Norwegian Encore's main theater is the place to catch two great shows throughout your voyage: the Broadway and West End hit "Kinky Boots," and the boisterous "Choir of Man," which might just be the more popular of the two, despite being the lesser well-known.
For those who don't know, "Kinky Boots" is a redemption story of a young man from a middle class English neighborhood who rescues his family's shoemaking business by creating sensational "kinky" boots (think red leather and 6-inch stilettos) for drag queens. It's all about accepting people for who they are, and you'll leave smiling. The show, which is 30 minutes shorter than the original version, does feel a bit rushed at times, but the performers give their all and the music (by Cyndi Lauper) will get you clapping.
The second show, "Choir of Man," has no narrative but is instead a combination of music, dancing and outstanding singing. Get there early, and you can go on stage and have a pint at the bar, where you'll chat with the performers and other audience members.
The show's premise is simple -- eight or nine guys, all close friends, meet in their local pub for a chat and a sing-song, to swap stories and have a few laughs. A narrator introduces each man, and what they are known for (the good looking one, the sensitive one, the one who always gets into fights), and they sing a tune, which the others join in. It's a joyous, rollicking, good-time-for-all affair, and we guarantee you will be standing and cheering at the end -- and if you wait till the applause dies down, you can get back on stage for another pint.
There's something going all the time on Norwegian Encore, with trivia sessions, Ping-Pong tournaments, group dancing lessons and much more filling up the daily schedule. Much of the action is centered in the atrium, with its large screen and plenty of seats in front of the stage, as well as viewing areas one deck up at The Local.
Most activities are complimentary, although you will pay for bar-based events such as wine or whiskey tastings, or games of chance such as bingo.
One of the most popular attractions on Norwegian Encore is the extra-fee Galaxy Pavilion, a virtual reality arcade, which, at 10,000 square feet, has everything the avid gamer might expect. There's everything from a VR hang-gliding experience (not for the motion sensitive) to a Jurassic Park/World drive-through and a simulated roller coaster ride and a walk-through a VR maze, where you shoot at rabid rabbits or Indian Jones-style villains.
Other options include F1 racing, which you can do with a group, competing against each other or on your own (there's room for a passenger seat ride-along); a soccer game where you try to kick the ball past the goalie; and some cool VR pods where you can play video games like Robo Wars.
While each game costs $8 to play -- the solo F1 race car is $20 a ride -- it might end up being more economical to buy a pass; four-, eight- and 16-game passes are offered, but the line said it is planning to offer hourly and weekly passes, eventually. Prices and details for all passes were still in flux at the time the ship launched.
The space also has two Escape Rooms ($15 per person), which are full of high-tech twists. We don't want to give them all away, but there is a fun virtual-reality segment at the start. The rooms, which are identical, can take up to six people on a team, and sessions last 45 minutes; the levels of difficulty can be set ahead of time, and if you're running behind, hints are offered to help you out.
Hourly passes can be purchased for the Galaxy Pavilion; the cost is $29, which includes all rides except the F1 racing car and escape rooms. A weekly pass is $199.
Other popular daytime activities include the water park, go-kart race track and the laser tag arena.
Norwegian Encore is at its most energetic at night when the bars are hopping with live music and dancing, and the various stage shows are going. In addition to "Kinky Boots" and "Choir of Man" in the main theater, cruisers can take in comedy once or twice per cruise in the Social Comedy & Night Club or attend the extra-fee (and definitely not kid-friendly) "Prohibition: The Musical," also in Social.
One of the most popular venues in the evening is the Cavern Club, particularly on nights the Beatles tribute band performs. Generally, the band offers three shows per sailing, with two performances of each show. Shows are themed around the early, middle and late years of the Beatles, and band members dress appropriately for each era.
Once the shows are over, the nightclub part of Social gets going, with DJ'd music and a "silent disco" at least once per cruise. Live music is everywhere throughout the ship -- for great Latin music and dancing, you'll want to check out Sugarcane Mojito Bar -- and goes late.
And, there's always the casino, with its plethora of slot machines, along with table games including poker, roulette, blackjack and craps. Various tournaments are held throughout the cruise.
