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.
WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW
What to expect on board
Staterooms & Cabins
Norwegian Encore has 2,040 staterooms, including 80 in The Haven.
Norwegian has clearly invested in the ship’s public areas, but when it comes to the staterooms, they have kept it budget; it’s functional but uninspiring. Perhaps it was a strategic decision: If there’s so much to do on the ship, and because most of Encore’s itineraries are only seven days, passengers won’t be spending a lot of time in their cabin.
The 1,090 balcony staterooms (213-425 square feet) comprise half the overall inventory, followed by 371 inside (135-201 square feet), 306 club balcony suites (249-439 square feet), 111 oceanview (160-372 square feet) and 82 studio for single occupancy (99 square feet). The standard balcony rooms have either a queen bed or two twins, a small TV, and an armless beige sofa that converts to an extra bed. The palette is a classic, or depending on how you look at it, dated combination of marine blue, chocolate brown, and off-white. The busy patterned blue carpet, dark wood veneer, brown headboard, and blackout curtains add a heaviness to the room. They’ve kept things streamlined and par for the course. Minimalist bedsides have a reading light and USB port. The art is not distracting. Closet and drawer space is ample for two. The bathroom is clinical and no thrills: Chocolate brown tile floor, the same color wood veneer, white walls and ceiling, a shower stall, and bright, harsh fluorescent lighting. Norwegian Cruise Line bath products are in dispensers.
For a ship built in 2019, there’s a surprising lack of technology incorporated into the room experience. Newer Princess ships have digital screens outside each stateroom door, and passengers wear button-sized medallions that automatically unlock the door when you approach. In Celebrity Edge staterooms, you can adjust the lighting to different presets and the temperature from a touchscreen panel or via the app. On Encore, it is still keycard entry and the keycard needs to be inserted to power the room. The ultrabasic thermostat can only be adjusted up/down and it doesn’t even give a reading of the temperature.
A more forward-thinking approach has been taken with the 82 studio cabins, designed for the solo traveler who just wants a quiet, functional room to lay their head. All these cabins are together in a wing from deck 10 to 12. Every inch of the tight 99 square feet room has been maximized with space spacing tricks such as sliding closet doors and a bedside table that doubles as a desk stool. The room has a capsule hotel vibe but the bright lighting and a digital porthole showing an outside video feed makes it feel a little less cramped. Again, the overall idea is that passengers won’t be spending much time in their room. They will, for example, be socializing at happy hour meet-and-greets in the windowless lounge exclusive to studio guests.
The Haven is Norwegian’s “ship within a ship” concept. In Encore’s case, The Haven creates a premium ship within a mass-market one. Guests enjoy enticing amenities and private club-type perks. There are nine different categories, all suites with balconies, and 26 of them can accommodate up to six. There are 50 inside The Haven complex, 30 are outside, though all have the same privileges: King-sized bed, finer linens and bathrobes, L’Occitane bath products, Nespresso machine, 24-hour butler service, concierge, and priority embarkation/debarkation. Best of all is the access to The Haven complex. Spanning three decks, from deck 17 to deck 19, it has a private sun deck, pool, and hot tub with retractable roof — a tremendous perk when sailing Alaska. There is also a panoramic lounge, an elegant, upscale bar, and The Haven Restaurant, a fine dining experience. With only 80 rooms, these spaces maintain an air of exclusivity and privacy. This is the way to get personalized service and attention on a 3,998-passenger ship.
Norwegian Encore has 43 accessible staterooms. These spacious cabins are equipped with extra wide automatic doors, emergency help button, and pull-down closet rods.
Norwegian recommends contacting the Access Desk and submitting the special needs request form a minimum 45 days before the trip, and at least 90 days prior when requesting interpreters. Specially trained members of the Reservation Department will speak to guests in detail about their requirements.
On the ship, Access Officers are the primary point persons working to ensure needs are met.
All Norwegian Cruise Line ships have wheelchair pool lifts.
For deaf or low hearing, a portable kit with visual-tactile alert system is available upon request. Find additional details on the website’s accessible cruising page.
Food & Drink
Norwegian Encore has six complimentary dining locations, nine specialty dining, four treat/cafes, and a whopping 22 bars/lounges. It would be impossible to eat at every single outlet in a 7-day cruise — though you have the flexibility to try. Norwegian is exclusively free-style dining, which means seating at any time during opening hours. Reservations for the restaurants are a must to avoid disappointment. They can be done through the app, on one of the many touch screens throughout the ship or the old-fashioned way. The touch screens, which are available in English, German, French, Spanish, and Italian, are user-friendly and convenient. Select the desired restaurant to see the menu by date and time slots, color-coded to show the level of availability. Reserve at a press of a button.
