This is a review of the Norwegian Breakaway's inaugural transatlantic cruise, April 30 - May 7, 2013. This review is written by someone who has cruised about 30 times mostly on RCCL, NCL, and Princess.
The Breakaway is a brand new ship and this cruise marked its first week-long sailing with passengers. We expected many minor inconveniences, yet were pleasantly surprised at the polish of the entire ship and crew. There were several very minor issues, most of which will be cleared up easily. Otherwise, things went incredibly smoothly and nearly everything worked properly.
The ship is huge, carrying over 4000 passengers. We were told, on this cruise however, that there were somewhere less than 3000. I expect that that helped things run more smoothly, but I have no doubt that the ship can handle that number of passengers without major delays or passenger dissatisfaction. The entire ship runs "Freestyle" with no assigned dining tables or schedules (except for the dinner show with Cirque Dreams). Suits and evening gowns were not required and formal tuxedos and such were virtually non-existent. We tended to eat early, but never had any problem getting into any restaurant. Typically we always observed open tables. Reservations can be made for all of the specialty restaurants and the major shows, using either your stateroom TV, the iConcierge app on a smart-phone, by telephone or in person, or using one of many touch-screen TVs located on every floor by the staircases and elevators. This was not difficult and the crew appeared to be trained and helpful.
Usually we book an inside cabin, but we were upgraded to a balcony cabin on Deck 11 midship. The cabin was typically small, but very serviceable and practical. When you enter the room, you must insert your key-card (or anything else of a similar shape and material) into a slot by the door in order to activate electricity to room. There was no lights, TV, or power to the outlets (only two by the desk) unless this was done. Not a big deal, but I learned that mobile devices are not being charged when you leave your room unless something is in this slot. One real nice feature of the bathroom is a glass-enclosed shower. What a major improvement from the plastic curtain in most cruise ship cabins! No water spilled onto the floor during any shower. The other huge advantage to the glass enclosure was that fogging of the mirror was nearly non-existent, which has always been a pet-peeve of mine. Water pressure seemed somewhat low (I'm sure a water saving feature), and the shower head did not offer any options for any different spray patterns. Water glasses sat in mounts on the wall along with a liquid soap dispenser.
The bed mattress was much thicker and better than on average cruise ships, about 10 inches thick....a major plus, and probably not appreciated by passengers that haven't had a problem with other ship's mattresses. The closet was not very deep, causing shirts to get pinched by the sliding door unless they were pushed inside first. One minor annoyance here, which I'm sure will get resolved quickly, is that the hotel-style hangers slipped through the hooks that are used to hang them from the bar. We had five, where the ball at the end of the hanger would simply not hold in the slot. My suit fell to the floor several times. One other thing I missed was a desk drawer, where typically I store paperwork, pens and chargers. Again, not a big deal.
Another minor inconvenience is the complete lack of clocks throughout the ship. I learned you can touch any of the touch-screen TVs to show the time, look at the monitor in an elevator, or find the time on the display of any phone around the ship. The only clocks that I found were on either side of the bar in the center of the pool deck, but these were not visible from the hot tubs or pools. I really missed having clocks around the ship. I don't know if this was an oversight or intentional (perhaps to help passengers relax without time pressures, or perhaps to increase watch sales in the gift shop). You may want to plan to wear a watch on the Norwegian Breakaway.
One point that I consider almost bordering on dangerous is that on several decks (6, 7 and 8) there is a blue strip of carpeting on the floor just below the staircase. Since the staircase is also carpeted in the same blue, it deceptively looks like another step. Both of us stumbled on this strip at separate times. With low-vision passengers, or others simply not paying attention, it seemed like a hazard that would be easily fixed by replacing the blue strip of carpeting with a different color.
The ship was well appointed with rich woods and carpeting. A very nice feature was the incorporation in the design of small fish swimming in the carpeting along all the cabins. When you're in the middle of very long hallways without windows, this was an easy way to determine the direction of the bow and stern. I wish they would incorporate a design element in all the carpeting pointing towards the bow of the ship. It also helped in that there were only two main staircases (with a third glass staircase in the atrium).
