My wife and I are frequent cruisers. This is our 25th cruise. It probably sounds odd, but I really didn't want to enjoy this cruise/ship too much. We are Emerald with RCCL and Platinum with Carnival, but only Silver with NCL. This is simply because we haven't had great experiences with them. We always thought the food was poor and the last time we sailed with them (5-7 years ago) we had a particularly bad experience. In spite of that, we've wanted to sail on the Epic because of its unique offerings and dining experiences. When we received announcement from NCL many months ago about the Breakaway, the opportunity to do a Maiden Voyage (sort of) and the fact that the home port would be NY (a fairly short drive from Massachusetts), this seemed like a great opportunity to give NCL another shot. My comparisons will be of the Breakaway vs. RCCL and Carnival ships as a whole. We've been on the Allure of the Seas (loved it!!) and the Carnival Dream during their inaugural seasons so new ships aren't foreign to us, but we've also been on many others. Right from the start, I knew there would be a lot to say about our experience on this cruise, so unlike past reviews that I've written, I am writing this as we cruise, in journal/diary form.
Day 1 - even with no flights involved, arrival day is always tough on us, but embarkation was a breeze. The layout of the ship really isn't like a ship. We certainly haven't seen much of it at this point, but it certainly is different. Sailing out of NY harbor isn't like sailing out of any other port. To sail by the Freedom tower and the Statue of Liberty is awesome. We bought the beverage plan. At $49pp per day, we consider this to be reasonable. We will probably break even, but it keeps us from getting shocked by our on-board spending on the final day. We did this on the Independence of the Seas a few months ago, but, unlike the IOS, NCL has a slip for you to sign with every drink order. I find this annoying. RCCL did log each drink order digitally, but there was no paperwork. NCL should consider this.
We had dinner at Cagney's steak house. My rib-eye was good, but not great. The salad and sides were terrific. I guess that I always compare steaks to Ruth's Chris steaks. My wife loved her 5oz Filet. Afterwards, we had reservations for Burn the Floor. This was an absolutely fantastic show.... And I'm not usually a fan of dance. The theater is small, but wasn't full. Afterwards, we hit the casino. We enjoy playing BJ, but as far as decor goes, this is the most unattractive casino ever! White walls? Plain? Really? The smoking side is intolerable. Seems to be a ventilation issue. The casino is bigger than we thought. Turns out that the whole other half is non-smoking. Much better. We packed it in after a couple of hours here. We had a great first day!
Day 2: Sea day. We had breakfast at the Garden Cafe. Good selection of items.
There seems to be more to do - more planned activities - then on RCCL. We did the rope course today. Wife loved it. Not me. Wife walked the plank. Not me!
O'Sheehan Irish Pub is centrally located on deck 7 and was a great place for authentic English Fish & Chips. We loved bowling and playing darts. NCL CEO Kevin Sheehan was on this cruise. His talk this afternoon was excellent.
You need reservations to visit the Ice Bar, which we had. We've visited Ice Bars before. This one is kinda hokey. It's not a real ice bar, in my opinion. There is ice furniture in a stainless steel room. I didn't feel ripped off, I just expected more. If you've never been to one, you'll probably enjoy the experience. Teppanyaki was great for dinner. We have done Japanese hibachi many times. Wife and I agree that this is the best one we've had! At night we attended the dueling pianos show. This was very entertaining. What a great show.
Some people complained that the crew wasn't prepared and stumbled through some things. We didn't agree. Some of the staff doesn't seem friendly at times. Found this odd.
Day 3: We slept in today, but we had 4 amazing experiences: "breakfast" happened after noon at a place we didn't expect. The Waterfront isn't open but for evenings, but we found that there is an exception. Ocean Blue is open for lunch! My wife had the crab, I had a lobster roll (yep, live Maine lobster on this ship!) and we shared the best Calamari ever. The lobster roll was good but a little too avant garde for a New Englander. We got to try the Shanghai Noodle Bar... Wow! This is ala carte, but for less than $20, we had more than we could eat. I recommend the Shrimp Fried Rice.
We had a busy evening. Rock of Ages totally rocks. This is an unbelievable show, especially for a cruise ship. From there, we ran to the Spegiel Tent for the Cirque Dreams Jungle Fantasy dinner theater. We had front row premium seats. The set menu meal was very good. The show is simply a "don't miss". I don't know what else to say. It's hard to remember that we are on a cruise ship. We will be in Bermuda in the morning. I doubt that we will spend much time on the island, honestly. This ship is just so awesome.
