Just Back From….Norwegian Breakaway: Vegas at Sea?

September 4, 2014 | By | 10 Comments

Deck on Norwegian Breakaway
For a long time, cruise industry executives have maintained that their competition for passengers is not other cruise lines. What cruise travel is up against, we’ve heard over and over, is the massive casino resorts of Las Vegas and the theme parks of Orlando.
Royal Caribbean’s Oasis and Allure of the Seas certainly qualify as sea-going theme parks, with their neighborhoods, carousel, zip-lining and alfresco cafes in Central Park. And my recent weeklong cruise on Norwegian Breakaway felt like a trip to Vegas — sans sand.
The most startling aspect of the week was that this traditional-minded cruise traveler, who appreciates serene environments, the occasional formal night, and no lines, had a blast on Breakaway.
Like Vegas, the resort — er, ship — was always humming. It has the most varied selection of entertainment and restaurants we’ve seen on a cruise ship. The Ropes Course, complete with a gangplank so you can look down at the sea from your 16th deck perch, was a big hit. The fee-extra Vibe Beach Club felt like a Vegas enclave.
Did I occasionally yearn for a more quiet, more laid-back environment? Sure. And as with any Vegas resort, there’s always some place to tuck yourself away — but you have to work at finding it.
Here are our hits and misses from Norwegian Breakaway.
HITS
*Freestyle Dining. Norwegian Cruise Line has long been a pioneer of the dine-where-you-want, when-you-want way of cruising (in fact, the line was the first to introduce the then-wildly unusual concept of an alternative restaurant on its ships; anyone know which one it is? It’s still in operation throughout the Norwegian fleet). At Cruise Critic we’ve long praised the line for the variety of restaurants, which range from a sushi bar and O’Sheehans to the ultra-luxe Ocean Blue for seafood and the Brazilian-inspired Moderno Churascarria for meat lovers. Until recently, however, the jury’s been way out on the…
Lobster roll served at the Ocean Blue on the Waterfront, Norwegian Breakaway
*Food Quality. Here’s the thing: It’s improved so, so much! Norwegian’s made a big point of investing more money in the quality of its food and its shows. The cuisine was traditionally delicious, whether it was in the $15 La Cucina, the $9.75 lobster roll at Ocean Blue on the Waterfront or the $3 red velvet cupcake at Carlo’s. On the fee-free side, we discovered fantastic fruit pies at Uptown Grill, delicious fried chicken at Taste and Savor, chicken wings at O’Sheehans Pub, and sushi made-while-you-wait at The Garden Café.

Read on to find out more.

    Steal of the Week: Cruises from $28/Night

    September 4, 2014 | By | No Comments

    piggy bank cruising
    Everyone is looking for the deal of the century. So how do you choose the one that’s right for you? Check the Lido Deck each week to get the scoop on our favorite deals — then grab the phone and pack your bags.
    THE DEAL: Royal Caribbean‘s Labor Day Savings Event is offering some of the cheapest cruises we’ve ever seen, through September 7. A last-minute, four-night Bahamas cruise starts from $109 per person.
    WHAT WE LOVE: Hands-down some of the lowest cruise fares we’ve ever seen, Royal Caribbean’s Labor Day Savings Event is slashing prices up to 20 percent and creating ridiculously cheap cruises in the process. Sail a range of four-night itineraries in the Bahamas (from Miami or Port Canaveral) from $109 per person (not per night!). To break that down, you’re paying less than $30 per person, per night for your cruise vacation. Longer itineraries in the Mediterranean are available for more standard prices — $1,499 per person for an outside cabin on a seven-night Greek Isles and Turkey cruise. Even Canada and New England cruises are available (and during peak season for these sailings) from $77 per night.
    WHAT GIVES US PAUSE: To snag that bargain basement sailing to the Bahamas, you will have to book by Sunday and er, sail by Monday. But the last-minute cruises aren’t the only offers on the table; select October and November sailings are available to a range of destinations. Many of the inside cabins are already booked or not available, so higher cabin categories may be the only options for certain sailings. With all the recent announcements of flashy new robot bars and bumper cars, many distinguish Royal as the innovative, activity-laden cruise line, but there are still some older ships in the fleet lacking many of the bells and whistles cruisers have come to expect from their other ships. The ships sailing many of these discounted itineraries are some of the oldest in the fleet.
    HOW TO BOOK IT: For all the nitty-gritty on this deal (including that pesky fine print), click here.
    Compare flight prices with our sister site TripAdvisor’s meta-search tool.
    Looking for cruises for under $75 or even $50 a day? We’ve got ‘em listed on our Cheap Cruises page.
    Get great cruise deals — and exclusive member offers — delivered weekly to your inbox.

