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Trip Report - NCL Encore December 8th Miami to E. Caribbean

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Since the Encore is so new and everyone seems to be curious, I wanted to post some of my thoughts and observations about the ship. I'll apologize in advance for this being information-heavy with few pictures - others have taken much better pictures than myself and I'm still operating with an iPhone 6S.

 

First, a bit of context about myself and my travel companions so that you can decide how to interpret my report:

 

WHO WE ARE: This was my 3rd NCL cruise. The first being on the Dawn to Bermuda with my parents back in August 2009, and the second with my boyfriend (his first cruise) last New Year's on the Escape to Florida/Bahamas. We decided to take another cruise after having such a great time on the first. We were originally booked for the Encore in June of 2020 to celebrate graduation from my MBA program in May, but my boyfriend's sister and her fiance booked this itinerary for their first cruise and we decided to take advantage of the opportunity to sail together. We're all in our mid-to-late 20s and have full-time, professional jobs while juggling grad school, so finding time where all 4 of us could get away is a rare thing especially with the wedding coming up next year.

 

WHAT WE'RE LOOKING FOR: My idea of a great vacation is good food I don't have to cook, good drinks I don't have to make, waking up in beautiful places every morning, and having a quiet place to be able to read my book when not doing those things. Luckily, my boyfriend and I seem to be on the same page in that regard. We had two snorkeling excursions planned and upgraded our room to a spa balcony about 50 days out from sailing, so I was not concerned about access to sun or pools. I am very fair-skinned and need to either cover up or sunscreen up if outside even for 15 minutes, so the feared pool deck crowds weren't so much a concern for me. My boyfriend's sister, on the other hand, is a frequent sunbather so we planned to get her and her fiance on the ship early to get them Vibe passes. Had we not already gotten spa access, we probably would've joined them but didn't want to shell out for 2 areas since we wouldn't feel that we got our money's worth out of both. I helped them plan a lot in regards to shore excursions, dining reservations, and getting them to the line for Vibe but after Day 1, we pretty much left them to their own devices and would meet up for pre-dinner drinks in the Observation Lounge unless we had other activities planned.

 

WHERE WE'RE FROM: We live outside Philadelphia, so my previous 2 cruises have all left from New York because we don't have to fly. This was our first time cruising out of Miami, which we were looking forward to - on our previous December cruise on the Escape out of New York, the first two days and the last day onboard were a bust as far as going out on the upper decks due to the weather. PHL is an American Airlines hub so we were able to get Saturday afternoon flights to MIA for less than $300 round-trip each. We stayed in a Residence Inn in South Beach overnight Saturday using my boyfriend's hotel rewards (he travels frequently for work).

 

I'll start with embarkation day and our experience with the Port of Miami (very different from New York!) and then I am going to work through the decks of the ship to touch on each aspect, starting on Deck 6 and working my way up. Obviously we didn't experience everything - we had the typical Free at Sea package with a 3-meal specialty dining plan, and so a lot of the specialty restaurants went un-visited. When I finish up the ship itself, I'll wrap up with the ports, disembarkation, and any final thoughts I come up with that don't fit anywhere else. Feel free to ask questions - as I said, I didn't take a lot of pictures or save dailies, but will certainly answer your questions to the best of my abilities. I should also mention that my only cruise experiences have been with NCL, primarily for familiarity and convenience, so I cannot draw meaningful comparisons to other cruise lines, but I don't consider myself to be an NCL loyalist so will try to keep this review as honest and straightforward as possible.

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Embarkation (Port of Miami):

 

As stated above, I have only cruised out of New York previously so wasn't entirely sure what to expect in Miami. We knew that in order to give our travel companions their best chance at Vibe passes, we would have to be among the first boarding groups. We are not Haven guests, Platinum Latitudes, or Priority Access guests so arriving early was our best shot.

 

We opted to call a Lyft ride to take us from our South Beach hotel to the port around 9 AM, and although I don't know exactly how long it took I'd say we arrived by 9:30. The previous guests were all disembarking the ship, which made it a bit of a madhouse trying to fight the crowds to get to the terminal. All of our e-documents said Terminal C, but I had read on previous trips that they were splitting the decks (evens and odds). Of course, our newbies were on an even deck while we were in an odd deck, so when we got to Terminal C we bid them farewell into the building and walked down to Terminal B where we assumed the odd decks were checking in (there was a sign for evens at Terminal C but not odds at Terminal B).

 

Here is the primary difference I will point out between Port of Miami and Manhattan - when we board in Manhattan, the porters are right there in your face at the pier to come take your bags. In Miami, they are out there in front of each terminal but somehow we walked right past them without noticing. We were actually in the line, waiting for them to open the x-ray machines, when I turned to my boyfriend and asked "Did you see the porters? Because if we don't get rid of our bags now we're going to be carrying them with us for the rest of the day." We had to duck out of line again to go drop the bags off. Make sure, if you send one member of your party out of the building to drop the bags off, that you send them with the e-docs and passport/photo ID or else you will have to duck out of line to come rescue them.

 

We only lost a couple places in line, and security didn't actually start letting people through yet so it didn't set us back and we were still among the first in line. I'd estimate we spent about 15 - 20 minutes waiting to be let through security, so we were allowed in to check-in sometime before 10 AM.

 

The check-in process itself was fine, other than apparently along the way we were supposed to have filled out health questionnaires (I've never received these in my e-docs and nobody was passing them out beforehand) but those take about 30 seconds maximum to fill out for us. 