Day 4: it's been a few years since we've been to Bermuda. Now that the Royal Naval Dockyard is the port, rather than St George's, they have really developed this area nicely. We spent a few hours ashore, but returned to the ship for lunch at O'Sheehan's. they offered an off-menu special today of Bangers and Mashed. It was good. Very authentic. We had our evening meal at La Cucina. We were seated outside on the Waterfront. This was excellent. I'm having a hard time finding something on this ship that isn't excellent! We saw Rock of Ages again tonight. (This time there weren't any technical glitches). What an amazing show.
Day 5: We spent most of the day on the island. We rented a scooter and went everywhere. And had lunch at the Swizzle Inn. Loved it! By the time we returned to the ship, it was nearly time for our 6:30 reservation at Ocean Blue. Neither of us were hungry after a big/late lunch, but we had no intention of missing this dinner. We were seated outside again as the sun set behind Bermuda. The weather was perfect for this. No breeze, 70 degrees. Totally awesome. As for the food....OMG! We both had a Baby Head Lettuce salad, delicious. For dinner, she had the Peking Duck and I had the Dover Sole. For dessert, I had a sampler called Petite Fours and we shared a cheese plate. This was one of the best meals that we've had on any ship, ever. It's only rival would be 150 Central Park on the Allure of the Seas. And, just as we did on the Allure, we promptly made another reservation for Ocean Blue on Saturday night. I am not sure that I won't get exactly the same meal!
During dinner, I arrived at an important conclusion about, not only this ship, but about cruising in general. We are on our 25th cruise, all with the mass-market lines (and mostly RCCL and Carnival), but have considered trying Seabourn or Regent or similar but we frankly don't want to pay the money. But we are foodies and sometimes cruising for us isn't really about the food because we often eat better on land at one of our favorite places....but we pay for these meals! Sometimes more than the cost of a cheap cruise! Before we boarded the Breakaway, I was pretty sure that this was going to turn out to be an expensive cruise. My guess was that we would be paying for meals that used to be included in the cruise fare. I was right....sort of. We will not have dinner in the main dining room during this cruise. You will need to read a different review to find out how it is. When Kevin Sheehan spoke a few days ago, he said that NCL's philosophy was to give the cruiser a choice: eat for free in the MDR or pay an up-charge and eat in one of the specialty restaurants. This is a true statement, but it's difficult to see these restaurants dangled in front of us and not want to eat there. We are connoisseurs of fine food! But the key here is that we have a choice. Everyday.
If we were on a premium cruise line, we would pay a premium for fine dining, but it would be hidden in the cruise fare. We could not "un-pay" for this fine dining if we chose to have a casual meal or skip a meal one day. On the Breakaway, you can. I do hate that the cruise industry isn't all-inclusive, but I accept it, and the proof is in the 2-3 cruises we take every year.
After dinner we stopped in at Fat Cats. Another great place! Afterwards, we had to catch the last showing of Rock of Ages! Yep! 3 times! This is another great thing about this ship. The theater is rather small, but the shows run several times during the week. We got great seats every time, and we saw the great shows more than once. I've never seen this on any other ship or any other line. We were on an 18-day cruise years ago and arrived a bit too late to see a particular show (the theater was full). We were turned away, I was disappointed, and the show wasn't repeated. There are shows that repeat on the Allure and the Oasis, but that's because the theaters cannot (understandably) accommodate 6000+ guests. On the Breakaway the theater only holds 840 people but the shows run about 6 times, to accommodate 4000 guests and the shows may not be for everybody.
Day 6: We slept in today but had lunch on the island. It was good, then we relaxed for few hours waiting to sail away. We had reservations at Moderno, the Brazilian steakhouse. This is the first time we have experienced this on any ship although we have done this on land. This was good for what it is, but not my favorite on board. The Second City Comedy cast is great! We went for the 2nd time today. Its all improv, so its always different and hilarious. We sandwiched casino time around the comedy magic show. This was lame. It may seem like today wasn't a great day, but every day is great on the Breakaway! We crashed early, so we missed the fireworks.
Day 7: breakfast at the Garden Cafe was good, but another lunch at the Noodle Bar was better! The 2nd City Family Reunion was a bit of a disappointment. We attended the future cruise thing. We have never done this on any cruise, partly because we prefer to book cruises through our Internet travel agency. Well, NCL let's you do that! We reserved 4 more cruises. This should say it all. We are experienced cruisers who have sailed with not only RCCL and Carnival, but also Princess, Celebrity and NCL. The Breakaway has done a lot of things right. We WILL be back on this ship, probably this year.
