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Wednesday, November 16, 2022

Christmas on NCL Encore - Final Thoughts and Rating

NCL Encore Rating and Review

Our sailing on the Norwegian Encore marked the 12th Shinglebells Christmas Cruise (and our first Christmas Cruise following the 2020 pandemic cruising hiatus). It's been years since I've rated our cruises, but I think it may be interesting to bring back the rating system.

The rating system is based on ten components of a cruise vacation which I find important - itinerary, ship novelties, pools, activities, dining, bars and lounges, service, design and aesthetics, and stateroom.

Itinerary: 8/10

At our time of sailing, the cruising industry still wasn't fully back on its feet after the pandemic (and as of right now, is still recovering). Ports of call had different restrictions regarding cruise ships, and not all ports had reopened. This has perhaps forced the cruise lines to become more creative in itinerary planning, and that's something I appreciate.

Great Stirrup Cay: Norwegian Cruise Line's private island, Great Stirrup Cay, is located among the Berry Islands in the Bahamas. It's a stone throw away from Royal Caribbean's recently revamped "Perfect Day CocoCay" (a.k.a Little Stirrup Cay). Rachel and Judy had recently visited Perfect Day Coco Cay, and Rachel thought Great Stirrup Cay may feel lackluster in comparison. However, we had an amazing time at Great Stirrup Cay, and our only complaint was that we didn't have more time to enjoy the island. We did rent a cabana, but the beach (available to all guests) in front of our cabana was empty and quiet. Great Stirrup Cay may not have as many thrills and novelties as other cruise line operated private islands, but its lovely white sand beaches may be all you need.


St. Thomas: St. Thomas is a popular Caribbean cruise port and has capacity to host several large ships at a time. The island has many excursion offerings, as well as lovely beaches. We opted to visit Sapphire Beach, and it was a little crowded and difficult to find someone to rent us beach chairs. There is a bar and restaurant which accepts credit cards with a minimum charge of $15. We had a fine time, but I think next time we're in St. Thomas, we'll opt to try out a different beach (maybe back to Magen's Bay or Coki Beach).


Tortola: Tortola is less common on the traditional Caribbean cruise itineraries. We took the NCL excursion Escape to Jost Van Dyke which took us on a catamaran to White Bay Beach at Jost Van Dyke. The beach was gorgeous and uncrowded. Because we arrived so early, not all of the bars and restaurants were open for service. However, the Soggy Dollar was open, and they had great Pain Killers and Conch Fritters. Again, my only complaint was that we didn't have more time to spend in port.


Puerto Plata: Taino Bay at Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic is a brand new cruise terminal designed by ITM Group. It was scheduled to open for the 2020 cruising season, but of course that's the year the cruising industry shut down, delaying the opening to December 2021. We were actually on one of the first sailings to Puerto Plata which had received its first cruise ship the week prior. Unfortunately, it rained while we were docked in Puerto Plata, so the new cruise terminal didn't receive as many passengers as I'm sure they were hoping. We did explore the terminal in the rain, and there is a large pool with a swim-up bar. It would have been a fun place to spend time - too bad we didn't have better weather!


I really enjoyed this itinerary, and rate it 8/10. My only critique is that we didn't spend enough time in two ports that I really enjoyed - Great Stirrup Cay and Tortola.

Aaron Review

Aaron's rating: 7.5/10
Great Stirrup Cay was a pretty quick turnaround, but it was nice that everything was already included. Taking the tender boat back to the ship wasn't ideal because of the crowd to leave the island right before sail away. St. Thomas was just okay. The Tortola catamaran to Jost Van Dyke was by far the best port day, but I do wish we had more time. Puerta Plata was kind of a bust because of all of the construction, and I also didn't appreciate how inauthentic it felt. Maybe I'm just not used to cruise ship vacations, but I didn't understand the stores and who they were marketing to. And the port was kind of industrial with all of the vacuum pumping and trash. Overall, I liked traveling and enjoyed my time at each port of call.

Rachel Review
Rachel's Rating: 8/10
I loved Tortola, and I always enjoy a private island. I’ve been to St. Thomas multiple times, so that wasn’t a big draw for me, and the Dominican Republic doesn’t score any points because our weather was so bad. The inclusion of Tortola is really what bumps this one up for me, otherwise it probably would’ve been a 7.

