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Norwegian Encore Cruise Review
4.5 / 5.0
Cruise Critic Editor Rating
190 Reviews

BirdTravels on the Inaugural Voyage of the Encore to the Eastern Caribbean

Norwegian Encore Cruise Review by BirdTravels

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Trip Details
  • Sail Date: Nov 2019
  • Destination: the Eastern Caribbean
  • Cabin Type: Spa Mini-Suite with Balcony

BACKGROUND INFORMATION

This was the inaugural voyage of the new Norwegian Encore to the Eastern Caribbean. With a guest capacity of 3,998, nearly 1100 feet long, 160 feet wide and weighing in at nearly 170,000 GT, the Encore is NCL’s newest ship at sea and the last of the Breakaway-Plus class ships.

The Encore was delivered to NCL on October 30, 2019 and christened by Grammy Award-winning godmother Kelly Clarkson bringing the best of luck to the ship and all of us who sail on her. After several press/media and travel agent preview cruises, and a transatlantic repositioning, this was the Encore’s inaugural voyage after being christened.

ITINERARY

Sun - Miami, Florida depart 4:00 pm

Mon - At Sea

Tue - San Juan, Puerto Rico 5:30 pm - 11:59 pm

Wed - St. Thomas, US Virgin Islands 8:00 am - 6:00 pm

Thu - Tortola, British Virgin Islands 8:00 am - 5:00 pm

Fri - At Sea

Sat - At Sea

Sun Miami, Florida arrive 7:00 am

HOTEL INFORMATION

The Gabriel Miami. We flew to Miami on the day before the cruise and Ubered to our hotel. The Gabriel Miami is a new Hilton Curio Collection property. This hotel is across the street from the Science Museum and Ferre Park. Ferre Park is at the head of the turning basin for PortMaiami. It was a great location and we walked through Ferre park to watch the ships in port (including the beautiful Encore) on our arrival day on Saturday and on Sunday morning before heading off to our cruise.

The Gabriel was a disappointment and somewhere we would not recommend or stay at again. The hotel boasts “bay view” rooms which we thought would be great watching the ships. For the most part, you could get small glimpses of water through the buildings and trees, but not what anyone would consider a bay view. The floors in our “upgraded” room had a rubber mat floor surface (not carpet or wood or tile) which felt sticky in spots and slippery in others… all of which making it feel dirty. The balcony doors did not close, lock, and seal, allowing the noise from Biscayne Blvd into the room (lots of road noise and sirens all night long).

EMBARKATION

Check-in and embarkation were a little chaotic. This was the first full voyage of the Encore out of Miami (after doing a few small media and VIP short cruises for the christening). The new NCL terminal was suppose to be ready for our voyage, but it was still many months away from being complete. So we boarded out of the “temporary” Terminal B and C. Our boarding passes were printed with the wrong terminal number, so we ended up walking back and forth between terminal entrances.

Once inside the terminal check-in was quick and easy and we proceeded up to the waiting area. At the top of the escalators, one of the shore staff insisted that the Platinum waiting area was full and that we would have to take a [high] boarding group card and board by number. We declined and proceeded to the Platinum waiting area. It was pretty full and was dwarfed by the for-fee Priority waiting area (which was unused for the most part).

For those interested, there were vending machines with chips and candies, and a vending machine with drinks (Coke, Diet Coke, Coke Zero, Fuze Ice Tea, Sprite, Fanta Orange, Fanta Grape, and Dasani water).

There was a mass of Vibe runners pushing and shoving at the boarding entrance and the shore staff had poor control over the crowd. When they called Platinum boarding, there was more pushing and shoving as we moved past the Vibe runners to board the ship.

Pro Tip: Our normal routine is to go directly to show reservations and book our comedy shows, Prohibition show, Canvas-by-U painting, and escape rooms at The Social. As soon as we finished our entertainment reservations, we proceeded across the hall to the Teppanyaki restaurant fix our dining reservations around the entertainment we just booked. Everything sells out quickly, so the priority upon boarding is to get entertainment and dining sorted out.

STATEROOM

Category: M9 (Spa Minisuite)

Stateroom: 15782

The room was a standard Breakaway-class minisuite. NCL has done a wonderful job with contemporary room decor with earth tones. They have appointed the bed with throw pillows and a fabric runner (gone are the days of the tacky plastic mat). The bed is set as a queen, but it can be divided into two twin beds.

