On-board the $1 billion mega cruise ship
Speeding around a two-level racetrack at nearly 50km/h and taking on high-speed curves is thrilling, but even more so when you're in the middle of the ocean.
That's right, the 335m racetrack I was navigating at top speeds was on-board the new Norwegian Encore, the 17th ship in the Norwegian Cruise Line fleet which set sail for the first time this month. It is the world's longest racetrack at sea, extends about 4m over the side of the ship and is the wow factor on this mega cruise ship.
Cruise ships have certainly come a long way since the last time I stepped on one in the early '90s when I celebrated Schoolies on the Fairstar, the Fun Ship. The P&O party ship was popular, but this ship takes cruising to a whole other level.
This is what it's like on-board the Norwegian Encore.
The electric go-karts are a lot of fun and a clever addition to a big ship in the competitive cruising market. But this is not the only exciting activity on-board, with the Encore clearly targeting families or those looking for a thrill.
There is also a large outdoor laser tag arena on the top deck that incorporates augmented reality and two multistorey waterslides. The Aqua Racer, a tandem waterslide, and the Ocean Loops, a double loop free fall slide, extend over the side of the ship.
There is also an outdoor pool and hot tub as well as a splash and play Aqua Park for the little kids which includes tipping water buckets and water cannons.
Encore also has a dedicated virtual reality room called Galaxy Pavilion. Now this room really surprised me as it is not normally the type of thing that interests me. We got lost in the room for hours, it was really impressive with a huge range of rides. You pop on some goggles and can race a Formula One car, go hang gliding or jump on a rollercoaster.
There is also a Jeep that travels through a dinosaur scene and an incredible virtual reality maze that you have to walk through while fighting demons around you. The technology is like nothing I have seen before, and it was laugh-out-loud fun - and, if I am being honest, you would have definitely caught me screaming on the rollercoaster simulator.
Being a football fan, this was also fun. I would have happily spent ages trying to get that ball in the net:
One detail that was particularly staggering about the Encore, which has a guest capacity of nearly 4000, was that there were 28 dining options. There were plenty of complimentary restaurants, such as The Garden Cafe buffet which had an outstanding selection of food and a lunchtime seafood feast on certain days. But the specialty dining, or paid-for options, were the ship's selling point.
There was a lot of noise about the high-end Italian restaurant, Onda by Scarpetta - a new Italian restaurant from LDV Hospitality that has Scarpetta in New York, Miami, Las Vegas and London. Onda is the first iteration on a cruise ship, and it did not disappoint.
The menu showcased the rich and bold flavours the modern Italian restaurant is known for, including a selection of seafood and signature dishes, such as yellowtail crudo, branzino, pastas made in-house daily such as Scarpetta's famous spaghetti tomato and basil.
The other specialty restaurants included an authentic American Diner, the finest French cuisine at Le Bistro, authentic Texas barbecue at Q and an entertaining Hibachi-style experience at Teppanyaki.
The night life was strong on-board Encore. There was a party on the pool deck with the resident DJ, cocktails and music at Sugarcane Mojito Bar, The Social nightclub for those looking for a late night and even a casino. A brilliant Beatles cover band called The Liverpool Beatles performed at The Cavern Club, and there was music with the piano man at The District. There were margaritas at the A-List Bar and drinks with sensational 180-degree views at the Observation Lounge.
The entertainment was first class. The Choir of Man, an all-male British and Irish group, performed on the first night, singing everything from pub tunes and classic rock to folk songs. And Norwegian Cruise Line's 95-minutes version of the hit musical Kinky Boots was on the second night.
The Mandara Spa was another impressive part of the ship. The usual facials and massages were on offer, but you could also sail home having had a dermal filler treatment to sort out those lines and wrinkles. Acupuncture was available as well as hair treatments, a blowout and cut, manicure and pedicure or a shave at the barber shop.
We made good use of the Thermal Suite, which was fitted with a sauna, steam room, hot and cold showers and a salt room. There was also Snow Paradise, a small room set at -10C where the walls and floors were lined with ice. You spend about two minutes (if you can make it that long) inside and it is said to enhance blood circulation and the respiratory system.
The gym was large with lots of fabulous, new equipment that we were keen to try out. You imagine you will get away and want to put your feet up, but it was hard not to jump on a treadmill that faces a floor-to-ceiling window out to the ocean. There were free weights, TRX training, a spin class, boxing, and even a personal trainer. And if you really felt like getting a slap in the face, there was an option to measure your muscle and fat with the Body Composition Analysis.
There is a huge range of accommodation on the ship, including solo-traveller staterooms or connecting staterooms for families. We were in the balcony stateroom, which was quite narrow but surprisingly roomy. It had a large bathroom with a double sink, a small lounge area, two single beds that could convert to a double bed and, of course, a private balcony. There is also a TV, and the basics you usually find in hotels such as tea and coffee and a mini bar.
We got to take a look at The Haven, which is the company's ship-within-a-ship concept. It's designed for the cruisers who want to take advantage of all the thrills available on the big ship but also have an option to escape. The Haven staterooms are lavish, but there is also a courtyard with an exclusive pool and hot tub, a private fine-dining restaurant and a lounge area where you can grab a cocktail from The Haven Bar and enjoy the view.
Lisa Muxworthy travelled courtesy of Norwegian Cruise Line