 

Finally we were permitted to go to the seating area, and because we were among the first admitted there was plenty of choice in seats. A port employee was passing out plastic cards indicating the boarding group number, and for our efforts we were awarded with...boarding group 5. Wait, *****?!?

 

Meanwhile, our counterparts over in Terminal C had proudly gotten through the process and obtained boarding group 1 (and thankfully we hadn't set them too far behind when I called them to take their bags out to the porter). While we were happy our Vibe contestants got their needed early boarding group, I was silently annoyed about our Group 5 designation but was forbidding my boyfriend from going to the port employee to ask about it because I didn't want to be one of those entitled people. But at the same time, how early do I have to get to the port to get Group 1? My boyfriend went to the bathroom while I attempted to log onto the ship's Wifi to make some dining reservations.

 

A note about this sailing - I have never had as much trouble making dining reservations online pre-cruise as I did with this one. While others on my roll call reported being able to make theirs, I was able to see dates and times and get to the part where I booked - only for it to put it in my cart and then have it immediately removed again. Then the same dates and times would appear available for booking. I eventually gave up and called NCL, but by that point all that was left were 5:30 pm slots - way too early to eat for us, unless falling asleep by 8 PM was the plan for the evening. I didn't even attempt to have my boyfriend's sister make their reservations, as it would just be easier for them to book onboard rather than have them make "dummy" reservations and then have to go cancel them with a live person. So second on the agenda, after obtaining Vibe passes, was booking the desired specialty dining.

 

An employee was on the overhead speaker, encouraging people to download the NCL app in order to make reservations and book activities. What she didn't say is that although you can connect to the ship's Wifi from the terminal, the reservations aren't opened until boarding starts at 11:30. I was able to use the app to make our reservations while waiting in line on the gangway to get on the ship. So save yourself, don't drive yourself crazy trying to use the app before that time. If you board after 11:30, using the app is probably tremendously helpful in that you don't have to go to Teppanyaki to make your reservations or crowd around one of the kiosks in the stairs.

 

Meanwhile, my boyfriend returned to our seats - with a Group 1 boarding pass. Turns out the port employee was just handing them out in the order they were in, which is understandable as we were among the first passengers admitted to the seating area and he was literally just taking the rubber band off. My boyfriend politely asked if we could have Group 1 since we got here so early, and the man obliged. So the takeaways here are: 1) it never hurts to ask a question and 2) you aren't allowed to be entitled if you get a "no", and be effusively grateful if you get a "yes". Boarding group issues aside, I was now settled in for the waiting game.

 

If you're at all familiar with the boarding process on a commercial flight, you are well-prepared for the cruise ship. First, the first class (Haven), loyalty club members (Latitudes Platinum and above), and whatever-credit-card-sponsors-the-airline holders (Priority Access) get called to board. Note that passengers with disabilities, or those involved in any embarkation day weddings, will also get super-special boarding privileges. 

 

Finally, an announcement rang out from the ceiling that they were calling Group 1 and we were in line and on our way! Except for a brief snafu at the front of the line where we were told Group 1 hadn't been called yet, and then that it had, but just for the other terminal. Y'all - all the previous overhead announcements had not specified which terminal they were for. Maybe as port employees that are there everyday, they know that the terminals get different announcements - but this pack of people anxious to start their vacation certainly don't, so if that's the case you'd better be very explicit that for Terminal C only, boarding Group 1 is now beginning. Otherwise you're going to have this same conversation every week. They ended up just letting us through, which was just well because at this point, Haven/Platinum/Priority guests were way up the gangway

 

I took a deep breath and texted my boyfriend's sister to proceed to the Social on Deck 6, where previous trip reviews indicated the Vibe passes were being sold. We'd meet them there when we could.

 

One additional note about Port of Miami - they were doing embarkation photos, but the set-up was tucked away along the wall where we first entered the terminal seating area. I didn't actually find it until I went to the bathroom about 30 minutes before being called for boarding, so if that's important to you you will need to go look for it. In New York, we were all ushered through the embarkation photo area prior to boarding. 

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A Brief Intermission to Talk About Vibe Passes

 

Before I get to my deck-by-deck review, I want to make a note about the Vibe passes since that ended up being a real adventure:

 

  • Before we left, the Encore reviews from @BirdTravels and @sid_9169 indicated that for their trips, Vibe passes were being sold in the Social on Deck 6 (comedy club/nightclub) (also big shout-outs to both of these posters for dedicating so much of their vacations on passing valuable feedback to those of us on early Encore sailings). Since we were separated from the members of our party who were actually trying to get Vibe passes, I sent them there ahead of us. Ideally, since I'm familiar with this class of ship from being on the Escape, I'd have been able to take them there but they boarded ahead of us due to the supervisor in the port not letting us on the gangway for a bit.
  • When we got to the Social - they weren't there. Not in line, not anywhere. My boyfriend asked one of the employees there where the Vibe passes were being sold, and we were informed that they were actually being sold at Guest Services. Weird, but not unheard of. We went down the art gallery hallway on Deck 6 to the Atrium, where the Guest Services desk was.
  • Big line of people at Guest Services - but they aren't there either. Nothing on my phone. I'm starting to worry now. We get in line for Guest Services, knowing that if we get to the front of the line before we find them we can't buy the passes on their behalf. An employee makes their way down the Guest Services line, asking each person what they're there for. Anxious, I respond "buying Vibe passes". She says, "No, those are being sold in Q." So now we've been told to go to 2 different places for the Vibe passes. "Just so you know, in the Social they're telling everyone they need to come here to buy them," I told her, hoping the communication glitch may be fixed for the future. "No, go to Q", she responds. Oh well, I tried. Down the hallway past the aft elevators to Q we go, at least everything is on Deck 6.
  • When we get to Q, there they are waiting in line. Phew! BF's sister and fiance later told us they were #76 and #77 in line - on previous Vibe ships, that is about the number of passes sold in total so if we were on the Escape or similar, the mix-ups about where the passes were sold could've made the difference between getting passes and not getting passes. Luckily, they sell about 200+ passes on Encore so they were all set, just needing to get their wristbands. Incidentally, we heard that there were still passes available for sale the next morning so it may not be entirely necessary to give yourself gray hair trying to get your party members to the correct place for Vibe.