Each bed has a separately controlled lamp and separate reading light. The lamp has a USB port for charging or a small bedside fan (although from a cybersecurity perspective, you should avoid using USB charging ports). None of NCL’s reading lights on any ship are exceptionally useful. The old lights on flexible arms never would stay in a position you needed. The reading lights on the Encore are fixed to the bedside lamp and are hard to aim to your reading material. Each bed also as a tiny nightstand to stick a clock, CPAP, or just a bottle of water.

The room has a sofa which can be set up as a third bed.

Across the bed, there is a flat screen TV and desk area. The desk has a large mirror and doubles as a vanity with a stool. The desk has the telephone and a single-serve coffee maker which the room steward keeps well stocked. NCL has done away with ice buckets. On the desk and in the mini-bar under the desk, there is bottled water, liquor, and soft drinks for sale. The desk also has the only outlets in the room. There are three U.S. outlets and one European outlet.

Pro Tip: There are no outlets near the bed. If you have a CPAP, you will need to bring extension cord to bring power to the bedside. We always carry a light weight 12’ and 6’ extension cord for our CPAP. The outlets are controlled by the master power switch which uses your room key (or old hotel key) to activate. Also, room stewards have been instructed to unplug anything left in the outlets to minimize the potential of fire.

The bathroom is spacious with a double sink a beautiful glass tiled backsplash. There is ample room around the toilet (a lot less claustrophobic than a balcony). The room has a large shower with six jets. The bathroom has a liquid soap dispenser at the sink, and a shampoo/conditioner (combination) and body wash dispenser in the shower. The Spa rooms are suppose to have the Bvlgari amenities (ours did not, but some showed up after we asked).

Like all NCL Breakaway-class standard balconies and mini-suites, there is a lack of storage space. There are a few shelves in the closet and hanging space. The desktop and rail quickly becomes overflow storage space.

The balcony was spacious (for NCL Breakaway-class ships) with two chairs and a tiny table for drinks.

We like the room. It was close to the aft stairwell going up to the Spa. And being on Deck 15, it was a short walk to the observation lounge for morning coffee and afternoon snacks to bring back to the room and drink on our balcony.

DINING

ONDA: Great new restaurant with a lovely menu. More upscale than La Cucina (which it replaced) or maybe it was because of the upscaled price. Appetizers: Braised Octopus and Beef Short Ribs were great. Entrée: The Veal Chop was to die for, the Branzino was not impressive. Dessert: Chocolate Cake and Pana Cotta – both were good, neither outstanding.

OCEAN BLUE: A solid seafood restaurant still looking for an identity. When it first opened on the Breakaway, the restaurant and menu were designed by Iron Chef and Food Network celebrity chef Geoffrey Zakarian. Since then, NCL has made wholesale changes to the menu several times (the worst being with the launch of the Bliss). The Joy and Encore are back to a more traditional seafood menu. We had dined on the Joy and had the surf and turf included with the specialty dining plan. Across the fleet, the surcharges for lobster and shrimp have crept back in which was a turn off. This is still one of the two “fine dining” restaurants on the ship.

LOS LOBOS: One of our favorite restaurants on any ship. It replaces Moderno on the Encore giving it a prime location on the Waterfront for inside or al fresco dining. The freshly made Guacamole made tableside is a must. And Carne Asada with elotes is our go to dishes.

CAGNEY’S STEAK HOUSE: It is the most popular restaurant on the ship and sells out first. For us, Cagney’s continues to disappoint with substandard food and service. It use to be a favorite of ours, but it has really gone downhill. Cagney’s has also undergone several menu changes recently, all for the worse. The Ahi Tuna Tartare was good. The Ribeye was bad. The Filet was good, but the tiny piece of meat presented on the huge plate just makes it look bad.

LE BISTRO: Le Bistro is the second “fine dining” restaurant on the ship. The Bistro is no longer in the smoke filled atrium like on earlier ships and has moved to the upper decks (similar to the Bliss and Joy). The Bistro has also revamped it menu and our favorite Rack of Lamb is back after going on holiday for several years. Always good food.

