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Thursday, July 21, 2022

[Day 6] Christmas on NCL Encore - Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic

It was Christmas Eve. We were scheduled for a 10 AM arrival in Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic and docking in Taino Bay Port, a new cruise port in Puerto Plata (Carnival has nearby Amber Cove cruise port in Puerto Plata which opened in 2015). 

Construction on the new Taino Bay cruise port began in 2018 and was expected to be ready by Summer 2020. A million passengers were projected to visit Taino Bay during the 2020/21 season... but as you can probably guess, things did not go according to projections.

Taino Bay received its first cruise ship, the MSC Seashore, on December 15, 2021 - just a few weeks before our cruise. The second ship to arrive in Puerto Plata was actually the NCL Encore a week prior on December 17. 


With the late arrival time, I had the opportunity to take a lot of photos of the ship and our arrival to port.




In the first construction phase for Taino Bay, they had to dredge the shipping channel and basin depth to 11.5 meters to accommodate the mega-cruise ships. They also removed the old power plant and fishing pier.



Side note - if you want a hot tub to yourself, a good time to snag one is in the morning on a port day.


In Taino Bay's first phase, the existing cargo finger pier was in its first phase was expanded to 400 meters in length, large enough to handle two Oasis-class ships. In the second phase, an additional 300 meter dock will be added so that it can host three Oasis-class ships simultaneously. Three Oasis-class ships can bring in nearly 20,000 tourists on a given day.



I lapped the top deck a few times taking photos. I ran into someone who asked me about my camera, which I'm always happy to stop and chat about.



Also, the hot tub isn't a bad spot to watch the ship pull into port or sail away.


This is the part of the slide where I got stuck....









We tried to see if we could sneak a peek into Vibe Beach Club. Until recently, the only way to get Vibe was to race to the club as soon as you board to try to secure one of the few cruise-length passes. I recently read that you can now book Vibe online before your cruise.


I was able to catch a glimpse through the crack of the gate. I think I could make the argument that Vibe is more private/secluded and heavily guarded than the Haven.


Speaking of The Haven, here's a glimpse from above of their private dining room. It looks wonderful.


As we docked, we were able to get a better view of Taino Bay. It looked impressive from above! There's a large sandy beach great for lounging... but not for swimming, as you can probably tell by the rocks restricting access.


The port was still partially under construction. Phase One was complete, but Phase Two was still underway.


In the second phase, the area under construction will be a large green space with paths leading to the existing Fuerto San Felipe.


If this is reminding you of Puerto Costa Maya, that's because it's by the same developer - ITM Group. Mexico-based ITM Group is also responsible for expanding the Roatan cruise port pier to handle Oasis-class ships while offering additional shopping and dining options in the new Garifuna Village. It's reported that IGM Group is also working on a cruise port development at Grand Bahama Island that would expand and improve the Freeport cruise port.


It's quite the complex. Like in Costa Maya, passengers could easily disembark and find all of the entertainment, shopping, and dining options they need right at the cruise port.



Taino Bay replaced the old Puerto Plata cargo port, and is walking distance or a short boat ride from historic Fuerto San Felipe, as well as the colonial center of Puerto Plata.


We didn't have an excursion booked or plans for the day. We figured we would just check out the new cruise terminal. It was starting to drizzle, though, so I grabbed my rain jacket before we disembarked the ship.



We couldn't help but notice all of the trash that was floating in the bay. I wonder if that was due to the cruise ship, dock workers, or construction crew....


Taino Bay has large letter signs, perfect for photo ops. The branding is very similar to other cruise ports like Puerta Costa Maya. You'll walk through the circular Duty Free store before entering the Jungla de los Monos (Monkey Jungle).



Taino Bay was designed in regards to pre-Columbian Taino culture (and by pre-Columbian, that means to the time before Columbus sailed the ocean blue and started the colonization of native land). The Taino were the most populous of several native groups who inhabited Hispaniola (Dominican Republic and Haiti) where Columbus established the first American colony at La Isabela in 1494.


The Monkey Jungle will be an interactive eco park with capuchin monkeys, a botanical garden, aviary, reptile island, marine habitat, and sustainability center.