Moral of the story for this ship: make sure you board early to guarantee you get your Vibe passes, because the crew may tell you to go three different places to actually purchase them.

 

Next up, I'll do a run-down of the attractions on Deck 6 and my notes on them.

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Deck 6 Features:

 

Savor/Taste: Obviously most people know about these main dining rooms that are open breakfast/lunch/dinner (with some exceptions on port days - check your dailies!). The menu is the same, so pick whichever one has a shorter line or a better view, depending on your priorities. 😁 To be honest, I never eat dinner here (prefer the Manhattan Room) and rarely eat lunch. The lunch we did have was amazing - we ate here on embarkation day (after all that nonsense with the Vibe passes the last thing I wanted to do was brave the buffet) as well as our last sea day for lunch and they were better than I remembered on the Escape. Breakfast here was great too when we had time for it - but I do want to note that the smoked salmon open-faced bagel (one of my favorite breakfasts) came with the other half of the bagel the first morning, and after that was just one half of a fairly small bagel. If you're like me or my boyfriend's sister (let's call her L) - you solve this by ordering two smoked salmon bagels. Don't look at me like that - I'm on vacation! The breakfast menu doesn't change much - mostly the same dishes with 1 or 2 rotating daily features. Lunch and dinner menus have a few "classic" dishes offered daily, and everything else changes daily (though some of them show up often - I'm looking at you, Smoked Mozzerella Ravioli in Lobster Cream Sauce appetizer!).

 

Mixx Bar - I never had a drink here directly, but I assume the drinks for Taste and Savor are made here. While I love the main dining rooms, if you're ordering a drink here, prepare to either have to explain what it is that you want or simplify your order. For example - ordering a mojito is no problem. Ordering a Cuba Libre - we had to explain the ingredients in that one. Ordering wine or beer - simple. Ordering the cocktail on tap they're serving up in District - probably a no-go. Ordering a Dark & Stormy - prepare to be asked what kind of rum you want in it (Gosling's Black Seal or go home). Order a Botanical Spritzer - a drink on the Observation Lounge menu with Ketel One Botanical Graprefuit & Rose, club soda, and a grapefruit slice) - and you're going to have to change it over to a Ketel One and club, and by the way they don't have grapefruit slices. My point is that this bar is churning out drinks for everyone who is dining, so order something that is either really well known or simple to make. If you want something more complex, stop at that bar first and then bring it with you.

 

Art Gallery - I used to be dubious about this, but I actually really love looking at the different art selections they have here. Further, there's actually a channel on your stateroom TV that does little 5-minute profiles of each of the artists - we watched for half an hour or so and had fun the rest of the week trying to spot the works of those artists. That said, if you've been on this class of ship before, you know the deal and it's no different on the Encore.

 

Teppanyaki - Not only is this where you go to make (or in my case, cancel) dining reservations on embarkation day, but my boyfriend (T) and I ate here on Friday night. I was originally opposed to going to Teppanyaki - they have several land-based options around us - but T was super into the idea and I picked the other restaurants so I wanted to make him happy. It was a great choice and we had a blast. We got *ahem* a bit tipsy up at the Observation Lounge before dinner, and then proceeded to sit in the middle of our table and work our tablemates on both sides. I think we all had a lot of fun, and although I'm fairly introverted and don't usually make friends with others during our trips, the Teppanyaki concept really does make it a fun atmosphere to interact in.

 

The specialty cocktails here are great - one is a sweet lychee drink, and the other is more acidic with some cucumber. I'd recommend trying both if you have the drink package. All meals come with miso soup (the best I've ever had, and I hate miso soup) and seaweed salad, as well as fried rice/veggies and your choice of protein. T and I like to share, so he got the filet & shrimp combo and I got the scallops & shrimp. The scallops were fine, but I honestly wish I'd gotten the filet and shrimp because it was so good I wouldn't have minded having my own full portion. Dessert here is kind of lame - choice of green tea cake or fruit "sashimi" (read: fruit cut into fancy shapes). T loves his soft-serve (more on that later), so we both opted for fruit and got "real dessert" in the buffet afterwards. Our chef was very entertaining and was a great showman - again, if you have one of these in your town, you probably know what to expect.

 

Just a heads up - they will have a photographer here to take your picture, and at the end of your meal they will hand you your picture in a special Teppanyaki envelope. This is NOT included with your meal and if you take your photo, it will be charged to you - so we all just handed them back. I just wanted to highlight this because this is the first time I've been handed a physical photo in a specialty dining venue, and don't want people to take the picture based on the misconception it's included. The photographer didn't say anything to us about it when handing us the envelopes, so it was very unclear.