Dinner at Ocean Blue again tonight. I'm glad that I had a different meal this time because I experienced even more amazing food. I had the Beef Tartar, the Carrot & Curry soup and the salmon. My wife had the beet salad and the crab risotto. Note the lack of adjectives in the last sentence. I could have said "amazing", "wonderful", "delicious." What's the point? These words mean nothing and don't do the food justice. This meal at Ocean Blue was one of the best meals we have ever had, anywhere, land or sea! And we have been everywhere.
We have definitely spent some money on specialty restaurants on this cruise. Surely NCL isn't sad about that, but the truth is that you don't have to. Everybody that we heard speak about the main dining rooms all raved about it.
The top 6 things about the Breakaway:
It's really easy to find your way around this ship. The hallway carpets have little fish swimming forward in the design. Seems like a small thing, but this helps you know which way is forward so you can get around easily, immediately. It's annoying when it takes 6 days to learn your way around a ship. You can have it nailed on the Breakaway in less than a day.
We never ordered pizza, but they have pizza delivery 24/7. You can have a pizza delivered while you're at a slot machine! This isn't for us but its a novel idea.
The automatic doors throughout the public areas work with a sensor that you place your hand over, rather than the usual overhead sensors. This keeps the doors from opening for no good reason when someone merely walks by. Lots of hi-tech electronic stuff on board, like the "do not disturb" and "make up my room" signs are not door hangers, but electronic switches. Pretty cool.
O'Sheehan's is a great place to hang out. It would be my hang out if it were on land. It's huge, has a great bar, great food (free) and all sorts of games including darts and bowling and pool. We spent a bunch of money on those activities.
Every ship has maps showing where you are and how to get to where you want to go, but the Breakaway does it better. In the elevator lobbies, there are at least two such maps. On one the list of destinations is sorted by deck and on the other everything is sorted by type. So if you want to eat, there is a list of all the eateries as well as where they are. Nice touch.
The Deal or No Deal game show is a big-budget production, very well executed. It'll be a big money maker for NCL.
The entertainment options and the quality of such, are better on this ship than on any other. No contest. Period.
I've never seen this on any other ship: a bar in the Garden Cafe, sandwiches and snacks and beverages in the casino and bar munchies at the bars. (Ok, top EIGHT things!)
The worst 6 things about the Breakaway:
The corridors to the staterooms are unbelievably narrow. At about 42", two people cannot comfortably walk side by side. Furthermore, there are almost always cabin steward carts parked along the way. This leaves maybe 18 inches to walk by! It's unbelievable. I'm sure that there are some larger sized people that honestly cannot get by. The only apparent solution is to specially design new steward carts that are at least 6-8 inches narrower. That won't help the narrowness of the hall, but it will be an improvement.
The interactive screens on which you can obtain/purchase show tickets and dinner reservations and a host of other things are annoying because the touch screens are not too responsive. You touch them and it takes several seconds to get a response.
We had an inside cabin, as we very often do, and although the shower is bigger than others we've seen, the cabin itself is very small. No desk, no sitting area. RCCL's and Carnival's cabins are much better.
There is an iPhone app called NCL iConcierge. A really great idea but it needs more development.
There is so much to do on this ship but there is no way to keep track of your schedule. When you make dinner reservations or get theater "tickets", there are no tickets as such. They tell you that your key card is your ticket. Fair enough, but without tickets to view, you have to have everything memorized. The iConcierge app would be perfect for this. You can view your schedule on your stateroom TV, but you still can't print it and you can get your schedules printed at the dining reservations desk for dining appointments and the purser can print you entertainment appointments, but it really needs to be all together. There were 2 times when we had to cancel and re-book reservations because we found that we had conflicts.
Like other cruise lines, you get a book of discount coupons when you embark. On this ship, you need to print them yourselves on-line, before coming aboard. This really does look cheap. The coupons usually are simply come-ons to get you to spend money at the spa, photo galleries or the casino. The least you can do is make the offers attractive. For what it's worth, this is the first cruise that we ignored all the coupons. Get the hint NCL?
I'm sure that there will be other reviewers that will complain about this ship; the staff doesn't always know where things are and don't know the daily schedule by heart. The computer systems - very high tech - are buggy and sluggish, here and there. Suck it up! This has been a great vacation and I feel privileged to have been among the first to sail her. We are Blown away by the Breakaway!
As I proofread this review, it seems to genuinely mirror my feelings about this week aboard the Breakaway. Early on in the week, I was a bit more critical and cautious and skeptical. By the time a few days passed, I came to realize this was the cruise ship to be on. The Norwegian Breakaway is simply awesome.