Mind-blowing activities, top class food and drinks, and great value for money – check out my Norwegian Encore review before booking your next cruise holiday!
Despite the fact that the inaugural sailing was on Halloween night, and I had two young kids at home, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to step onboard Norwegian Cruise Line’s newest and most innovative cruise ship – Norwegian Encore. It was my first time to cruise with Norwegian and I couldn’t wait to experience it. I crave new destinations, new cruise ships – well really anything travel related that I haven’t been to or experienced before. So a new cruise line and a brand new cruise ship, I was in my element!
Unfortunately I didn’t have the Caribbean sea views to go with it – Norwegian Encore’s inaugural sailing was from Bremerhaven in Germany to Southampton, UK on the 31st of October – not exactly the best time for good weather, or picturesque ports for that matter. But I guess this makes my Norwegian Encore review all the more interesting. I mean, if I liked Encore on rough November seas, then it must be good – right?
Activities on Norwegian Encore
It was 4 degrees celsius when we arrived in Bremerhaven but, although cold, we had the all-important blue skies. I immediately set out to explore the outdoor areas to take advantage of the sunshine. Normally I would head straight for the pool, but Norwegian Encore has a go-kart track on its top deck, so that was my first port of call.
Norwegian Encore is one of Norwegian Cruise Line’s Breakaway Class Plus ships – Norwegian Joy and Norwegian Bliss are her sisters, and also have racetracks onboard. However, Norwegian Encore’s is the biggest – to say I was blown away was an understatement. I was a guest of Sunway, Ireland’s cruise specialists, and they advised me to go to the racetrack as soon as I got onboard. Their advice was spot-on. I ended up at the top of the queue and was the first person to ever race the track on Norwegian Encore!
The race track is 1,150 feet long, sprawls over two decks and extends up to 13 feet over the side of the ship – it really is hard to fathom unless you see it, or in my case race it. I thought I was speeding away to my hearts content until my colleagues started beeping me from behind so they could over take me! It was hard to believe I was on a cruise ship – racing at 52 kilometers per hour.
As well as a massive go-kart track, Norwegian Encore is also home to the largest laser tag arena at sea – and it is also outdoors. Its theme is based on the Lost City of Atlantis, where you don virtual reality headsets and shoot serpents as they jump out in front of you. I didn’t try this personally, but decided to pose for pics instead 😉.
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The outdoor laser tag arena isn’t the only virtual reality experience onboard. I was amazed at the Galaxy Pavilion – an indoor room of high-tech virtual reality games that is like nothing else I have seen on a cruise ship. I am positive I would never see my 12-year-old son Luke if we cruised on Encore for a week.
I tried the Jurassic Park ride, where I was a passenger in one of the jeeps, racing away from chasing dinosaurs – it was brilliant. I also tried the rollercoaster ride but felt a bit nauseous, and ended up closing my eyes the whole time. I wasn’t brave enough to try the ‘Vertigo’ simulator – where you walk between skyscrapers on New York’s skyline. There are loads of shooting and racing simulators too – the Galaxy Pavilion is the best virtual reality experience I have ever seen.
I think Norwegian cruise ships are amazing value for money (more on that later), but it is important to point out that these activities incur additional charges. The go-kart track costs US$15 for an eight-lap circuit and laser-tag costs $10 for five minutes. However, if you are travelling with teenagers I would advise buying a week-long pass for the Galaxy Pavilion for $199. It might sound expensive, but believe me it will be the best $199 you ever spent! If you really want to push the boat out (excuse the pun) you can also purchase a $399 pass that will get you unlimited rides at the Galaxy Pavilion, go-kart track and laser tag area for a week.
Norwegian Encore also has two multi-storey water slides, and a kids aqua park with smaller slides and tipping buckets. The slides were not open during our sailing, but I am sure that the Aqua Racer, where you race your friends in inflatable tubes, would be a great ride for all the family. The Ocean Loops slide, with a floor that drops away at the top, and a slide that extends out over the ship – maybe not so much! Note that there is no additional charge for the water slides or the aqua park.
As well as amazing adrenaline-filled fun, there are kids clubs on Norwegian Encore to suit all ages – and they are also free of charge. There is a baby club for under 3s (which must be supervised by a parent), and kids clubs from ages 3 – 12 that are separated into three age groups: 3-5, 6-9 and 10-12. The rooms were huge with lots of open spaces and activities are organised daily.
Teens are well catered for too. The Entourage teen club has a large lounge area, daily activities, a wall full of PlayStations and what I am sure would be a firm favourite, their own teen disco every night. Norwegian also allows you to leave your kids onboard when in port, if you want to take a shore excursion without kids in tow.
As much as I was wowed by Encore’s facilities and outdoor space, I found the pool areas a little disappointing. The main pool is superb and has a large outdoor movie screen. There is also a small pool near the kids aqua park, as well as four hot tubs.
