I thought I'd share a mini-review of our experience on the Norwegian Breakaway's inaugural transatlantic cruise from Southampton to New York. It was fun to be among the first passengers on a clean new ship, but unfortunately NCL did not make the inaugural cruise special in any way. I'll offer general impressions, then address cabins/deck plans, dining, nightlife, entertainment, and activities.
Pros: Nice ship, well designed (with some exceptions) and executed. Nice variety of dining and activities. We did enjoy ourselves, despite some of the criticisms I offer here, and I would give the ship and the cruise a grade B-.
Cons: We anticipated NCL doing something special for its inaugural voyage, or for Latitudes members, but there was no captain's cocktail party, no special invitations, no inaugural commemorative gifts (other than a cheap cloth tote bag that came apart). Being part of something special with the launch of a new ship was the principal reason we paid much more than usual for the cruise fare and the flight to the UK. Generally, service throughout was apathetic, a bit surprising considering that crew members for a new flagship must have been selected from among NCL's finest, right?
Deck Plans & Public Areas:
Pros: The ship was easy to navigate, with most of the public venues on three central floors ("678 Ocean Place"). The ship's public areas were beautiful and tastefully decorated (less like Carnival/RCL/NCL and more like Celebrity/Princess/HAL). Furnishings were appropriate for each venue, and varied around the ship. Very helpful touchscreens in public areas allow passengers to find information and book dinner and show reservations. The Waterfront is a great addition (and one of the reasons we were attracted to this ship), and will undoubtedly get plenty of use in warmer climates than the north Atlantic. On our trip, it was a little too nippy to spend time out there most days.
Cons: Unlike many other ships, Breakaway does not have a "Crow's Nest"-type lounge with views. There was a dearth of lounge areas where people could just sit and talk or read a book. Many people gathered in specialty dining rooms and restaurants/bars just to hang out and read, which made it too crowded when you just wanted to sit and enjoy a drink or a coffee. The atrium area was a nice touch, but alternated between the extremes of loud ship presentations that would ordinarily be held in the theater on other ships, and passengers (at least on this quiet transatlantic) using it as a nap room for hours (during which there was a running loop of NYC and Bermuda tourism videos on the two-story screen). The ship still needs some tweaks to get ready for mostly U.S.-based passengers. For example, the electronic screens in the elevator showed the manufacturer's name, a stock picture of Breakaway, and showed the date as day/month/year, which is likely to confuse some American passengers.
Pros: We had a mini-suite, which like other cabins was well-appointed and tastefully designed. It does not have the curtain that we have enjoyed in mini-suites on the Jewel-class chips. Our bathroom included an upgraded shower with sliding door (no tub) and a double sink (albeit one that was very shallow front to back). Cabins include a mini-bar fridge and small coffeemaker (! - I think that's only in mini-suites and above).
Cons: Even the mini-suite was a bit cramped, and there wasn't enough room to unpack clothes and store suitcases, so we used the sofa as a luggage rack all week and weren't able to enjoy the sofa. Were it not for booking a large balcony, we would have felt claustrophobic. Even though we weren't really able to take full advantage of a large balcony in the north Atlantic, it was a great place to escape the cramped room. As you've read elsewhere, most balconies are small don't even have room for you to stretch out your legs.
Pros: Manhattan Room supper-club atmosphere was nice and more formal than other casual dining venues. The accompaniment of a jazz combo established the mood. But the layout and atmosphere in Taste and Savor, the casual dining rooms, was very nice at lunch and dinner. They seemed to make a better effort at service and presentation. Love NCL's freestyle anytime dining concept, which is still working well and which other lines are also adopting.
Cons: Food was just okay, and nothing to write home about. Coffee was from concentrate and not brewed from beans. There was decent Lavazza coffee available at the bake shop for a cost, but that was only espresso drinks, not brewed coffee. Its hours were curiously limited. Manhattan dining room was too cramped, and rushed and inattentive waiters were bumping chairs and tables in traffic. Buffet was a disappointment (taste of food, lack of variety). I'm guessing NCL is trying to drive people to the specialty extra-charge restaurants, which provided a nicer experience and food.
