Thomas Bywater gets first glimpse of Norwegian Encore, on its inaugural sailing from Germany to Southampton.
: Twenty decks high and 333.5m long. Or, to use the standard Auckland ship measurement: she is roughly the length of one Sky Tower. The Encore is a hulking presence of a ship, even in the industrial port of Bremerhaven.
How old: There are things in my fridge older than the Encore. This was the ship's maiden voyage. The furthest she had sailed was 100km down the river Emse from the Papsburg shipyards.
How many passengers: Full capacity is two stowaways short of 4000 passengers, however on our inaugural sailing we were just under half full.
Sailings and destinations: This was a one-off repositioning from Germany to Southampton in the UK before making her way across the Atlantic. When in full operation, Encore will be spending most of her time in the Caribbean sailing out of Miami before heading to Alaska in 2021. Something which is reflected in the choice of food and entertainment.
Cabin: Way up on deck 13, in a Midship Mini-Suite. There was a surprising amount fitted into the space, including a balcony with seating and a sizeable bathroom with a double sink.
Food: Twenty-nine options. Too much to eat through in a 48-hour sailing, though we gave it a good try. The Los Lobos (high-end Mexican) and Onda (Italian) were stand-outs among the 13 specialty restaurants. There was a strong American accent to all the main eating options. The menus from the main dining rooms, Taste and Savor — beyond the spelling — pre-empted a posting out of Florida with a menu of "hush puppies" and "Cajun chicken pasta".
Entertainment: The Encore is a floating theme park. Norwegian's plan to create a multi-generational cruise fleet has led to some exceptional entertainment options at sea. You'll find your off-Broadway musicals and a copy of the Liverpool Cavern Club with a house Beatles tribute act for the generation that remembered them the first time round. On the upper decks there's a laser-tag course and the biggest race track at sea, Speedway — with up to 10 electric go-karts hurtling around to a soundtrack of recorded motor sounds.
What's new: Perhaps the most original and unexpectedly brilliant inclusion is the virtual reality arcade, Galaxy Pavilion. Not one for passengers prone to motion sickness.
However, the use of space is fantastic.
Service: The staff were faultless and relaxed at the prospect of sailing the new ship. At just under half capacity, the overnight sailing was almost a dress rehearsal.
What's great: The Observation Deck on deck 15 is a great public space for reading, relaxing and watching the world go by. The deck has been extended well over the sides of the boat to really maximise the views from the prow of the ship. The general ambiance of the area is also top-notch. Though on a very different scale, the view and fittings are comparable to the private Haven-class Lounge.
Ideal for: Groups and families, particularly ones of different generations and differing interests.