Novelties "Do you have a...?": 5/10

In the past decade, cruise lines have been one-upping one another with different novelty attractions and activities at sea. Zip lines, bumper cars, ropes courses, indoor skydiving, moving bars - something unique to grab attention. I judge novelties on their practicality, usefulness, and overall awesomeness factor.

NCL Speedway Go Karts: The NCL Speedway is located on Deck 18/19 Aft. It's a 1100-ft go cart track with electric go karts. It's $15 per person, or $199 for an unlimited pass for the length of the cruise. There's also a 55" height requirement to drive (which means that most kids won't be able to participate). Go karts wouldn't have been on my list of things to do, but Landon was interested, and it was fun for all of us to do together. As you would probably imagine, the go karts aren't that fast, but they felt fast to me. Your turn is 7-8 laps which is a lot of time on the track. I think $15 is a fair price for a lap, but one was plenty for me, and I couldn't imagine getting an unlimited pass.


Laser Tag:
Laser Tag is located on Deck 18 Aft, and honestly I think this area could be better utilized with lounge chairs and a pool (bring back Spice H2O!!). It's $15 per person, or $199 for an unlimited pass for the length of the cruise. We made the mistake of scheduling laser tag for the last sea day - which meant we were fresh meat to be devoured by the children who had the unlimited pass and had been practicing every day of the cruise. If you're looking to book laser tag, definitely go on the first day when it's a level playing field. Laser tag was decent fun, but nothing I would plan my vacation around.


Galaxy Pavilion Virtual Reality: I haven't mentioned Galaxy Pavilion yet because I did not go to Galaxy Pavilion. It's a virtual reality "playground." They have rides which move you up and down in one place, but you wear VR goggles, so it feels like you're going somewhere. 90 minutes of unlimited play costs $29, the F1 simulator costs an additional $10. You can also purchase an unlimited pass for the length of the cruise $199. It didn't really interest me, and since it was a surcharge, I didn't participate.

Ocean Loop Water Slide: Finally, a novelty item that means something to me. I love waterslides, and I especially enjoy the "bottom dropper" free-fall gravity slides. On Ocean Loop, you go into a chamber and the bottom is pulled out from under you so that you free fall down the slide. The issue is that there are a lot of upward-motion portions of the slide, and if you aren't the average-sized man that the slide was engineered for, you may get stuck. Getting stuck isn't nearly as terrifying as it sounds - trust me, I got stuck multiple times. However, I wouldn't recommend this slide (or any enclosed slide, for that matter) to anyone who is claustrophobic because it is fully enclosed and there are several portions which are dark. The downside of this novelty is that it is very limiting in who can participate. There is a minimum height and weight requirement, as well as a maximum weight, to be able to participate, which means that most children (and many adults!) will not meet the parameters to ride.


I rate the novelty attractions aboard Norwegian Encore 5/10
. While the novelties on Norwegian Encore are certainly unique, I'm not giving them a high score because of their exclusivity. Go karts, laser tag, and the virtual reality attractions all come at an additional cost. NCL Speedway and Ocean Loop Water Slide both have strict size requirements which will prevent a lot of people from being able to participate. Norwegian has repeatedly marketed itself as an inclusive cruise line with the "Freestyle" approach to cruising. Physically-limiting, additional-charge activities feel counterintuitive to the Freestyle ethos.
Aaron Review

Aaron's rating: 5/10
Having the novelty stuff is fine, but I didn't really benefit from any of it. If I'm on the ship, I'd rather just enjoy being at sea, rather than doing all of these family fun center activities. Go karts were a little slow for my pace, but I understand that they can't make them gas powered and there are safety constraints restricting how fast they can go given the length of the track. The slide I didn't really care about. I didn't feel the need for speed on the p, I'd rather just relax. Laser tag was pretty cool, but I'm not sure if I could really spend like days or hours just shooting little kids. It was fun when we all did it together. I wish there could have been smaller private sessions because I wouldn't mind shooting your family, but I don't see myself being super hyper competitive with these stranger kids. As far as the virtual reality thing, we never stepped foot in there, so that says something.

Rachel Review
Rachel's Rating: 8/10
I don't know how to score this because for me, I can take or leave all of these things, but for people who really enjoy extra novelties, I think the Encore deserves a high score. I liked the NCL Speedway and thought that was cool and unique. Laser tag… I’m just not that good at it lol. I don’t even know what the Galaxy Pavilion is.