 

Coco's - We didn't get anything from Coco's, so not much to report here. Like many of the other a la carte venues, this one was pretty empty whenever we passed by. Don't get me wrong, I LOVE sweets and have indulged in many a crazy milkshake in my time. But there are so many desserts available across the ship for free, and honestly on sea days we were trying to figure out ways to eat lighter meals so we wouldn't be too full for our specialty dining. Save yourself the money and get a Molten Chocolate Lava Cake with Straciatella Gelato on one of the nights they serve it in the main dining rooms and thank me later.

 

Social Comedy Club & Night Club - Oh boy, the Social. I had high hopes for this place. Let me preface this by saying we didn't do a single comedy show here, though I heard they booked up quickly so if you think that's something you may want to do, try to reserve within the first couple of days of your cruise. Obviously, we got off on the wrong foot with the Social when they decided to move the Vibe passes and send us to Guest Services.

 

T and I love to go dancing with the late night crowd, and on the Escape we could be found many nights at the Skyline, which served as its nightclub. We were looking forward to doing the same here, and on the first night it seemed promising. The DJ was great, and I hate DJs - he transitioned between songs really well, and he was from Philly so of course we were giving him hometown love. There was a great crowd on Night 1, and we made some friends that we would talk to throughout the rest of the cruise.

 

The problem began when I got either a mojito or a Moscow Mule at the bar, and then took it out to the dance floor. Within 15 minutes or so, a bartender came out from behind the bar and told me (and a few others) that we couldn't have glass out on the dance floor. Okay, that's fine - do you have a plastic cup that I can pour my drink into so that I can be out on the dance floor? Apparently no, there are no plastic cups in the Social.

 

I can get down with no glass on the dance floor - that night alone, two people dropped their drinks, and the music stopped and the house lights came up while a bartender came out to deal with the mess. But if you're going to be serving drinks immediately adjacent to the dance floor, would it not make sense to switch to plastic cups after 10 PM or so? To be fair, I went right back out with my drink because I have never once dropped a glass on the dance floor and I wasn't hassled again after that. It was really awkward though, and explained another issue I had with the Social.

 

The Social has two seating areas immediately around the dance floor, as well as two offshoot rooms to either side with furniture, small tables, etc. Sounds great right? Well, what happens is that you have a small contingent of people feeling good/drunk enough to get out on the floor - and then everyone else just watches them. It was a little off-putting, and I rarely saw the people sitting on the sides come join us on the dance floor. Now, I've seen this in every night club I've ever been to, but the Social has way more seating and it's on both sides of the dance floor, which gives you the creepy feeling that no matter where you are, you're being watched. I get that I am possibly overreacting and maybe that's true, but my takeway is that the set-up of the Social does not encourage people to dance, and that creates a vibe in there that was different from what I had experienced before and was expecting. We came back three times throughout the cruise, but two of those times we stayed for 5 minutes and then left - it seemed to get more sparsely populated as the week went on and I didn't want to be one of 6 people on the dance floor. I was disappointed because I really wanted to party down there every night, and it just didn't happen.

 

I'll finish up Deck 6 later, though we didn't visit the other areas on this deck very often.

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Deck 6 (continued):

 

The Atrium: I continue not to have ever had a drink at the Atrium bar - nothing wrong with it, just not my choice when there's so many other bars abound. If you've been on this class of ship, the Atrium won't surprise you. If you haven't - I just don't think it's a great set-up for the different game shows and stuff they have going on. There's not enough seating and you can only see a very small portion from Deck 7, and that's assuming you are sitting on the railing at the Local. That said, the games at the Atrium surprised me most with how much I enjoyed them, so check it out if something's starting and you can get a good seat.

 

Starbucks: I really thought we were going to be here everyday - my mom gifted T $50 worth of Sbux gift cards for his birthday in October knowing he hates the regular coffee onboard. We didn't visit once. That said, they DO take gift cards, and you can even use ones loaded onto your Starbucks app if you connect to the Wifi to bring it up (we had the 250 free minutes). It pretty much looks just like a normal Starbucks.

 

Internet Cafe: Never went here, but was about to when I couldn't figure out how to get the Wifi to work (figured it out on Day 4).

 

Guest Services/Shore Excursions/CruiseNext: I already mentioned that we were mistakenly directed to Guest Services for Vibe passes when they were actually at Q, but that's not Guest Services' fault. We ended up at the Shore Excursions desk a fair number of times due to an issue with our St. Thomas excursion (more on that in a later post), and CruiseNext we didn't do at all. Maybe I don't understand CruiseNext completely, but it doesn't seem like a great deal to me. If I put one $250 deposit down on a future cruise, I would've gotten $100 in onboard credit today - except if you're me, you went home from your cruise and two days later booked a future cruise with $50 deposits and were only out $100 on the future cruise. If I've learned anything from my MBA Finance class, it's that the longer my money stays in my pocket and out of NCL's, the better off I am. That said, they apparently have a nice itinerary guide available if you don't mind a hard sales pitch.

 

Photo Studio/Card Room: Sorry, never visited. Next.

 

Meeting Rooms: This makes sense looking back, but did you know that the ship has meeting rooms? I didn't. L and her fiance P got to visit one after our ill-fated St. Thomas excursion. That needs its own separate post but I can't say anything else about these because I wasn't there.

 

Q Texas Smokehouse: Other than to find the Vibe passes, we didn't visit. I actually was pushing for this to be one of our specialty dining meals, but T wanted a more upscale dining experience so we decided to pass. I can also do good BBQ myself so I wasn't that sad about it. Apparently there's a country band, Camilla Rae and the RaeBans, that plays here on certain evenings but we're not into that either so I can't tell you any more than that.

