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Saturday, July 9, 2022

[Day 4] Christmas on NCL Encore - St. Thomas Sapphire Beach

On Day 4, we would be docking in St. Thomas. We weren't scheduled to arrive in port until 11 AM, so I had plenty of time that morning to wander the ship and take photos.



It was early, so the pool deck was empty.... but also it was a port day. If you're not interested in getting off at a port, port days are a great opportunity to stay on the ship and enjoy the pool with less guests onboard.



This is the American Diner. It's a specialty (meaning additional charge) restaurant located on Deck 16. On the Escape, this is where Margaritaville at Sea is located. We did dine at Margaritaville at Sea on the Escape because Stove and Judy are big parrotheads, but we had no desire to dine at the American Diner. It never looked crowded... I don't think there is really an appeal to dine here. It's a la carte pricing, and sandwiches/burgers range from $10-15 - that's about the same price as a burger on land! No thanks.


Laser Tag is located at Deck 18 Aft, adjacent to the Speedway. When it's not being used for laser tag, it's a great place to go for the view off the back of the ship.


This is the tube slide, Aqua Racer (not the slide I got stuck in). I'm not sure why it's called "racer" because there is no racing involved.




This is the slide I got stuck in. And this portion of the loop, you're traveling upward -


The hot tubs on NCL Encore are small, and I don't think there are enough of them. However, the morning of a port day is a great time to soak in the hot tub -





Okay, so this water fountain wall.... we kept joking that it was a climbing wall. Seriously, I don't know how they don't have kids trying to climb it all day. Rachel said she envisioned someone climbing it like Dolph Lundgren in Just Go With It.


The two main waterslides, Ocean Racers and Ocean Loop, aren't really for kids (or the whole family) due to the strict height and weight requirements. There is, however, a little water playground splash area for kids located under Ocean Racers called "Aqua Park for Kids" (so they admit that Aqua Park isn't for kids).


I headed back to the room to watch us pull into port on the balcony.


A plane!




Look at all that muck we're turning up to dock -




Oh, hello, neighbor!


Docking a giant ship like the Encore in St. Thomas is tricky! Wow, that was a lot of careful maneuvering.




We went to grab breakfast at the Garden Cafe while we waited to be allowed to disembark.


The Observation Lounge is also a great place to watch the ship dock.


We got back to our stateroom, and it looked like they were setting up for us to disembark. And they had fresh towels at the pier!



The Carnival Liberty would be joining us in port today.



It's pretty industrial-feeling in St. Thomas. It had been years since I'd been to St. Thomas, so I had kind of forgotten how the port felt.



Oh, look! We can get off the ship!


We headed over to the taxi stand to get a ride to Sapphire Beach.


We caught one of these open-air trams. There was another family onboard, and they were going to Coki Beach. When we got on with the destination of Sapphire Beach, they started freaking out. "No, we're going to Coki Beach." That's cool. We're going to Sapphire. We tried to explain that the driver would take them to Coki after they dropped us at Sapphire, but they seemed annoyed that we joined them in the tram. But actually, they needed to fill that tram before the driver was leaving his post, so we did them a favor.




The open-air tram is a little terrifying on these hills -


Rachel had suggested that we go to Sapphire Beach because she remembered that we had been there in the past and preferred it to the more popular Magens Bay.



So the annoyed family got off at Sapphire Beach. I guess they changed their mind on Coki.

Often, taxi drivers at ports of call will sell you a roundtrip, or they'll ask when you want to leave so they can come and take you back. The first time that happened, I was a little nervous that the driver would not be back for us. But they want your business - they'll be back. I try to remember to take a photo of the vehicle so that I can identify it when we're ready to leave.


Well, Rachel changed her mind on Sapphire. Since we arrived to port later in the day, it was a little crowded. We also had a very difficult time finding a beach attendant to sell us chairs. Rachel apologized for bringing us there, but the rest of us were not mad about it. After we were all set up with chairs, it was great!

*This whole event was deja-vu, really. I wanted to look at old photos to see if Sapphire Beach was always this small, or if hurricanes had washed it away. And I found that when we were there in 2013, we also had a family come with us to Sapphire Beach instead of going to Coki Beach, we arrived later in the day and the beach was already crowded, and we had trouble finding a chair attendant. But, what has improved is my photography - that was my first cruise with my Nikon D7100 (the same camera I use today)!


See, I can take a photo that makes it look like we're all alone at the beach -


It's all about the frame.



Their beach did seem much smaller than the last time we were there, 


I convinced Aaron to walk out to the point with me.


Rachel and I trespassed in this pool in 2011. It's for residents and guests of the Sapphire Beach Condominium Resort only.


The Sapphire Beach Marina is on the other side of the point -






It's meeeeeee

Sapphire Beach



Back at the beach, Rachel and Landon had bought a bucket of beer to share. Thankfully, we all had our Judy koozies.



They do take credit cards at the Sapphire Beach Bar, but there is a minimum $15 charge. You can leave a tab open, too.


Masks were required to be worn in the bar area, even though it was technically outside.


We spent several hours at Sapphire Beach. The ports we enjoyed the most, we had the shortest amount of time at, and the port we had been to before, we had the most time.


The driver of Hydro took us back to the ship.


Oh, yeah.... it's Christmas. I almost forgot. It didn't feel very Christmasy on the Encore. There were very few decorations. No Christmas music. And Great Stirrup Cay, their private island, wasn't decorated at all. We've cruise Norwegian a few times for Christmas before (on the Epic and Escape), and I do think that Norwegian is the least Christmas-feeling cruise line. I understand that not everyone celebrates Christmas, so if Christmas isn't a holiday you acknowledge, but you want to take advantage of the vacation time, Norwegian would be a good cruise line for you.




