where you'll find a single oblong basin with two taps at either side; and a much larger shower stall complete with a rain showerhead and various fittings that allow you to shoot six jets at various heights. These cabins also include a coffee machine on the desk.
Spa: Outside the Haven, spa-lovers can choose from spa-themed balcony and mini-suite cabins. They are located on Deck 15 aft near the Mandara Spa and offer complimentary thermal suite access. Spa balcony cabins are the same size as standard balconies but with more tranquil decor; spa mini-suites are the same size as standard mini-suites and include oversized waterfall showers with spray jets.
The Haven: The Haven is Norwegian's keycard-protected ship-within-a-ship. As well as suites, The Haven has a number of other perks for cruisers including a separate concierge and reception area, a gorgeous lounge that serves as a mini Observation Deck, a private indoor pool and a private restaurant, bar with a special cocktail menu and terrace. Haven guests qualify for all of Norwegian's booking perks so will receive beverage and dining packages, free Wi-Fi and shore excursion credits. While most of The Haven cabins are located within the enclave, there are a few outside the key-carded area, most notably spa and aft-facing suites. Passengers booking these cabins still have all the perks and access to The Haven amenities. There are five main types of suites that comprise The Haven, including three different types of penthouse:
Spa Suite: There are just six of these, ranging from 339 to 343 square feet with an 85-square-foot balcony and sleeping just two guests. These rooms have a king-sized bed, a large jetted hot tub within the room and an oversized waterfall shower with body spray jets. One thing to note is that these suites are actually outside the Haven complex to be close to the fitness centre and Mandara Spa; passengers booking these cabins have passes to the thermal suite included in their fare.
Haven Suite: There are just five of these, which are interconnected, allowing for extended families or groups. They range from 447 to 466 square feet; balconies measure 27 to 46 square feet. They are true suites with a bedroom separated from a large windowed bedroom and a master bath with shower and separate tub and two vanities. The living area has a small dining table as well as desk and sitting area.
Penthouse: There are three different types of penthouse onboard -- Forward Facing, Aft Facing and Courtyard -- ranging from 324 to 667 square feet, with balconies of 27 to 247 square feet. They can sleep three to four guests. The aft- and forward-facing suites are not within the actual Haven complex, but have spectacular views. The aft-facing penthouse we viewed had a king-sized bed with a pillow-top mattress in a separate bedroom (making it a true suite); a living and dining area with a double sofa bed, a master bathroom with a separate tub and luxury shower; and a separate guest bathroom with its own shower. Layouts vary by location and category.
Family Villa: There are 24 two-bed Family Villas, which range from 538 to 622 square feet and which can accommodate up to six people. The second bedroom, with a fold-out sofa bed, actually seems a bit small and lacks natural light; the space definitely seems meant for children, as opposed to another set of adults (although the second room does have its own bathroom). The master bath in the villa is sumptuously spacious, with a separate tub and shower. The living area, too, has plenty of space to spread out. Balconies measure 43 to 127 square feet.
Deluxe Owner's Suite: There are just two of these, coming in at a whopping 1,458 square feet and accommodating up to six people. Two balconies total an impressive 487 square feet. The suite features a master bedroom with a king-sized bed, walk-in closet and master bath with whirlpool tub, separate shower and dual vanity. A second smaller bedroom has a double sofa bed and its own bathroom. The large living area contains a sofa, armchairs and coffee table, wet bar, dining table for four and lots of storage.