There was a very modern, muli-colored chandelier in the atrium
The cabin we had on Deck 11 mid-ship was extremely quiet. In fact we noticed how it was nearly impossible to hear ship engine noise and vibration. With the doors closed, it was silent. Even the state-room door seemed to almost seal, like a refrigerator, completely eliminating sound from the hallway or ocean noise from the balcony sliding door. However, we did speak with another passenger, who tended to go to bed early, who was unhappy with his cabin because of the noise. That cabin was located directly above Fat Cats jazz club and the bass was annoying when he tried to sleep. We heard a similar complaint from a passenger underneath the Pool deck who heard party noises from above. One other noise comment was in the Taste restaurant, two different songs were heard simultaneously, the piano player outside, and recorded music piped into the room. Ideally, they would simply amplify the piano and feed it throughout the speakers in the Taste and Savor restaurants so that two songs wouldn't clash. Otherwise, overall, the sound systems in the various venues were extremely well done. Even the outdoor Spice H2O had great sound with quality speakers incorporated into the metal framework around the large LED screen.
Most entertainment and dining venues were located on Decks 6, 7 or 8. Overall the ship was very well designed. I felt there was one problem, but I expect it was purposeful. The Casino was centrally located on Deck 7 around the atrium making it impossible to avoid. Since this was a smoking area, there was an odor when passing through that was still noticeable in surrounding areas. I'm sure others would disagree with me, but in my opinion the casino could be located in a more out of-the-way area. People that want to gamble would find the casino.
Maybe we missed it, but I'm not aware of any movies played on large screens for public viewing. There are two large LED panel screens, one at the base of the atrium on Deck 6, and another in the Spice H2O outdoor venue. The atrium had generic images of exotic locations, as a power-point screen for demonstrations, or for Wii U gameplay.
Each cabin had an advanced television. The Cruise Directors staff did not create a morning show reviewing daily activities. Perhaps this will be added once they get to their normal itinerary and routines. Channel 13 was used to replay public events. So far, I thought that this was poorly utilized, but perhaps I simply missed the playback time. More likely, the video crew was working hard to create emergency instructional and port videos for their next itinerary, so they are probably not up to speed at the public events. I understand that the large production shows are copyrighted and only shown live. But there were other things such as the Captain's description of the construction and the technical details of the ship, and later an open forum talk by the CEO of Norwegian Cruise Lines that I would really liked to have attended. Unfortunately there were other events scheduled at the same time so we could not attend the live presentation. I would have expected more viewing choices. Especially things that could entertain for a short period of time while changing clothes and such. The broadcast channels offered were somewhat intermittent, dropping to black frequently and having somewhat garbled audio glitches periodically. Hopefully this will improve. I did appreciate the inclusion of both Fox News and MSNBC.
9 - Guide (silent text)
10 - Safety Information
13 - Activities and Information - (recorded public events)
14- Onboard offering - (advertising of spa offerings)
15 - Shore Excursion - (no ports, so generic NCL port excursion videos)
16 - Port Shopping - (advertising for on-board shops)
21 - Navigation Information - Typical automated Navigation and weather information)
22 - Bow Camera -(not available)
23 - BBC World News
26 - Fox News
28 - Engage Network
29 - Favorite Shows - 30-minute comedies and 1-hour dramas
30 - Favorite Movies - full length movies
Internet wi-fi service was available everywhere on the ship. It was typically expensive and slow. My only complaint here was that you had to sign out to avoid running up too many minutes, but the sign off procedure seemed to take forever. There were several times I would enter "ogout.com and would eventually get a response that I was not logged in. But a faster, more positive end of session response would be appreciated.
There are a number of cost-savings measures instituted on the Breakaway. For the most part I support the efforts, with the understanding that it will keep the cruise fares lower. In the bathroom, small packets or bottles of shampoo have been replaced by liquid dispensers. This was fine, but travelers that want hair conditioner or hand lotion will need to bring their own. Most of the restaurants onboard use nice formica tables with woven plastic placemats instead of white tablecloths. Much of the art work at stair landings on most cruise ships is replaced on the Breakaway with printed wall murals or large mirrors.
The Breakaway is designed for warm-weather sailings. There is no indoor pool and many activities are designed for out- of- doors. Most of the specialty restaurants have outdoor seating available. It was too cold in the North Atlantic in early May for any of these facilities to see much use, but the ship is destined for summer trips to Bermuda and winter trips to the Caribbean. There were numerous outdoor activities including a large basketball court and rock climbing wall. There was an extensive ropes course including a metal beam that extended over the side of the ship by eight feet. Unfortunately, the time that I tried was just before closing for lunch and I didn't get to experience the entire course. There were five water tubes, two that spiral tightly, one that open curves, and two more that have the rider stand nearly vertically into an enclosure where the floor drops away. The entire ride is about 6 seconds and is quite thrilling. There are two pools and a splash pool for the kids. There were also a number of hot tubs, including two up on the Spice H20 adult-only area. This area was somewhat difficult to find and was located at the stern on Deck 16. There was also a very small jogging track on Deck 16. This was expected to replace the typical Promenade Deck walk that completely circles the ship. There was a very nice mini-golf course. My only complaint here was that the outdoor carpeting was not glued down and there were several wrinkles.