Anyone looking for a tipple, quaff or swig will find plenty of spots onboard to imbibe, from the pool deck to Vibe Beach Club to the restaurant-side Mixx Bar and Skyline Casino Bar. But there are far more options, many dedicated to specific drink styles (beer, wine, mojitos, whiskey, etc). What's fantastic about the bars on Norwegian Encore, and its sisters, is that the spaces are generally smallish, generating an intimate atmosphere on such a large ship. We also love that many of the bars have their own specific drink menus, which means you can easily pick a different one to hang out in every night, without your palate getting bored.
Several of the bars also offer outdoor lounge space along The Waterfront on Deck 7, which allows you to sit outside during nice weather.
Social Comedy & Night Club (Deck 6): A multi-use venue, the Social is home to comedy shows, the extra-fee and risque "Prohibition: The Musical" and nightly DJ'd music. It's a large space, with two smaller rooms off to the side.
District Brew House (Deck 7): A beer-lover's delight, the District offers 50 different bottled and 22 draft beers. It's got a dark, woody feel but also has a wall of windows that let in plenty of light. There's comfy couch seating, tall wooden community-style tables (used for tastings from time to time) and seating at the bar. The District can be quiet during the day, but the pace picks up at night when a piano player tickles the ivory, sings crowd-favorite songs and keeps the audience amused. Don't forget to duck into the photo booth in the back (for an extra fee, of course) and then stick the printout of you mugging for the camera on the photo board.
The Local (Deck 7): Norwegian's signature pub along The Atrium, (it's called O'Sheehan's on most other ships), The Local is the place to watch sports and grab traditional pub grub, free of charge. It's pretty crowded throughout the day, particularly on weekends during any major sports season.
The Cellars (Deck 8): There's no better place onboard Norwegian Encore for oenophiles than The Cellars, a Michael Mondavi Family Wine Bar. With hundreds of vintages including a selection of sparkling, kosher, no-sulfur-added, vegan and biodynamic wines, most cruisers would be hard-pressed not to find something they like. Don't know what you like? Ask one of the three certified sommeliers for a recommendation or check out the venue's classes ($22 plus 20-percent gratuity per person, per class): wine and cheese pairing, black glass blind tasting, Old World vs. New World, and wine and chocolate pairings. There's even a class on Riedel glassware. Located just in front of Onda by Scarpetta, it's a perfect spot for a pre-dinner drink.
Maltings Whiskey Bar (Deck 8): Diagonally opposite The Cellars and right beside the Cavern Club, Maltings is another cozy "corridor" bar where you can sit inside the space but still watch all the people walking by. It's a popular spot and always seems to be full, with a long sit-up bar and various comfy sofas. As the name suggests, this bar specializes in whiskies, including scotches, single malts and bourbons, cocktails and whiskey flights starting at $19.95. There are some delicious creative cocktails, too. As with all the venues on this deck, it has direct access to The Waterfront, and there is a small bar outside. You can also smoke a cigar (not cigarettes), in a small, sealed adjacent Humidor Cigar Lounge.
Sugarcane Mojito Bar (Deck 8): This is a hopping spot with a small dance floor and a live band at night, a long bar, and access to The Waterfront with an outside bar. It's Latin-themed, with the emphasis on a variety of mojito cocktails (can't choose? try a mojito flight -- six for $19.95); and various other Latin-inspired drinks. We loved the spicy jalapeno cucumber mojito, as well as the dangerous wiki rum punch.
The Cavern Club (Deck 8): This replica of a Liverpool club from the 1960s is the site for the ship's Beatles tribute band, which plays two shows most nights. The shows usually have a theme -- early or late Beatles -- and the band members dress appropriately. This space can get packed, so if you want to catch this show, come early.
The A-List Bar (Deck 8): This is a favorite for a lot of passengers, not because of its atmosphere -- it's a square bar squished between Cagney's and Los Lobos -- but because it's the best spot onboard for a variety of gin and tonics. Named after former Norwegian Cruise Line president Andy Stuart (and his wife, daughter and son, all who have names starting with A), the menu even includes a G&T named in honor of Stuart's favorite soccer team, Arsenal.