      Just Back From… A Holland America Alaska Cruisetour: Hits & Misses

      September 3, 2014 | By | 2 Comments

      View of Turnagain Arm south of Anchorage, Alaska
      Many first-time cruisers to Alaska don’t realize a typical Inside Passage voyage visits only a fraction of the 49th State. For those who want to dig deeper into Alaskan history, culture and wilderness, a cruisetour — a land tour that’s tacked on to your sailing — might be your best bet.
      We spent 12 days on an Alaska cruisetour operated by Holland America (the line calls them Land + Sea Journeys). The trip began in Anchorage and spent two nights in Denali National Park before heading north to Fairbanks. The tour then brought us to Canada’s Yukon Territory where we spent several days in Dawson City and Whitehorse before heading back to Alaska. We finished with a four-day cruise from Skagway to Vancouver on Zuiderdam.
      Sound tiring? At times, it was. But we’ve come home with a new appreciation for how varying America’s last frontier can be — and we can’t wait to return. Here are some of the hits, misses and “mehs” from the tour.
      HITS
      *Convenience. A two-week trip to Alaska requires a lot of layers, and I bought a new 24-inch suitcase to handle the packing requirements. The weight didn’t bother me, however, because I don’t think I touched the bag the entire trip. From the airport in Anchorage to embarkation in Skagway, the suitcase showed up exactly where and when it was supposed to, every time. That doesn’t seem like a big deal, until you realize that Holland America runs numerous Land + Sea itineraries, all through the summer, off each of its eight ships in the region. It’s a potential logistical nightmare that, thankfully, went off like clockwork. Color me impressed.
      *Expertise. Talk about reach: On our odyssey through Alaska and Yukon, we rumbled along Holland America-owned trains, hit the highway in Holland America motor coaches and stayed in Holland America-owned hotels. We even took a Holland America charter plane between Fairbanks and Dawson City, a new addition to the itinerary that shaved at least another day of driving time.

      Read on to find out more.

        Wanderlust Wednesday: From the Beach to the Forest

        September 3, 2014 | By | No Comments

        Green forest with hikers overlooking the ocean
        Every Wednesday, we’ll be taking you on a journey around the world to some of the most interesting places our members have trekked, swum or merely witnessed from afar while cruising.
        Whether these photos inspire you to plan a relaxing escape or walk on the wild side, we hope they ignite your senses and give you ideas for your next cruising adventure. If you have a photo you’d love to share, send it to us at photos@cruisecritic.com or post it in our member photo gallery.
        We’re taking you to higher ground in this week’s Wanderlust Wednesday. Barbados, the easternmost of the Caribbean islands, is comprised of white-sand beaches, lush forest and sugar cane fields. Many cruisers stick to the beaches or tour local rum distilleries, but hiking up the beaten path makes for a nice escape from the bustle below. Thanks to Cruise Critic member Sarah T, who snapped the photo during a cruise excursion.
        Find interesting places to visit based on region.
        Everything you need to know about planning a cruise.
        Explore Trip Reports of unique itineraries.

          Cruise Critic Live: Norwegian Jewel – and Answers to NCL Dining

          September 2, 2014 | By | 2 Comments

          A plate of gluten-free pasta served on Norwegian Jewel
          We had such an amazing response to last week’s Cruise Critic Live chat on Norwegian NEXT dining that there were some questions we didn’t even get to. Frank Weber, vice president of product development with Norwegian Cruise Line, joined us for the chat last week and follows up with some responses to your lingering dining questions.
          Plus, can’t get enough Norwegian? You’re in luck! News Editor Dori Saltzman is onboard Norwegian Jewel for an Alaska sailing and will be taking your questions all week. (There’s already a conversation going!) In addition, Dori will be joined by Hotel Director Ignacio Garcia this Friday, September 5 at 4 p.m. ET for an hour-long chat.
          Is the chicken done in the same fryer as the fish? I have fish allergies. – Kathy Bender
          A: For any food allergies, please advise the Maitre’d onboard and they will be sure to work with the chef to accommodate your needs.
          Is there a chance I’d be able to eat the fish onboard? I love fish and seafood in general, but I’m severely allergic to whatever is injected into farm-raised fish. I found this out the hard way several months ago. Wild-caught only for me. – adivineeternity
          A: We have a variety of fish available, from wild-caught to farm-raised. Please check with your Maitre’d onboard for specific menu items to confirm they meet your needs.
          Have the lobster tails been removed from the new complimentary menus? – Jessica
          A: We’re moving away from the traditional Lobster Night in the Main Dining rooms, just as we no longer offer the midnight buffet or baked Alaska parade. As a part of elevating the experience onboard and based on our guests’ feedback, we are reinventing how our guests enjoy signatures dishes such as lobster. We’re modernizing the menus and how we present this signature dish to reflect today’s restaurant standards and culinary trends. So guests will see more creative seafood specialties that still include lobster.
          Cruising Norwegian before the economic crash and after, there was a noticeable difference in quality (orange juice), steaks (tough in MDR), coffee (no bean-grinding machines) and desserts (what happened to souffles several times during the cruise??) Just off the Breakaway in May and I did see that you added some new souffles – thank you! What plans do you have to improve the quality (over quantity) to make Norwegian a foodie go-to cruise line? – dalgirl
          A: We continue to evolve our menu program and invest in our dining program. The new complimentary dining menus that were launched this year are just the first step in our effort of continued improvement. We closely monitor current restaurant trends to meet and exceed today’s guest expectations. Partnerships like Ocean Blue with Geoffrey Zakarian have demonstrated our commitment to quality, rather than quantity, as has the focus on smaller complimentary restaurants for a more intimate experience, rather than the massive dining rooms that you may see on other cruise lines, some with up to 2,900 seats! New innovations in food concepts will be launched on Norwegian Escape, to set the standard for the future of Norwegian’s Dining Experience. So, stay tuned for future exciting announcements soon!
          I have been on over 29 Norwegian cruises and one thing I always enjoyed was the crepe suzette in LeBistro. I have noticed that is no longer offered. Is there a reason why, and can I expect to see that making a return? – Rick
          A: Yes, I love it too! And I wish we could bring it back. Table side crepe suzette is not only delicious but it also showcases the skill of our dedicated restaurant servers. Unfortunately, due to regulations prohibiting open flames onboard, we had to discontinue this practice some time ago.
          Will the Cadillac Diner on the Pride of America stay, or are there plans to change it? — molokai-chuck
          A: At this point there are no plans to change the Cadillac Diner. Would you like it to change or do you enjoy the current experience?