The complimentary buffet, Garden Café, is a grand spread for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and late snacks. Every station offers multiple dishes and all the fixings. A digital sign above each line helpfully indicates what type of food is being served in English and rotates through other languages. Guests can look forward to cheese and cold cuts, sandwiches, salad bar, Caesar salad made to order, pizza, burger bar (vegetarian and turkey available), soups, pasta already prepared or a la minute, hot entrees, the usual comfort food, a roast carving station, cold and hot Indian dishes, Asian noodle soup and stir-fry, fruit, dessert (vegan and gluten-free available upon request), and soft serve ice cream. There are always plenty of vegetarian options. Beverages are at the ready: In addition to the complimentary drinks, tap your card to buy a glass of wine from the eight-bottle wine dispenser or coffee from the Starbucks machine. You could eat lunch here several days in a row and not tire of it.
The Garden Café dining room is bright, airy, and contemporary. Clean lines, elegant furniture, minimal decoration, and deck 16 ocean views make this an easy place to sit and enjoy despite the bustle. There is also seating for 180 outside. Upending convention, the ship does not have a poolside pizza or burger joint, so this is the place for casual eats al fresco.
The ship has three complimentary dining rooms all serving the same menu but offering a different ambience. The Manhattan Room is the largest and most popular since it can accommodate groups and families. Rows and rows of tables without dividers fill the dining room like a banquet hall. At half the size, Taste and Savor offer a more intimate, less noisy experience. The menus change daily and do not repeat for the entire cruise. It’s worth noting that Norwegian has replaced Taste, Savor, and the Manhattan Room on its latest Prima Class ships in favor of two new venues Hudson’s and The Commodore Room. They have a fixed menu of wider offerings, a saner situation for the kitchen and service team. Rounding out the complimentary dining are The Local Bar & Grill, an informal, no thrills 24-hour pub; and 24-hour room service (a delivery fee applies).
Another way that Encore upends conventions is that most specialty dining is paid for a la carte or through dining packages rather than a cover charge. Buying a dining package obviously makes sense if you intend on eating at a specialty restaurant more than once or twice. Teppanyaki is the only one with a set cover charge, $49 per person. The bigger the package, the better the value exponentially. For example, a 2-meal package is $89 per person, a 7-meal package is $209 per person, a 14-meal package is $349 per person, plus 20% gratuity charge.
Specialty Dining plops guests into different worlds. In addition to the customary Italian (Onda by Scarpetta, partnering with the famed NYC restaurant now with locations around the world), French (Le Bistro), and seafood (Ocean Blue), Encore recognizes the demand for global flavors and Instagram-worthy settings. Watch chefs skillfully prepare yaki udon, fried rice, and teriyaki on the flattop grill at Teppanyaki. Enjoy contemporary Mexican at Los Lobos or sample different Asian bites such as sushi rolls, pork belly bao buns, and pad Thai at Food Republic. American Diner is a throwback to the 1950s diner complete with milkshakes, while Q Texas Smokehouse dishes up brisket, chicken and ribs to live music. However, the classic steakhouse remains the most popular. Cagney’s Steakhouse grills certified Angus beef to order in a show kitchen. Dolce Gelato, The Bake Shop, Coco’s and Starbucks indulges the sweet tooth and rounds out the belly.
Casual bars abound on Encore, and some really lean into a theme. Dark wood, green leather armchairs, velvet bar stools, and an attached cigar room is exactly what you’d expect for Maltings Whiskey Bar. Sugarcane Mojito Bar has DJs and bands playing bolero, cha cha, cumbia, and Latin soul. The Cellars Wine Bar is a partnership with Napa’s Michael Mondavi Family Estate wines. As expected, the menu is extensive and there are blind tastings, wine and cheese nights, and other events that would please oenophiles. The global thirst for craft beer couldn’t be greater and The District Brew House has 22 American draft beers and 50 bottled beers. Chrome pipes run from the keg room on display behind glass to the taps, adding to the industrial, motorcycle club vibe of this small pub. The rest of the watering holes are an assortment of cocktail bars, clubs, and lounges.