The Observation Lounge (Deck 15): One of the highlights of the Breakaway Plus class of ship, The Observation Lounge is a gorgeous, sprawling 20,000-square-foot lounge dedicated solely to relaxing, reading and quiet sightseeing in the day; there is a piano and light music plays at night. Two-story windows provide excellent views, and the loungers are so comfy, you'll want to stay there all day (unfortunately some people do, which can make it hard to claim a spot). Smaller seating areas around the sides have snack bars for light breakfast, lunch and snacks. There's also a lovely bar. Don't miss spending some time here.
The Haven Lounge (Deck 17): The Have Lounge is a comfortable, country-club style bar and lounge open only to suite passengers staying in The Haven or select Haven-designated suites around the ship. What makes this venue different from other bars onboard is its Bespoke Cocktail Experience. Developed in collaboration with bar chef Kathy Casey of Liquid Kitchen, the menu starts with a compass of taste. Working personally with the bartender in the Lounge, cruisers place themselves on the compass, then answer specific questions about their likes and dislikes and their mood. The bartender then prepares a cocktail created specifically for that person. The best part is it's included for suite guests, because it's covered by the Premier Beverage Package, which they receive as part of The Haven fare.
Norwegian Encore has two pools and a kids' splash park on its Deck 16 lido area. The adult pool is closer to the Surf Bar and also has a great view of a big screen that broadcasts music, concerts and movies. The second pool is shallower and is right next to the Aqua Park. There's also a bar here for parents to hang out, while keeping an eye on their kids in the Aqua Park.
Four hot tubs on Deck 17 are cantilevered over the edge of the ship.
The complimentary Aqua Park has a variety of elements for kids, including a fun dunk bucket. Kids have to be potty-trained to use the pool or water park.
The Haven has its own indoor pool and hot tub with a retractable roof, dedicated for suite passengers. The pool is shallow, with loungers placed in the water. While the atmosphere of The Haven is generally serene, it's not a kid-free zone, so you might find children, depending on the sailing. The Haven's dedicated sun deck, on Deck 19, has two outdoor hot tubs.
Within the confines of the for-fee sun deck area Vibe Beach Club, you'll find two hot tubs, but no pool.
The wet fun continues on Deck 17, where you can access Norwegian Encore's two waterslides, Ocean Loops and the Aqua Racer.
The Ocean Loops is a freefall waterslide with two loops that are see-through in sections and extend over the side of the ship (in case you weren't scared enough). You need to prep to go on this one -- all jewelry must be removed and you need to wear swimsuits that won't cause drag on the slide (so no swim skirts or shirts or even fabricky tankinis).
If your attire isn't spot on or if you move around too much, you will not have the momentum to crest the top of the second loop and will get stuck at the bottom of the loop. This is a surprisingly common occurrence, and there's a crew member stationed to rescue trapped sliders who sees plenty of activity. (On the plus side, he gets you out rather quickly.)
Riders must be taller than 48 inches and weigh between 120 and 300 pounds (i.e., this one's not for young kids).
To ride the much tamer but still fun Aqua Racer, you get in an inner tube -- either one or two people -- and ride down the slide, where special lighting changes colors and patterns. You must be at least 40 inches tall to ride, with a maximum weight (for one person alone or two people together) of 300 pounds.
Don't want to get wet? No worries. The back of Deck 17 has you covered with two for-fee attractions -- the go-kart speedway and laser tag.
The go-kart speedway on Norwegian Encore isn't new to the line -- the speedy electric cars debuted on Norwegian Joy and were enhanced on Norwegian Bliss. But the racetrack has been lengthened and widened on Encore, with room for passing, and extends over the deck in some areas. Also new to the speedway -- laser guns for viewers, who can "shoot" drivers to give them bursts of more speed.
Speed is relative here -- you can't go faster than 30 mph. You're also not supposed to treat the speedway as bumper cars; if you drive too aggressively or stop to take selfies, you'll be thrown out. There's a weight limit of 265 pounds and riders must be at least 55 inches tall to have their own car; smaller kids can ride in a two-seater with a parent during limited hours, as long as a helmet can safely fit. Children who meet driving requirements but are under 18 cannot share a double go-kart with another minor, only an adult. Also, some might find the helmets and the balaclavas you need to wear under them somewhat claustrophobic.
The ride costs $15 for a 6 minutes. Reservations are recommended.