I understand that there were 19 cruise staff members dedicated to the kids programs. This appeared to outnumber the number of children on board for our transatlantic. It looks like kids activities are well supported, but traveling without children, we had nothing to comment on here.
The 6 remaining Cruise Director's staff ran typical activities. They appeared to be somewhat less omni-present from other ships, but performed their duties adequately. I personally found the Cruise Director Julie far less social compared to all the other Cruise Directors that I have seen. In general, it appears that Norwegian pulled in the best from all of their ships to form the crew of the new Breakaway. Julie appears to be an exception. However, I understand that the Cruise Director is responsible for hiring and scheduling all the other entertainment on board. I suspect that perhaps Julie is an extraordinary manager and organizer, and her talents in that area were more important than her social abilities. However, I did have an issue with the way some things were scheduled. It seemed that most activities that would attract people that had an interest in learning and expanding their knowledge were scheduled at either 10:00 am or 2:00 pm. This included activities such as Tivia, Name That Tune, What's My Line, and talks by the Captain and CEO of NCL. Possibly this was intentional to keep attendance at each activity under control. There are few venues on the ship that can hold a large number of passengers. The main theater can hold approximately 750 and appeared to be the largest. The various clubs such as Headliners, Bliss and Fat Cats probably average around 200.
Julie also ran the Progressive Trivia activity held daily at 10:15am. Apparently she does not understand the concept of Progressive. She made no attempt to keep track of a team's daily scores or to compile a total. Progressive Trivia simply ended on the last day with the final winner being given the trophy that had been passed from winning team to winning team. Julie also appeared to have no interest whatsoever in trivia. This was unfortunate as the transatlantic cruise attracted a large contingent of trivia buffs. The trivia buffs who were serious about their trivia were somewhat annoyed at her lack of interest. Ass't cruise director Simon and cruise staff members Gustav and Meaghan, on the other hand, were terrific. Gustav showed up momentarily instead of Julie for morning Trivia and the passengers applauded. He had to explain that he was just delivering paper and that Julie would be there shortly, to the disappointment of the players.
There was a library and a card room, typical of cruise ships. On display were a number of costumes from the Rockettes, the Godmothers of the Norwegian Breakaway. There was also a game room with an air-hockey table, a pool table, and two small bowling lanes. All three were for a small additional charge. I never saw the bowling lanes used, but it was an interesting concept.
The shows on the Breakaway were not typical for cruise ships. Gone were the typical Broadway and Movie singing and dance review shows. The main theater featured two shows, the musical Rock of Ages, and Burn The Floor. Both were very well done and very impressive for a cruise ship. While being well done, I didn't particularly care for the Rock of Ages story, being kind of a modern version of 42nd Street (which is also one of my least favorites). The music was popular hair-band rock music from the 80s, which may attract those who were young at that time and their teenage kids. It may not appeal to their parents or grandparents. Burn the Floor was an extremely high energy ball-room dancing show with two live singers, piano, bass and drums playing along with a recorded track. We saw the second performance and were amazed at how much effort the dancers put forth. They were phenomenal and deserved the standing ovation the audience immediately gave.
The other main entertainment was Cirque Dreams and Dinner Jungle Fantasy. This show was held in the Spiegel Tent on Deck 6. Again, this show was different from most cruise ship shows and featured a number of "Cirque du Solei" type acts. The Spiegel Tent obviously was not a tent, but the room had a half-round shape and was raised high in the middle over the stage like a circus tent. My favorite act was the two quick change artists that amazingly changed costumes multiple times in seconds. Surf and turf dinner was provided here and an extra charge of $39.00 was applied for premium seats. The food was average. I heard a complaint from one person who liked their steak well done, but all were served at medium rare. There was a choice of premium or standard seating. The standard seating appeared to be more comfortable half-round booths surrounding the outer edge of the theater. The premium seating were 4 two-person tables shoved together, seating 10 people. This seemed overly crowded and forced some people to be eating over the crack between tables. The theater was not full, so it would have been possible to spread out people more comfortably. It is also important to note that there were three rings of seating. An inner ring of tables perpendicular to the stage, and an outer ring of tables parallel to the stage comprised premium seating. Then along the outside wall was the standard seating booths, raised up slightly. It seemed to me that this extra height gave the people in the standard seating booths a better view of the stage than the people in the outer ring of premium seats. Guests were seated into the best seats available as they arrived, so it is important to get to the show early, at least 30 minutes, especially if seated in the premium section. It's also important to note that a number of the acts are flown into the top area above the stage. Due to the lower ceiling over the outer ring of premium seats and the standard seating booths, some of the acts might be blocked.
