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There’s a reason Norwegian Cruise Line’s Norwegian Encore was voted “Best New Cruise Ship of 2019.” It offers incredible food, upscale experiences and adventure for kids and adults. Longer speedways, an Escape Room and the world’s largest collection of virtual reality games make the Norwegian Encore a stand-out choice for teens (and the rest of the family).
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When Norwegian Cruise Line launched its newest ship, the Norwegian Encore, it started with weekend media preview cruises. TravelingMom sent me and TravelingMom founder Kim Orlando. I sailed out of Miami; she sailed out of New York. Here are our experiences aboard the Norwegian Encore.
It was easy to see the Encore won the Cruise Critic Editors’ vote as “Best New Cruise Ship” of 2019.
Norwegian Encore by the numbers
First, some detail about this gorgeous new ship, part of Norwegian’s Breakaway Plus-class, which includes sister ships Norwegian Bliss, Norwegian Escape, and Norwegian Joy.
- 20 decks
- 2,038 staterooms
- Capacity for 3,998 passengers
- 5- and 7-day voyages to the Western Caribbean from Miami beginning Dec. 12, 2020
- 7-day voyages to the Eastern Caribbean from Miami; Bermuda, and Canada and New England itineraries from New York City beginning Apr. 22, 2020
- 7-day voyages to Alaska from Seattle beginning in the spring of 2021
NCL continues to be a pacesetter with several ships leaving from Seattle calling on Alaska, ships leaving from Miami calling on the Western Caribbean and Eastern Caribbean and ships departing New York to Bermuda, New England and Florida and the Bahamas.
What Families Will Love aboard the Norwegian Encore
The absolute highlight for teens on the Norwegian Encore (and its sister ship, the Norwegian Joy) is it’s thrilling Galaxy Pavilion. That’s the virtual reality heartbeat of fun for teens (and their adults). Put on those attractive virtual reality headsets and climb aboard vehicles and time machines to “drive” through a virtual wonderland of experiences.
Kim, who doesn’t love heights, braved a VR activity that took her to the edge of a deep, dark canyon to shoot skeletons. She had sharpened her shooting skills on some Zombies in another room and took out a lot of skeletons. But, she says, “The trouble I had was moving. Even though I repeatedly told myself I was in a small area on solid ground, my afraid-of-heights brain would not let me step out on the ledge that teetered over a deep dark canyon. The VR operator was yelling ‘Go Around’ and I was yelling, ‘No way.’”
She wasn’t the only one who had trouble distinguishing between virtual reality and actual reality. “Watching my BFF play Assassin’s Creed and yelling at a cat had me cry-laughing,” she says.
Escape Room aboard Norwegian Encore
For a family bonding adventure, head next door to the Escape Room. Kim met the creator and got a quick peek at the submarine-themed room during her New York sailing. At just $8 per person, she says it’s a must-do because the room can be altered to fit ability levels and for variety. The drawback: only 24 people per hour can participate.
Other Family Fun aboard Norwegian Encore
The Encore features the world’s longest race track at sea, the largest outdoor laser tag arena and two swimming pools.
The go-kart race track runs for 1,100 feet with four high-speed curves extending up to 13 feet over the side of the ship. The laser tag arena is nearly 10,000 square feet of fun and bunkers to hide behind.
These experiences are not included in the cruise price. The fun is worth the extra money, but you’ll need to factor all that extra fun into your vacation budget.
TravelingMom Tip: Pack gloves and a buff to stay warm on cooler sailings. Most people won’t be on the racetrack in cooler temperatures. it can be chilly up that top deck! If you’re dressed for the weather, you will find shorter lines, giving you more chances to race and play laser tag.
Norwegian Encore Pools
There are two swimming pools on Deck 16. One is a children’s pool with a lifeguard and benched seating areas for parents. I was happy to see the ship offers a selection of toddler and child-sized swim safety vests. That means parents don’t need to pack blow-up swimmies or bulky swim vests for children.
Next to the children’s pool is a colorful and family-friendly Aqua Park for water play.
A few steps away is the main pool. This square pool offers bench seating, sun loungers, and umbrellas that shield the afternoon sun.
One great place for families to gather is the Observation Lounge. There are walls of windows offering amazing views of the Caribbean. It is a gorgeous setting for a light breakfast or lunch away from the busy buffet.
Read More: Complete Guide to Planning a Family Cruise
Norwegian Encore Staterooms
Both Kim and I stayed in mini-suite balcony rooms. The layout of the cabin was well-planned and very nice. The bathroom had a tub/shower and a large vanity with sink. We also had a king-sized bed, flat-screen TV with limited channels and movies, and a sofa-bed. My favorite feature was the large balcony with a table and two chairs.
For Kim, who was sailing with a friend, the king bed was separated into twins and voila, a room for BFFs.
Another family-friendly cabin option aboard the Norwegian Encore is the family ocean view cabin. This sleeps four, but know in advance that two beds come down from the ceiling. And there is no balcony, which we think is a MUST HAVE feature when you’re traveling with younger kids who go to sleep by 8. The balcony is a nice spot for parents to enjoy a little quiet time together on a family vacation while the kids sleep safely inside.
Finding Luxury aboard the Norwegian Encore
For a luxurious splurge, stay in The Haven, Norwegian Cruise Line’s “ship within a ship.”
The Haven is an enclave of private suites and staterooms with its own private concierge and butler service as well as a separate pool, private sundeck, restaurant and lounge.
Other luxury touches for Haven guests: priority boarding on embarkation day, priority reservations in restaurants and a dedicated seating area in the main showroom.