 

Deck 5: I skipped Deck 5, but the kids' areas like Guppies Nursery, Splash Academy, and the Entourage Teen Lounge are all down there. There's apparently also a video arcade separate and apart from what's in the back of the Local and the Galaxy Pavilion. We never came down here because we weren't traveling with kids, but I did hear on the Thanksgiving sailing that this ship was not built with overflow areas for kids and so these areas only hold about 100 or so kids at a time. If you're on a holiday or spring break sailing with lots of kids, that should be something you're aware of if you're planning on utilizing the kids' clubs.

 

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I'm pretty sure I was on the St Thomas excursion you're referencing and it was such a hassle to get any information about a refund at the shorex desk. They were just blowing people off. Finally on the night before last, we were left a voicemail stating we would be receiving one.

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18 hours ago, Katxx said:

I'm pretty sure I was on the St Thomas excursion you're referencing and it was such a hassle to get any information about a refund at the shorex desk. They were just blowing people off. Finally on the night before last, we were left a voicemail stating we would be receiving one.

Sounds like you are correct and we were on the same one. I'm not going to get too much into the specifics of what happened in the interests of the parties involved, but wanted to share how NCL responded and what that process was like so that people have an idea of what to expect if they find themselves in a similar situation.

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Have they permanently moved the Vibe passes to Q or was this a one-off. Heard from previous posters that you get them in The Social.

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Thank you for the details.  I  am wondering if the brand new Norwegian terminal in Miami is open yet. Was it in operation for your cruise.

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15 hours ago, dshefter said:

Have they permanently moved the Vibe passes to Q or was this a one-off. Heard from previous posters that you get them in The Social.

Not sure if this is a permanent change or not - I sent our party members to the Social given the same information and I guess on our sailing it's at Q. With such a small sample size of sailings so far, it's hard to say where the most likely place to get them is so I'd suggest you keep watching trip reports to see where they say the passes are sold. We definitely didn't see it coming!

 

15 hours ago, 2+2 said:

Thank you for the details.  I  am wondering if the brand new Norwegian terminal in Miami is open yet. Was it in operation for your cruise.

We saw the Norwegian terminal during sailaway, but it was not open or operating. It was originally supposed to be completed in November, but I believe NCL is now saying Spring of 2020. Knowing the nature of construction projects and deadlines, I am not sure when that means it's supposed to be done now.

 

Trying to get back to Deck 7 now...finishing up with gift wrapping has sapped time on my trip report!

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Deck 7 Features:

 

Encore Theater: When we were on the Escape last year, we missed out on Choir of Man because by the time we decided to go see it, about Day 5 of 9, it was already booked solid. Knowing it was going to be on the Encore again, we made sure to book it early and saw it on Day 2 (Monday at 7:30). I highly recommend going to see this show - the guys are really funny, there is a high level of audience engagement, and the song variety is wide enough that there is something for just about everyone. Make sure to get there early, as the cast invites the audience to come up and get beer on stage before the show starts which is a great way of emphasizing the "neighborhood pub" feel of the set. If you are the kind of person who absolutely wants to try to get picked to come up on stage, be sure to get there early as well so you can sit in the first few rows, as that is where most of the volunteers are selected from.

 

If you signed up for any shore excursions through Norwegian, you may report to the Theater as well to meet up with your group. If you haven't gone through this process before, basically you meet at the Theater at the time assigned on your ticket (these were left in our cabin for us on Day 1) and sit just about anywhere. Then, the Shore Excursion staff will dismiss the different excursions to leave as the excursion subcontractor is ready. However, what this usually means is that the entire group of people on the excursion get an NCL ShorEx escort to meet the guide off the ship. Not a big deal, but it just wasn't what I was expecting, so make sure you listen to the ShoreEx employees regarding where to meet the group off the pier.

 

There are other shows that play in the theater, most notably Kinky Boots, but I didn't see any others so can't comment on them. I'm not big on shows, and on a 7-day cruise I can only justify making time for one.

 

The Local: The Local on this ship is what O'Sheehans is on the older ships - and as they go into dry-dock/refurbishment, you can expect the remaining O'Sheehans to be converted. The Local has a brighter, more modern look to it than the Irish pub trappings of O'Sheehans - personally, I preferred the former incarnation but other than that, they're more similar than different. I have to recommend you try the wings - they are crispy and then tossed in sauce, which in my mind is the only acceptable way to prepare them. I would skip the pretzel bites in "beer cheese fondue", unless you're a fan of Velveeta. I was also told the salads here were good, though I did not try them for myself. The Local is a 24/7 food venue, so if you're up all night dancing at the Glow Party or the Social, it's the place to go for your midnight snack craving. A couple of notes - on the Escape, at least, O'Sheehans had a pretty extensive arcade game section along with a bowling alley. On this ship, there are some arcade games up here but for the most part, you'll find them down on Deck 5 in the Video Arcade. Also, we noticed especially during the late night hours that the service at the Local was a bit different than it is during the day - I suspect they have more junior employees work the night shift. For example, T and I went around midnight to share one order of 6 wings. The waiter asked us several times if that was all we wanted, including after we made it amply clear that yes, that was everything, we just wanted to share a midnight snack. When the wings did come, we had to ask twice for plates - at which we were again prompted if we really just wanted wings. This wasn't a big deal, just a little weird and annoying. That said, I've never waited more than the time it took to get the hostess's stand to be seated,  and the food comes out quickly as well. Also, if you ever get the opportunity, ask to be seated at the railing - this gives you a bird's eye view for any game shows or music going on in the Atrium, or at least some good people-watching.

