Our multi-generational family of 12 ranging in ages 5-95 took our 2nd family cruise over Christmas on the Encore. Our first was 2 years ago on the RCL Oasis of the Seas. Overall we all enjoyed the cruise, but I felt it was a bit harder to enjoy this cruise as a larger family group versus individual family units. Other than that, the ship was beautiful and new with lots of Christmas decorations. We especially liked the Waterfront area when it wasn't too windy.
On the plus side, we had 5 balcony staterooms next to each other with one of them being an accessible room. None were connecting, but we at least were all together and it was nice to be able to glance at the door lights and see if they were 'home' or not. We ate two full group dinners together, one in Teppanyaki and one in the Manhattan room, both of which were wonderful. Other nights we had smaller groups eating in specialty restaurants or the main dining rooms. We had the 3 meal specialty dining packages and used our room´s for Teppanyaki, Los Lobos, and Food Republic. All were great, and we got a ton of food and great service at each place. It was also nice that my son(5) could order off the kids' menu at the specialty places, as like many kids, he's a bit picky.
The ship has a lot of different small areas and bars to explore and hang out in. Our family especially liked finding a couch area on the Waterfront and sipping mojitos and talking on a few of the sea days. Service was great overall and even at crowded bars it didn't take very long to get drinks. Our son loved the kids' aqua park and went down the kids' water slide countless times. He liked the arcade and kids' club (Splash Academy) though he only really wanted to go at night. We also didn't find it difficult to schedule shows or activities like some have complained about. The husband and I saw Choir of Man and LOVED it. My husband even went up and got a Heineken on stage with the guys before the show started. Other than that, we didn't go to other shows, though we had reserved tickets for Kinky Boots but decided to spend our last night on the ship soaking it all in. The only negative experience we had was when we couldn't do laser tag, because we didn't have closed-toed shoes. I was mad at the time, but they refunded us our money right away, so no harm no foul. Overall we had spent $375 onboard on top of our $200 onboard credit. A lot of it we spent in the arcade for our son, on his gratuities (ours were prepaid), the casino, Starbucks, Cocos, photos, and other souvenirs.
As a group, we had differing opinions on the room size and layout. My grandmother had a scooter in a non-accessible room (she's 95 and walks well but not long distances necessary on a ship), and she had to back it into the room in order to charge it, then taking up the already limited space. On the other hand, my dad with his scooter had no problems in the accessible room. That said our room worked well for the 3 of us (me, my husband, and son). The bathroom was the best I've had on a cruise, especially the shower. At times the room got hot, but we figured out that you have to make sure the balcony is shut and sealed in order for the AC to run properly. The bed was decent, but a little hard, as it hasn't been slept in much at this point. Additionally, a drawer for underwear and personal items would have been nice. Overall though I really liked the room. It was like a tiny house, where the small space had been utilized well.
The food and drinks were overall good, but I and other members of my group found the drinks to not be mixed very strong. The doubles were more like a single and even then a weak one. We had the drink package, so it isn't that big of a deal, but when on vacation especially relaxing, it's nice to get a least a little buzz. That said, the District Brewhouse was great and offered a lot of great options for both me and my husband, who have differing tastes in beer. The buffet was good but a little repetitive. I liked the Indian station but would have really liked to have had a Mexican/Caribbean food station as well. Also if you are a coffee drinker like myself, be prepared to spend money on Starbucks, because the ship coffee is some of the worst I have ever tasted, It tasted like bad instant coffee rather than brewed coffee. I was disappointed in this because one of my favorite things on cruises is to order room service and drink coffee on my balcony. I could still do this, but it took me asking my husband super nice to go down and get me Starbucks. Also I drink about a half pot of coffee each day and couldn't even enjoy a small cup of the included coffee, even with cream and sugar. The weak adult drinks would have been more acceptable if the coffee hadn't been so terrible. I even tried it in multiple places to make sure it wasn't just one batch....it was consistently bad.
As for the things that makes my rating a 4 instead of a 5 (other than the coffee ;-), here we go. As I said previously, we had a large group and, although we definitely were able to spend time as a large group, we had to work harder to do so I feel like on this ship. For one, as others have mentioned, the pool deck gets very crowded and loud and there's not really large common areas in the middle of the ship other than the pool deck. Also, the lack of included space for adults that is not for a fee is limited. My mother-in-law bought my husband and I Vibe passes as a gift (which she was able to buy 5 the day after embarkation), but the rest of the family opted not to. Due to this, we were never in the pool areas at the same time. On the Oasis, we saw the family quite often in and around the Solarium and pool/sun decks and ran into each other more naturally than having to plan out where to meet up on the Encore. There was one port day where I never saw several members of the family due to the lack of common space where people were passing through and us doing different activities. I guess what I'm trying to say is if you are going with a large group, be prepared to have to schedule times where you all can meet up in a large enough and quiet enough area that you all can visit together. You most likely will not run into one another naturally.
As we traveled with one child in our group, overall this was a good ship for kids. The aqua park was awesome, though one feature was broken for the whole trip, but wasn't that big of a deal. On Christmas Eve afternoon Santa visited the ship in the theater, and it was awesome! Way better than the bored-looking Santa in the ice rink on the Oasis. We had to wait a while to get up to see Santa, but at least we got to sit and little dude took a short nap and got a little stuffed sea turtle as a gift. The workers on the ship were awesome with my son, which as a parent, I always appreciate. The workers in the Splash Academy were great and had great activities, and my son liked them (both the workers and activities). The only thing I didn't like about the Splash Academy is that, though big, it is on the bottom deck with no windows, which I think was a big reason my son didn't want to go during the day. I can't blame him...we live around Chicago, and we need to see sun when on vacation in December.
We liked the ports, even San Juan at night. We got over to El Castillo in time to take a quick tour and then just walked around and looked at the Christmas decorations and ate Puerto Rican food. St. Thomas we taxied to Magens Bay for way less money and for way more time on the beach than an excursion, and it was a perfect Christmas Day. Tortola we taxied to Cane Garden Bay. There were lots of waves and it was a little rainy, but my son loved it, and we had some great painkillers at Pussers on the beach.
Overall I liked the Encore, but I don't think I would go on it again with a large group. If it had just been our family of 3 and maybe one other room of family members, I probably would have enjoyed it a bit more. We did another family cruise because we enjoyed the last one so much, but we will just need to be more cognizant about a few things when considering future trips. People who give the ship 1 or 2-star ratings must have extremely high expectations or be hard to please. To me, you go on a cruise to have a variety of food, beverages, and activities and there were plenty of those. Yeah, it would have been nice to have more deck space around the pool and bigger hot tubs, but if you were on an Alaskan cruise, this wouldn't matter. Also with the ports having great, easily accessible beaches, it was less of an issue for me. If it's a big must to have a chair poolside or in direct sun, then you would want another ship. If you want to have a lot of variety of food and entertainment, you will probably be happy with this ship.
Small but well-appointed. Bedside lights include different modes and USBs. Lots of movies on the tv. The balcony was small but nice, no gap for the little dude to lose small toys over the edge. Great shower and good bathroom set up. Do not disturb and make up room buttons were nice to easily communicate needs with the cleaning staff.
Explore the plazas and eat some Puerto Rican food...you won't be disappointed.
Take a taxi to Magens Bay and enjoy!