Pools, Hot Tubs, and Waterslides: 6/10

The Norwegian Encore has two pools for all guests, both located within the main pool deck area. They're small, but that's to be expected on cruise ships. I also appreciated that they had chairs by the pool because they seemed to turn over more quickly than chaise lounges. This was a December cruise, and the pools never looked overcrowded, but it may be a different story on a summer itinerary.


There are four hot tubs available to all guests (two port side and two starboard), all located on the deck above the pools, cantilevering over the edge of the ship. Four hot tubs was not enough for the number of passengers on this ship! All of the hot tubs were small and could comfortably seat 4-6 guests (and I'd only go with six if everyone knew each other), making it awkward to share with strangers. It was difficult to snag a hot tub - we were only able to get a hot tub early in the morning on a port day and in the afternoon when it was raining.


There are two waterslides - the "bottom dropper" Ocean Loop, and the tube slide Aqua Racers. As I mentioned above, the Ocean Loop has pretty narrow criteria for who can participate. Aqua Racers has a minimum height requirement of 48 inches which will still prevent a lot of kids from being able to ride (for comparison - Splash Mountain at Magic Kingdom has a minimum height requirement of 40 inches). "Racers" is also a bit of a misnomer because there is no racing to be done. One tube goes down the slide at a time. It would make more sense to use the name "Racers" if this were a dual slide. There are single tubes and double tubes, and there is a maximum weight of 300 lbs on the double tube, so that prevents the tubes from gaining a lot of speed. The slide is slow and aside from the view at the beginning, not very thrilling.


Aqua Park includes a small splash area with mini slides, splash buckets, and water cannons that smaller children who don't meet the height requirements for the other slides can enjoy.


In addition to the pools and hot tubs listed above, there are also exclusive pools and areas.

The Haven Courtyard is an area excusive to Haven Suite Guests, and we got a sneak peek of the area on the first night. The pool is enclosed in a glass solarium - great for cold-weather sailings, but perhaps not so great for Caribbean itineraries. There's a hot tub in The Haven Courtyard. The Haven Sundeck, limited to Haven guests 16 and older, also has a hot tub.


Vibe Beach Club is another exclusive pool deck. Guests 18 and older may purchase passes (limited availability). Day passes are $99 per person, and weeklong passes are $209 per person. Just recently has NCL made Vibe Beach Club available to book online pre-cruise. At the time of our sailing, Vibe could only be booked once onboard. I know there are hot tubs in Vibe, but I'm not sure how many since the only peek I got was through a crack in the gate.


The Thermal Suites, located adjacent to Mandara Spa, also include pools and hot tubs. When we sailed on the Norwegian Epic over Christmas, we booked Spa staterooms which provided unlimited access to the Thermal Suites, and we opted to book a weeklong pass to the Thermal Suites when we sailed on Norwegian Escape. We considered booking the Thermal Suites for our sailing on the Encore, but Covid protocols made us question how much we would use/enjoy the area. The Thermal Suite Pass (limited to guests 18 and older) varies depending on the length of the cruise, but I believe it's $219/person for a 7-day sailing. I didn't get to see the Thermal Suites on the Encore, but I imagine they're similar to those on the Epic/Escape with a swimming pool, hot tubs, heated loungers, saunas, and steam rooms.

I'm rating the Norwegian Encore Pools, Hot Tubs, and Waterslides 6/10. Norwegian Encore certainly has unique waterslides and a variety of pools, but like with its novelty offerings, many of the pools are exclusive by age, suite class, or additional surcharge. I don't have an issue with the concept of The Haven or Vibe Beach Club for an upgraded experience. However, the quantity of hot tubs in the main pool area is insufficient. I hope that this was oversight, rather than an intentional design decision to motivate passengers to "upgrade" their pool experience.

Aaron Review

Aaron's rating: 10/10
I think for pools, no matter what condition they're in or how big they are are like 10/10. They're where you want to be when you're outside. Aside from the dining hall, the pool area is where you spend most of your time on the cruise ship. And I'm obviously not as obsessed as Victoria and Rachel about finding an open hot tub. It's just a nice surprise if there happens to be an opening, but I'm not just waiting there for something to open up.