Traveling Mom Tip: For multi-generational travel, The Haven is an ideal way to spend quality time together without worrying about planning details like show tickets and meal reservations.
How’s the food on Norwegian Encore?
There are an amazing 25 dining options on board the Encore! Many of them are dining upgrades available at an additional price. But there’s also plenty of good food included in the basic cruise rate.
Kim and her pal, Tina, loved the main dining restaurants, the Manhattan Room, Taste and Savor. All three offer the same menu, but each in a different setting. The food and house wine were fantastic. So good in fact, that Kim hunted down the chef to let him know that his cauliflower piccata was outstanding. Seafood day onboard at the Garden Cafe was crazy good with mountains of delicious crab legs (split and ready to devour) and lobster tails.
Upgraded Dining Options
If you’re interested in the upgrade, I thought the most noteworthy dining experience is Onda by Scarpetta. It’s an authentic Italian restaurant that really raises the bar. During our dinner here, I enjoyed pasta with basil and tomato, and my husband raved about his salmon entree.
We also dined at Los Lobos. The table-side guacamole is excellent. We both enjoyed tacos with chicken, and street corn sides.
Kim and Tina recommend the French fare at Le Bistro because of the incredible wine selection, seafood options and prize-worthy profiteroles.
Another wonderful specialty dining restaurant is Ocean Blue, which boasts fresh seafood and other entrees like steak. Speaking of steak, Cagney’s Steakhouse is a destination for those who are in the mood for classic-steakhouse favorites. In between Cagney’s Steakhouse and Los Lobos is The A-list bar whose namesake is Andy Stuart, the CEO of Norwegian who is stepping down at the end of 2019.
Other specialty spots on board worth a stop on those adults-only nights when the kids are in the kids club: Sugarcane Mojito Bar, beer specialty venue District Brew House, and wonderful whiskey bars and wine bars. There is even a breezy area on the side of the ship called “On the Waterfront,” where guest enjoy romantic ocean views and moonlit views at night.
Entertainment aboard the Norwegian Encore
The evenings on board Norwegian Encore sparkle and are truly memorable. Even if you cannot get the reservation you want, there is plenty to do and see, including hitting the casino.
Although reservations are required, the Tony Award-winning Broadway musical, “Kinky Boots” will headline the world-class entertainment on board, other entertainment starts include “The Choir of Man,” “Happy Hour Prohibition: The Musical” and the rocking Beatles cover band of The Cavern Club.
If you want to see the Beatles band, get there early. It’s always standing room only, and for good reason! They rock the joint. These guys are talented, funny and look amazingly like the actual Beatles from the 1960s.
Traveling Mom tip: Once onboard, go straight to the Box Office to make reservations for Kinky Boots. There are also kiosks throughout the ship that can take reservations for restaurants and shows.
What can kids do on Norwegian Encore?
Neither Kim nor I sailed with kids on our media preview cruises, but we both had a chance to see the kids’ programs, which are available for children ages 6 months to 17 years old:
The Guppies Program offers parents opportunities to interact with their infants/babies/toddlers and promote growth and development of infants/ babies/toddlers 6 months-3 years old. The schedule varies per ship and itinerary. The programs are:
1. Guppies Open Play: A play space for parents and babies to play together with a variety of toys, balls, interactive games, and blocks. This is offered across the fleet and parents must stay with their children.
2. Guppies Hosted Activities: Activities are hosted by the Early Years Coordinator (or Nursery Attendants on the Norwegian Escape) for parents and babies. This is offered across the fleet and parents must stay with their children.
3. Guppies Nursery. This is a fee-based drop-off nursery available only on the Norwegian Escape. The drop-off nursery accepts children ages 6 months to under 3 years old. The Guppies Nursery requires an onboard registration per child and reservations for available time blocks throughout the sailing. The programs are created and implemented by certified Nursery Attendants and offers little ones a wide range of toys, and engaging, sensory, and developmental activities linked to a daily theme.
This is a drop-off program for children ages 3-12. That means parents can drop off the kids (Turtles, Seals, Dolphins), offers high energy, interactive, themed based programming.
This is the teen hang out for 13-17 years old. Activities include socials, video game experiences and games.
Traveling Mom Tip: Book the kids club as soon as you board! Register your kids for Guppies Nursery, Splash Academy, and Entourage, first thing to ensure you get the times and dates you want and can work around the shore excursions and other ship activities. Youth counselors on the ship are available to assist.
A Final Thought on Costs
Keep in mind that Norwegian cruises operate on an ala carte basis. Just like airlines where the base price gets you what you need – a ride to your destination – and just about anything else is an up-charge, cruise lines increasingly are charging for extras, like fine dining.
The good news on the Norwegian Encore is there is plenty of good food and fun to be had for the base cruise rate. You can book an interior cabin, eat in the main dining rooms and do all of the included activities — water slides, sports courts, youth programming, top entertainment and well-appointed pools with sun decks — for no additional charge and you will have a great time.
If you tend to want more, pad your cruise vacation budget with extra for things like the Galaxy Pavilion, Escape Room, go-kart speedway, and laser tag. If you’re cruising with teens, these are must-do activities and, Kim and I believe, well worth the money.
Or go full luxury and book into The Haven!
About the Author
Erica Lamberg is married and the proud mom of a son and a daughter, both who are in college. Erica writes for media outlets including USA Today, NBC News, Reader’s Digest and is a cruise writer for Expedia. She lives outside Philadelphia.