The Unlimited Open Bar Package costs $109 per person per day and includes cocktails, spirits, beer, and wine under $15, and six liter-sized cartons of water per stateroom. It does not include room service, bottled water, fresh juices, specialty coffee, or Starbucks. At $138 per person per day, the Premium Plus Beverage Package covers it all including top-shelf cocktails and spirits, all beer, Champagne/wine by the glass, select premium bottles of Champagne/wine with dinner, and all non-alcoholic beverages including Starbucks. Guests residing in the same stateroom or additional staterooms under the same method of payment must purchase the same package; if individuals are under 21 they must have the Soda Package, $9.95 per person per day. A 20% gratuity/service charge is added to beverage and beverage packages.
Norwegian Encore has not one but two musicals at their theater. The headliner is Tony-Award winning Broadway musical Kinky Boots, scored by Cyndi Lauper. Note that it contains mature themes and is not suitable for young kids. Reservations are not required for the 105-minute show, it is first-come, first served at the two show times, 7:30 pm and 10:30 pm. From the U.K., The Choir of Man is an a cappella performance of classic rock and pub favorites that everyone can sing along to. More music is showcased at The Cavern Club, where a Beatles cover band plays a tribute to the Fab Four and other 1960s hits.
The programming is stacked with social activities and live music appealing to the wide passenger demographic. Game shows, trivia, karaoke, stand-up comedy at Social Comedy & Night Club, adult arts and crafts, family games, dance classes—from Brazilian line dancing to learning Michael Jackson’s Thriller—informative talks, bingo, poolside entertainment, and theme parties, just to name a few. Hosted social events include bridge play, solo travelers and LGBTQIA+ meet and greet, as well as unhosted gatherings for knitters and stitchers, first responders, veterans, and Friends of Bill W.
The futuristic Galaxy Pavilion has a slew of virtual reality games that will have you racing, hang gliding, shooting, and riding, all just by putting on a pair of goggles. It’s $8 per play, $29 for an hour, or $199 for a week-long pass. Race around Encore Speedway, a two-level go-kart track way up on deck 19—now outshone by Norwegian Prima’s three-level go-kart track. It’s $15 for a single session, $199 unlimited for a 7-day cruise. After the sun sets, outdoor laser tag comes alive amidst fake Spartan ruins and gigantic serpent statues at the back of deck 18; $9.95 per person.
There are three swimming pools, one of which is exclusive to The Haven class guests, as well as nine jacuzzis and two water slides. As the name suggests, Ocean Loops is a double loop waterslide that juts off the side of the ship 159 feet above the water (restrictions: 130-300 lbs, min 48”). Race your friends down the twin slides of Aqua Racer (restrictions: max 300 lbs, min 48”).
Those wanting a private club experience—and to escape screaming children—can head to Vibe Beach Club, an adults-only area at the bow of the highest deck sporting a bar and cushy sun loungers. The cover charge and additional fee for the cabanas are a bit extravagant, considering there is no pool.
Encore has the types of shops you usually find on premium cruise ships. Given the ship’s enormous size, the stores are spacious and well stocked with relatively wide selection. The retail area also feels like a mall, a nice change from the cramped gift shop feeling of older ships. Browse at leisure for luxury watches and fine jewelry, cosmetics, handbags, liquor, cruise wear, sunglasses, and sundries. Since Encore sails Alaska, the Photo Gallery sells binoculars and memory cards. You can also print photos, make photo souvenirs and get professional shots done.
Spa & Fitness
Located at the stern of deck 16, Mandara Spa has 24 treatment rooms and a sleek, chic Kerastase-approved salon with four hair and four manicure stations. There is also a separate two-chair barber shop. Attention has been put into the design and decor of the reception, hallway, treatment rooms, and relaxation lounge to create a calm, neutral space to be pampered. The rooms are in their own enclave, meaning no unnecessary thru traffic, thereby protecting the sanctity of the experience. The prices are comparable to other mainstream cruises. A basic 50-minute massage costs $189, a 100-minute Aroma Stone Therapy or Deep Tissue Massage will set you back $299, plus 18% service charge.
Specialty treatments include the Hot Mineral Body Boost (75 minutes, $229) and Elemis Biotec Facials ($199). On the Medi-Spa side, they have Thermage, Restylane, DYSPORT, acupuncture and GO SMILE teeth whitening. As of October 2022, they are one of only three cruise ships offering the latest craze, IV therapy ($159 and up).
If you enjoy the ritual of unwinding by sauna, the Thermal Suite is worth the expense. The area has a jacuzzi, hydro pool with massage jets, heated loungers, a snow room, salt room (halotherapy), a wet sauna, and two dry saunas, one being milder than the other. They push to sell passes for the length of the cruise rather than just day passes. For a 7-day cruise it is $299, 21 days $399. If available, a 1-day pass is $79. The number of passes is capped at 200.
