Over a year ago my family of five, along with some friends of ours and their families, excitedly purchased tickets for a Thanksgiving cruise on Norwegian Cruise Line’s Encore. Our cruise was the second voyage after the maiden the week preceding. The Breakaway Plus-class of ships is touted as NCL’s top of the line cruising experience boasting “more than two dozen dining venues, some with waterfront dining experiences; a racetrack; a virtual galaxy pavilion; a laser tag course; and water slides that will take adventure-seekers’ breath away” according to a USA Today article (ref: https://www.usatoday.com/story/travel/cruises/2019/11/26/norwegian-encore-cruise-ship-sails-norwegian-cruise-line-new-ceo/4296007002/) Well NCL, you took our breath away, but not in the way that the article claims you would.
Three days in to the cruise we feel as though the wind has been knocked out of us and are overwhelmed with disappointment. The best way to liken this experience is to commercial airlines, and I can say with absolute honesty that NCL is the Spirit Airlines of cruising. We have been nickel and dimed every step of the way. After claiming that kids eat free if kids menus at the specialty dining restaurants we have come to find that they only “eat free” if there is a kids menu (which includes Campbell’s quality chicken noodle soup, Kraft-style macaroni and cheese, and PB & J). However, there was no kid’s menu at the hibachi restaurant (or at least not one the servers knew of). So, in order to eat with the family, they must order off of the main menu at full cost.
All of the free activities that were included on competitor lines like Disney Cruise Lines and Royal Caribbean have been replaced with a pay to play structure and most require reservations prior to setting sail, leaving spontaneity out of the question for this cruise experience.
To offer another comparison, the onboard activity experience is like paying to go to Disney World and then having to pay per ride once inside. As a mother of three children ages 8-11 I am left with two options, pay a premium for my children to be able to do nearly any activity except swimming or leave them to roam the decks endlessly with nothing fun to do. Not to mention that the majority of the ship’s virtual reality experiences are not even available due to technical breakdown. Just today, when we showed up for our 3:30PM laser tag reservation, we were turned away because it was broken, and told there were no more available reservations for the duration of our trip. After spending about 30 minutes speaking with numerous staff, one of whom was extremely rude and disrespectful, a supervisor finally rebooked us for Thursday evening. Which is not ideal, since we will have been in port all day and have Thanksgiving dinner reservations, but it was our only option to play laser tag, which our kids have been eagerly anticipating for the past year.
Additionally, upon check-in, we were given the opportunity to block charging on our kids’ cards. We blocked their ability to make charges, so if a card was misplaced and found by someone else, it couldn’t be used to make charges to our account. However, we were not informed that blocking them from making purchases also prohibits us, as parents, for booking any onboard activities for them. It took 2 trips to guest services, two trips to the box office, a trip to the finance office and a total of 2 hours to resolve this issue. By this time, nearly all onboard activities were booked for the week. It makes no sense that a parent cannot book activities for their own children without unlocking charging on the kids’ cards, and even less sense that it took so long to correct the issue and we were not informed of that restriction when blocking charging for the kids.
Shows, one can always count on the shows onboard right? Wrong. Not on the NCL Encore. Show tickets must be booked well in advance before boarding the ship and getting tickets for a family of 5 is nearly out of the question.
Grasping at straws to find a way to enjoy our vacation I figure that we can always swim or soak in the hot tub; again, not on the Encore. By day three the hot tub was broken (along with the outdoor ice/water machines) and one can only access the 18+ pool area by buying a pass.
We thought we would try the kids area, but there are only 110 spots available for 4,000+ guests, so, we were told unless we drop the kids early (they pay extra for them to go to dinner with the group), it would be unlikely we would ever get a spot. However, there is not lack of availability for the “after-hours” childcare that garners an hourly fee.
Even the 250 minutes of “free” internet requires an activation fee! How on earth is it free internet if you have to pay in advance to access it?
At least they don’t try to hide the à la carte experience once onboard. There are 2-3 min long announcements that come on the ship-wide speakers advertising any and everything else they can to up-sell passengers, and, if that isn’t enough, the little red light on our in room phones is constantly blinking to alert us of the infomercial like messages that have been so graciously recorded to reiterate all of the “offerings” onboard. Sell, sell, sell. I can only imagine what the sales quotas are for each department on ship with this kind of constant harassment. It feels more like a flea market than an all-inclusive cruise.
Whether Andy Stuart (president and CEO of NCL from 1988 to 2019) or Stuart’s successor Harry Sommer (ref: https://www.usatoday.com/story/travel/cruises/2019/11/26/norwegian-encore-cruise-ship-sails-norwegian-cruise-line-new-ceo/4296007002/) who manipulated the onboard experience to be what it is on the Encore and presumably other Breakaway Plus NCL ships, the experience for my family and my friends’ has been a massive disappointment and one we wish to help other families avoid in the future.
In short, we paid well over $5,000 for snake oil. A family friendly experience marketed as all-inclusive is anything but. NCL has missed every mark and left us feeling the overwhelming disappointment of a bait and switch scheme. Shame on you NCL. Shame on you.
Honestly the cabin is nice but this is only the second sailing so that is to be expected.