I was lucky enough to find a real good deal on a brand new ship from NCL on the inaugural cruise of their newest mega ship, The Encore. Booked just a few months before departure we were sailing from Southampton, England to New York City, NY with no ports of call. It was strictly an all days at sea voyage, so I thought why not! Price was right, new ship, and I could get away from November 2 to November 11, 2019.
Of course always my first decision was how the airfares looked to make it all work in my travel budget. Luckily I had some miles from United Airlines and I was able to book from Puerto Vallarta, Mexico to Heathrow London for only 35,000 miles! It was a great deal, but involved going via San Francisco, CA to get there. I went ahead and booked the flights and then confirmed my cruise and then later lucky enough that I was able to upgrade to premium economy for only about $250 USD it was a perfect way to fly!
I knew my way around from Heathrow already from earlier in the year, so I booked the National Coach Express service directly to Southampton for the overnight at a hotel which only costed me $35 USD at the Ibis Southampton Budget Hotel. I noticed that several other cruise ship passengers had done the same thing, because it was walk-able from the bus terminal and to the cruise ship terminal nearby. Unfortunately, by the time I arrived from Heathrow in Southampton, there was rain and strong winds, so Uber was called to get me to the hotel for the night. By the next morning things were no better and actually gale force winds warnings were issued for the area. My quick walk for breakfast at McDonalds sure made me quickly understand and heed these warnings, it was quite blustery! I decided to sit tight in the hotel and Uber over the cruise ship terminal for the 12pm checkin time.
The cruise ship terminal was very exciting area with lots of promotions for this brand new ship from NCL and everyone was abuzz. The check-in was very quick and smooth and not too many passengers. I later found out that NCL purposely only sold 1/2 the ship and 80% of the passengers were part of their frequent cruisers family. I guess they want to shake things out without a full ship and certainly made the voyage more enjoyable.
Once we boarded we were already told that the departure would be delayed by about 5 to 6 hours because of the gale force winds warning for the area. But we were on board and were fully taken care of via the crew with lots of exploring to do on this massive new ship. The bars and restaurants were open, so passengers were able to enjoy themselves. The rest of the cruise was on the open seas, so a little longer on land dock was okay by everyone.
This new ship smelled like a new car, so it was fun to enjoy that feeling and see what NCL improved in this new version of the ship in this Breakaway Plus Class. The biggest features including a new top of the ship go cart track that was the largest at sea, a virtual reality wonderland, and an outdoor laser tag arena. Besides those new features the ship includes many of the same restaurants as their other ships plus the new Onda by Scarpetta restaurant. My booking included 3 meals in specialty restaurants, so I was able to try out several during the next 10 days. You may be or not be aware that these large class of ships from NCL feature studio single cabins for their solo travelers, so I took advantage of this deal and you can see some photos of the small but quite comfortable cabin below. I think the only feature missing would be an area to have a work desk as I usually have to do work on my travels. Notice the flat screen ocean view television that was on the wall above the bed? Nice touch for not having a window!!
We finally departed about midnight and I immediately knew we were in for a bouncy ride that night and maybe longer. By morning we were in 40 foot waves and 35 knot winds, so all upper decks were closed to passengers! The ship seemed to handle the rough waters quite well and I only saw some damage from ceiling tiles in the pool area, but I understood several passengers had to be moved from their front bow cabins because the waves had broken their balcony railings glass! Of course there were many sea sick passengers, but I am a lucky one and I never get seasick.
The Buffet Restaurant Garden Cafe was my choice for dinner and several meals, as we had quite the spread of crab legs through most of the voyage! I saw some changes with the layout of the food stations and I liked the high tables and chairs located in the center of the food stations.
One of the most impressive features of this ship was the front Observation Lounge that took up almost 1/2 of deck 15. This was a casual area with loungers and small snacks stations during the breakfast, lunch, and afternoon hours. Of course near the front was a circular bar and featured nightly excellent entertainment on the piano.
The entertainment shows were top notch as always with NCL featuring Broadway shows such as Kinky Boots and Choir of Men. Then of course throughout the ship were the usual bar singers and groups with a BBQ restaurant featuring a country western singer and the Beatles were ever present in the Cavern Club. The weather continued to be not good for the first few days, so we all stayed inside and enjoyed the ships facilities.
Finally by mid week the seas calmed down and the go cart track was opened although it was a very cold place to be on the top of the ship in November in the north Atlantic! There is a fee for the using the go carts for about 10 minutes, but it was well worth the experience.
The days and time seemed go along quite quickly with things to do all the time as usual with NCL and we arrive in the port of New York at about sunset on the 8th day at sea on November 10th, actually a bit earlier than planned. It was a very emotional time coming into this great port right by the Statue of Liberty where so many American immigrants had come exactly the same way over 50 years ago. The obligatory inaugural port arrival with the fire boat water spraying was a part of the show to welcome this great ship to NYC. We docked right downtown and you could see Times Square just a few blocks up from the piers. The Encore sister ship, The Escape, was departing NYC at the same time, so we got some nice shots of her as well.
The evening in the dock allowed passengers to disembark for the night and then return for the official disembarkation the next morning. Unfortunately, it was decided by US immigration and customs that all passengers had to disembark this evening and be cleared that evening, not on the normal day of disembarkation. Why, who knows and we never received the truth. Whether is was because the next day was a holiday and nobody wanted to work or the cost of the overtime on the holiday was exorbitant, nobody said. All I know is that there were 2200 angry passengers who spent most of the evening waiting and waiting for the ship to be cleared before they could re-board, lasting almost 3 hours. Then to add insult to injury, they charged us a NYC tax on all the beverages served while we were in port. I would think the ship could have waived that small fee? Too bad that this great cruise had to end this way!
The next morning was the official disembarkation and I saw plenty of US immigration and customs officials in the pier area, so why were we all required to go through the process the evening before?? I guess I will never know the truth! Anyway, I am off to Newark airport with the sky train to overnight nearby and catch my early nonstop flight back to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico after my first Transatlantic Cruise.
It was nice to chat with these frequent traveler passengers of whom many had 20 or more cruises in their lives and several who had done 10 Transatlantic cruises before. Why? The love the relaxation part and no pressure to get off and site see at all the ports of call is what I was told. I guess I will be a part of the more frequent transatlantic group when I cruise in November 2020 from Barcelona, Spain to San Juan, Puerto Rico. This time the southern crossing, which should bring more calmer waters……..I hope!