With more and more ships being built every year (with $65 billion in ships on order over the next 10 years), it can be difficult to stay ahead of the curve as a cruise line.
From gourmet cuisine, luxurious spas to top-notch entertainment and high-tech features, cruise lines are going above and beyond to deliver something different at sea.
And passengers can certainly expect something unique on board NCL’s new ship, Norwegian Encore.
The dazzling 3,998-passenger, 169,116-ton vessel is the fourth and final ship in the fleet’s Breakaway-Plus Class and cost nearly $1 billion to build. She features many similarities to her sister ships Escape, Joy and Bliss, but with clever nuances and subtle enhancements.
The cruise line has taken its renowned standout features to a new level with Encore, featuring the world’s longest race track at sea, at 1,100ft, and the largest outdoor laser tag with arena at nearly 10,000sq ft, with the addition of augmented reality elements.
Stepping aboard, it is clear that no expense has been spared on the ship’s interiors. Wandering through the public spaces, the overall feel is that of contemporary luxury, featuring lavish furnishings and an elegant and light colour palette punctuated with statement artwork, much of which can be found in the on-board art gallery.
One particularly impressive piece is the grand chandelier in the Atrium, which constantly changes colour and hangs dramatically above the glass staircase leading from deck six to deck nine.
Art has always played an important role on NCL’s ships and this is highlighted by Norwegian Encore’s exterior, which continues the cruise line’s tradition of featuring iconic hull art.
On this occasion, the vibrant, abstract design was the work of Spanish artist Eduardo Arranz-Bravo, who was commissioned to create a piece that reflected the dynamic experience guests will have on board.
Summing up the overall aesthetic, UK and Ireland managing director Eamonn Ferrin said: “It has an ambience about it, a luxury feel, but it’s so different. Every area has a different aesthetic. It’s got something for everyone.”
With capacity for almost 4,000 passengers, the megaship certainly lives up to its name and the space has been put to good use, kitted out with every possible facility and amenity imaginable.
This all ties into NCL’s Freestyle concept, which allows passengers to choose what they want to do rather than have their schedule and itinerary mapped out for them.
This is strongly demonstrated by the number of drinking and dining venues on board; there are 29 in total, each offering something slightly different.
Out of the complimentary dining venues, there’s The Local serving up classic pub grub, or The Taste, which majors in world cuisine.
The Starbucks is truly a novelty, allowing you to pick up your much-needed morning coffee and snack without having to do a more formal dining experience, should you prefer.
When it comes to the extra-cost venues, a special mention has to be given to Onda by Scarpetta, the modern Italian eaterie which is a brand-new venue for NCL.
The sleek and modern decor, featuring plush red banquet seating, contemporary gold light features and table-cloth-free dining tables, provides the perfect backdrop for the cuisine.
The concept of Onda is all about sharing, so guests can try a little bit from the whole menu (which for those of you with a bad case of food envy like myself, is ideal).
Star dishes include the restaurant’s famed tomato and basil spaghetti; simple yet utterly delicious, it arrived cooked to perfection with an al dente bite. The scialatelli pasta with seafood is also heavenly, which is cooked simply in olive oil with no added cream, making it surprisingly light.
If you’re feeling hungry, I’d also recommend the veal chop Milanese and for dessert (if you can possibly squeeze it in), the butterscotch budino with salted caramel and a chocolate biscotti on the side is to die for.
To ensure all guests experience the best cuisine possible, all of the ingredients served in the complimentary and extra-cost venues alike come from the same supplier, so you shouldn’t have a bad meal while on board.
After dinner, guests can choose from 12 watering holes across the ship’s 20 decks, from the relaxed District Brew House serving 50 bottled and 22 draught beers to the more refined Sugarcane, offering classic mojitos.
While the food on board is excellent, it is Norwegian Encore’s activities and entertainment that are its star act.
The most popular attraction is the two-level Speedway race track. Great fun for adults and children alike, daredevils can race each other at speeds up to 30mph on the nifty electric go-karts.
The outdoor laser tag next door to Speedway is an exciting place to explore, but I would recommend visiting at night when the lost-city-of-Atlantis-themed layout is even more atmospheric.
There’s also the Galaxy Pavilion, which features immersive VR experiences and thrilling simulator rides. If you venture down to deck four where Splash Academy (the complimentary kids’ club) is located, guests will find the ship’s hidden arcade room, which provides the perfect afternoon hideout during a rainy day at sea.
The grand finale of the entertainment repertoire is the multi award-winning Broadway musical Kinky Boots, which makes its ocean-going debut at the Encore Theatre.
While Kinky Boots has been given the most press and is undoubtedly a great performance, it was The Choir of Man that was the standout show for me. The talented cast gave a truly rousing performance which had audience members up on their feet dancing by the end.
You can even watch ‘The Beatles’ play every night at the Cavern Club. The excellent tribute band performs different shows around different eras of the band, so Beatles fans will be well-catered for.
For passengers looking to relax and unwind, the ship has plenty of intimate spaces and quiet corners, my favourite of which is the Observation Lounge.
Decorated with cool creams and teal tones punctuated with gold, honeycomb-designed light fixtures, the stylish yet comfortable lounge is the perfect spot to sit and watch the world go by. There is also a large bar at one end, making it ideal for pre-dinner cocktails.
And – let us not forget the Mandara spa. The serene and tranquil wellness area has a thermal suite, vitality pool, salt room, snow room and a host of massage treatments. Encore also boasts a beauty salon and fitness centre, offering high-intensity classes, pilates and ocean-view yoga.
Last but certainly not least, there are the cabins. The ship features a variety of accommodation options to suit all demographics, from balcony suites to family-sized and solo cabins, highlighting once again how Norwegian Encore has been designed to cater to all.
My mini balcony suite was large and very comfortable, featuring a double bed, small seating area, vanity table and spacious bathroom.
One of the standout features was the shower. It was undoubtedly the best I have ever yet to experience on a cruise ship, featuring not just a large detachable spray head but also six body jets for added luxury.
All of the cabins have been well-orchestrated, particularly the solo cabins. Rather than being poky and uninviting (which can sometimes be the case), these are welcoming and generous in size.
With world-class entertainment, facilities and cuisine catering to all tastes, I have no doubt Encore will be a hit among adults and children alike – who will want to return again and again.
Norwegian Encore makes her maiden voyage from Southampton to New York on 2 November.
For more information and bookings, visit ncl.com.