            Member Review of the Week: A New Way to Travel

            September 2, 2014 | By | No Comments

            Charming town on sunny day with mountain in background
            Each week, we choose five cruise reviews written by our members, one of which is showcased as the Member Review of the Week. In the spotlight this week is Cruise Critic member Docmommy‘s recent cruise to the Alaska aboard Celebrity Solstice.
            Overall Impression: With only a few cruises under their belts and the majority of their travels done on land, Docmommy and her husband never considered themselves the cruising types. But after much research on Cruise Critic led them to a cruise aboard Celebrity Solstice, their crystal ball shows more time on the high seas.
            Read on for highlights, tips and more.

              Where in the World is Cruise Critic?

              September 1, 2014 | By | 1 Comment

              Dori Saltzman on map
              Cruise Critic staffers set sail every week, traveling the globe to bring you the latest cruise ship trends, port sneak peeks and onboard observations. Here’s where we are this week.
              (Got questions about any of the ships we’re boarding or ports we are visiting? Ask us in the comments!)
              Ship: Norwegian Jewel
              Where: Departing from Seattle, we’re heading to Alaska for a weeklong cruise to Ketchikan, Juneau, Sawyer Glacier, Skagway and Victoria, Canada.
              Who: Dori Saltzman, News Editor
              Why There? Back in May, Norwegian Jewel became the first cruise ship in the Norwegian fleet to receive a series of upgrades as part of the line’s Norwegian NEXT program, which brings older ships up to date with the line’s newest ship features. During the retrofit, Jewel received O’Sheehan’s Neighborhood Bar & Grill and the Sugarcane Mojito Bar. Additionally, treats from Carlo’s Bake Shop, which has a dedicated outlet on both Norwegian Breakaway and Getaway, were added to the offerings at Java Cafe. The Horizon and Spinnaker lounges, pool deck, casino and photo gallery were all updated as well.

              We Can’t Wait: Having sailed on Norwegian Jewel over New Year’s Eve 2013, I am eager to see the improvements to a ship that did look a bit dated. I am especially excited for breakfasts and the ice cream sundae menu at O’Sheehan’s. I’m also quite curious to see if the new additions in any way encroach on the spaciousness that has always been a highlight of Norwegian’s Jewel-class ships, especially in contrast with the more crowded feel of the Breakaway ships. I am equally as enthusiastic about the itinerary, as this will be my first Alaska cruise. I’m also pleased to host a Live From edition of Cruise Critic Live! onboard Norwegian Jewel on Friday, September 5 at 4 p.m. (Eastern). I’ll be available to take your questions about Norwegian Jewel and the Norwegian NEXT upgrades.

                September 2014 Calendar Desktop Wallpaper: Cruising into Kotor

                August 29, 2014 | By | No Comments

                September 2014 Desktop Calendar of Cruise Ship in Kotor, Montenegro
                Get your September 2014 Desktop Calendar Wallpaper! We hope that this photo of a cruise ship sailing through Kotor, Montenegro will get you thinking about planning a fall getaway.
                Here’s how to put this photo on your computer, tablet or cell phone:
                1.  Click on the following links to get the size that you want. Each link will open a new window (or tab) displaying the wallpaper, in the appropriate format for your screen size.
                2.  For the desktop versions, right-click on the image, and choose the option that says, “Set as Desktop Background”, “Use as Desktop Picture,” or something similar. The wording depends on your browser. Mac users should ctrl-click and save the photo on their computer in the “Pictures” folder.
                3. If the image does not fit your desktop background neatly, you may have to go to your preference panel (on a Mac: System Preferences > Desktop & Screen Saver > Desktop; on Windows: Control Panel > Display > Desktop) and choose“Fit to screen” as the display mode of your background image.
                4. For phone and tablet, open the link and center the photo on your phone so it fills the screen. Take a photo and save it on your device. Then go to your Settings and find your Wallpaper (on an iPhone, this is under “Wallpapers & Brightness.” Set the saved calendar photo as your wallpaper.
                2560 x 1440 | 1280 x 800 | Tablet | Mobile
                Check back on September 30 for the October 2014 calendar. 
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