Rachel Review
Rachel's Rating: 8/10
When it comes to waterslides, I’d say no cruise line does it better than NCL. Now that I’ve typed all of this I would maybe bump the rating to a 9/10 bc the offerings are really really good, they’re just not a huge draw for me. Landon loved them though! OH almost missed hot tubs. I do care about hot tubs and this ship does not have nearly enough of them. And the ones that they do have are TINY. Definitely not an appropriate hot tub to passenger count ratio. For that I bump back down to 8/10.

Activities (for adults): 7/10

It may be that the larger the ship and the more it has to offer in the way of novelties and entertainment, the less I find myself participating in or observing activities. For example, on smaller ships where there is only one lounge and one theater for hosting activities, everyone attends those activities because there isn't really anywhere else to go. The Cruise Director is a very important fixture on a small cruise ship. I couldn't tell you the name of our cruise director or what he or she looked like on NCL Encore.

We did watch some classic cruise ship activities on the pool deck during our first sea day - Sexy Man Competition, and I think they may have done a belly flop competition after that. They routinely hosted some sort of trivia or dance lesson in the Atrium, which we would overhear from The Social. There was a form of the Newlywed Game hosted in the Atrium which was very popular - we stood by and watched until it was time to leave for dinner. If trivia, bingo, and passenger games are important to you, don't worry - they have them on the ship. However, I didn't find myself seeking them out on this sailing.


NCL did host nightly themed deck parties which were more or less popular depending on the theme or maybe just the day of the week. For example, the 80s Party and Glow Party were very popular, but the Caribbean Party was poorly attended (most likely because we'd be docking in Tortola at 6AM the next morning). I'm giving an overall rating of 7/10 for activities because while we didn't participate in many, the activities we did participate in were pretty well-executed.

Aaron Review

Aaron's rating: 6.5/10
Better than average, but not necessarily why you're on the ship. I think Disney has more activities that sort of beat out everyone else. On NCL, it seemed like something was always happening, but we were never around to see it. We didn't go to karaoke or bingo or anything. It seems like when you're on the ship, how your schedule works really determines what you see and do.

Rachel Review
Rachel's Rating: 6/10
What were the adult activities? Drinking? I guess if it’s drinking then NCL deserves a 10/10

Entertainment: 6/10

Norwegian was one of the first cruise lines in the industry to bring popular Broadway productions to cruise ships (starting with Blue Man Group on the Norwegian Epic). Prior to that, most cruise lines had a team of dancers who would perform multiple stage shows throughout the week. There are still cruise lines and cruise ships who have the traditional single dance crew, but more and more are looking to contract outside productions and bring them to the ship.

Norwegian Encore hosts two Broadway productions - Kinky Boots and Choir of Man. However, we didn't get to see Kinky Boots or Choir of Man on stage. Each production had only one show that sailing before canceling due to Covid outbreak among the cast. What was interesting, though, is that we saw the cast of Kinky Boots and Choir of Man in the bars and lounges socializing every night. It was hard not to see them - they often took up large areas of lounges and were having a lot of fun. We learned that Norwegian grants its production cast "guest status," meaning that when they are not working, they can enjoy the amenities onboard the ship as if they were a guest (also, they most likely stay in guest staterooms, rather than living in crew quarters). I don't have an issue with the cast having guest status, however, it was interesting that the cast was out socializing among guests given that they were unable to perform due to Covid outbreaks. Why weren't they quarantining? Was the exposure to guests also increasing their exposure to Covid which was then being passed around among the cast? Whatever the case, we didn't see Kinky Boots or Choir of Man. I'm not going to take any points away for the canceled shows, but I also can't add any points for the Broadway-caliber entertainment. Perhaps if this was a normal sailing and those productions ran all week, my score for entertainment would be higher.


We did get to enjoy the various bands they had on the ship. Temperature Band played a variety of music from Caribbean to R&B. TChad played country music. There was a Beatles Tribute band, but we never saw them. Overall, I'm rating Entertainment 6/10.

Aaron Review

Aaron's rating: 10/10
I know we didn't get to see Kinky Boots or Choir of Man and that was a bummer. However, the entertainment, I think, is 10/10 because even if you can't make the show, people watching is by far the best entertainment on any sort of cruise for sure. You're constantly surprised and in shock.