Right now, there's this large monkey.... I think the capuchin monkeys will probably be stationed around here.


They did have exotic birds ready for wildlife encounters.


Next we reach Buccaneers Village, comprised of shops, bars restaurants, and plazas for live entertainment.


Some may say this feels very commercial, and I agree, but I also think they were creative in executing a high-end outdoor shopping experience. While it's very different in appearance, it reminds me of the renovated Westfield Century Center in LA - it feels like a high-end place that makes visitors want to stop and hang out, rather than breeze right through.


The stores of Bucaneers Village are architecturally reminiscent of the houses of the caciques (chief of the Taino people) - rectangular housing constructed of straw and palm leaves, even featuring a small porch.


Next, we reached Fort Cibao. Currently, there is a large pool with a swim-up bar. If the original master plan holds true, this area will expand to include waterslides, a lazy river, and swimming with rays and cat sharks.


The pool looks really nice, but it was very cold... too cold for me to get in.


There are great views of the pier. The photo op is probably better with one ship in port than with three, though.


Unfortunately for Puerto Plata, I think the rainy weather was impacting their business. The loungers sat empty. I'm sure this wouldn't be the case on a sunny day.



The Phase 1 portion of Taino Bay was surrounded by a construction fence. Aaron did some investigative work and peeped some photos over the fence. It's not that interesting, but I will still share.

Taino Bay Construction

Taino Bay Construction

Aaron was itching to get outside of the commercial cruise port and see the city. We ventured around the construction walls toward the city and were offered a tour by a man with an open air vehicle. I can't recall the exact price he offered, but I remember I thought it was reasonable. However, with the rain picking up, we were a little hesitant to jump in the open-air tram.

As we debated what to do, it started pouring.

We took cover at Juracan Bar.


The new thatch roof had a strong straw smell. Also, notice that one single bulb light (in the bottom right-hand of the photo)? Gorgeous ceiling, and they added that one random light.... why??


I ordered a margarita.... don't remember the flavor. Maybe mango?


And Aaron opted for the local beer, Presidente.


We decided that rather than touring the city, we'd head back to the ship. It was Christmas Eve, and we were going to be dolling up in formal attire.


The rain slowed to our drizzle, and we made a run for the ship.


Just kidding. The only reason I run ahead is if I'm trying to take photos of people behind me.

Seibar looks like a cool venue.... not so great for the rain, but still a surprising number of patrons considering the weather -



Exit through the gift shop.


There's also a water feature on the pier side of the Duty Free store that I didn't photograph when entering.


And this cool slat wall -



Rachel told me that I looked like Aaron's prize from the Plucky Ducky. But I was happy to have the raincoat.

Plucky Ducky



I didn't notice these little vehicles when we got off the ship, but it looks like they'll transport you between the gangway and the port entrance.



I realized it was my last time boarding the Norwegian Encore this sailing, so I made sure to document it. NCL sets up these canopies with infused water and cool damp towels. It's definitely appreciated on a hot day, especially if there's a line to board the ship.


Marsec Level 1.... I think that means a relatively low percentage of passengers are required to be screened.


All aboard!



After returning to the Encore, we went up to the pool deck to snag an open hot tub and sat in it while it was raining.

Then we went back to our staterooms to get dolled up for dinner. Tonight was Christmas Eve. Norwegian is "Freestyle Cruising," so they don't enforce a dress code. They do suggest "Dress Up Or Not" night, but that was on Day 3. We decided before the cruise that we would wear formal attire on Christmas Eve. It's festive.

We decided to meet in the Observation Lounge for pre-dinner drinks. They have a bar in there, and we thought it would be a nice spot since the sun was still up and we were in port.

Well, the sun was BEAMING through the windows. It was so hot! And bright! And it didn't help that I was wearing long sleeves.

Also, bar service was awful. Apparently a lot of other people had the idea to go to the Observation Lounge for drinks. Stove and Judy had arrived before us and received bar service while seated in the lounge. We joined and waited and waited, but perhaps the bartender lounge rotation had ended. Rachel and Aaron went up to the bar to order drinks, and it took like 10 minutes of them standing there to get service. Definitely the slowest bar service we experienced on the cruise.


