Fodor’s Expert Review
Launched in 2019, Norwegian Encore is the cruise line’s largest ship by volume, coming in at 169,116 gross tonnage. Its towering 20-deck presence and eye-catching hull art by Spanish artist Eduardo Arranz-Bravo announces the ship as joyful and fun. Free-flow ribbons of color are splashed along the side, while a looping waterslide juts off the top. The 3,998-passenger ship has something for everyone and aims to cater to the multigenerational masses.Read More
Encore is the latest addition to Norwegian’s Breakaway Plus Class, the cruise line’s competitor in the world of floating mega resorts, where each new ship tries to outdo the last with over-the-top attractions. Though Royal Caribbean’s 6,000+ passenger ships are the largest in the world by a hefty margin, Breakaway Plus Class ships still rank within the top 30. Escape (2015) was the first and remains Norwegian’s largest in terms of guest capacity (4,266). Joy followed in 2017, Bliss in 2018, and finally, Encore. In this class, bigger is better and Encore is loaded up with culinary experiences, trendy bars, and jaw-dropping amusements.
Breakaway Plus Class now sits a notch below Norwegian’s newest Prima class, the brand’s attempt to compete with the likes of Celebrity and Princess. Both classes have The Haven, the boutique ship-within-a-ship concept where guests of the best staterooms enjoy perks such as an exclusive pool, lounge, bar, and restaurant. Namesake ship Prima launched in August 2022, joined by Viva in 2023; four more have been ordered. Both Prima and Viva are smaller than Encore, so for now, Encore represents the company’s maximal vessel.
Encore is for couples, families, kids, groups, and even solo travelers. Instead of treating single rooms as an afterthought, the 82 tiny studio rooms have been specifically designed and priced for one. They are grouped together and the wing includes access to a private lounge where solos can meet and mingle at hosted happy hours.
The ship is a floating resort, mall, water park, and amusement park rolled into one where adults can become big kids. Children can splash around Aqua Park while teens zip through the Ocean Loops waterslide that hangs 11 feet off the side of the ship, a teeth-chattering 159 feet above the sea. Dad gets a pro-collagen shave at the barber shop while mom burns off steam on the go-kart track. Grandma can soar on a virtual reality hang-gliding simulator at Galaxy Pavilion. The whole family can bond in the escape room. Just keep in mind that all that fun comes at a cost. The ship is not all-inclusive—even drinking water for the room requires buying a package. For a family, the expenses can quickly rack up. Budget accordingly.
Of course, Encore also has conventional entertainment options, though amped up: Tony Award-winning Broadway musical Kinky Boots, a dedicated comedy club, The Cavern Club featuring a Beatles cover band, shopping, and a large casino with an enclosed smoking section. The experience on a nearly 4,000-guest ship is all about choice—except when it comes to the swimming pools. There are only two public ones. It doesn’t take a mathematician to foresee an issue. Expect the pools to be overwhelmed on at-sea days.
However, there is a bounty of choice and flexibility when it comes to food and beverage. Norwegian has done away with traditional seating completely and only offers free-style dining, though reservations for the full-service restaurants are a must as they can fill up even when the ship isn’t full. Encore has 41 places to eat, drink, and be merry. It has hopped onto trends like craft beer; the District Brew House has around 20 draft beers on tap and 50 different bottled. It has also embraced high-tech self-service, such as tapping your keycard and getting a glass of wine from a dispenser at the buffet, or ordering different Asian bites from a tablet on the table at hip food court Food Republic. If you are looking to get to know your servers over the course of a 7-day cruise, and expect them to remember your preferences let alone your name, this is not the ship.
Though impersonal, sailing on a new ship has its perks, especially in terms of layout. Modern ship designs ease congestion, allowing seamless flow both inside and outdoors thanks to wide walkways and automatic doors. Accessibility is greatly improved; there’re no random steps or stairs, which tend to be a rampant feature on old ships. Unlike a vessel that has gone through refurbishment or retrofit, Encore’s interiors feel cohesive and well-defined. Each bar, lounge, and restaurant has a distinct style, aesthetic, and sense of place. Entering a space is an immersion. Contemporary artwork and light installations jazz up public areas.
The latest ships recognize that guests want to enjoy the outdoors. To wit: Encore has numerous outside dining options and indoor dining with views. Specialty restaurants Onda by Scarpetta, Los Lobos, Cagney Steakhouse, and Ocean Blue have outdoor seating along the deck known as Waterfront. Encore was built with Alaska in mind, and its 2,723 sq ft indoor Observation Lounge boasts floor-to-ceiling windows that span two decks, allowing guests to take in incredible panoramic vistas. Whether in chilly Alaska or toasty Caribbean, this elegant space is one of the most popular places to quietly relax and savor the scenery.
The world of cruising is evolving. Some may wonder why they are ordering through a tablet or lamenting the loss of the conviviality you experience through set dining. An intimate, traditional ship this is not. Encore is a crowd pleaser, but those crowds are vying for the same limited seats, loungers, and reservations you are.