Three-and-a-half years and $1 billion dollars later, the Norwegian Encore - the 17th ship in Norwegian Cruise Line’s fleet - made her North American debut in New York City this past Monday (Nov. 11).
PAX was onboard for a two-night preview of the final vessel of the Breakaway-Plus class. The Encore, at 167,800 gross registered tonnes (GRT) and a capacity of 4,000 guests is about the same size as her two almost-identical sisters Norwegian Bliss and Norwegian Joy. This time around, her designers have taken their best elements and perfected them for the Encore.
The onboard experience
The Galaxy Pavilion, which first debuted on the Joy, has a whole new slew of virtual reality (VR) games with improved visual effects. There's also a new Escape Room, where up to six players trapped in a sunken galleon have to solve riddles and puzzles within 45 minutes to find their way out.
The Race Track now has a viewing platform on the top deck, and viewers can try to shoot the bullseye on the back of each car with a laser gun as the race cars whiz by. The Laser Tag is Atlantis-themed, set amongst the ruins of a Greek temple and an entwining sea serpent.
Headline shows include Choir of Man, a toe-tapping medley of favourite rock hits set in an English pub, while Kinky Boots brings down the house with pitch-perfect singing and heartfelt performances.
With 29 dining venues that include returning favourites such as Teppanyaki, Cagney’s Steakhouse, Le Bistro, Ocean Blue, Q Barbecue, and the new modern Italian eatery Onda by Scarpetta, no craving is left unsatisfied.
It is worth noting that with the exception of two dining venues which have a flat-rate cover charge, all other specialty restaurants charge à la carte pricing.
Partners First, and always
In his Partners First Executive Update, NCL’s incoming president and CEO Harry Sommer spoke passionately about NCL’s dedication to the travel partners. Sommer, who at one point ran a travel agency for six years, fully understands the importance of this relationship.
“About 10 years ago, we introduced Partners First, where we were committed to put our travel agencies front and centre in everything that we do,” Sommer said. “We invest in your success, we are committed to becoming the easiest to do business with, we’re committed to your client relationships, and we’re committed to listening and taking action.”
Some of these commitments include empowering frontline and sales employees in problem-solving, which have resulted in reduced hold times (an average of five seconds according to Sommer), and a goal for a two-day response time on customer service issues by the end of the year.
“I plan to continue having excellent relations with the trade," Sommer promised. "You guys are who make us succeed.”
Sommer's new role is, effective Jan. 1, 2020.
Sailing to new horizons
Next up will be the complete refurbishment of the Norwegian Spirit. The $150 million project will see the ship gutted down to the steel hull, her every stateroom being modernized, the addition of luxury suites, six new restaurants including Onda by Scarpetta, seven new bars and lounges, an expanded Mandara Spa, and new adults-only spaces.
On the horizon is Leonardo Class, six vessels launching between 2022 and 2027. Slightly smaller at 140,000 GRT and carrying 3,300 guests, the ships will be designed with more open spaces to bring guests closer to the sea, and their smaller footprint will allow more flexibility in itinerary planning.
More choice for the Canadian market
PAX spoke to Derek Lloyd, NCL’s national director of sales, Canada, who was on board with members of his Canadian sales team. When asked how Canadian travel partners can leverage the new hardware, Lloyd offered some good insight.
“We are at a point now where products like the Norwegian Encore can be sold as an all-inclusive vacation,” Lloyd said. “Clients who are looking for a quick getaway to the sun can now choose from seven-day cruises to the Caribbean on the newest, most inclusive amenity-filled ship.”
The arrival of new hardware also signals a change for NCL's itineraries. NCL is sending six ships to Europe in 2020, and the refurbished Norwegian Spirit will be sailing in Asia year-round.
“Our new ships are going to attract the younger generation, and our experienced cruisers will have a choice of longer, more exotic itineraries," Lloyd said. "And when Leonardo class is introduced in 2022, it will further allow us even more flexibility.”
Take advantage of Free at Sea
Lloyd also reminded travel partners of NCL’s value proposition.
“Our Free at Sea offer isn’t a limited-time promotion, it’s our core offering that is here to stay. In places like Europe, Hawaii, and Asia where there aren’t any all-inclusive resorts, your clients can now enjoy that experience when they cruise with us.”
Also re-launched this August is the improved Affinity Group Program that offers the best early booking pricing - up to 15 per cent off FIT rates (which NCL promises won’t be undercut), unlimited open bar, shore excursion credits, unlimited WiFi, specialty dining, and one for 10 TC.
As an incentive to block affinity groups on Norwegian Sun & Joy’s Alaska 2020 season and Norwegian Spirit’s 2020-2021 Asia season, NCL will be including gratuities on the open bar and specialty dining amenities, which normally are paid by the customers.
These added-value offerings translate to a win-win-win trifecta with elevated pricing for NCL, bundled and commissionable product for travel partners, and higher satisfaction levels for customers.
The Norwegian Encore is on her way to Miami for the naming ceremony by Kelly Clarkson, after which she will begin sailing to the Western Caribbean. The Encore returns to New York in spring 2020 to sail to Bermuda and Bahamas.
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