TEPPANYAKI: Always a great show and always good food (and a lot of it). We usually special order scallops and filet (why eat shrimp when you can get scallops). Teppanyaki is a must do for us!

Q: BBQ at sea. You’re not going to get a wood burning smoker on a ship, so the food is no where as good as at home. There is live music at night, and the restaurant switches over to a music bar at night. We have given the Q a couple of chances, but it is not one of our recommended restaurants.

AMERICAN DINER: While a lot of people stick their nose up at the Diner, we really enjoyed it. The lobster roll appetizers were great along with the shitake mushroom flatbread. We also had the mozzarella sticks and nachos (which were great compared to The Local). We tried the “famous” milk shakes but were unimpressed. Entrees of seafood basket and skirt steak were o.k.

FOOD REPUBLIC: We ate lunch at FR twice using one SDP per meal (4 dishes). FR is always a fun place to eat and experiment with foods. Most are great. A few things fall into the “interesting” category of “it was o.k. to try once,,, but not again”. Favorite dishes: Lamb Kabi, miso cod, and tuna stack.

STARBUCKS: Pretty much like any other Starbucks on land. Usually a short line to get your favorite caffeinated drink.

COCOS: If you want that fantasy ice cream sundae, go to Cocos.

ACTIVITIES

GO KARTS: Do you feel the need for speed? The biggest and fastest tack in the NCL fleet. If you feel the need for speed, go for a drive. The times sell out very quickly on embarkation day, so sign up quickly.

GALAXY PAVILION: Packed with virtual reality games, a fun way to peek into the world of VR.

THERMAL SUITE: We never sail without a thermal suite pass. Steam room, wet and dry saunas, salt bath, snow room, and a huge hydrotherapy pool of hot, bubbling water.

CANVAS BY U: We always channel our inner artist and take a painting class or two or three on every cruise. No experience required. You are guided step-by-step to create a masterpiece that can be sold in the art auction.

PULSE GYM: Staying fit at sea? The Encore had a great gym.

MADARA SPA: Or paper yourself with a massage at the spa.

CHILDREN'S CLUBS: You need to register your kids for the Splash Academy or Teen Entourage as soon as you embark. And make sure that the kids go on the first night when the kids make friends for rest of the cruise.

LASER TAG: Want to take out some aggression. A session of Laser Tag is what you need.

SERVICE

Service on the ship was great. The crew did an excellent job on their first full cruise which was booked to capacity. We cruise RCCL and NCL several times a year each. And it is amazing how different the crew interaction with passengers are. With NCL, every crew member smiles and greets you (even when you are down in the crew areas and they are off to do their laundry). RCCL, the crew is very cold,,, almost unpleasant.

Bar Service: With most of the adult passengers having the beverage package, they could certainly use a few more bartenders and a lot more wait staff. For us, if there is a line at a bar, there is another bar within 2 minutes walk without a line.

Restaurant Service: Le Bistro and Ocean Blue has the best service. Other restaurants are o.k. but not great. We had poor service (once again) from Cagney’s

ENTERTAINMENT

CHOIR OF MAN: Don’t miss Choir of Man. Even if you have seen it on other ships like the Escape, this is an all new production using a two-story set with a live band. And don’t forget to show up early and have a pint of beer with the cast members on stage.

KINKY BOOTS: The Broadway show was fun but not memorable. It was worth the price of the ticket.

PROHIBITION THE MUSICAL: Oh No! All beverage packages have been cancelled and revoked. All bars have been shuttered. And all alcohol is being disposed of overboard. Prohibition has been declared. But, there is an underground club called The Social where you can get bootleg drinks. A fun show with more than you can drink.

PORT & SHORE EXCURSIONS

SAN JUAN: Cuisine Tasting & Historic Walk. The ship arrives in San Juan in the late afternoon. This was a great city walk (although most of it was in the dark). It was 83 degrees and 81% humidity, so not having the sun beating down on you was fine. The walk includes a make-your-own mojito and mofongo dinner.

TORTOLA: Norman Island Snorkel. We like to snorkel as much as we can. This was a trip out to dive into the small caves around Norman Island. The water was crystal clear with lots of tropical fish and jelly fish. The caves were interesting. One of the better snorkel trips we have been on!

ST THOMAS: Saphire Beach Transfer. We spent a lovely day at the beach snorkeling. Fun. Relaxing.

