The longest go-kart track at sea is so incredible even grown-ups will love it
When Norwegian Cruise Line first unveiled plans to put a go-kart track atop a cruise ship, some people in the cruise world snickered. That can’t possibly work, they said. And even if it does, who'd want to go-kart in the middle of the ocean?
Quite a lot of people, it turns out.
The first two go-kart tracks at sea, unveiled in 2017 and 2018 on the line’s Norwegian Joy and Norwegian Bliss, respectively, were huge hits. So much so that Norwegian has dreamed up an even bigger go-kart experience for its latest vessel, Norwegian Encore.
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As I saw over the weekend during a sneak peek at Norwegian Encore in advance of its inaugural voyage out of Miami, the Norwegian Encore Speedway go-kart track is nearly 200 feet longer than the earlier tracks and wider, too. Spreading over a significant portion of two decks, it includes sections that extend about 13 feet over the sides of the vessel that aren’t on the earlier ships.
The racecourse also features a new observation area in the middle of the track, from where family and friends can cheer you on to victory (and even shoot "laser guns" at you for a power boost). The laser guns — a new addition to the Norwegian go-kart experience — bring an interactive element to the attraction designed to make it more appealing to groups of families and friends traveling together.
The idea is that your companions will work with you from the sidelines to get you to the win.
“It’s all about that family interactivity and that engagement,” Simon Murray, the Norwegian executive in charge of guest experiences and innovation, told me during an onboard interview. “Not everyone wants to race or can race, but [now] they can participate.”
Murray noted that his own daughter, Georgiana, is too young to operate one of the go-karts herself. But during a day visit to the ship last week, the 9-year-old had a blast shooting the laser guns from the sidelines as Murray made a test run on the track.
“She’s shooting like crazy trying to give Daddy a boost,” he said. “It was the sweetest thing.”
Georgiana, it should be noted, gets the credit for sparking the idea of the laser guns. She’s a big fan of a flume attraction at Universal Orlando where observers can shoot riders with water guns as they pass by, and she wondered aloud to her dad as to whether the go-kart tracks on Norwegian ships could have something similar. Murray took the idea and ran with it.
“We wanted to do the same [type of] thing but in a positive way,” he said, noting that nobody is going to get unexpectedly soaked at the Norwegian Encore Speedway by a devious stranger. “The way the technology works is that we could actually have made the lasers take away the turbo boost. But we made it give you a boost. We didn’t want to upset people.”
During a three-lap test run over the weekend, I found the experience of zipping around the go-kart track on Norwegian Encore more thrilling than the go-kart tracks on Norwegian Joy and Norwegian Bliss (both of which I've tried, too). The bigger width of the track makes it much easier to pass other cars, or be passed, as the case would be.
In my case, alas, it was more of the latter. No matter how hard I jammed the green “gas” pedal of my car to the floor, or how seriously I tried to evoke the speed of NASCAR giants like Earnhardt and Petty, when all was said and done, I was nearly last in my heat.
Best to stick to travel writing is the lesson, I guess.
I put “gas” in quotes because, unlike many go-karts on land, the cars that Norwegian is using on Norwegian Encore don’t use fossil fuels. While they rev and purr like regular gas engine cars, they’re electric-powered. The noise that they make is all a simulation.
Just don’t think for a minute they’re not serious go-karts. The cars can hit speeds of up to 32 miles per hour on the track, making for quite the exhilarating experience. They could have gone even faster — up to 50 miles per hour, Murray said — but Norwegian has restricted them a bit for safety.
Perhaps the only bad news about the new go-kart track on Norwegian Encore is that it costs a lot more to experience than the go-kart tracks initially did on Norwegian's Joy and Bliss vessels. Just last year, when Norwegian Bliss first debuted, its go-kart track cost $7 per ride. With demand sky high, the line quickly raised that fee to $9.95 per ride. Now, the cost is up to $15 per ride. That’s for an eight-lap race that, typically, lasts about six to eight minutes.
If you’re the kind of person who just can’t get enough of go-karting (or, more likely, you have a kid like that), you also can buy a week-long, all-you-can-ride pass for $199 per person.
The track has a minimum height restriction of 55 inches and a maximum weight restriction of 300 pounds.
Want to learn more about Norwegian? Make sure to subscribe to TPG’s flagship podcast, Talking Points, for an exclusive interview with the CEO and president of Norwegian Cruise Line, Andy Stuart. The episode releases on Wednesday, Dec. 4.