 

Encore Casino: Taking up most of Deck 7 is the casino, full of table games, slot machines, video poker, as well as other casino mainstays. Unlike other ships, the Encore has an established casino smoking section that has glass doors and walls across from the Skyline Bar. While you can still smell cigarettes in the area immediately surrounding this section, the smell doesn't permeate 678 Ocean Place the way it did on the Escape, so I'll consider it an improvement.

 

I don't really do gambling, but T enjoys watching so we would occasionally take a walk past and see what was going on. I do want to speak about the Skyline though...we met up for drinks here once before dinner at the Manhattan Room. On the Escape, the Skyline served as the ship's nightclub and we had a blast. Here, the Skyline is just the bar that serves the casino. There is video poker set up at numerous seats at the bar, and the video screens which previously showed the skylines of different cities of the world now show football games. There are slot machines just a stone's throw away, and a handful of couches in the back. The four of us felt a little out-of-place there, the bartenders and servers were definitely prioritizing the casino players (as they arguably should), and didn't linger long. There isn't any drink served at the Skyline that you can't also get elsewhere, like the Mixx Bar or the Observation Lounge, so I'd suggest if you're not playing in the casino you'd be better off at one of those. Not to mention you're directly across from the smoking section and the whole area reeks a bit.

 

This probably goes without saying, but the casino is closed while in port. You'll have to wait until an announcement is made that the ship is sufficiently far enough out that it can reopen.

 

The Manhattan Room: The Manhattan Room on this ship is gorgeous as ever, and my preferred place to eat dinner if I don't have specialty dining arranged that night. It has the same menu as Taste and Savor do for dinner, but the atmosphere is just a bit grander. On previous ships, the Manhattan Room featured live music, but I didn't see or hear any while I was there. The room has a big beautiful window that looks out the aft of the ship, and both Cagney's and Los Lobos look down on main dining area of the Manhattan Room.

 

This has been reported by others before me, but dinner in the Manhattan Room can linger a bit so if you're trying to make a reservation for a show, be sure to let your serving team know (each table usually has both a main and assistant waiter who are both responsible for your table). My notes about ordering drinks in Taste and Savor apply here as well, though they were capable of doing Aperol Spritzes here when L and I ordered them.

 

I mentioned this before, but remember the Manhattan Room is only open for dinner. We had some really great meals here - the whole roasted sirloin stands out as a particular favorite, and we all ordered a beef short rib ragu over papardelle that was great. For dessert, my strongest recommendation is the molten chocolate lava cake with strawberry compote and stracciatella gelato - it was offered several times over the course of our cruise, and if you like it you can likely have it again at least once. 😁

 

Next is Deck 8, which will probably be split into two again because it is chock full of goodies that I don't want to shortchange.

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Really enjoying your thorough review.   We are booked on the Encore for next year and we’re wondering how it compares to the Escape since we will have 3 seas days overall.

Thanks again. 

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5 hours ago, NoobCroozer said:

Great review, keep it coming.....

Thanks so much!

8 minutes ago, McFins said:

Really enjoying your thorough review.   We are booked on the Encore for next year and we’re wondering how it compares to the Escape since we will have 3 seas days overall.

Thanks again. 

Obviously I will go into more detail later, but we felt that the Encore and the Escape are more similar than different. I would say food and beverage-wise, the Encore came out better. As far as top deck activity, the Escape wins out by a mile. The Escape just had more space that could be used by everyone, as the speedway and laser tag take up significant real estate that can only be used by a limited number of passengers at once. The pool deck was more crowded than other ships, but I don't think it's as bad as everyone initially feared because even on sea days, we saw open loungers - they just may not be in the direct sun. Honestly, if you're a sun worshipper this probably isn't the ship for you, or else you're going to want to spring for Vibe passes. We rate both ships pretty highly but we do prefer the Escape. That said, I wouldn't hesitate to sail the Encore again if she were running an itinerary we loved. 

 

The Escape was the first ship T and I sailed together, and as a result it will probably always be our favorite. I sailed the Dawn back in 2009, but don't honestly remember specifics about the ship (and it of course has since been refurbished). We're set to try the Getaway on a very cool itinerary, and I think it will be especially hard not to compare it to the Escape since she's the older sister. 

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Thanks so much for your speedy response.  We are looking at a Canada / NE itinerary so the pool is not much of an issue for us....but if the weather is predicted to be warm/sunny we would try for Vibe passes for sure.  
We liked all the NCL ships we’ve sailed thus far..they each have their pros/cons and we would sail any of them again (Both Jewel class and the mega ships).  
Most interested in the spa and the entertainment for the next cruise.   I’m wondering how much I’ll miss the lounge shows that were on the Escape in the Skyline Lounge and Tobacco Road....they were fantastic on our last sailing and we spent a lot of time there. 

Thanks again .. really enjoyed your review. 
 