Three other noteworthy acts were Slam Allen, a blue guitarist featured in Fat Cats jazz and blues club. He was absolutely phenomenal and not to be missed. I don't know how long he will be aboard, but be sure to stop in and hear him play. The other act that we loved was Howl at the Moon. This was billed as Dueling Pianos, but in reality was three very talented performers that rotated among two pianos and a drum set. They would play continuously for four hours with one at a time taking occasional breaks. This was audience participation music, playing nearly all requests, (typically either rock or country), and was very engaging. We went multiple nights and thoroughly enjoyed their performance. The other major entertainment was seven members of the Second City comedy club. They performed a number of times throughout the cruise and every show was different. It was mostly improvisation, but there were a few skits scattered about. They were very funny, but their performance varied depending on the suggestions from the audience. The late evening performances were suggested for adults only and ventured into more risque subjects.
The main shows in the theater required reservations be made in advance. At ten minutes before the start of the show, any open seats could be filled by passengers without reservations. Nearly all the events required the passenger to have their cruise-card scanned. This procedure seemed overly long and took several seconds for each person. This seemed to cause a lot of delay getting into shows. Typical modern theaters have a small hand-held scanner that simply beeps a positive response when each ticket is scanned. The NCL system seemed to require the operator to examine the response from each scan and hit a key or two. This seemed overly complicated and slow. Perhaps there should be more than one computer were available at each entrance. Also, once audience members entered the theater they were free to pick any seat. Typically people would sit in pairs or small groups, leaving a blank seat between them. Since the shows ran quite full, this caused a lot of people arriving later to try to find seats together. I am mixed about signing up reservations for shows weeks prior to departure. In most cruises with ports of call, it would be difficult to plan well in advance which performances would fit into their schedule. On the transatlantic with seven straight days at sea, it really didn't matter and worked fine for us. Site lines in the main theater were very good with the person's head in the seat in front low enough to not be objectionable. Site lines in Headliners were far worse with chairs all on the same level facing the stage. One nice feature here was the use of small wooden blocks between each pair of chairs to set drinks upon. This made a much better layout of the audience than the typical round tables with four chairs, as was used in Fat Cats.
I am not a gourmet and do not feel qualified to judge the food, but I would in general say that it struck me it was on-par with most of my cruise ship experience. The food in the Garden Cafe buffet varied somewhat depending on how long ago it had been put out. It appeared that some of the food was cooked immediately behind the display area, and some things such as crepes and omelets were cooked to order. The Garden Cafe was a giant rectangle with each type of food stations being repeated about four times. These stations were things such as beverages, desserts, salads, or grill and such. One very positive thing for me is that there was a station providing free water, tea and juices. However, only small glasses were available necessitating multiple trips back for refills. But it was sure nice not to have to pay for everything. Forks, knives, napkins, ketchup, mustard and condiments were available at each table so there was no need to carry them through the food lines - a nice feature since there were no trays available, only plates. There was another smaller buffet immediately above the Garden Cafe that served breakfast sandwiches and hamburgers and such. One great feature was small sinks to wash your hands at the entrance to the cafe in additional to the availability of hand sanitizers at all restaurants.
Overall the main restaurants were well run and served decent food. We spoke with one head-waiter that had been on board for about a month preparing the ship and practicing. Each restaurant was "stress tested" where workers and other ship personnel were sent to fill a restaurant to ensure that the wait staff and kitchen workers could practice providing service under busy conditions. This practice showed, and we did not experience any problems. We especially enjoyed our experience at Cagney's steakhouse and Teppanyaki. We did not try Ocean Blue, but from the reaction of other passengers, it was overpriced for small portions with less than spectacular flavor.
Overall, I would not hesitate to recommend the Norwegian Breakaway. Norwegian has really upped their game from our previous NCL experiences and is trying very hard to provide a quality vacation experience while still carefully controlling expenses. The ship is aimed squarely at the New York middle class family market and I expect will succeed.