This is my first review on Cruise Critic (pardon the length - I hope this is helpful for those who are interested). Encore was my 7th cruise - sixth with NCL. This was Encore’s last voyage before the major cruise industry shut down due to COVID-19.
On that note, kudos and appreciation to the crew who worked tirelessly to keep passengers and crew safe and healthy. Each day, we noticed additional measures were put in place, including the cancellation of some events, crew serving passengers at the buffet instead of each grabbing the utensils themselves, tables in the dining room only being set once seated, paper menus, crew not handling keycards, and, of course, additional hand washing and sanitizing, to name just a few. Embarkation for this cruise took much longer than any previous cruise; partly because we couldn’t get to the port until the busiest time, but mostly because the additional screening (taking temperature and checking passports) to ensure ill people did not board.
Once on board, my wife, 7 year old daughter and I marvelled at the “new-ness,” the size and the beauty of Encore. I quickly went to make reservations for dining and some of the activities. The lines for this were shorter than I expected and I was able to get most of my reservations quickly and easily. Do this on your first day on board. We ate at the Local (what is called O’Sheehan’s on most other NCL ships). There’s more space for The Local on this ship, and the food is just as good - though I missed the meat loaf this time. We looked to get our keycards hole-punched for our lanyards and were told these new keycards cannot be punched. The use a tap-system rather than a swipe-system and a hole-punch renders them useless. Conveniently - for NCL - they sell lanyards with a plastic pouch for your card for $10 - $12 on board. (And you can’t buy the plastic pouch separately.) Save the $ and just bring your own.
Here is a bullet-point rundown of what’s on Encore that we really loved:
- food; we only ever eat in the main dining rooms and the food on NCL is always delicious. We’ve heard great things about the specialty dining rooms but feel there’s no reason for us to try them yet as the food that’s included in the price is so good.
- entertainment: Choir of Man and Kinky Boots were the best combo of main shows of any cruise I’ve been on to date. We watched Choir of Man twice, we loved it so much! Kinky Boots was so well done - a huge cast, 1:45 min show without intermission; it felt like Broadway. We took our 7 year old because she loves musicals and didn’t find the content all that inappropriate actually and the language was much better than other shows we’ve seen. Your call, if you sailing with kids. The two comedians were quite funny but we prefer improv and would love for NCL to renegotiate a contract with Second City and bring them back.
- casino: we don’t ever gamble and appreciated the casino’s enclosed smoking area, keeping the smell of smoke in the public areas to a minimum.
- kids aqua park: perfect size and amenities, my 7 year old loved it.
- activities: lots to do for all ages; not enough time. I took my daughter with me in the go-carts for one session ($15 for about 5 or 6 laps). I did the VR experience in the Galaxy Pavilion - it wasn’t busy so I did the $29 for one hour deal. I tried 14 of the games and must admit I felt a bit woozy doing them in such rapid succession. I did the escape game BAMboozled - our team won! The Beatles show was over-crowded; great sound but a boring show actually (I expected better, given the other reviews here but perhaps didn’t give them a fair shake).
- the Observation Lounge on Deck 15. A great place to relax, especially on rocky sea days. Not once did I feel like the ship was crowded or congested.
- cabin: we usually book an interior room and this time we were assigned an accessible room with additional space.
- wine package: I could never drink enough alcohol to make the all-inclusive drink package worthwhile, and my wife doesn’t drink at all. I usually take a few bottles of wine on board and pay the corkage fee, but this time I did the Viva Vino - 4 bottles for $110 + grat. This worked well, though still more expensive than paying corkage on my own bottles.
What could have been better (certainly not make-or-break):
- coffee; only good coffee on the ship is the Starbucks (extra $)
- timing of the call in San Juan: arriving at 5:30 pm doesn’t leave chance to do much of anything
- the ship is loud: the band on the pool deck, the blaring muster drill in the theatre, even the relentless creaking in staterooms and common areas during pitch and roll - just annoying more than anything
- I’m no designer, but what is that strange chandelier hanging in 6-7-8? Not elegant.
- I missed the live music in the Manhattan Room
San Juan - as mentioned, arriving at 5:30 was not ideal. We walked around and bought a souvenir.
St. Thomas - purchased an excursion through Godfrey Tours. I tried to give Godfrey a suggestion to give better directions as to where to find him - strangely he started arguing with me about it. Simply put: when you get off the ship, ask someone to direct you to the “pre-arranged tour” meeting area. 3rd party tours, not booked through your cruise line. That said, the tour was great! Very informative (did every hurricane hit St. Thomas?!?), and we loved our time at Megan’s Beach.
Tortola - did nothing here except look at the shops within the cruise port. We did note how clean this port area was compared to St. Thomas. Will do something more elaborate here next time.
Great Stirrup Cay - we made it! Tendering was possible this time. First time in three tries for my daughter; second time in four tries for my wife and I. Beautiful place, but NCL really has to build a pier here to ensure making this port of call.
Shout out to a few crew members (we filled out our Vacation Hero cards but forgot to drop them off):
- Henry - waiter in the Manhattan Room; friendly and quick service
- John Milligan - pianist in the Observation Lounge who invited members of the Choir of Man and Kinky Boots to sing as he accompanied.
I want to quickly address some of the major criticisms of Encore by other reviewers.
** Not enough space for sunning around the pool. I can see this being an issue, but we are not pool people or sun-worshippers so it didn’t bother us at all. We could always find a lounge chair in a shady part of the pool deck near the Kids Aqua Park. If this is a major priority for you, consider a different ship or purchase the Vibe Club.
** NCL “nickel and dimes” you. Yes. And thanks for doing so. By not including all the extras in the initial fare, passengers can pick and choose what they want to experience rather than pay up front for all of it. It keeps the price down, lets me pay for the activities I want to do, and minimizes long line-ups.
We absolutely loved this cruise. A wonderful mix of active and relaxing vacation. Encore has a few kinks (no pun intended) but is a spectacular ship. We would love to sail on her again. NCL in general meets our family’s desires - great food, lots to do (or not to do), top rate kids programming and amenities, affordable. It’s remains our cruise line of choice.
Thank you NCL for a great week - especially given what was going on in the world at the time!
We were placed in an accessible room (not requested nor required but happily accepted). It was at least 1.5 x bigger than a typical interior cabin and we appreciated the extra space.
2-hours packed with historical info about the islands, stop for a Banana Daquiri and 2-hour more at Megan’s Beach. Worthwhile!View All 115 City Tour Reviews
Happy to actually get there this time. Great day at the beach!