Rachel Review
Rachel's Rating: 4/10
Unfortunately, this score is a result of circumstance, and I’m being especially critical because we saw the cast of Kinky Boots out drinking every night of the cruise. I thought they had Covid…? And bring back the Dueling Piano bar.

Dining: 6/10

Norwegian Encore has 9 specialty (upcharge) restaurants, three main dining rooms, a buffet, and 24-hour restaurant. Since the concept of specialty dining was introduced to cruising 15 or so years ago, I've noticed a massive decline in the quality of service in the main dining rooms. I'm not sure if this is an intentional marketing strategy to encourage people to upgrade to specialty dining, or if it's an unintended effect of staffing the specialty restaurants with the more experienced chefs, cooks, and foodservice teams. Whatever the case, the general rule-of-thumb that I've noticed is the more specialty restaurants there are on a ship, the worse the quality of food in the main dining room.

We had two specialty dining credits included in our "Free!" Promo, and decided to purchase three specialty dining credits, for a total of five specialty meals. We decided to eat in the Manhattan Room (main dining room) on Christmas Eve and Christmas.

Onda by Scarpetta: The Encore's Italian specialty dining. We found the food here to be hit-or-miss. While we enjoyed the tiramisu and I had not issues with my steak, the seafood had a rubbery texture like it had been heated straight from being frozen (rather than being thawed first). I'd recommend sticking to the pastas at Onda. This was also one of the several restaurants where we had a late evening reservation because that was all that was available, but found ourselves one of just a few parties in the restaurant, which meant the staff really wanted us out of there so they could clean up and close down.


Cagney's: Norwegian's specialty steak restaurant, a staple on all ships. It's one of the best specialty meals we had on the ship. However, they did manage to overcook Rachel's medium-rare steak, which in my opinion may be an acceptable "oops" at your neighborhood Outback Steakhouse, but not at a specialty steakhouse.


Ocean Blue: The specialty seafood restaurant on Norwegian Encore. This was hands-down the worst dining experience of our cruise. We were seated at 9pm and one of the only parties in the restaurant, yet our service was slow. Very long lulls between ordering and courses. The seafood was objectively bad. It tasted like they were pouring warm water over frozen seafood in attempt to quickly thaw it. The "Simply Fresh Fish," was simply disgusting frozen garbage. When asked by a server if we enjoyed our meal, my dad politely said, "No, it was terrible," to which the server assumed he must have been joking and just laughed and walked away. And to top it off, they made a mockery out of my favorite dessert, Key Lime Pie. I think there must have been something severely wrong - maybe their head chef was out sick? Maybe they were missing an earlier seafood shipment and scrambling to thaw that morning's order? Whatever the case, I think Norwegian should be embarrassed by both the quality of food and service in Ocean Blue that evening.


Los Lobos: Norwegian's specialty Mexican restaurant aboard Norwegian Encore. This was absolutely my favorite specialty restaurant on this cruise. I love Mexican cuisine, but also living in Los Angeles, I know good Mexican food - my standards are high. Los Lobos knocked it out of the park. First, the service was very laid-back and welcoming. We had a 9pm reservation, but they weren't rushing us out of the dining room. The servers were attentive but not hovering. Other specialty restaurants put limits on the number of appetizers/entrees one could order, but they encouraged us to try everything on the menu. The tableside guacamole was made-to-order, so you can get it as spicy or mild as you would like. The ceviche was fresher than the seafood in Ocean Blue. The carne asada was the best food I had the entire cruise, and potentially the best food I've ever eaten on a cruise ship my entire life - I'm not exaggerating! I took leftovers and ate it for lunch the next day, and it was still amazing. If you're going to eat at one specialty restaurant on Norwegian Encore, make it Los Lobos!


Le Bistro: Norwegian's specialty French restaurant, another NCL specialty staple. Le Bistro is located on deck 17 aft. Make sure to dine before the sun sets to enjoy the great ocean views. If you're a party of 2, request a table along the window (parties greater than 2 are seated in the interior, but still have good views outside). The escargot is an elevated (err... edible? haha) version of what is served in the main dining room. We found the duck breast to be chewy and the lamb shank fatty (lamb is a fatty meat, but our cuts were especially fatty). The dish presentation was.... interesting. Overall, this restaurant was just alright.