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Guys, I forgot to mention that on Deck 7 there is a Lifeboat Deck that runs up and down both sides of Deck 7 and is open to the public as long as they're not doing drills or cleaning. I didn't get to check this out until our last night, but it's pretty cool. If you've sailed a ship like the Escape, you know that her lifeboats hang over the edge of the ship - and this actually makes her too wide to pass through the Panama Canal. Kind of a shame, because that limits her itineraries and probably means that the Pacific is unlikely to see the Escape any time soon. Since then, all of the Breakaway Plus class ships have been designed so that the lifeboats now hang inboard - in other words, the lifeboats hang so that their outer edge is flush with the rest of the ship, adding no additional width clearance. I found it really incredible to walk next to the 30 or so lifeboats and admire just how HUGE they are. Each holds a little over 300 people, and it's kind of awe-inspiring to think of how much has changed since the Titanic went down in the North Atlantic over a century ago. There's also instructions for the crew on how to deploy the lifeboats, a small red crew boat which I'm not sure what it's used for, and also these very powerful lights over the side of Deck 7 that I suppose could be used for searching for anyone who may have gone overboard. I guess for some, dwelling on those situations may put a damper on their vacation but for me personally, it illustrates how much training and preparation the crew receives for emergency situations and makes me appreciate how seamlessly everything manages to go in order to make cruise vacations possible.

 

Deck 8 Features:

 

Cagney's: So I am going to start with two of the places on Deck 8 that I didn't visit, Cagney's and Los Lobos. If you've sailed literally any other NCL ship, you're familiar with Cagney's and if not, Cagney's is a specialty restaurant that serves as the classic steakhouse option onboard. If you've been on another Breakaway/Breakaway Plus class ship, Cagney's is in its familiar location at Deck 8 aft, port side, with the Waterfront along one side and windows looking down into the Manhattan Room. It also has windows that look back at the stern of the ship. It shares a lobby area with Los Lobos that includes the A-List Bar (more on those in a minute).

 

If you're going to eat at Cagney's, try to take advantage and get a table on the Waterfront. This is an outdoor section that opens up to a walkway that runs almost around the entirety of Deck 8, and is like other restaurant outdoor seating you may have experienced but at sea! I keep forgetting to try to take advantage of this (the only time I've eaten on the Waterfront was at Pinchos on the Escape), so I am reminding you to ask the hostess to see if you can be seated on the Waterfront. You won't be disappointed!

 

As far as good goes, Cagney's is good but it's not my favorite. I'm not big on steak, and the beef served in the main dining rooms while I sailed was excellent. My parents on the other hand love Cagney's so it's all about how much you like steakhouses on land. I chose to use my specialty dining credits on other restaurants that interested me more, but Cagney's is a mainstay of the NCL brand so if you choose to peruse one of the Encore's other dining options, it's sure to be waiting for you on the next ship.

 

Los Lobos: Regrettably, I did not eat at Los Lobos either so cannot comment on it other than it is essentially a mirror image of Cagney's (windows to Manhattan Room and Waterfront included), but with lively Mexican decor. I have heard several comment about how good the tableside guacamole is, so I'd have to recommend getting it! This is another specialty restaurant, as you may have guessed, with a Mexican theme. I would've loved to try Los Lobos, but again we used our remaining specialty dining credits on two other restaurants on Deck 8 that I'll talk about shortly. The fortunate thing about the Encore is that it has so many dining options, there's something here for literally every taste! The unfortunate thing is that because there are so many dining options, it's really not practical to try them all - for our cruise, there are more specialty restaurants than nights in our sailing.

 

A-List Bar: On previous iterations of this class of ship, the bar between Cagney's and Los Lobos/Moderno was known as Prime Meridian. For the Encore, and the Bliss as well I believe, this is now known as the A-List Bar, in honor of departing NCL CEO Andy Stuart. We only had one drink at this bar, but the bartenders here were really fun and I wish I could remember their names. As one group at the bar left, the bartender (who had clearly been having a good time with them) sang "Na na na na, na na na na, hey hey hey, GOODBYE!" at the top of his lungs. If I recall correctly, this bar actually has some of its own specialty drinks on its menu as opposed to the Observation Lounge, Skyline Bar, or Atrium Bar that have a more generic menu. Do keep in mind though - this bar closes rather early, so if you're looking for a drink around 10 PM, you'll probably have to head to another venue. I think that's because this bar mainly serves Cagney's and Los Lobos, and that's about the time those restaurants close their dinner service. That said, there's plenty of other bar options available on Deck 8 so you will have no problem finding some other choices.

 

The Bake Shop/Dolce Gelato: I didn't take advantage of this amenity on this sailing, but the Bake Shop sells cupcakes and macarons and Dolce Gelato has - you guessed it, hand-scooped gelato. Both of these treats come at an additional cost. I did have gelato on the Escape and it was good - but honestly, with hand-scooped ice cream available at the Garden Cafe and gelato being served with some of the main dining room desserts, I just didn't feel like spending the extra money this time around. I also think that having these two shops, in addition to Coco's on Deck 6, is a bit overkill but if you've got a sweet tooth, don't let me stop you.

 

The Waterfront: I talked about the Waterfront briefly when talking about Cagney's and Los Lobos, but I want to make sure I don't gloss over how great this area of the ship is. I think there was more lounge-area type seating out here on the Encore than I remember previously on the Escape, which I think may be a response to the decreased space on the pool deck. That said, this area was never crowded while I was there, and it's a great place to read a book and take in the sea, or chat with friends over a drink. In addition, several of the restaurants have outdoor seating here and you should definitely try to take advantage if it's available while you dine. Finally, I can't recommend enough going back to the aft of the ship and looking out over the ship's wake. It is so incredibly soothing and awesome to do, and you should make it part of your Encore bucket list to do so.

