Less than a decade ago, having the fastest and steepest waterslide at sea was big news, was such a momentous selling point that it became the focus of a marketing campaign to launch a new cruise brand in Australia.
When Norwegian Encore first sailed from Germany last October, its Ocean Loops slide hardly rated a mention. Ocean Loops is a double loop waterslide that hangs 3.35 metres off the side of the ship and hovers 48.5 metres above the ocean. With tandem loops, you can race your friends to the bottom. That is some serious wow factor right there.
But instead of talking about the slide, thrill-seeking passengers were more interested in the Encore Speedway and the open-air Laser Tag course. Don't think that the Encore Speedway is a dodgem car track. It's not. It is a proper go-cart race track that's 335 metres long (the longest at sea), with four high-speed curves over two levels where drivers who put their right foot to the floor can hit a top speed of 32kp/h.
The corners on the track are tight; the front and back straights let you squeeze full power out of the cart; and the chicanes thoroughly test your courage. Drivers are put through a safety briefing before donning balaclavas and helmets, climbing behind the wheel and being strapped in. Ten drivers compete against each other with laps electronically timed. After every eight-lap race, a winner is crowned and bragging rights secured when the placings are published on an electronic scoreboard.
Continuing the theme of high-tech fun for adults and kids, the ship's Laser Tag course – also on the top deck – resembles a movie set where you make your way through a sea of monsters while randomly shooting (tagging) people to slow their progress. There's also a virtual reality playground called Galaxy Pavilion with elaborate simulated rides and immersive video games.
Encore is the 17th ship in the Norwegian Cruise fleet and the final ship in their largest Breakaway-Plus class. Encore can carry 3998 passengers; in 1988, Norwegian's entire fleet didn't carry that many passengers. Encore cost just under $US1 billion to construct and it is more subdued than its Breakaway Plus-class predecessors, almost Nordic in style and very upmarket and contemporary.
These days one in every 50 people who take a holiday do so on a cruise ship. The rest mostly stay at resorts, and Norwegian Encore does an excellent job competing with what's on offer at any resort.
Encore has five complimentary dining options (covered in the cruise price) f including the 556-seat Manhattan Room, the 606-seat Garden Café, the 280-seat Taste and Savour restaurants and the 115-seat Local Bar & Grill serving pub food 24-hours a day.
If you want to pay a little extra, you can eat at another 13 venues, places like Onda by Scarpetta which serves modern Italian cuisine. Onda – a spin-off of the high-end Italian restaurant in New York has real Italian cooking, not the American version of Italian food. The pizzas are thin, flowing with cheese, and not overpacked with toppings.
There's also Ocean Blue (seafood), Teppanyaki (Japanese), Le Bistro (French), Los Lobos (Mexican), Cagney's (American steakhouse), and Q Texas Smokehouse (for barbecue ribs, brisket, pulled pork, cornbread and southern-fried chicken). The American theme continues on Deck 17 where The Diner dishes up burgers, club sandwiches and generously-filled lobster rolls while you sit in booths made from car parts.
If you need a coffee at any time during the trip, just drop into Starbucks. And you might well need a coffee if you spend too much time in any of the 12 bars on board; all offer something a little different in terms of drink and entertainment.
BARS & NIGHTLIFE
The District Brewhouse has 50 different bottled beers on its drinking menu, another 22 beers on tap and is home to the ubiquitous Piano Man who leads nightly sing-a-longs.
As well as the food, Q Texas Smokehouse is where you can get your fix of country music and smooth bourbons and, on my sailing, tunes from Nashville-based band Camille Rae & the RaeBans who were note perfect as they traversed the country genre from Johnny Cash and Patsy Cline to Brooks & Dunn and Miranda Lambert.
Encore's headline show is the first at-sea production of the multiple Tony award-winning Broadway hit, Kinky Boots, with songs written by pop sensation Cindy Lauper. This high-heeled true story of Lola and Charlie takes you from the factory floor to the fashion runway in Milan.
Kinky Boots alternates with Happy Hour Prohibition – The Musical and The Choir of Men, a brilliant stage show set in an English pub featuring a cast of blokes belting out classic rock hits. The Choir of Men performance is so good it could easily move straight to London's West End and be a overnight success.
If you are a Beatles fan, you should drop in to 118-seat Cavern Club for a performance of the "concert that never happened". The Beatles stopped performing live on August 29, 1966, so the Liverpool Beatles get to sing the songs that John, Paul, George and Ringo never did. The attention to detail is amazing in this three-hour show, right down to the Liverpool Beatles using the same Vox amplifiers that the Fab Four used.
If wine floats your boat then visit The Cellars. Or you can inhale an expensive cigar in the Humidor Cigar Lounge before finishing the night off in Meltings Whiskey Bar with a rare Scotch blend in hand. There is something for every taste. It is almost impossible to visit every restaurant and bar during a seven-night cruise. If you do, the prize is a few extra kilos round the waist.
The accommodation options range from studios and staterooms through to The Haven's Deluxe Owner's Suite. There are 82 single-occupancy studios on Encore catering for solo travellers, a welcome acknowledgement that more people than ever are travelling by themselves.
Balcony staterooms, the norm on cruise ships, have large bathrooms, a lounge and a huge bed. You can book all your shore excursions and restaurant meals on the interactive televisions which also show movies and TV news channels. For a fee, you can upgrade your Wi-Fi connection to allow you to live stream from subscriber services like Netflix.
If you want to stretch the budget you can book something in the 80-suite Haven complex, with its own restaurant, pool and lounge, it is accessible only to those lucky few with the right keycard.
All cruise lines spend a lot of time answering critics about the negative effect these mega ships have on the environment. NCL is doing its bit to improve things and in a company-first, Encore carries no plastic water bottles. Instead, it offers guests Just Water, a carton made mostly of paper with a cap made of sugar cane. NCL is switching its entire fleet to Just Water, eliminating 6 million single-use plastic bottles each year.
FIVE MORE THINGS TO DO ON ENCORE
At the Mandara Spa, you can get a manicure and pedicure while gazing out at the sun setting into the ocean in the distance. Like most at-sea spas, the prices are high, but it is presented beautifully.
TAKE A WALK
If it is a sunny day, grab a lemon gelato from Dolce Gelato and take a stroll along The Waterfront, a 400-metre oceanfront promenade.
HAVE A LAUGH
Head to Social Comedy for some stand-up laughs. The 131-seat venue turns into a playground for dancing queens after the comedy finishes and the disco lights spark into action.
GET THE VIBE
If you are over 18, you might want to buy a pass for the Vibe Beach Club. It seats 254 and is the perfect place to escape the children for a few hours.
JUST FOR KIDS
If you are under 18 there's plenty for you too. There's the kid's Aqua Park, the Splash Academy and the Entourage Teen Club – exclusively for teenagers, no parents allowed.
Norwegian Encore offers seven-day voyages to the Eastern Caribbean from Miami and from April, has Bermuda, Canada and New England itineraries from New York City. Its voyages to the Western Caribbean from Miami run from December. In May 2021, she makes her West Coast debut and sails to Alaska from Seattle.
Prices start from $A939 (including gratuities and taxes) per person twin share for an inside stateroom sailing a seven-day Eastern Caribbean cruise from Miami. Phone 1300 255 200 or see ncl.com
Brian Crisp was a guest of Norwegian Cruise Lines.