Norwegian Encore draws applause for big views and thrills

The Observation Lounge on the Norwegian Encore offers ample seating and food and drink options.

The Observation Lounge on the Norwegian Encore offers ample seating and food and drink options. Photo Credit: Rebecca Tobin

ONBOARD THE NORWEGIAN ENCORE  — When Harry Sommer, the incoming president and CEO of Norwegian Cruise Line, spoke to travel advisors aboard the line’s newest megaship, the Encore, he reeled off a list of its activities: 29 dining options, a collection of virtual reality games, laser tag and the 1,100-foot racetrack.

But surprisingly, it was the “huge, huge” observation lounge that elicited spontaneous applause from the travel advisors in the audience. 

“Prime waterfront property,” Sommer said. “I think some of our cruise line competition uses that to put cabins; we like all our guests to experience that type of view. The exact same view the captain gets from the bridge.”

He then deadpanned, “Though he hasn’t invited me yet.” 

Sommer wasn’t kidding when he said the observation lounge was huge. It takes up a generous chunk of Deck 15 and offers vistas both port and starboard plus two-deck-high, floor-to-ceiling windows over the bow. There are loungers galore for disappearing with a book plus couches grouped in conversational seatings.

The decor is done up in soothing shades of sea green, taupe and wood tones, and basket-style chandeliers are suspended from the very forward part of the room. Three buffet stations and a bar offer food and drink at various times of the day. 

Haven passengers get their own generously sized forward lounge on the deck above. 

The Encore is the billion-dollar finale in Norwegian’s Breakaway-Plus class, so many of the travel advisors who saw the ship in New York, like those who would later tour it in Miami, were familiar with the ship’s layout. Agents, media and Norwegian VIPs were able to tour and stay on the ship during a two-day visit to New York  —  a “cruise” in name only, as the Encore remained docked. 

The Encore is not too different from its sisters, although, of course, there are tweaks here and there. More than one travel advisor on the ship raved about the interior decor. More than one executive pointed to the design influence of Frank Del Rio, the CEO of parent company Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings. 

A unique feature on the Encore that is destined to become a recurring feature on other ships is a new restaurant, Onda by Scarpetta, which specializes in upscale Italian cuisine. 

On the interior entrance, Onda is tucked behind Cellars, the wine bar runs in partnership with Michael Mondavi. But it’s also part of the wraparound Waterfront dining and drinking promenade and as such has tables for dining outdoors.

Also unique to the Encore is the slate of entertainment, and advisors I spoke with talked up the main-theatre productions of “Choir of Man,” which got two standing ovations during my viewing, and the Tony Award-winning musical “Kinky Boots.” 

In the category of super-active vacation, the Encore doesn’t disappoint. 

The Speedway go-kart racetrack is wider and longer than on other Breakaway-Plus ships, and each participant gets to drive for eight minutes, a suitable number of laps around the track. Passengers who aren’t into driving can watch the action from the observation platform.

Behind the go-karts is the laser tag zone, where teams of up to five players each are pitted against each other in the ruins of Atlantis. Adjacent is the gravity-defying Ocean Loops waterslide that twists and turns off the side of the ship. 

One deck below, passengers will find the Galaxy Pavilion, a collection of intense VR games, and yet another deck below that is the gym  —  and the spa, for when they’re ready to trade activity for a massage.

Another feature new to Norwegian, although not unique to the Encore, was the presence of water cartons instead of plastic bottles. In his remarks to agents (see a report, this page), Sommer talked about Norwegian’s investment in “doing the right thing,” which includes eliminating single-use plastic and plastic straws fleetwide.

“You can’t get a plastic straw on any of our ships,” he said. “Don’t ask.”

Norwegian’s ship in China to feature many firsts at sea

Race Car Track

SHANGHAI — David Herrera, president of Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings’ China operations, revealed some of the features that will debut on the Norwegian Joy, a ship being built for the Chinese market.

Herrera made the announcement here during a keynote address at Travel Weekly’s CruiseWorld China.

Although Joy is a sister ship to the Escape, it will offer several “first-at-sea” features related to activities, hotel, service and gaming.

Some attractions — a formal tea room and an upper-deck Serenity Park — are what one might expect on a ship built for Chinese guests.

Guests can ride hover craft bumper cars at the Galaxy Pavilion.
Guests can ride hover craft bumper cars at the Galaxy Pavilion.

But other features would seem to fit ships sailing the Caribbean equally well.  The Joy’s highest-profile attraction, literally, will be a two-level race track on the top decks in which 10 guests in electric carts will compete in a 5-6 minute race. (NCL is in discussion with possible partners whose logos would adorn the cars, Herrera said.)

Autos are also front-and-center in a Formula 1 attraction. Race cars have been converted into individual three-screen simulators displaying famous race tracks from around the world.

Deck 16 activities will include Oculus virtual reality technology in several variations, including walking a plank between buildings, hang gliding and a design-your-own roller coaster module.

Oculus technology will be installed on additional new ships going forward, Herrera said.

Motion simulation will be the attraction in a colorful fleet of Star Wars Battle Pods.

The Haven's observation deck will have views "as good as the captain's."
The Haven’s observation deck will have views “as good as the captain’s.”

Laser tag, a giant touch screen for young children, hovercraft bumper cars, wider-than-ever waterslides with transparent panels that go over the side of the ship and several karaoke rooms complete the new activities offerings.

On the hotel side, a new level called Concierge will be built above the Haven. It will not be as luxurious as the Haven but will have unique features, including a new suite class with two bedrooms and a simulated balcony.

Both the Haven and Concierge will have observation decks whose views, Herrera said, are “as good as the captain’s.”

The ship will feature many more family friendly suites and rooms with connecting doors than on any previous NCL ship, Herrera said. He added that the new room configurations reflect the  Chinese tendency to travel with multiple generations.

Studio cabins for singles, a feature of every NCL ship since the Epic, will not be on the Joy.

A bathroom in a Concierge suite.
A bathroom in a Concierge suite.

The ship will, however, feature the highest crew-to-passenger ratio of any contemporary-class ship, in part because it will carry 250 fewer passengers than the Escape. (Herrera said that additional staff was also hired.) The space occupied by some cabins that had been on the Escape has been given to the casino and shopping areas.

The 29 restaurants onboard will include one for Korean barbecue as well as a Japanese shabu-shabu restaurant. Herrera declined to say how many of the restaurants will be specialty dining requiring a surcharge.

“It’s about bringing best of east and west together,” Herrera said, summing up all the changes.

More details will be announced in the coming months, he added, including the names of luxury store brands.

A Concierge suite bedroom.
A Concierge suite bedroom.

Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings’ executive vice president for international development, Harry Sommer, said that the Chinese operation has renamed itself from “Norway Cruise Line,” as it was known in China, to three characters which phonetically sound like “Norwegian” but which translate to “promising, exclusive and authentic.”

The characters for the word “Joy” represent “Inner Joy,” Sommer said.

The Norwegian Joy is due to enter service in summer 2017.