My wife and I are regular RCCL cruisers. In fact we just reached Diamond earlier this year. A group of 10 college friends decided some time ago to do a cruise together so we booked the Breakaway. All of the others lived in the NYC area but we had to fly in from our home in AZ. We were very excited to cruise with old friends on a brand new ship and followed the forums religiously as details of Breakaway emerged over the 15 months from the time we booked until we set sail.
It was inevitable that we made constant comparisons between Breakaway and cruises we have taken on RCCL. Generally we found pluses and minuses for Breakaway but on balance we prefer our experiences on other RCCL cruises to what we found on Breakaway.
Pluses on NCL
The waterfront is a very innovative feature although weather made it difficult to eat outside on some days. We enjoyed sitting outside of Shakers listening to music and hanging with friends on the comfortable chairs they had out there.
Entertainment was very good and comparable to Oasis. Like Oasis, it is essential to book shows in advance if you want to see it all. Slam Allen and Howl at the Moon were fantastic and I wish RCCL had something like that on their ships.
Breakaway has one of the better shopping areas I have seen on a ship. The water slides and ropes course are incredible. The main pool was a bit small but adults only and never very crowded. The kids pool looked great - probably nicer than any I have seen on RCCL ships.
We liked O'Sheehans as a 24 hour food venue. It is very large and has games, pool tables and bowling. It really feels like your typical land based neighborhood bar and grill. We did not visit the Ice Bar but some of our friends did and they had a great time. Garden Cafe (buffet) was well laid out, bright and attractive. Availability of ice cream (both soft serve and scooped) was for a longer period of time than on RCCL. We ate at Moderno (Brazilian Steakhouse) one night and that was very good. Ocean Blue was overall the best (food and service) but probably not worth the up charge. Portion sizes were not huge but more than adequate.
The Atrium was great with the two story high tv screen. The cruise director was very friendly although not as high energy as some RCCL ones we have had. The Dancing with the Breakaway Stars game show was a real hoot. It was a very nice parody of the TV show. The cruise staff did a fantastic job with that.
Cool towels and water were provided when returning from shore - something I have never seen on RCCL ships. Freestyle dining meant I did not need to pack a suit and we could pack lighter than usual for a cruise. I played in the ping pong tournaments and the recreation staff did a good job of running it compared to what I have seen on RCCL ships.
Cabins were nice, especially bathrooms. There was sufficient storage throughout the cabin and the bathroom were large and well thought out. There were switches near the door to indicate do not disturb or make up room (although we forgot to use them occasionally). The ship was nicely decorated and clever use of "fish" on the carpet to tell you which was was forward. Spice H20 was a nice area both by day and by night when the weather cooperated. The fireworks at sea were quite good. The 70s and 80s dance parties in Spice H20 were fun.
Cabin steward service was not so good. We asked for two copies of the "daily" each day but he said he was not allowed to do that. One day we did not get a daily at all. Our room was made up late several days and in some cases was not made up particularly well. The balcony we had was very tiny as are most of them on board.
With the Haven you sometimes feel like a 2nd class passenger if you are not in it. Food was not bad but much more ordinary and repetitive than on RCCL. The menu was the same in all three "free" dining rooms. Service in the dining rooms was hit and miss. Staff responded well when you were friendly to them but otherwise they did not seem very motivated.
Smoke from the Casino would sometimes drift to nearby decks (deck 6 and 8). Pool chairs were placed tightly together and it seemed difficult to find a break between them to walk through.
The pre-cruise reservation process for shows and dining was cumbersome but perhaps that was due to our group size. The showtimes were changed in May after we had already made reservations and we had to redo them. That forced us to get "premium seating" for the Cirque Dreams show because there was no regular seating available at the time we wanted. The theater was used primarily for Rock of Ages and Burn the Floor so there was only one night that they had a magician/comedian in there. Poor service in the dining room caused us to be too late to be admitted for that show.
Communication regarding shore times could be improved. They did not include the all-aboard time in the daily.
There was a pretty long wait to get into one of the free dining rooms in the 7 - 7:30 PM time frame. Suggest you send someone to get a beeper a little earlier if you want to eat then or dine at an earlier or later time.
The word that best described our opinion of the difference is "refined". RCCL just feels more refined than Breakaway did.
We would not completely rule out Breakaway or another NCL ship for a future cruise. We did enjoy ourselves and would consider doing it again if the price and itinerary were right. But all other things being equal we would tend to choose a RCCL cruise.