Q Texas Smokehouse: Norwegian's specialty barbecue restaurant. We did not dine here. Being from South Carolina, we know good barbecue and do not go on a cruise ship in search of it.

Teppanyaki: Norwegian's hibachi-style Japanese specialty restaurant. We've dined at Teppanyaki on other Norwegian cruises and enjoyed it, but did not dine here on the Encore.

Food Republic: "International" cuisine specialty restaurant. I would have been interested in dining here for lunch, but we never got around to it.

American Diner: Burgers and fries, but call it a specialty restaurant and charge a la carte prices. This is in the same location as Margaritaville on the Norwegian Escape. Take away the Parrothead decor and add classic car booths, and you've got American Diner. Without the Jimmy Buffet name, we had no desire to pay extra for burgers and fries. On Carnival Cruise Line, you can eat Guy's Burgers at no additional cost. American Diner doesn't even have a celebrity name tied to it - who would pay to eat here? You can get burgers in the Garden Cafe for free!


Manhattan Room: Moving onto the complimentary venues, The Manhattan Room is the main dining room located on Deck 7 aft. I find the Manhattan Room on Norwegian Epic to be better designed with double-height windows. Encore's still had windows overlooking the aft, but it was broken up by a balcony. The food in the main dining room was fine (we had worse food at Ocean Blue), and service was pretty good. I think I would have gotten very bored eating at the Manhattan Room every night, but it was fine for the two nights that we did dine there.


Taste/Savor: Both are main dining rooms. Savor is port side, and Taste is starboard. We dined at Taste for brunch on the last day of the cruise and enjoyed it. I think if we had eaten breakfast/brunch here earlier in the cruise, we would have gone back again.

Garden Cafe: Garden Cafe is the buffet. It's spread out and worked rather well circulation-wise. A variety of options, and perhaps it was due to dining at less popular times, but I never found it too crowded.

The Local: The Local is open 24/7, offering complimentary entrees or small bites throughout the day, depending on when you dine. Late night, they have a paired down menu which includes chili and a hot dog. Aaron asked, and they will not make a chili dog late at night. They do have a chili dog on the menu during lunch/dinner hours. The Local is a great place to sit down and grab a bite after returning to the ship from a long day in port or when you're hungry after dinner because specialty dining was especially inedible. 


All things considered, I rate dining on Norwegian Encore 6/10. There were highs and lows, and surprisingly the lows were specialty restaurants. We chose to do specialty dining because we've been disappointed in the quality and variety of food in the main dining room on recent cruises. I think it's a little annoying needing to upgrade to specialty dining just to have a quality meal. It's even more annoying when you upgrade to specialty and have the worst meal you've ever had on a cruise ship. Why upgrade to specialty when everything is mediocre? I'm also not sure why all themed venues need to be specialty.... I find the American Diner concept especially absurd. But I did have an amazing meal at Los Lobos which is the Norwegian Encore specialty dining saving grace.

Aaron Review

Aaron's rating: 7.5/10
I think the only mishap was the seafood restaurant, and even though it didn't taste good, it wasn't inedible. I just didn't think that experience justified a premium charge. specialty dining otherwise pretty good except for the occasional mishaps or miscommunication from the kitchen about who is supposed to be serving us or in charge of our table. Overall, the Christmas Eve and Christmas dinner was pretty good in the main dining hall. And even though I've only been on three cruises, Disney standard dining has been by far better than the specialty dining I had on Norwegian.

Rachel Review
Rachel's Rating: 7/10
Some meals were good, some meals were BAD. I enjoyed the French restaurant a lot, and the Mexican restaurant was definitely my favorite. Also I love the Local. Any cruise where I don’t have to step foot in a buffet is a good cruise in my eyes.

Bars and Lounges: 8/10

Norwegian offers a lot of fun bars and lounges around the ship. And with Norwegian offering the Premium Beverage Package as part of it's "Get 5 Free!" promo, there's no reason not to try them all. I especially enjoy The Waterfront which includes outdoor bars and restaurant seating on Norwegian's Escape-class ships.

Having been on the Escape, I will say that I preferred their Waterfront to Encore's Waterfront. Escape had a Margaritaville bar along The Waterfront which was our favorite spot to grab drinks before dinner. The Encore had The Cavern Club bar outside. Personally, I prefer the design and theming of Margaritaville to Cavern Club.