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14 minutes ago, McFins said:

Thanks so much for your speedy response.  We are looking at a Canada / NE itinerary so the pool is not much of an issue for us....but if the weather is predicted to be warm/sunny we would try for Vibe passes for sure.  
We liked all the NCL ships we’ve sailed thus far..they each have their pros/cons and we would sail any of them again (Both Jewel class and the mega ships).  
Most interested in the spa and the entertainment for the next cruise.   I’m wondering how much I’ll miss the lounge shows that were on the Escape in the Skyline Lounge and Tobacco Road....they were fantastic on our last sailing and we spent a lot of time there. 

Thanks again .. really enjoyed your review. 
 

Good news is that we had spa passes so a fairly thorough report about the spa on this ship is coming soon! With regards to the lounge shows, there were some pretty incredible performers on this ship that I haven't really gotten into yet (but will some more once we get to other areas of the ship). I'd say the live music available rated similar to what we experienced on the Escape, except for the fact that I didn't like the guy playing in District on this ship much (he reminded me too much of Ed Sheeran and I felt he did too much talking and not enough singing).

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Great..sounds encouraging.  I’ll look forward to the rest of your review! 

Thanks again! 

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Looking forward to your report on the spa. This is one of my favorite areas of the ship.

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On 12/18/2019 at 4:03 PM, kayteecat said:

Maybe I don't understand CruiseNext completely, but it doesn't seem like a great deal to me. If I put one $250 deposit down on a future cruise, I would've gotten $100 in onboard credit today - except if you're me, you went home from your cruise and two days later booked a future cruise with $50 deposits and were only out $100 on the future cruise. If I've learned anything from my MBA Finance class, it's that the longer my money stays in my pocket and out of NCL's, the better off I am.

 

You don't understand and your MBA finance class has failed you (😉 from a fellow MBA).

 

You purchase a $250 certificate but only pay $150 thanks to the OBC they give you. As there's no safe place to save $50 (the difference between what you paid for the cert and what you would pay for deposits) and earn $100 before your cruise ($100 being the money NCL gave you for buying the cert) it undoubtedly makes more sense to buy the certificates. 

 

It makes even more sense if you buy 2 or more as then you only pay $125 per every $250 certificate. 

 

In the two years I've been buying certificates I've saved almost $1000 dollars on cruise fare by way of the OBC they give. I would have to have a lot of money in savings to earn $1000 in interest in 2 years. Even in the stock market I'd have to have a decent amount to earn $1000 in two years. 

 

NCLs on board "booking" program is by far the best deal of all the ones I know of. 

 

Hopefully that explanation made sense. 

Edited by smplybcause

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9 hours ago, smplybcause said:

 

You don't understand and your MBA finance class has failed you (😉 from a fellow MBA).

 

You purchase a $250 certificate but only pay $150 thanks to the OBC they give you. As there's no safe place to save $50 (the difference between what you paid for the cert and what you would pay for deposits) and earn $100 before your cruise ($100 being the money NCL gave you for buying the cert) it undoubtedly makes more sense to buy the certificates. 

 

It makes even more sense if you buy 2 or more as then you only pay $125 per every $250 certificate. 

 

In the two years I've been buying certificates I've saved almost $1000 dollars on cruise fare by way of the OBC they give. I would have to have a lot of money in savings to earn $1000 in interest in 2 years. Even in the stock market I'd have to have a decent amount to earn $1000 in two years. 

 

NCLs on board "booking" program is by far the best deal of all the ones I know of. 

 

Hopefully that explanation made sense. 

Not sure if it is still available but the last few times I have bought the certificates I have been able to turn down the OBC and got two certificates for the price of one. Seems like a better deal for me.

 

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1 hour ago, swmichigan cruiser said:

Not sure if it is still available but the last few times I have bought the certificates I have been able to turn down the OBC and got two certificates for the price of one. Seems like a better deal for me.

 

 

That's the exact same thing, just worded differently. You got the exact same deal. 

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11 hours ago, smplybcause said:

 

You don't understand and your MBA finance class has failed you (😉 from a fellow MBA).

 

You purchase a $250 certificate but only pay $150 thanks to the OBC they give you. As there's no safe place to save $50 (the difference between what you paid for the cert and what you would pay for deposits) and earn $100 before your cruise ($100 being the money NCL gave you for buying the cert) it undoubtedly makes more sense to buy the certificates. 

 

It makes even more sense if you buy 2 or more as then you only pay $125 per every $250 certificate. 

 

In the two years I've been buying certificates I've saved almost $1000 dollars on cruise fare by way of the OBC they give. I would have to have a lot of money in savings to earn $1000 in interest in 2 years. Even in the stock market I'd have to have a decent amount to earn $1000 in two years. 

 

NCLs on board "booking" program is by far the best deal of all the ones I know of. 

 

Hopefully that explanation made sense. 

Thanks for your detailed explanation! Finance was by far my most difficult class, so I'm not surprised I failed to grasp that. 😂 That does make sense when broken down that way. I won't get anywhere near the CruiseNext desk unless I know I want to book something because I hate a hard sales pitch and have a hard time with the word "no", but having a neutral third party explain it was helpful. That said, we're booked on the Getaway for next January but unsure of whether or not I'll buy certificates. I'd really like to get back to Europe for a land vacation, and this last time around I also looked at Royal Caribbean and MSC before booking the Getaway, so I'm not sure I want to lock into NCL for sure.

 

EDIT: Actually a far better plan is to send T to the CruiseNext desk. His mind is much more adept at calculating the best deal, he asks harder questions, and isn't afraid to say no. He tutored me through the aforementioned Finance class, though my analytical skills or lack thereof are more reflective of my number confusion than his teaching.

Edited by kayteecat

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