Norwegian Encore's open-air laser tag course is Atlantis-themed and has impressive features for hiding, including a gigantic serpent. A maximum of 20 people can play at a time in two teams of 10; kids can play as long as they can hold and operate the laser guns. The system does not require wearing bulky chest pieces; targets are on the guns and the shoulder strap.
Recharge stations allow players to arm up quickly after "getting killed" so play is fairly continuous. The arena contains virtual reality elements; if you shoot at some of the pictures around the periphery of the course, you can see creatures jump out of them in your gun's viewfinder. Check video screens to see which team is winning and your personal score.
Because the guns use an attached cellphone-like device as a viewfinder, we found that it was difficult to play in bright sunlight because you couldn't see the laser beams very well. Course attendants concurred that playing after dark is much better. (There's also funky arena lighting if you play after dark.)
Prices are $10 per person, per game, and reservations are recommended. Set-up plus game play takes about 30 minutes.
The largest sun deck real estate on Norwegian Encore is dedicated to the Vibe Beach Club, which comes to Encore with much more space and real estate than you find on its sister ships. The for-fee sun deck area now has room for 300, seated in a variety of cushy deck loungers. The adults-only (18 and over) space has two hot tubs, as well as its own bar and waiters who hand out chilled towels and fruit skewers; on a sunny day, there's no reason to leave.
Best of all for Vibe aficionados -- you'll be able to book a Vibe pass (length of the cruise only) online before you go, as opposed to racing to guest services in hopes of getting a slot. Passes for Vibe cost between $99 per person for one day to $259 per person for a 12-plus day pass. A one-week pass costs $209 per person.
Vibe also features cabanas for rent. Cabana pricing, which also includes Vibe access for two people, ranges from $278 a day (port day) or $308 a day (sea day) to $768 for 12-plus days. A one-week rental costs $648.
The Haven has its own sun deck for suite passengers, which takes over the front of the ship on Deck 17.
Outside of Vibe and the somewhat crowded pool deck (Deck 16) there's not a whole lot of sunning space on Norwegian Encore. We predict space will be at a premium on warm-weather cruises, arrive early to the pool for prime sun deck seating.
The Deck 6 atrium with its two-deck-high video screen is home to guest services, shore excursion booking, future cruise sales and an internet cafe with IT support for all your Wi-Fi issues.
Norwegian has three internet packages. The Unlimited Social Media Wi-Fi package is $14.99 per device, per day, and gives access only to major social media and chat sites. The Unlimited Wi-Fi package is $29.99 per device, per day, and allows for email, social media, web surfing and app usage. The Unlimited Premium Wi-Fi package is $34.99 per device, per day, and adds streaming services. Wi-Fi packages are slightly discounted if purchased online prior to sailing.
Also on this deck is the photo studio and art gallery, and, tucked away down a small corridor off the atrium, the library and a card room.
Most of Norwegian Encore's shops can be found on Deck 8, midship. Tradewinds Tax and Duty Free shops include Norwegian logo items, duty-free liquor, high-end jewelry and watches, designer purses, cosmetics and perfume. A special Bvlgari store sells jewelry, watches and purses by that label.
Also here is the photo gallery where you can buy not only photos but camera equipment, lanyards and items for displaying photos.
A box office on Deck 7 forward by the Encore Theater is the place to sign up for shows (like "Kinky Boots") and make reservations for laser tag and go-karts.
A medical center can be found on Deck 13 by the elevators, and there are two meeting rooms on Deck 6. The ship does not have self-service laundry, but you can pay to have items laundered or pressed.
The Mandara Spa on Deck 16 offers a wide variety of spa treatments and salon services (for women and men), along with a relaxing thermal suite.
The large thermal suite has heated ceramic loungers, a thalassotherapy pool, a snow room and salt room, and several saunas and steam rooms. It's a true getaway, but you'll pay for the privilege and only those who purchase a day or weekly pass can enter -- you don't receive entry for booking a spa treatment.
Treatment prices in the spa are about what you'd pay in a high-end spa in New York City (read, expensive) and incur automatic 20-percent gratuities that you can't change. You'll find a slew of massage and facial options, plus there are medi-spa treatments like Botox, teeth whitening and ionithermie, even acupuncture. Prime spots fill up quickly so it's best to book what you want, for when you want it, on the first or second day of the cruise. Keep an eye out for port day pricing, which is slightly lower than on sea days, or buy three "signature" treatments, and get 10, 20 and 30 percent off.