On the starboard side of the Waterfront, there is the exterior Sugarcane Mojito Bar which is actually the "Sail and Sustain" (a.k.a. trash bar) version of Sugarcane, offering only select beverages with repurposed ingredients. It's a weird concept. I think they could have made better use of their Waterfront real estate.


Inside the ship, the bars have a rather posh feeling to them. I appreciated the velvet furniture at Maltings. We also really enjoyed the lighting and atmosphere at A-List, located between Los Lobos and Cagneys.

I rate the bars 8/10, with a slight deduction only because I thought they could have made better use of the Waterfront, especially having been on the Escape which has a very lively Waterfront.

Aaron Review

Aaron's rating: 8.5/10
I think most of the time when you want a drink, it's super easy just to stop by any bar for quick service. I appreciate when servers come by your lounge chair and ask you what you want when you're on the pool deck. However, I think dedicated bars have better service than bars inside other venues. When we were in the Observation Lounge trying to get drinks, the bartenders were only servicing like the regulars or people who had been there previous days. I'd also like to mention that the premium beverage package package limits your wine selections, and it's further limited because of the stocking issues and having to choose from not only the list but what's available on the ship at that time. Based on what you're eating every night, there's only 2-3 options that really pair with your meal.

Rachel Review
Rachel's Rating: 10/10
I like the variety of bars on NCL and I loooove the Waterfront. NCL’s Waterfront is the closest you can get to Deck 4 of a Disney ship in terms of public space close to the water, and the advantage of the Waterfront is you don’t have to go inside to grab a drink!

Service: 7/10

Because Norwegian has the "Freestyle" cruising concept, the service on Norwegian is a little different than other cruise lines. On other cruise lines, we have the same dining team every evening which tends to result in more memorable and personalized service.


For the most part, I feel like service was good at bars and restaurants. However, there were a few times at dinner when I felt like service was slow and/or lacking. I thought the concept behind Specialty Dining was to pay more for better food and better service, but it seems like with the surplus of specialty dining venues, the idea of elevated service has been lost. I rate service 7/10.
Aaron Review

Aaron's rating: 9/10
Overall good. When you got good service, it was great service. And when you experienced any of the mishaps previously mentioned, it could go one of two ways. One is they're confused and keep repeating what you just said because they're not used to receiving negative feedback being delivered in a polite manner. The other is that they could try to make it right, but by making it right, they're not going to go above and beyond to correct the situation.

Rachel Review
Rachel's Rating: 8/10
I don’t remember service being bad, but I don’t remember it being over-the-top-good. I thought it was an appropriate level of service. No complaints.

Design and Aesthetics: 8/10

I tend to find the Norwegian Escape-class ship exteriors poorly proportioned and visually clunky, and the Norwegian Encore is no exception. While a little more refined than The Epic, the Encore's Haven sits massive and rectilinearly at the top of the Encore's bow, giving the ship a forehead similar to Frankenstein's monster. The NCL Speedway is carelessly tacked to the top deck aft with no attempt at integrating the track with the ship's overall design. I actually do really like the abstract and colorful hull art by Eduardo Arranz-Bravo. The ship really needs a boldly colored hull to attempt to balance the large boxy mass plopped on top.


Moving to the interior, there's an overall sophistication to the design that walks the line between elegance and corporate blah. The stand-out space for me was Maltings - I appreciated the orange velvet barstools, ambient lighting, and gold accents.

I also liked the Observation Lounge, and I wish it was an easier spot to grab a drink.


Other venues like the dining rooms felt very business-class generic, which isn't a bad thing, but it's also not my preferred atmosphere. Also, we were on a Christmas cruise, but you could hardly tell by the decorations and ambiance. I've been on 12 Christmas cruises now, and Norwegian is definitely the least Christmas-feeling of them all. I'd appreciate more decoration, more Christmas music, and more holiday activities. I can respect that Norwegian keeps it rather neutral for Christmas - not everyone wants to be smacked in the face with the holiday spirit. However, I think I'll navigate toward more festive cruise lines for Christmas cruises in the future.

