Norwegian Breakaway---5/26 to June 2, NYC to Bermuda.
We selected this cruise primarily because we couldn't afford the exorbitant prices for hotels on Bermuda and were anxious to experience our first tropical vacation (though technically Bermuda is "sub-tropical".) We loved that we didn't have to fly (we live in CT) to get this cruise. We were anxious to see turquoise water, try snorkeling, and see what most describe as an idyllic and safe island; the Breakaway seemed the best mode of transportation to Bermuda with fun along the way. One of our main concerns was the food, as we are
a health-conscious, long-time vegetarian family who drink very minimally (I have glass of wine at dinner), don't gamble, and are not really "party people". However, we'd heard that a lot of our friends loved cruising and decided to give this a try. Would we enjoy our first cruise and find quality vegetarian food to eat aboard the Breakaway?
This is a massive ship, beautifully decorated. The breathtaking chandelier in the center stairwell, which changes colors, is a high point. My favorite area of the ship, next to this chandelier, is what I called the "sea glass staircase"...I think this was floor 6 to 7 and is a winding staircase of lit-up blue-green stairs, perfect for photos.
Getting around this ship is daunting, elevators can be a wait and if you are up for it, stairs give you good exercise. Thankfully my husband is not directionally-impaired (as I am) and could typically figure out which elevators were "forward" or "aft". I am not sure how many were on our ship, but perhaps near to 4,000. It helped to figure out that most venues were on the 6th, 7th, or 8th floor with 6th being important to know as it contained Guest Services, Shore Excursions, etc. We used Guest Services a lot and they were mostly very helpful. Unfortunately the first day, when we still didn't see our luggage after 6 hours on the ship, they didn't bother to let us know this was typical, but led us immediately to the "luggage graveyard" which was disconcerting. Thankfully our luggage arrived in our room by about 7 pm, which was late but still should not have triggered panic in Guest Services.
You are required to walk through casino areas to get to major areas of the ship (like restaurants). Obviously designed to encourage us to gamble, I found this irritating and bordering on offensive, esp. the smell of stale cigarette smoke. I wish the Breakaway had more respect for its non-gambling crowd and put the casino off the main walking area. The stores disappointed (though on Bermuda itinerary, the Royal Naval Dockyard will make up for it with tons of shopping). Breakaway stores were geared toward high-end customers with a small, expensive women's clothes shop, a very small pharmacy (bring your own personal care products! suntan lotion was $15!), and a huge, high-end jewelry and watch store. It's apparent the Breakaway is catering to the wealthy crowd or liquor-impaired-impulse-buyer here. Wonderful art displayed in walking areas was great to view but out of our league to purchase. Nonetheless, it brought that NYC artsy feel to the ship.
Food: There are many choices with Norwegian's "Freestyle Dining" with restaurants divided into the ones you pay for and an abundance of complimentary ones, which we focused on. We had never sailed before so cannot comment on this "freestyle" option vs. the traditional, sit-down-at-a-set-time style. I will say that majority of people, esp. with young children, flocked to the main dining hall, the "Garden Café" on the 15th floor, perhaps for it's unlimited buffet and variety of food. There is a lot here with convenient beverage stations, soft ice-cream, meat stations, made-to-order omelet stations, salads, etc. However, I tired quickly of the crowds and the cafeteria feeling, searching for a good table, and the back-and-forth trips of family members typical at this kind of venue (you're rarely seated together as each goes back for more).
My husband and I, vegetarians, did fairly well eating here, getting salads or trying some of the more exotic cuisine (Asian area was the best). But our son, a vegan, did not find much to his liking. He is not the big salad type, nor a fan of pasta or anything too exotic. He missed hummus, peanut butter and other vegan protein items like tofu or vegetarian meats. Once he tried a veggie burger, but it was the spicy bean kind which he didn't care for. They absolutely should have Boca Burgers on this cruise! I assume peanut butter was missing due to its allergenic nature, but that was a hard one to go without and assume almond or cashew butter is prohibitively expensive.
Norwegian Breakaway in general could be improved for the health-conscious or ethical eaters by offering more non-dairy vegetarian protein sources. Not a piece of tofu to be found on this ship, but plenty of bacon and sausage not only on its own but unfortunately mixed into many dishes, like pasta or egg dishes. A dish like broccoli and tofu, or a taco bar with refried beans, vegan enchiladas or burritos, would have been welcome in any of the dining venues. Maybe even a (GASP!) VEGAN section! We were happy to find lo mein and curry dishes on occasion. Also absent was vegetarian chili or minestrone (or perhaps some soups in the cafeteria were vegetarian, but don't recall anything being marked as such.) There was a general feeling that vegetarians were bizarre minorities they were not catering to on this ship.
Breakaway, please hire a vegan chef to add some international, healthful, vegan variety to dining areas (other than salad and pasta.)Desserts were well done and ubiquitous in all dining areas, though vegan desserts were confined to the occasional sorbet or fruit pie. Again, nothing was marked vegetarian, so hard to know if selections like "apple pie" contained lard in crust or not.
Note: we discovered late in the week that restaurants are very accomodating for vegetarians and will do special-orders where you can specify what you want to eat. However, I still think having more options on menus so you don't have to go through this, would make dining more pleasant.