Pros: The usual variety of bars, including the usual suspects (martini bar, whiskey bar) plus a pub, blues club and the Headliners club for comedy and dueling pianos. Several nights included parties at the Spice H2O club on the aft deck - these will be big hits in warm weather. One night the ship shot fireworks - very cool. Disco and DJ got good marks. Casino was larger and more spacious than some at sea.
Cons: The Ice Bar ($20 cover) would be a cool (get it?) addition, but didn't really get any traffic on this sailing. Maybe in warmer climes. Casino was located right in the center of other public areas surrounding the atrium, so smoke wafted to other areas. Casino devoted two full tables to poker, but because the ship's rake was so high (up to $25 per hand), passengers did not play a single cash game week.
Pros: Generally excellent, and an ample variety of choices. The theater is smaller than most, but well designed to allow passengers to see a show on the night and time of their choosing (book in advance). Run, don't walk, to see Burn the Floor, one of the better shows we've seen on ships in the last 15 years. The dancers were enormously talented (this rotation will be on for at least 6 months). The dancers also performed mini-shows in the Manhattan supper club on nights when they weren't doing full shows in the theater. Rock of Ages was also an ambitious undertaking at sea, and generally well-executed even though it's a hokey show. It won't be everyone's cup of tea, but much better than most musical revues you'll see on ships. The Cirque show also included great performers, but the mediocre banquet dinner makes the experience a little disappointing. Among the other entertainers, highlights were the jazz combo in the Manhattan supper club, Annika Odegard on piano and vocals in Shakers martini bar, the ubiquitous and under-appreciated pool-deck band.
Cons: Fire and Ice are a keyboardist and singer who were talented yet poorly placed in the Atrium at night with an apathetic crowd (as I mentioned earlier, many passengers treated this area as their nap room, and I saw this talented duo performing in front of people who were reading books or sleeping). Get them another venue! I don't know if he'll be performing regularly, but comedy magician Michael Finney was a huge disappointment - tired jokes and a little magic we've seen repeatedly for the last 30 years. People were walking out throughout the show. And sorry folks, but the very popular Slam Allen blues band was just average. We are blues lovers, but had to walk out after a couple of off-key numbers. it's great that NCL added the blues club on these ships, and it was very popular, but I guess we are jaded since we live in Chicago and see much better acts on a regular basis.
Pros: The sports deck is spectacular, including an almost full-size sports court, water slides, a climbing wall, mini-golf, and a ropes course with a zipline and the soon-to-be-famous Plank. Get over your fears and try it. There were ample deck lounge chairs and lots of deck space if you don't mind being lined up in rows of sun-worshippers (not much elbow room). The water slides were a bit overhyped, but were great fun and I'm sure will keep kids entertained for hours. There was also a nice kiddie pool area with Nickolodeon characters like Sponge Bob & friends. Spice H2O is a great day club area. It was also good for them include a library (VERY limited selection and limited hours for checkout and return) and card room, albeit very small ones. Card games were on the schedule in other parts of the ship, like restaurants.
Cons: The pools were small and not very well positioned. The pool deck is mainly for sunning. The extra-charge Vibe beach club is nice, but way too crowded with chairs, and seems less like an exclusive lounging area and more like a way to squeeze as many paying customers into the space as possible. The fitness center was smaller than the gym on some smaller ships, but enough space for treadmills, ellipticals, circuit and free weights. Could get very crowded when the ship is full. We really wanted to enjoy the spa/wet area, but they sold out of weekly passes on sailing day (no daily passes available, very poor planning).
Overall, despite the above criticisms and suggestions for improvement, we enjoyed the cruise. All things considered, I'm not sure the ship compares favorably with other choices, but we like freestyle cruising, the upgraded entertainment, and the Waterfront enough to give this ship (or the Getaway) another try in warmer conditions.