• TRAVEL NOTICE: Learn more about COVID-19
  • Write a Review
  • Boards
  • Log In
  • Find a Cruise
  • Deals
  • Excursions
  • More
You may also like
Dismiss
Which Cruise Lines Have Restarted Cruising?
Which Cruise Lines Have Restarted Cruising?
Just Back from an Alaskan Cruise Aboard Norwegian Encore: Hits and Misses
Sailaway from Ward Cove, Ketchikan, aboard Norwegian Encore (Photo: Aaron Saunders)

Just Back from an Alaskan Cruise Aboard Norwegian Encore: Hits and Misses

Just Back from an Alaskan Cruise Aboard Norwegian Encore: Hits and Misses
Sailaway from Ward Cove, Ketchikan, aboard Norwegian Encore (Photo: Aaron Saunders)

August 16, 2021

Aaron Saunders
News and Features Editor
  • Facebook
  • Pinterest
  • Twitter

(8:45 a.m. EDT) -- Norwegian Cruise Line's Norwegian Encore arrived back alongside Seattle's Pier 66 cruise terminal after successfully completing its first revenue voyage -- and Norwegian's first U.S.-based sailing -- in 17 months on Saturday.

Norwegian was the last of the big-ship cruise lines to restart service on the West Coast, becasue it is doing so with some of the most stringent health protocols afloat, including mandatory vaccination against COVID-19 for all onboard, mandatory pierside antigen testing, and new facial recognition software that allows for touchless embarkation, disembarkation, and customs procedures.

Norwegian Cruise Line sailed back into Icy Strait Point, Juneau and Ketchikan with new port facilities at Ward Cove, upgraded menus, a roster of new shore excursions, and a great ship that is surprisingly well-suited to Alaska's changeable weather patterns.

Hits

Icy Strait Point, Alaska. (Photo: Aaron Saunders)

One Hundred Percent Vaccination and Testing

The hands-down winner of our sailing to Alaska was Norwegian Cruise Line's one hundred percent vaccination and pierside antigen testing requirements. Every single passenger, without exception, had to be fully immunized against COVID-19, and undergo pierside antigen testing before being allowed to embark Norwegian Encore.

Featured Videos

Icy Strait Point's New Transporter Gondola (POV Video, 2021)

Icy Strait Point's New Transporter Gondola (POV Video, 2021)

NCL's Restart: What It's Like On The First Norwegian Cruise Ship Back in 16 Months

NCL's Restart: What It's Like On The First Norwegian Cruise Ship Back in 16 Months

Here's What It's Like Onboard the First Large Cruise Ship to Alaska in 21 Months

Here's What It's Like Onboard the First Large Cruise Ship to Alaska in 21 Months

Alaska 2021: Inside Passage Businesses Talk About A Devastating Season Without Cruise Tourists

Alaska 2021: Inside Passage Businesses Talk About A Devastating Season Without Cruise Tourists

LIVE Interview with Frank Del Rio, NCLH President and CEO, About Company's "Safe to Sail" Campaign

LIVE Interview with Frank Del Rio, NCLH President and CEO, About Company's "Safe to Sail" Campaign

Silver Cove At Norwegian Cruise Line's Great Stirrup Cay

Silver Cove At Norwegian Cruise Line's Great Stirrup Cay

Norwegian Encore - Hull Art Reveal - Artist Eduardo Arranz Bravo

Norwegian Encore - Hull Art Reveal - Artist Eduardo Arranz Bravo

Norwegian Bliss Virtual Tour - Why You Should Be Excited About Norwegian's Newest Ship

Norwegian Bliss Virtual Tour - Why You Should Be Excited About Norwegian's Newest Ship

Norwegian Breakaway Photo Tour

Norwegian Breakaway Photo Tour

The Waterfront On Norwegian Cruise Line - Video

The Waterfront On Norwegian Cruise Line - Video

Norwegian Getaway Photo Tour

Norwegian Getaway Photo Tour

Inside Look: The Haven On Norwegian Cruise Line

Inside Look: The Haven On Norwegian Cruise Line

Norwegian Escape's Ropes Course - Are You Brave Enough?

Norwegian Escape's Ropes Course - Are You Brave Enough?

Inside Look at Norwegian Sky In Cuba

Inside Look at Norwegian Sky In Cuba

Norwegian Escape Attractions - 7 Free Things You Have To Try - Video Tour

Norwegian Escape Attractions - 7 Free Things You Have To Try - Video Tour

4 Exclusive Spots On Norwegian Escape - Video Tour

4 Exclusive Spots On Norwegian Escape - Video Tour

Norwegian Escape Photo Tour

Norwegian Escape Photo Tour

Norwegian Breakaway Video Tour (2013)

Norwegian Breakaway Video Tour (2013)

Because of that, the ship formed a bubble of just over 2,000 fully immunized cruisers, all of whom could walk around maskless. But it's more than just masks: dancing, production shows and live music were all back.

While masks were still required on land in Alaska in many situations, including when indoors and on motorcoach tours, locals we spoke with were keen on Norwegian's fully vaccinated policies and the extra protections it brought them.

Referring to other cruise lines allowing up to five percent of passengers to be unvaccinated in accordance with U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines, Norwegian Cruise Line president and CEO Harry Sommer said during a press conference onboard Norwegian Encore: "On a ship this size, five percent represents 200 passengers and 100 crew. So that means on a ship this size, you can have under the CDC guidance 300 unvaccinated people. I don't want to be in a situation -- I won't be in a situation -- where as a company we have the potential to expose 300 people to COVID."