The space, which smells florally divine from the moment you walk in, also has a relaxation room, but during our time onboard we were forced to sit in the lobby to wait for our massage therapist instead. While that didn't take away from the great Thai poultice massage we received (you get to keep the poultices), it was rather awkward for people who came in their robes.
Located across the hallway from the spa on Deck 16 is the fitness center, where cruisers will find an array of equipment, along with a dedicated spin/power rowing room and a separate TRX room with TRX, free weights, conditioning ropes and more.
Use of the fitness center is free, but most classes (spin, Pilates, TRX, etc.) cost extra. There's a cool screen when you enter that tells you when the classes are and how full each is.
There's also an outdoor jogging track on Deck 17. Keep in mind, part of the track runs through a small piece of American Diner and is near the waterslides so it can get quite congested; non-runners have priority in these areas.
Although Norwegian Cruise Line markets itself as a family-friendly line with a robust kids' program, Encore is suited better to teens than young children. On this ship (as with Norwegian Bliss), Norwegian moved its kids club, Splash Academy, into a windowless space in the bowels of the ship (Deck 5, below the Atrium), squashed a small splash area onto the main pool deck and highlighted edgy entertainment, a vast casino, upscale restaurants and top-deck attractions with height and weight minimums.
Still, the line does draw lots of families, with as many as 1,500 children under 18 on the ship during the holidays. Youth staff assured us that while the main Splash Academy has a total capacity of 110 (a number that includes staff), they rarely have to turn kids away due to lack of space. That said, nearly all programming is conducted in the facility, where there is no natural light.
The ship's main arcade (there are a few extra games in the Local Bar and Grill on Deck 7) is also on Deck 5 by the kids clubs. It has all the latest video games (complete with Halo, Skee-Ball and one where you drive a large Jeep) and those dastardly claw games (where most try but fail to grab toys), and is a place where kids and teens can quickly spend much of their parent's money.
Splash Academy is divided into three age groups, all in separate rooms with age-appropriate activities and games. The large, multi-purpose space has partitions that can be opened or closed to divide the space as needed, with cupboards full of games and art supplies, beanbag chairs and toys, and plenty of flat-screen TVs for video game play or movie watching.
Activities are a mix of free play when kids can choose their own activities (like video games and movie watching) and programmed group events, so no one can zone out in front of a TV all day.
Turtles (3 to 5 year olds) might do mini-Olympics, a pajama party or carnival games. Seals (6 to 9 year olds) and Dolphins (10 to 12 year olds) have Survivor night, relay races and ball games and a superhero activity.
The kids' club is open all day until 10:30 p.m. every day for free; it closes for lunch and dinner on sea days, but is open all day on port days and staff will take kids to meals. There is no in-cabin babysitting, but the Late Night Fun Zone is offered every night from 10:30 p.m. to 1:30 a.m. for a fee of $6 for the first child and $4 for the second, both fees per hour.
Norwegian Encore also has one of the largest Guppies playrooms in the fleet, where parents can stay and play with their tiny ones (6 months to 3 years) for up to two hours a day in a play area full of soft seating and baby and toddler toys. The room is staffed with trained early years' specialists who will organize fun age-appropriate activities. Kids in this age bracket are not allowed to stay without their parents or guardians.
New on Encore is the River Rose Reading Room, a library of picture books contained within the Guppies play space. It's named for the daughter of ship godmother Kelly Clarkson, who is a strong promoter of reading with children and who wrote a few kids' books herself. The entire Guppies area is decorated with artwork from Clarkson's books.
Teens (13 to 17) get their own hip hangout on Deck 5, the Entourage Teen Club. It's decked out like a nightclub with a London Underground theme, complete with plush chairs, a dance floor, numerous pieces of gaming equipment and plasma TV screens. It's very much a come-and-go-as-you-please set up (with no parents allowed), but counselors do put on activities for those who wish to participate, which might include trivia, dance parties, game challenges, movies and video game competitions. It's just down the hall from Splash Academy.
Outside Entourage, teens will love the ship's waterslides, laser tag, go-karts, theater shows, 24/7 burgers and nachos at The Local and video game arcade.