You may wonder what cruising looks like these days - with the pre-cruise requirements and on board safety protocols. Donna Nelson had the opportunity to experience a test cruise to Alaska aboard Norwegian Encore and got a peek, on Norwegian Cruise Line anyway, of what cruising to Alaska looks like in 2021.
The Norwegian Encore accommodates approximately 4,000 guests. The 4-night test cruise round trip from Seattle to Ketchikan had approx. 1,300 guests on board plus crew. The ship was fully staffed. NCL will be sailing at 50% capacity for the foreseeable future. The cruise line is 100% vaccinated crew and guests. Currently, vaccines are required through October,* but this can change moving forward*. Masks were required in the testing center and cruise terminal. Once on board, the guests were not required to wear a mask until departing the ship. The crew must wear masks as it is now part of their uniform.
COVID-19 rapid testing is done prior to boarding the ship for all staff and guests. In Seattle, you simply drop your bags at the cruise terminal pier 66, walk a very short distance up and across the street to the Marriott. Should a guest require assistance, NCL will provide wheelchair assistance to the testing site. There is an abundance of staff located on the street directing guests to the hotel. Once inside, masks are required. Check in was very quick as guests are required to pre-register for the tests. There are many testing booths, a simple 5 swirls in each nostril for the test, you’re given a number and asked to take a seat while you wait for your results. This takes approx. 15 minutes, your number is called and displayed on a big screen. If your test is negative, a pink bracelet is placed on your wrist and you’re free to board the ship. If you test positive, a secondary screening is done.
We boarded the ship with no wait, temperature was taken and you’re on the ship. Very simple and well-organized pre-boarding requirements and procedures. The staff was so happy and welcoming!
There are sanitizing stations throughout the ship but not excessive. Hand washing stations are located outside the buffet restaurant, staff is stationed at the washing area and enforce the guests to wash and sanitize before entering. The buffets are self-serve. I was surprised this was allowed and questioned it. Due to everyone being fully vaccinated and sanitized, they allow it.
You will need to complete the check-in and guest registration. This can be done via the website or app. Dining, show and shore excursion reservations should be made in advance. All areas of the ship are open with no restrictions.
Menus in the restaurants are available as well as a QR code to scan if guests prefer. Most guests including myself and my guest used the traditional menus. The menus were not single use. All the restaurants have many tables for just 2 guests. The food was very good, beautifully presented and the portion sizes were perfect.
The rooms were adequate size with very good storage. The balcony was small but nice. The Encore is huge without feeling like you’re on a 4,000-passenger ship. The restaurants, bars and lounges were spacious and designed to give you a warm, comfortable, and cozy feeling. The observation lounge is beautiful, large in size but not feel. The casino is huge with a smoking room, not area. There were many options for slots and card tables.
Because this was a test cruise, there was just one port - Ketchikan. The pier in Ketchikan for NCL is located at Ward Cove and we were the first ship to utilize this pier. This was built in 2019 for the 2020 season by NCL and Ketchikan. Ward Cove is about a 20-min. ride to downtown Ketchikan. The excursion I took was Lighthouse, Totems and Eagles. It’s approx. 2 hours from the Ward Cove pier, a short ride from the terminal to the boat. The Captain, Jeff, is also the owner of the company and gives a fantastic narrative about Ketchikan and the sights we were seeing. Many eagles and nests were seen. After the excursion, NCL provided a complimentary shuttle to town. We had approx. 2.5 hours to explore on our own. The town of Ketchikan is very charming, Creek Street is a must and seeking out the many totem poles within the town. A couple of tips for this excursion: 1. You are required to wear a mask. 2. It’s a very rainy destination. They get almost 13 feet of rain per year. I experienced a lot of rain the day I was there, so come prepared.
I stayed at the Edgewater Hotel, right next door to Pier 66. Both NCL and Oceania utilize this pier. The Marriott is two stop lights up, very short walk to the ship. Both hotels are the best for pre and post night options.