And if you're an international passengers -- as I am, being Canadian -- Norwegian covers the cost of onboard antigen or PCR testing for those who need it prior to disembarking and returning to their home countries.

After being in such a protective bubble for seven days, being thrust out into the real world -- where the Delta variant has a growing hold -- was striking. Our mid-morning arrival at Sea-Tac Airport was shocking for its gate-to-gate crowds, its lack of distancing, and its complete lack of vaccination mandates or testing for most air travellers.

The Food

Culinary offerings aboard Norwegian Encore were superb. (Photo: Aaron Saunders)

Sommer told assembled media at several press events that they had used the downtime during the pandemic to upgrade the line's food and beverage offerings. He wasn't kidding.

Food -- historically a bit of a shaky point in Norwegian Cruise Line's history -- was absolutely delicious aboard Norwegian Encore. And while that might be expected in the line's classy Le Bistro French restaurant or in the delectable Onda by Scarpetta, that high quality extended to the ship's complimentary dining venues as well. We had one of the best bowls of Italian Wedding Soup we've ever tasted in the intimate dining venue Savor on Deck 6, while the casual fare (and the small personal carafes of coffee) in The Local on Deck 7 was consistently good.

Other surprise winners: the American Diner up on Deck 17 aft that served up reasonably priced classic American fare (including some delicious fried chicken), and Q Texas Smokehouse, a Western-inspired celebration of delectable meats tucked away on Deck 6 forward.

We recommend indulging in at least one of the line's extra-charge specialty restaurants like Le Bistro, Los Lobos and Ocean Blue. Plus, Norwegian offers dining packages that make these eateries more inclusive by charging upfront for them.

Lounges and Activities

The Mix, one of several uniquely-themed bars aboard Norwegian Encore. (Photo: Aaron Saunders)

I'll admit it: I thought Norwegian Encore gimmicky when it first came out. So much buzz surrounded its more unique features (go-karts! Laser tag!) that I assumed it would be wrong for Alaska.

I was wrong.

While I might not choose the ship just to go go-karting (though our spin around the track in Ward Cove was highly enjoyable), there is plenty of other stuff to keep you entertained.

The hydrotherapy pool aboard Norwegian Encore. (Photo: Aaron Saunders)

Personally, I gravitated to the Thermal Suite in the Mandara Spa for on sea days and evenings. I spent early-mornings writing and reading in the stunning Observation Lounge forward on Deck 15, the largest and most elaborate such venue I've ever seen aboard a ship.

Trivia sessions and movies in the Deck 6 atrium landing grew more popular as the voyage went on. Pub tunes packed the house in The District Brewhouse most evenings.  Afternoon cocktails at the outdoor Sail and Sustain Bar -- dedicated to craft cocktails made with items that would otherwise be thrown out -- became en regle for the small group I travelled with.

Production shows -- like Choir of Man -- delighted with their modern take on shipboard musicals. (Have you seen a shipboard production show with a full-scale pub complete with beer tap used to pull pints for the audience? )

Our takeaway? -- you can do as much or as little as you want -- but you'll never be bored. And it's a perfect fit for Alaska.

Misses

Pier 66

Chalk this one up to a restart after an entire season of inactivity, coupled with new rules and regulations no one has ever had to contend with before. People had already queued up for two city blocks outside on the street, waiting for their pierside, pre-cruise antigen tests, by the time we arrived just before Noon on embarkation day. The process was unclear, with reps on the ground providing conflicting information as to where to go -- and what to do next.

This extended to disembarkation day, where the Pier's restricted location in the heart of downtown Seattle is both a blessing and a curse owing to the chaotic traffic in the area. Pack some patience, or simply plan to embark in the early afternoon for a better embarkation experience.

Port Timing

While Norwegian Encore's Alaskan itinerary is a great one, port times always seemed to be cutting things a little short. The call in Juneau from 6:00 a.m. until 1:30 p.m. results in incredibly early-morning tours and doesn't really leave much time to explore and take advantage of Alaska's capital city. Ditto for Ketchikan, where the new docking facilities at Ward Cove some seven miles out of town result in the need to watch the clock in order to be back on ship on time, as the last shuttle departs some 45 minutes before the all-aboard call and the process to get into town is, as of this first sailing, slow.  

The NCL App

It just never worked for us onboard. Not even once.

Conclusion

As Norwegian Cruise Line restarts and fine-tunes its season in Alaska, expect these kinks to be worked out. Cruisers should, as on any voyage, remain flexible, as onboard policies and restrictions can change by the hour.

Norwegian has really put its money where its mouth is, opening new facilities in Icy Strait Point and in Ward Cove, and plans to improve upon these investments well into the future.

  • Norwegian Encore sails Saturdays from Seattle's Pier 66 cruise terminal between now and October 23, 2021.
How was this article?

Featured News

1
Regent Updates Splashy $11,000-Per-Night Regent Suite On New Cruise Ship
5
Carnival Cruise Line Scraps Terminal-Based COVID-19 Testing Plans
Want to cruise smarter?
Get expert advice, insider tips and more.
By proceeding, you agree to Cruise Critic’s Privacy Policy and Terms of Use.