We threw back martinis and headed downstairs to the atrium to get photos taken before we completely melted.

I think the photographer wasn't sure about the dynamic of our group. He decided to pose us men on the top, women on the bottom. We made the decision to couple up..... otherwise, I think he may have arranged us by height.

So the guys were having issues with sharing a single step. Stove and Aaron are facing in the same direction, but you'll notice that Landon is turned toward Stove. The photographer kept telling them to scoot in closer together, but Landon wasn't having it. Rachel, Judy, and I turned around and realized that it was because of his positioning, and we lost it. Several of the photos taken were of us howling in laughter.

Also, you'll notice that I'm on a step above Rachel and Judy. I did that myself because I thought that I would be too low if I shared their step and was considering where my head would be in relation to Aaron's torso (right in front of his crotch?!). I thought the photographer might bring Rachel and Judy up a step, or just Rachel up one to balance it out, but he didn't.

Very awkward family photos. This was the best of the bunch. Had to capture the memories.

Christmas Eve

After our family photo, the photographer had by now realized we were couples and wanted to do individual couple shots. Also individual shots of each of the ladies. And individual shots of each of the men. By now a line had accumulated, and we had gathered quite the audience.

At some point before or after the photos, Landon started talking to an art dealer from Park West who was giving out raffle tickets to the art auction tomorrow. This actually wasn't the first time we had talked to the art dealers that week. We had stopped to look at the gallery few times earlier in the cruise to check out the artwork and talk about our favorite artists (errr... maybe that was just me - I'm chatty with wine). I thought we were just taking the raffle tickets, but it turns out Landon was serious about attending the art auction the next morning.

We didn't have a specialty dining reservation for tonight. Since it was Christmas Eve, we thought there might be a unique menu in the main dining room and which would make it a good night to dine there. So we were on our own schedule. And that schedule included heading to the A-List Bar for pre-dinner martinis.



I was begging Aaron to give me his best martini-sipping Leo impression. This is what I got -


We decided to dine in the Manhattan Room because I think it feels like the "fancier" main dining room. It's on Deck 7 Aft, and there are large windows on the back of the ship. I'm sure it has very lovely views during the day.

I didn't take detailed notes of who ordered what, but I do remember what I ordered, and I took photos of the menu. Hopefully my well-researched review of Taino Bay earlier in this post will help you forgive me for my sloppy dinner blogging.

This is the Smoked Mozzarella Ravioli. If I had to bet, I think this was probably a Judy dish. It seems like something a Judy would order, and also Judy always offers to let me photograph her food before she begins eating.


I ordered the Baked Brie Salad. I think "salad" is a little misleading because really it was a puff pastry with some baby greens on the side.


Italian Beef Meatballs.... hmmmm perhaps Aaron's appetizer -


I also ordered the Avocado Hummus. I was pleased with the glass of vegetables to dip into the hummus.



From the "Classic Entrees" section, Aaron ordered the Grilled New York Strip Steak. He said it was about as good as the steak he had from Cagney's. I told Rachel and Landon that if they wanted something listed as a "Classic Entree," that it would be on the menu again the next evening. That wasn't the case. And I'm not sure if it's because I was just wrong, or if because the next evening had a special Christmas Dinner menu.


I think this was my entree, from the "Today's Featured Entrees" section, the Grilled Lemon-Pepper Tilapia.


I'm not remembering who ordered this (doesn't seem like a Judy dish), but this is the Braised Lamb Shank -


Again, we somehow managed to close the dining room. And look - a lone Christmas tree! I can't say the ship felt very festive.


I did not photograph the dessert menu, so I can't identify this. I want to say it's the Christmas Logs, but I'm pretty sure that was the name of the dessert that Landon ordered the next evening.


And then some sort of cake -


Andddddd a HAPPY BIRTHDAY cake for Judy!!


After dinner, we made our way to the pool deck. Tchad was playing at the Ocean Music Fest Party.


It was still a little wet/rainy out, so we headed inside to Maltings Whiskey Bar with Stove and Judy, then to The Social for dancing and people-watching.

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