Features — 06 February 2020
New ship leaves a skeptic hoping for encore

By Mark Gauert

City & Shore Magazine

I don’t like cruises, but I do like islands. Keys. Cays. Manhattan…

I don’t like cruises, but I like Broadway shows, too. And double-loop waterslides. And staring off into space away from city lights, watching the moon rise and stars set. Especially in a Jacuzzi. Especially if someone happens to be bringing me a mojito.

I don’t like cruises, but I like mezzelune pasta with ricotta, truffle and sage, too. And shitake and water chestnut dumplings. And, oh yes, barbecue – with oak-smoked brisket, jalapeño and cheese smoked sausage, coleslaw, pinto beans and pickles.

I don’t like cruises, because I know you’re never going to get those flavors on a cruise ship. How could you get open-fire smokiness when cruise ships are so concerned about things catching fire at sea they ask you to unplug your toothbrush, phone charger and anything else with a plug while you’re away from your cabin.

I don’t like cruises, but I like live music, too. The Eagles. The Beatles, preferably from the middle years, if you’ve got them. Some honky-tonk, under the right circumstances. Especially if there’s barbecue. Especially if someone’s singing it live.

I don’t like cruises, but I like craft beer, too. And fine wine. And cocktails. In moderation, of course. And not if I’m driving.

I don’t like cruises, but I’m not driving this boat.

Capt. Niklas Persson is doing that, several decks below or, possibly, above me – I’m not sure where – aboard Norwegian Cruise Line’s Encore.

Capt. Persson knows everything about the Encore, NCL’s newest ship, now sailing from the Port of Miami. He knows it’s 1,094-feet long, has 103,000 horsepower, that it can displace 169,000 gross tons. He also knows there are 29 dining options, 21 bars, 72 kinds of beer, and an electric go-kart racetrack roughly the length of three football fields. He probably also knows how Encore manages to get open-fire smokiness into the barbecue at Q, the ship’s Texas-style smokehouse on Deck 6. Or where The Beatles cover band in The Cavern Club on Deck 8 get their mop-top hairpieces. Or the exact location of every Jacuzzi with a moonrise/star set view and mojito service. And how many kinds of treatments there are at the Mandara Spa on Deck 16. Or how Lola gets into his/her thigh-high boots in the Broadway-ready production of Kinky Boots in the Encore Theater on Deck 7.

I could go on (and on) about how many things Capt. Persson probably knows. But I don’t have time to ask because I’m late for the tender from the Encore to Great Stirrup Cay, NCL’s private island in turquoise waters about halfway between Freeport and Nassau in the Bahamas.

Because I don’t like cruises, but I do like islands – and everything else aboard the Encore.

THE SHIP

The 3,998-passenger Encore, the last of Norwegian Cruise Lines Breakaway Plus Class ships (joining NCL’s Escape, Joy and Bliss), features 2,040 staterooms (most with balconies or ocean views), 29 dining options, including Onda by Scarpetta, Food Republic and Q Texas smokehouse; 21 bars (I can recommend the mojito at Sugarcane on Deck 8), the longest electric go-kart track at sea (worth the helmet hair) on Deck 19, double-loop waterslide that hangs 11 feet off the side of the ship and 159 feet above the ocean, lost city of Atlantis-themed open-air laser tag on Deck 18, 2,723-foot observation lounge, quarter-mile long promenade on Deck 8, Mandara Spa, Galaxy Pavilion virtual game hall and activities for kids and teens.

SHIP TO SHORE

Weather permitting, the Encore’s itinerary includes a daytrip to NCL’s 270-acre private island on Great Stirrup Cay in the Bahamas. Passengers – and crew in yellow polos and caps – are ferried ashore from the Encore via tenders. “Do you have a pool here?” a guest asked at the welcome reception on the island. “No pools yet,’’ a greeter said. “We want a dock first.’’ (CocoCay, Royal Caribbean’s private island just west of Great Stirrup Cay, already has one). Why anyone would want a pool here was not immediately clear. The warm, calm waters along the 1,500 feet of sandy beaches provide plenty of swimming and watersport opportunities. Take a 3,000-foot zipline over the turquoise waters, paddle a kayak or zoom around offshore on a personal watercraft. Hang out in a hammock at the beach, or the spa or rent a cabana or one of the 38 new air-conditioned Villas at Silver Cove situated around a private lagoon beach for the day. Among the dozen food and beverage options on Great Stirrup, we can personally recommend the (open-fire) beachfront barbecue and a piña colada, made from Bacardi black rum and Island Oasis piña colada mix. (Fortunately, at the end of the day, someone else drives the tender back to the ship.)

THE SHOWS

I’ve always wondered if cruise ships have so many bars because the onboard entertainment usually isn’t very good. Not so on Encore. The Encore Theater production of Kinky Boots, exclusive to the ship, is simply Broadway-ready. I laughed. I cried. I briefly considered thigh-high boots. (Naw). Choir of Man, which debuted aboard NCL’s Escape, is a rollicking good time (and not just because the evening begins with an open bar onstage, and guests are encouraged to join the cast for a pint before the show). Meanwhile, the mop-topped lads on stage at The Cavern Club on Deck 8 are a convincing John, Paul, George and Ringo quartet at all four stages of their career, from pop to mature, to psychedelic to on-the-cusp-of-solo careers. Yeah, yeah, yeah – yeah.

IF YOU GO

The Encore’s inaugural winter season from South Florida continues through April 12, with seven-day trips from Miami to the eastern Caribbean, featuring calls in Puerto Rico, St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands; Tortola, British Virgin Islands and (weather permitting) Great Stirrup Cay, NCL’s private island in the Bahamas. The ship then departs from New York City April 22 to Sept. 25 on four-day cruises to Bermuda; and five-day cruises from New York to Bermuda Sept. 3 to Nov. 22. The Encore returns to Miami for cruises to the western Caribbean, beginning Dec. 12; before making a West Coast debut in spring 2021 to Alaska from Seattle. For more information, visit ncl.com/cruise-ship/encore.

- mgauert@cityandshore.com

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