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  1. We also noticed the service slowness in Cagneys. They had people in Q and Local uniforms working in there which I thought was a little strange, but they were still clearly short-handed. Our waitress was very attentive though, took orders and brought drinks quickly, she just couldn't get the food out very fast. The table next to ours was left with dirty dishes on it for about 20 minutes after the group left, not something you'd normally see in a "nice" restaurant. But none of this really rose to the level of a complaint in my mind, I've had much worse service in my life. And that was really the only place we noticed it. We also had dinner in Onda, Q, Los Lobos, and Food Republic and they were all fine service-wise. BTW, the trick about only using one specialty dining credit in Food Republic is genius. I think you could get away with it in Q and Onda as well if you're not super hungry and want to maximize specialty experiences.
  2. I was also on that sailing. The buffet lay out is indeed pretty weird but after, I don't know, 2 trips there? we were able to figure it out and remember pizza is there (we liked the buffet pizza, btw), bread there, Indian food back there, etc. There was always buffet seating in the very back except on disembarkation morning when it was a zoo.
  3. We got off the Encore yesterday and overall had a great time, with a couple of small bumps. We enjoyed the ship and the cruise. The room was mostly great. We had a family oceanview on deck 5, number 5776. It was very spacious with lots of closet and drawer space, a curtain between the beds, and a big (for a cruise ship) bathroom. The steward was very good. The only problem was sometimes around 6am we'd hear them moving things around on the deck above us. To avoid this, I'd get a room more forward next time, directly under the atrium. There were a lot of kids on board. Most evenings the Splash Academy reached capacity for 3-9 year olds. We handled this by getting in line around 6:45pm (on sea days it opens at 7) and always got a spot. I think everyone who was actually in line at 7:00 was fine, but when we went to pick the kid up around 9pm there would often be people waiting for a spot. I wish they had an overflow area for the younger kids when the cruise has a lot on board, but at least right now, they don't, so if you've got kids and they want to go in the evenings, plan appropriately. I don't think they ever had capacity problems in the morning or afternoon sessions. The pool area gets very very crowded and loud. We went to the kids pool a couple of times and until around 4pm it was hard to just find a spot to put down my stuff, and I didn't even need a lounger. My daughter liked the pool and kids aqua park a lot, though. We're not "hang out on the sun deck" people so the crowds up there mostly didn't concern us. It was never that hard to find a spot to sit indoors. The observation lounge is huge with plenty of room. The district beer bar is spacious with lots of seating that was never full except at night when they had a music/comedy show. The waterfront got crowded on sea day afternoons, but there were always seats available. Food and drinks were good and plentiful. Choir of Man was very good. We didn't see any other shows or do any of the extra cost activities, so can't comment on those.
  4. It might be pre-mixed, just to save time when the bar gets busy. That doesn't mean it's bad. Try one made their default way, and then if you're not crazy about it you might be able to specify what you want them to do differently. For me, the pre-mixed one is probably going to be too sweet, just because I don't like cocktails that are too sweet, but a lot of people do. So just saying "not too sweet" might be enough for them to use less of the pre-mix stuff (it might be only the sweet and sour mix is pre-mixed and not the whole thing, it just depends on how the bar has been setup), or make it from scratch.
  5. I think the perfect margarita (from the NCL cocktail menu), on the rocks, with salt, not too sweet, is a pretty good margarita. If you find a bar that's not busy the bartender is probably going to be willing to work with you to tailor a margarita to your liking. It would help if you could say what in particular you like in your margarita (variety of tequila and triple sec, on the sweet side or not too sweet, lots of lime, not so much lime, salt or not, etc).
  6. I wish I knew how many kids to expect on our cruise in 3 weeks. My daughter will be on her week-long winter break, but I'm not sure how common those are, or if they'd all be at the same time.
  7. One of the recent reviews was either 4 or 5 stars, they said they had a great time (not perfect but great nonetheless) and they flat out said the people leaving the 1 star reviews must be extremely hard to please because they couldn't explain it. Many of those 1 star reviews have almost nothing good to say about the entire cruise. Room is too small, crew is unfriendly, food is bad, shows are impossible to get into, everything costs too much, yadda yadda yadda. When they can't find anything nice to say about a cruise, I am inclined not to take them too seriously. Most of the people leaving the good reviews are not crazy about the lack of deck space, but somehow it doesn't ruin their vacation. Some of the people leaving good reviews have teenagers who love the race track / laser tag and say this is the only way their kids would have had a good time. Granted this seems to be a minority, but I think this is exactly the type of customer NCL was hoping to attract to the Encore. The expanded Vibe seems to be no win for some people. Either NCL can keep Vibe the same size as on other ships, with low numbers of passes, leaving more demand than supply, or they can keep Vibe the same and sell more passes, making the area more crowded, or they can make it bigger and sell more passes. All of these options will leave some people complaining. We'll be on the Encore in 4.5 weeks and I'm very much looking forward to it. We won't be getting Vibe passes, we're not in the Haven, and I still have a couple of specialty restaurants I'll need to book once onboard. I'm pretty sure it will all be fine.
  8. Get dropped off at the convention center, at Convention Center and Julia, then just walk down the walkway toward the river. If you ask to get dropped at the port itself, you'll be stuck in single-file traffic for a long time.
  9. Going to the spa early is the way to go. You'll basically have it to yourself.
  10. We'll see. I'm not going to knock it til I've tried it.
  11. We're booked on Encore in February for a number of reasons, and not one of them has to do with the ship itself. However, I'm fine with waiting and seeing how the layout works before making judgments. As long as we can find a spot to relax on the Waterfront or in the Observation Lounge (which I'm so glad they have brought back), we'll be happy.
  12. A lot of schools had Fall Break last week. As for the kids without a parent, I'm pretty sure they do require an adult to be present in the pool area, but there's the rule, and then there's actually enforcing the rule.
  13. In the 2nd bedroom on Breakaway, there's just enough room to walk by the bed to get to the bathroom, but it's tight. Kind of hard to see in this picture but there's a little space on the left of the bed. The bed itself is full size, so big enough for 2 if they don't mind being cozy.
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