Please note this suggestion Breakaway! Have a NY City-style, thin-crust, dine-in Pizzeria! The pizza in the Garden Café was bland and basic. We never tried the room-service pizza, assuming it was similar. What's a NY ship without fabulous pizza? This could be a big hit with people of all types, including vegans, especially if you offer vegan pizzas with Daiya cheese.
We ate at the Manhattan Room, a huge and elegant (very popular) restaurant twice. Live band music was a nice touch. We felt as though we were at a wedding reception as the center is an expansive dance floor (very few people seemed to use this option but a few who did enjoyed themselves). Women glam up for this one. Note: this restaurant has a dress code, no shorts for men, unless you are on Bermuda itinerary and wear the "Bermuda uniform" (dark jacket, dark socks, Bermuda shorts, dress shoes). Very nice service here (and in all the smaller restaurants) and they were accommodating enough to make a bean/rice burrito for my son, who wasn't wild about their other options. Food was above average but not spectacular.
One meal was very disappointing, esp. for a NY ship: the calzone, with its conspicuous absence of creamy ricotta and mozzarella (seriously, folks?). But somehow the ambience and service of this restaurant almost made up for it.
We ate at Taste and Savor (two twin restaurants, both complimentary like the Manhattan Room) a couple times. Again, food was average to above-average (not a lot of selection for vegetarians unless you're doing a carb-based meal, like pasta). Best meal I had on the ship was the pasta marinara, as sauce was excellent! Though there are many paying restaurants aboard the "Breakaway", we felt we paid enough for the cruise and confined ourselves to one restaurant that was not complimentary: La Cucina. My son special-ordered pasta "Aglio e Olio" (garlic/oil) but it came quite dry and was saved only by using the olive oil condiments on the table (served with bread basket). My husband's creamy pesto pasta dish was excellent, though.
All the servers in the restaurant work hard to be pleasant and friendly. They come from a variety of countries and exhibit excellent hospitality. Because we are charged an automatic daily tip (is it really a "tip" if it required?) it was hard to know how much to add to the bill (for wine or cappuccino, our only charges) when we had good service.
The top deck with the water park is a busy place. Finding a chair to sun in is challenging. People claim chairs early in the morning, often leaving their towels there and not returning for hours (grrr, folks! you don't own the chairs and this isn't fair to those needing a place to sun). Forget trying to get into the workout room...small for a ship this size and fills up fast, as did the exercise classes. If you want a ship to exercise in, I would look elsewhere (unless you count climbing stairs). My husband enjoyed the ropes course once. My favorite moment on the top deck was sipping on a piña colada, while reading
in the warm sun and ocean breezes. I wish staff would patrol this pool/upper deck area and free up chairs that are claimed with a Breakaway towel only
but go unused for hours while dozens of people circle around trying to find a place to sit. Husband and son enjoyed the water slides a bit but neither used them much.
Entertainment was the high point of the Breakaway! Every night we attended a different venue, having booked several ahead of time. The musical "Rock of Ages" is spirited but raunchy (I would have selected a family-appropriate show if I was the cruise director).
"Burn the Floor", a high-energy dance show, was brilliant. We enjoyed the comedy show "Second City" (out of Chicago) but our favorite of all was the "Howl at the Moon" Dueling Pianos, three singer/pianists with two pianos (swapping pianos) who take requests from the audience and blow the roof off with great renditions of Elton John, Billy Joel, and other nostalgic classics. This is in one of the smaller venues, so get there early for a seat. This talent is not to be missed!
Our room was very comfortable. I liked the bed (firm but not overly so), nice linens, sufficient storage under bed for large suitcases, excellent bathroom storage with lots of shelving. Decent shower. The balcony was small and under-utilized by us. It was nice to open the curtains to get more light in (I can be claustrophobic), but we rarely sat out there as it was cramped, so I'm not sure we got our money's worth paying for that.
Special events like the dance-party at Spice H2O were fun, but I think the fireworks (only "so-so") should be avoided for safety reasons. We saw some sparks raining down on the crowd. Julie, the cruise-director, is a lot of fun and brought enthusiasm (and dance talent) to this venue. Also the staff talent show was wonderful...so much skill here and nice to see the Breakaway give them an opportunity to showcase their talents.
Getting off the ship was a zoo! Lines were mayhem despite "Easy Walk-Out" option where you carry your own luggage.
In summary, though "Breakaway" has much to offer, the food should be improved for those not subsisting off meat. Entertainment gets an A plus and accommodations and decor were wonderful. Staff is excellent and deserves those fees ("tips") we are charged. My preference next time would be for a ship that is smaller, less crowded and absolutely more health-conscious. I've seen enough bacon to last me my lifetime. I don't know what cruise ship caters to vegetarians and especially vegans, but I'd love to know. If they also had a more separate gambling area and more affordable shopping, you might find me cruising that one next.
In the meantime, we are left with great memories of Breakaway's entertainment,
beauty, and amazing service, which combine to make this a very worthwhile experience. We will post info on our 3 days in Bermuda and glass-bottom boat excursion in a separate review. Turns out, veggie burgers were easier to find on the lovely island of Bermuda than on the Breakaway.