However, there isn’t much else to choose from – unless you are happy to pay for the privilege. The spa incurs an additional charge, as does the adults-only Vibe Beach Club on the top deck – which is a whopping $99 per person for a day pass. If you are travelling without kids and have many days at sea, the week-long pass for $209 is actually better value. At least you know you will have a comfy sun lounger for the week.
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If money is not an object, then make sure you book The Haven. This exclusive area for suite guests is stunning and the best suite area I have seen at sea. As well as staying in luxurious accommodation, the pool area with retractable roof is superb, and the private restaurant and lounge offer the best sea views. This has a quiet relaxed vibe, completely different to the other areas of the ship – and so ideal for a couple.
Entertainment on Norwegian Encore
Norwegian cruise ships have a reputation of having some of the best entertainment at sea, and once I experienced it for myself, I could see why. As well as nightly shows in the theatre, they have live music on in many of the bars throughout the ship. I loved that there were lots of small bars, rather than two or three large lounges. They have an intimate feel and you almost forget you are on a massive cruise ship. I also like that many of the bars and restaurants have outdoor areas.
There is also a bigger bar in the Atrium with live music and a large TV screen that shows sporting events. If craft beer is your thing, pop into the District Brew House, where they have 24 beers on tap. The Cavern Club, a reproduction of the Liverpool club where the Beatles performed, was a big hit with my colleagues, although I preferred the Latin music in the Sugarcane Bar. I danced to my hearts content at the silent disco and decided to hang around for the DJ set too.
The Tony Award-winning musical Kinky Boots got all the headlines, but I thought the ‘The Choir of Man’ was superb. This feel-good musical was set in a typical Irish pub. The storyline and original songs were terrific and it deserved the standing ovation that it received. Incidentally, admission is included in the cost of your cruise to both shows and live music.
Food and Drink on Norwegian Encore
Norwegian Cruise Line’s Free at Sea promotion, which is currently available on all sailings, allows you to enjoy three speciality dining meals and premium drinks over a seven-night cruise, for just €99. This is incredible value when you consider just how good the dining options are – and the cocktails! I found a new tipple onboard – a Moscow Mule. This is a delicious blend of vodka, ginger beer and lime juice and served me well over the two nights 😉.
I found the quality of the drinks onboard to be excellent with most premium branded drinks included in the drinks package – more than I have seen on other cruise ships. You can substitute either of these packages for shore excursion credit or WiFi (which was fast btw), but I think the former are the most popular options.
There are six complimentary dining restaurants onboard Norwegian Encore. Similarly to the bars, I like that there are three main dining restaurants, rather than one large one. The Manhattan Room is the most impressive main dining room, although also the largest. Decorated in 1920s style, it has a luxurious old-world feel, but with a modern twist. The food was exceptionally good for a main dining restaurant, in fact all the food I had on Norwegian Encore was excellent. The other two main dining restaurants, Taste and Savour, are much smaller, and actually feel like speciality restaurants.
The choice and quality of food in the Garden Cafe buffet restaurant was excellent – probably the best buffet I have seen at sea. I couldn’t decide between the roast beef, wood-fired pizzas or Indian dishes – so I had to have all three! The dessert stations were pretty impressive too.
There are also light snacks available in the Observation Lounge. I loved this massive lounge with floor to ceiling windows. It would be ideal in cooler weather, where you can still enjoy sea views in warm comfortable surroundings. Complimentary light-bites, sandwiches and pastries are served here – the perfect substitute for lunch, if you over indulged at breakfast.
The 24-hour Local Bar & Grill, another complimentary restaurant, offers classic pub grub and great breakfasts. It is also located beside a large TV screen so I’m sure it is a firm favourite during sporting events.
I didn’t get the opportunity to try any of the speciality restaurants, but the food was so good in the complimentary restaurants that this didn’t bother me. There are nine speciality restaurants to choose from. Onda by Scarpetta, the upmarket Italian restaurant, and Ocean Blue, the fancy seafood restaurant with ocean views, are sure to be the big hits, as will the Teppanyaki. Norwegian’s signature steakhouse Cagneys, as well as the French restaurant, Le Bistro, and Mexican, Los Lobos, are also onboard.
With the choice to opt for the premium drinks package and three speciality dining restaurants for just €99, it is no surprise that Norwegian Cruise Line offers some of the best-value cruise deals from Ireland.
Cabins on Norwegian Encore
I loved the dedicated section of the ship for solo travellers, something I haven’t seen on any other cruise ship. Encore has individual studio cabins for single use, and an exclusive private lounge where solo travellers can enjoy a drink or arrange to dine together, or go on shore excursions. The single supplement is very reasonable too.
I was really impressed with Norwegian Encore. Despite the fact that Encore holds 4,000 guests, has a massive go-kart track and a laser tag arena – it felt intimate. The variety of dining and entertainment options and the excellent Free at Sea promotion make Norwegian cruises great value for money too. I can’t wait to cruise with Norwegian again – I might opt for better weather conditions next time though!
For bookings and enquiries visit Sunway.ie