As far as layout, I don't think that Norwegian ships are as easy to navigate as Royal Caribbean Ships with the Central Promenade organization approach, but I think I'm used to them now. I wish that the Norwegian ships had greater consideration to vertical adjacencies. For example, the Atrium hosted a lot of games and shows which could be heard very loudly in The Local restaurant above. However, I'm so glad that they adjusted the layout with the Encore so that the casino doesn't connect vertically to the dining room (Epic). Overall, I rate Norwegian Encore Design and Aesthetics 7/10.

Aaron Review

Aaron's rating: 8/10
I thought it was clean. The design was generically good and corporate. I thought the organization of the ship made sense. Because it was a Christmas cruise, I definitely would have enjoyed more decor and ambiance. Even Christmas smells would be appreciated. It's just a little bland. It looks like a hotel lobby on the water (which it is). Nothing really stands out as being good or bad; it's just functional. No problem with it, but it's not my cup of tea.

Rachel Review
Rachel's Rating: 8/10
Again, no real complaints here.

Stateroom: 9/10

We had originally booked a balcony stateroom, but put in a last-minute bid (the minimum, $15 per person) for a Club Balcony, and I'm glad we did. While I don't think the room size was that much different with the club vs. regular balcony, we did get a larger sized bathroom which is much appreciated on a cruise ship.

My main stateroom complaint is the lack of drawer storage. There were plenty of shelves and a fair amount of hanging space, but I would have appreciated some drawers to organize my swimsuits and underwear.


I rate our stateroom 8/10. The dark wood tones felt contemporary, but not luxurious. The laminate casework and wipe-down vinyl fabric on the convertible sofa bed leaned more SpringHill Suites than Marriot Marquis. It looks good today, but will it stand the test of time, both trend-wise and durability-wise? 

Aaron Review

Aaron's rating: 9/10
The stateroom was probably perfectly sized. I don't think I could have gone any smaller without losing functionality. I also preferred our layout compared to the other rooms (our bed more toward the balcony). The bathroom was bigger than other cruise bathrooms, and I appreciate that. The balcony was nice, and I liked being able to sleep with the sliding door open and listening to the ocean, weather-permitting. But I was also a little worried when I was getting ready and your dad was peeking his head over.

Rachel Review
Rachel's Rating: 9/10
I liked our stateroom a lot. I normally hate having a room where the bed is next to the closet instead of next to the balcony, but it actually didn’t bother me this time. I felt like there was plenty of space between the bed and the dresser/mirror to be able to walk by without feeling cramped. I also loved the jets in the shower.

Final Rating: 70/100

I'm so glad that we were able to return to Christmas cruising, and I had a great time with my family on the Encore. Overall, I think the good experiences far outweigh the negative. I love making memories with my family, and I really enjoy being on the ocean.

I definitely think that Norwegian provides great value. I also appreciate "Freestyle Dining." Other cruises have attempted to do a version of this (Royal Caribbean's My Time Dining... a.k.a. dine at a non-traditional time but with a reservation) without succeeding - I really think the Freestyle approach has to be all or nothing. Either no one has an assigned dining time, or everyone does. It works for Norwegian, and if other cruise lines want to follow that approach, they need to go all-in.

I'll definitely return to Norwegian in the future, but I think I'll choose other cruise lines for Christmas. Personally, I want a more in-your-face-it's-the-holidays kind of cruise.

Aaron Review

Aaron's rating: 81/100
At the end of the cruise, whether something is a good or a bad experience, it's really all good because of the memories. Like your sister fighting those kids in line for the waterslide. Or your dad getting lost and just not coming back to dinner. Or that guy death farting at the show and your mom trying not to throw up because of the smell. Giving that weird loner a nod when I was dancing with you on the dance floor at The Social because I was finally meeting you halfway. Sometimes negative or weird experiences make the best memories.

Rachel Review
Rachel's Rating: 76/100
It was a great cruise, and I'll definitely prioritize itineraries with Tortola because I think it's my new favorite Caribbean port. In terms of ship, I would go on Encore again but I wouldn't seek it out. I think I like the Breakaway Class better than Breakaway Plus. I could be remembering wrong, but did Encore even have an adult pool deck? I don't think it did. I liked the Observation Lounge, and it would be super cool for an Alaska cruise. The food was not as good as it normally is on NCL, but I think that was because of Covid. Like that night at the seafood restaurant, I seriously think they had to pull over staff from the buffet or something.

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