They were doing a little maintenance on the ship while we were docked.


Keep it looking fresh!


Norwegian does have a nice return-to-ship setup with lemon-infused water available, tents set up, and often bumping music.






We headed up to the pool deck because we thought we might find a spot in the hot tub. But we were not lucky. The four hot tubs were all full.


It was a lovely hour for photos, though.




We waited around, hoping that a hot tub would free up.



Temperature Band was playing by the pool.


We dipped our feet in the pool, but the water was cold! I don't know how people were swimming.


We gave up on the hot tub and headed back to our rooms to get ready for dinner.

We had a great view of the ship leaving port from our balcony -


When you wrap palm trees with Christmas lights, they look like glow sticks -


Carnival Liberty was BUMPIN! They had a DJ out on the dock who was playing music and calling guests back to the ship. They were about to set sail, too, and he was telling people to run. It was fun to watch.



The Liberty was really vibin' - Aaron and I were late to dinner because we were dancing and waving to the Carnival ship on our balcony.


Our specialty dining that night was at Los Lobos, the Mexican restaurant on the Encore. I think a lot of cruisers dislike the idea of Mexican as "specialty dining," but in my experience, the specialty Mexican is often some of the best food onboard. My favorite restaurant on the Harmony was Sabor. Maybe that's because I love Mexican cuisine. I also think it's much harder to screw up Mexican food.

Again, it was a 9PM reservation (our last!), but the environment in Los Lobos felt so much more welcoming than Onda or Ocean Blue. The staff was great.

We started out with the tableside guacamole.



At other specialty restaurants, they told us that we could get an appetizer and an entree. At Los Lobos, they let us get whatever we wanted.

This is the Aguachile de Camarones, Mexican-style shrimp ceviche. Way fresher than the seafood at Ocean Blue -


Even the Betabel, a roasted beet salad, was really good! -


Had to try the Nopales just because it includes cactus as an ingredient (cactus, onion, tomato, avocado, jalapeno, cotijo cheese, herb viniagrette). I can't remember eating cactus before -


Now, for the most amazing food I had on the entire cruise: Carne Asada. In general, I love carne asada, but this was so flavorful. Seriously amazing. When have you ever heard me describe food like this? Honestly, it may be the best thing I've ever had on a cruise ship ever in my life. I would go that far.


We also ordered enchiladas with slow roasted shredded pork. Delicious -


They even had tamales -


Now, time for dessert! Torta de chocolate.... was really, really good -


And then we had to try the Bunuelos de la Abuela which are fried beignets with a brown sugar syrup, cinnamon, and guava -


And a Tres Leches Cake -


Also, really good, the Ibarra Chocolate Housemade Ice Cream -


We couldn't eat all of our food, and the Los Lobos crew actually packed up our leftovers for us to take to our staterooms.

Really, I cannot say enough good things about Los Lobos. Honestly, I think it's the best food I've had ever on a cruise ship. Don't hear "Mexican" and think it's not worth your specialty credits. Los Lobos is a gem.

After dinner, we went to check out the Caribbean Deck Party with Temperature Band on the pool deck. It was not nearly as popular as the 80's party the night before.


Rachel and I were in the mood to party, so we were dancing around Aaron and Landon and being silly while they just stood there and watched because they were not in a dancing mood.

Then this tall guy who had been watching us came over to Landon first, and I could overhear what he was saying. "Yo man, you need to dance with your girl. You've got a lovely girl and you need to get on her level." Something like that. I knew he was coming to Aaron next, so I tried to warn him. "Quick, dance with me if you don't want this guy to talk to you!" "Huh?" Too late, the guy was approaching. I dipped and left Aaron with his new friend. "Yo man, you need to dance with your girl."

Stranger man, I am perfectly content dancing by myself.

Caribbean Deck Party

It started to rain, so we headed inside and decided to check out the night club, The Social.

Also, look, a gingerbread village and some random garland on the railing -


There were not a lot of people when we arrived, but that was okay. We got drinks and sat down and waited for everyone to trickle in. We also realized that we are now the old people who sit on the side and watch the youngins find cruise vacation love.


We left The Social and headed out to Sugarcane Mojito bar. You have to order at the bar to get a real mojito. Then you can take your real mojito out to The Waterfront.




We were sitting on The Waterfront when we noticed the cast of Kinky Boots. We were booked to see Kinky Boots and Choir of Man, but they only ran one show of each at the beginning of the cruise. The rest of the shows were canceled due to members of the cast contracting Covid. The rest of the cast (hopefully not the cast with Covid) spent their evenings enjoying cruise ship bars and entertainment. I learned that the show cast is given "guest privileges," and they're allowed to enjoy guest entertainment. Theoretically, they could blend in with the other passengers, except the cast of Kinky Boots did not blend in.



We had an early morning the next day, so it was about time we headed to bed!


  1. Love STT! Have you ever taken the ferry to St. John? Trunk Bay and Cinnamon Bay are absolutely gorgeous; [but you have to get up early to catch the ferry from Red Hook

    1. I haven't taken the ferry to St. John - definitely something I'll look into!

  2. Victoria, I don’t know if you will see this but I absolutely agree with the carne asada as being the best meal ever! I mean it was last meal before electric chair good!

    1. Heck yeah! IMO the most underrated specialty restaurant!