DISEMBARKATION

Disembarkation was a breeze. One hour from stateroom to gate at MIA.

7:15 Self walk-off started

8:10 We left our stateroom

9:30 We were on the curb

8:35-8:49 Uber 8:35-8:49 to MIA

9:10 Checked our bags at the counter and at the gate (using priority check-in and pre-check).

Note: there is no Uber zone at the port and the terminal is very chaotic with police moving cars before you have time to get to them. We would strongly recommend NOT using Uber and just taking a flat rate taxi to the airport.

SUMMARY

This was a great Inaugural voyage of the brand new Norwegian Encore to the Eastern Caribbean. We traveled 2072 miles round trip from Miami to San Juan, St Thomas, and Tortola. It’s been a blast and we hope others will enjoy this magnificent ship!


BirdTravels's Full Rating Summary
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Onboard Experience
Enrichment Activities
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Embarkation
Dining
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Cabin Review

Spa Mini-Suite with Balcony
Cabin M9 15782

The room was a standard Breakaway-class minisuite. NCL has done a wonderful job with contemporary room decor with earth tones. They have appointed the bed with throw pillows and a fabric runner (gone are the days of the tacky plastic mat). The bed is set as a queen, but it can be divided into two twin beds.

Each bed has a separately controlled lamp and separate reading light. The lamp has a USB port for charging or a small bedside fan (although from a cybersecurity perspective, you should avoid using USB charging ports). None of NCL’s reading lights on any ship are exceptionally useful. The old lights on flexible arms never would stay in a position you needed. The reading lights on the Encore are fixed to the bedside lamp and are hard to aim to your reading material. Each bed also as a tiny nightstand to stick a clock, CPAP, or just a bottle of water.

The room has a sofa which can be set up as a third bed.

Across the bed, there is a flat screen TV and desk area. The desk has a large mirror and doubles as a vanity with a stool. The desk has the telephone and a single-serve coffee maker which the room steward keeps well stocked. NCL has done away with ice buckets. On the desk and in the mini-bar under the desk, there is bottled water, liquor, and soft drinks for sale. The desk also has the only outlets in the room. There are three U.S. outlets and one European outlet.

Pro Tip: There are no outlets near the bed. If you have a CPAP, you will need to bring extension cord to bring power to the bedside. We always carry a light weight 12’ and 6’ extension cord for our CPAP. The outlets are controlled by the master power switch which uses your room key (or old hotel key) to activate. Also, room stewards have been instructed to unplug anything left in the outlets to minimize the potential of fire.

The bathroom is spacious with a double sink a beautiful glass tiled backsplash. There is ample room around the toilet (a lot less claustrophobic than a balcony). The room has a large shower with six jets. The bathroom has a liquid soap dispenser at the sink, and a shampoo/conditioner (combination) and body wash dispenser in the shower. The Spa rooms are suppose to have the Bvlgari amenities (ours did not, but some showed up after we asked).

Like all NCL Breakaway-class standard balconies and mini-suites, there is a lack of storage space. There are a few shelves in the closet and hanging space. The desktop and rail quickly becomes overflow storage space.

The balcony was spacious (for NCL Breakaway-class ships) with two chairs and a tiny table for drinks.

We like the room. It was close to the aft stairwell going up to the Spa. And being on Deck 15, it was a short walk to the observation lounge for morning coffee and afternoon snacks to bring back to the room and drink on our balcony.


Port & Shore Excursion Reviews

Snorkeling

Norman Island Snorkel. We like to snorkel as much as we can. This was a trip out to dive into the small caves around Norman Island. The water was crystal clear with lots of tropical fish and jelly fish. The caves were interesting. One of the better snorkel trips we have been on!

View All 79 Snorkeling Reviews

Sapphire Beach Transfer. We spent a lovely day at the beach snorkeling. Fun. Relaxing.

View All undefined undefined Reviews
Culinary Excursion

Cuisine Tasting & Historic Walk. The ship arrives in San Juan in the late afternoon. This was a great city walk (although most of it was in the dark). It was 83 degrees and 81% humidity, so not having the sun beating down on you was fine. The walk includes a make-your-own mojito and mofongo dinner.

View All 39 Culinary Excursion Reviews

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