Norwegian Cruise Lines (NCL) is built around broad appeal. A global brand with a global footprint, the line has cultivated a following that spans ages, demographics and regions.

Huge investment has gone into the NCL fleet, with billion-dollar refurbishments of existing vessels to homogenise and future-proof the legacy fleet with reimagined interiors. The refurbs come ahead of six brand new Leonardo-class ships due to enter the market from 2022 through 2027, but the line has kept tight-lipped on the details as it focuses attention on its fourth – and final – Breakaway-Plus-class ship: the 4,000-passenger Norwegian Encore, which launched this month. She follows Norwegian Escape (2015), Norwegian Joy (2017) and Norwegian Bliss (2018), and I’m lucky enough to be among the first on board.

Unity of design

The use of fleet-wide design elements brings a commonality to the aesthetic and entertainment features that make Norwegian unique in the industry. Harry Sommer, the line’s incoming CEO, credits Frank Del Rio, president and CEO of Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings, for his vision for the line. “[Encore has] a plushness of design, less flashy colours, and a general high quality of fit and finish. The creativity starts with Frank, but extends to the partners we use in many countries of the world to come up with something that’s contemporary and upscale,” he says. “The elegance and lighter colour palette has really come together.”

It’s an accurate description of the new vessel which, alongside thoughtful design, showcases a considered approach to its customer base. “It’s a global product tailored to multi-generational travel,” says Eamonn Ferrin, vice president and managing director for NCL’s UK, Ireland, Israel, South Africa and Middle East markets. “There’s something for everyone, whether you’re eight or 80. There’s no particular demographic we’re targeting – we want to build a product that everyone can enjoy.”

Food and drink

The Manhatten Room, dining aboard the Norwegian Encore

This approach is evident in the ship’s features and design. Norwegian Encore boasts 29 dining venues, with a menu and style to suit every palate. Taste and Savour are two of a trio of freestyle-dining restaurants, decked out with traditional white tablecloths set against muted tones. At dinner, the lighting is subtle but effective; ceiling fixtures shaped like petals distort the light into golden swirls.

Completing the trio is The Manhattan Room, a vast space accessed via a mirrored entrance that reflects the glitter of the marbled tiles underfoot. Here, cream leather seats rest atop black wooden legs, while green-leaf carpet injects some colour to the space – as does the blue-tinted glassware. Small gold tiles are patchworked upon floor-to-ceiling columns that help to segment the room, alongside low wooden fencing complete with softly lit panels to direct guests in and out. The panels match the ceiling lights – large blocks arranged in ovals that bathe the space in a delicate yellow hue. Tiny silverware lamps with cream lampshades, barely the height of the wine glasses, cast light on the food. The artwork on the walls depicts nature in abstract. Situated at the back of the ship, The Manhattan Room stretches its breadth, offering panoramic views of the ocean beyond.

Light, bright, airy and minimalist are recurring styles throughout the dining and drinking venues onboard. The Local Bar & Grill has marble tables offset by comfortable deep-orange lounge chairs, while concept restaurant Food Revolution features a green palette to contrast the bright white tables and stools. The new-to-Norwegian Italian restaurant, Onda by Scarpetta, joins the Scarpetta portfolio of locations across the United States and in London, bringing rich and bold flavours and a taste of la dolce vita to the seas.

For an apéritif, choices abound. Wine aficionados will feel at home in The Wine Cellar, imbued with a sense of serenity thanks to the blue, grey and black tones. For something a little livelier, the Sugarcane Mojito Bar is open to the main walkway, but tucked away enough to feel separate; settle into a soft velvet armchair or pitch up at the bar, a semi-circle crafted in metallic materials that reflect the light. Then there’s the distinctly American District Brewhouse, infused with wood and leather and serving 24 beers on tap.

The staterooms

A balcony stateroom aboard Norwegian Encore

Once guests have had their fill, they retire to bright, airy and stylish staterooms. Neutral wood accents complement the soft blue colour scheme, and the design is leaps ahead of previous ships before they underwent refurbishment: my balcony stateroom has a proper bathroom with a full-sized shower cubicle, a shelf for cosmetics and plenty of hooks for clothes and robes.

For those seeking exclusivity, head to The Haven – Norwegian’s “ship within a ship” concept where guests have their very own butler. Its 80 rooms bear deep and royal blue furnishings; dark marble tables sit between cream chairs edged in mahogany; and everywhere there is a nod to the ocean – in the wave effects etched onto the cushions carefully positioned in the Observation Lounge, in the artwork crafted in shades of blue, green and purple, in the rippling caustics effect on the upholstery of lounge chairs, and in the scatter cushions featuring softly hued sharks.

Something for everyone

A rendering of The Social by Studio Rendering, Inc.

If The Haven is an adults’ paradise, then deck 5 is wonderland for kids. There’s Splash Academy, dedicated to creative play, a video arcade with VR elements and Entourage for the teens – a sprawling space replete with beanbags, air hockey and playstations.

For children and adults alike, Norwegian has broken the mould of entertainment at sea. It’s hard to have missed the hype for the Speedway – the largest go kart track at sea and a whole lot of fun. Then there’s the open-air laser tag arena, an Atlantis-themed lost world where VR brings a new dimension to the game. And speaking of VR, the Galaxy Pavilion is dedicated to this relatively new form of fun – a 10,000-square-foot complex that debuted on Norwegian Joy and has proved hugely popular. Guests can race a Formula 1 car, go paragliding, chase UFOs or design and ride their own rollercoaster.

Outside, the aqua park has two multi-storey slides with physics-bending loops. But for those who prefer calmer waters, head to Mandara Spa. Here, guests can enjoy all the usual spa experiences, plus glorious views out to sea. Next door is a large gym, where running machines overlook uninterrupted views of the waves beyond.

Norwegian has gone above and beyond on entertainment. The huge Encore Theatre presents Broadway entertainment, while The Social – easy to spot thanks to its bright yellow outfitting – hosts comedy shows and DJs by night.

Everywhere, attention has been paid to detail. In the corridors, the carpet features fish swimming in the direction of travel, making it easy to orient yourself.

From the inside out, NCL has carefully considered design and branding. Even the hull is decked out in colourful artwork, this time by renowned Spanish artist Eduardo Arranz-Bravo. “Norwegian’s distinctive style is in these wonderful colours and themes,” says Ferrin. “It’s a wonderful, vibrant, fun-looking feel and we want to project that.”

This approach to design and amusement is a model earning NCL favour in the competitive travel market – it has reported the highest guest satisfaction rate in the history of the company, as well as the highest guest repeat rate. But, says Sommer, “It’s not about us against brand x – this is far better than a resort experience. For us, this is superior to anything out there, and we believe our guests think that as well.”

This article was written by Emily Eastman