Smartly located away from the spa treatment rooms, the Pulse Fitness Center (06:00 – 23:00) is as hip and well-equipped as a modern urban gym. Most of the Technogym equipment is positioned along the floor-to-ceiling windows so everyone benefits from the view. The center has a RYDE spin/rowing studio (cycling shoes provided), and another long, narrow studio equipped for yoga, pilates, and TRX; $20 each or 3 classes for $39. Here everyone can salute the sun as full windows run the length of the studio. There are usually two free classes, such as stretch, abs, and body conditioning daily. A personal training session costs $99, while a high-tech body composition analysis on InBody570 costs $99.
The outdoor jogging track on deck 17 is another way to get moving. Five laps is one kilometer, eight laps is a mile.
Key cruising tips
Health & Safety
As of October 4, 2022, Norwegian Cruise Lines welcomes all guests regardless of vaccination status, and there is no testing requirement, except when traveling to countries that have them. Masks are now optional for the crew. The website states they require crew to be up to date with all their vaccinations.
Hand sanitizer is positioned in high-traffic areas. The buffet also has a hand wash station, though hand washing is not enforced.
Read more at NCL.com
Norwegian takes a relaxed approach to the dress code. Their philosophy of “freedom of freestyle cruising” means there is no formal night, instead it’s “Dress-Up or Not Night”. Getting glammed up in a suit or evening gown is completely optional and if you do, be aware others will be far more casual.
In the daytime, “cruise casual” is the dress code for the buffet and specialty restaurants. That means casual dresses, skirts, capris, pants, jeans, shorts, and tops. Swimwear with a shirt or cover-up is acceptable at the buffet and outdoor restaurants; footwear is required. A sign at the buffet entrance reminds guests that no wet bathing suits are allowed. Flip flops, baseball caps, visors and worn-out jeans with holes, and tank tops for men, are not permitted in any of the dining rooms/restaurants.
In the formal dining rooms and the specialty restaurants, the dress code is smart casual. For men, it is jeans or slacks, collared shirt, and closed-toe shoes. Women can opt for slacks, jeans, or skirt with top or dresses. Kids 12 and under can wear nice shorts.
You may wish to bring fancier outfits for the welcome bash, theme parties, latin dance, and cocktail parties, there’s always something on every night.
The daily program sometimes will include reminders about dress code in the popular and comfy Observation Lounge: “Footwear must be worn at all times. Socks or stockings must be worn when lying on chaise lounges and couches.”
Norwegian Encore ensures kids of all ages are kept entertained. The big attractions are atop the sun deck. Take a spin on the go-kart track (minimum 55” height and the ability to drive alone). At night the back of deck 18 transforms into open-air laser tag; take cover behind gigantic serpent sculptures (no age or height restrictions). Kid’s Aqua Park has a slide and tipping water buckets. Before kids get too excited at the sight of the giant water slides, there are restrictions. You need to be a minimum 48” for Aqua Racer, a minimum 48” and over 130 lbs for Ocean Loops.
Below on deck 5 is the Splash Academy kids club. The programming is divided into Guppies (6 months to 3 years), Turtles (3-5), Seals (6-9), Dolphins (10-12) and Entourage (13-17). Guppies’ River Rose Reading Room is a space where parents can read or play with their babies/toddlers. Older children have drop-off programs and creative activities. Teens are spoiled with both a video arcade and the Entourage Teen Club, a cool hangout den for daily hosted dance parties, theme nights, movies, and gaming.
Encore has a guest-to-crew ratio of 2.3 to 1. The crew are tasked with taking care of nearly 4,000 passengers from different countries and backgrounds. Service is professional, though it is nearly impossible to develop a personal connection unless you frequent the same venues over and over, or are in The Haven class.
An automatic onboard service charge is added per person, per day, based on the stateroom. This fixed service charge ensures fair distribution to the staff. It is $20.00 for The Haven and Suite guests, $18.00 for Club Balcony Suite, $16 for all other staterooms. This amount is comparable to other large mainstream cruise lines. Staff who provide service on an individual basis such as butlers, concierge, and youth service staff do not benefit from the overall service charge and guests should reward their good service with gratuities. Tipping any crew directly is always welcome.
A 20% service charge is added to beverage, beverage packages, specialty restaurant dining and spa. This is slightly higher than Princess (17-18%), and Royal Caribbean and Holland America (18%), but on par with Celebrity who also charge 20%.