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There's no disputing that stats and deck plans will provide a picture of what any given ship offers - but what they aren't able to do is to depict the actual caliber of the cruise experience itself.
Norwegian Cruise Line's (NCL) Norwegian Encore - the first of the company's ships to resume cruising out of a U.S. port since the onset of the pandemic - serves as a case in point.
The vessel, which on Aug. 7 inaugurated seven-day Alaska sailings roundtrip from Seattle with all passengers and crew fully vaccinated, is arguably more than the sum of its seriously impressive parts.
The 3,998-passenger ship offers its guests upward of 20 restaurants, superlative entertainment options and such one-of-a-kind activities as the largest racetrack at sea - but what can be quantified on paper is service levels.
On Norwegian Encore, staff and crew make the cruise experience come to life by offering warm, friendly and highly efficient service.
Similarly, it's one thing for a ship to feature a vast number of restaurants - but what really counts is the execution of those culinary experiences. And Norwegian Encore wins points on this front as well, with its restaurants consistently serving up superb cuisine.
On the itinerary front, Norwegian Cruise Line's parent, Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings Ltd. (NCLH) and Norwegian Encore broke new ground with the debut of two new docks, one in Icy Strait Point and another in Ward Cove near Ketchikan.
The new Wilderness Landing pier in Icy Straight Point provides guests with gorgeous beach and forested areas to explore, while the new transporter gondola provides access to Adventure Landing, the destination's first pier and the site of the 109-year-old Historic Salmon Cannery and an array of shops and restaurants.
A second gondola is scheduled for completion this summer and will transport travelers to the top of Hoonah Mountain, where they will find sweeping views of the surrounding area and new hiking trails.
Icy Strait Point also offers restaurants, shops and a thrilling zipline experience.
Norwegian Encore also made its official debut at the new two-berth, floating dock at The Mill at Ward Cove near Ketchikan, which was created through a partnership between Ward Cove Dock Group and NCLH with a $50 million investment.
A new welcome center and passenger transit facility just steps from the pier was created through the flawless renovation of the Ketchikan Pulp Mill and features an array of souvenir and food-and-beverage stands.
Plans also call for a museum commemorating the mill's history and an array of experiential excursions, many including the Tongass National Forest.
In addition to Icy Strait Point and Ketchikan, Norwegian Encore's Alaska itinerary includes calls at Juneau and Skagway and sails through Endicott Arm and past Dawes Glacier, with its utterly stunning views.
Last but not least, NCL deserves kudos for its insistence on sailing with 100 percent of guests and crew fully vaccinated - as well as for its SailSAFE Global Health and Wellness program, which includes medical-grade air filtration, increased sanitation measures, preboarding antigen testing and much more.
NCLH Chairman Frank Del Rio said it best: "We've invested a lot of money and a lot of time [in health and safety and vaccination mandates] because it's the right thing do. And we'll continue to do everything humanly possible to assure that sailing on board our ships is the safest thing our guests could be doing."
Claudette Covey is managing editor of AGENTatHOME
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