Travelled with wife and two daughters, aged 9, and 10, parents in their 70s and family friends to NYC to sightsee and then take the NCL Breakaway to Bermuda on 6/9/13. We read every cruise critic review on line before our cruise and appreciated some of the feedback. We have cruised in the past on the Carnival Elation years ago and in the last 5 years on the Disney Wonder, Disney Dream, NCL Star, and Royal Caribbean Oasis of the Seas. We prepaid dinner at Ocean Blue as well as Moderno. We had eaten at Cagney's and La Cucina on the Star, so wanted to try some new places. Pre-paying for the specialty restaurants was cheaper than what was charged for the specialty restaurants aboard.
We arranged a limo from our NYC hotel to the pier at about 10:30-11:00 AM time frame. There were tons of people already there in the pier building. Dropping off bags and check in was easy and we had no issues with the paper luggage tags. We waited about 30 minutes to board after checking in and our cabin was ready immediately at 11:15am -- bags did not arrive until about 4pm. The water slides are open, so have your suit ready. Remember the check-in people work for the port, not NCL, so they won't be able to answer your ship related questions. We got our sea pass cards and but no lanyards, but can buy them on the ship if you want to. (I find lanyards helpful so I know that my kids have their cards when they leave the cabin as they are needed for soda package as well as getting off and on the ship in port.)
After boarding we went immediately to guest services to book dinner the first night at Teppanyaki for our group of 10. We also had pre-purchased the Cirque show premium seating but because of repeated cruise critic reviewer comments wanted to change to standard seating. We weren't able to do that there and were directed to the box office where our changes were made without problems and our account was credited the difference. When we got our lanyards, we were directed back to guest services to get holes punched in the cards, so you may want to have that done right away in one trip rather than having to go back to the guest services area.
We then proceeded to the Splash Academy, the NCL Breakaway's Kids Club to register the children. Again, we had four kids traveling together who know each other and play together, and so having our 9 1/2 year old in a separate age group from the 3 kids age 10 just wasn't going to work for us. On previous cruises (both Disney and Royal Caribbean), the Youth Services staff worked with us to "age bump" our youngest into the higher group so she could be with her sister and friends. We had assumed that NCL would also work with us to help us. We were really quite surprised and disappointed that there was absolutely no ability to change groups. While the kids club did have an hour of "Freestyle Freeplay" in the mornings and afternoons where all the kids were together, for the majority of the time, they would be separated. We talked to the youth staff supervisor, guest services, as well as calling NCL directly to absolutely no avail. Just wasn't gonna happen. I could understand liability if you were taking a group of kids skydiving or base jumping, but really the liability argument was garbage. The groups often did the same activities -- the 10 year olds, just like the 6-9 year olds, had a chance to stand in line to "meet Dora" -- (REALLY??!?) So our group of four kids, besides one time for an hour, did not go to the kids club. Which meant Moms and Dads didn't spend money in the Spa, Casino, etc. I spent my week aboard spending a lot more time watching my kids than I had expected, and they spent a lot more time hanging out together in our state room watching rented movies and a limited number of Nickelodean shows that kept playing over and over. NCL apparently was using its theater for rehearsals much of the time so they never did show movies, which would have kept the kids occupied some as well. So, bottom line, for us, this ship had no organized kids play. Serious disappointment given other cruise lines accommodated us without even a concern. If you do plan to use the kids club, just be aware that you must register your kids first, give basic health/diet information and sign an electronic form. Best to get this out of the way early to avoid lines for this. Also, the kids 10 and older can check themselves in and out, but to prevent them from coming and going all the time, the policy is they can check themselves out only after they have been in the kids club for 2 hours. They had different themed activities every day which are explained in a handout you get at the Splash Academy. The kids area of the pool had Sponge Bob and other characters and it looked like safe fun for the younger cruisers.
A note about iConcierge, NCLs mobile app which you can download but not really use until you get on board. There are some areas of the ship where it doesn't work as well such areas on deck 16, but overall this was a great addition to our cruise. We installed this app on our iPhones and our kids' iPod Touches. The app is free. Once on board it will detect the ship's WiFi signal and become usable. You can access features that I found helpful, especially the What's Going On? tab for free. If you want to use the internet phone or text messaging, you pay $7.95 for unlimited texts and onboard calls. You are given a unique number which you can put in your "contacts" section within the app. For example, if you are in cabin 14123, your number might be 771412301 and your cabin mate might be 771412302, etc. I had trouble getting all my family registered by using names, so I would recommend you wait until you get to your stateroom where you can turn on the TV and there is an iConcierge code for each person in the cabin. These codes worked very well. We texted each other all the time on board to keep track of who was doing what and where people were. Occasionally used the phone. Off and on the device would lose connectivity, but re-connecting to the ship or doing a hard start of the device seemed to work. It wasn't too bad but because of connectivity issues I would sometimes find my contacts were "offline" and they wouldn't know it unless they tried to message someone. So, NCL is on the right track with this. I'd buy the texting again without thinking about it. Very helpful.
We booked a mini-suite on Deck 14, starboard side, mid ship. It was about half way between the forward and aft elevator lobbies. There is no mid lobby. The hallways were very narrow on that deck. Turns out up on deck 15 there must have been people rearranging deck chairs or running late at night because I heard a lot of bumping in the night. The good part is it was just one deck from the buffet and the hot tub! The stateroom was much more mini than suite. The kids slept between us and the bathroom -- not our favorite configuration -- there was no separating wall, door, or curtain between us and the kids. We unloaded our 5 suitcases and were able to fit, with a little work, all of them under our bed. Had to juggle the life jackets that are stored under the bed in rigid metal baskets a little, but I did it! Had cupboards and the closet with deep shelves to work with. The bathroom with the spa shower was really nice and was basically the only difference we could see between a balcony stateroom and the mini suite. it had a long double sink with some storage cupboards which came in handy. We used the drying line to hang up swim suites in the good sized shower. It was a little narrow, but was longer than the standard "RV" shower in the balcony state room. Not 100% sold that it was worth the extra price. You are paying for the bathroom. I would have liked to have been closer to the aft lobby. The balconies are small but my wife and I turned the chairs and were able to sit outside and chat some.
The staff was great. I don't understand and do not agree with previous reviewers who 'dissed' the crew. These guys were always making eye contact, checking that things were going well and saying hello. Guys, I was WATCHING for this. My assessment is this crew was probably the most friendly and concerned of any of our cruises. The only attitude problems I saw were from the cruisers. There was almost a brawl over deck chairs on our last sea day, and at the Costco orientation there was a lady who was lecturing her husband on selfishness. Do that stuff in private, please!
Entertainment. The Burn the Floor show was basically "Dancing with the Stars" without the stars and with music I was neither familiar with nor enjoyed. People in the front row talked about getting hit with the performers' perspiration. (Ewww!) and it just wasn't my thing. I wanted to leave, but stayed with my family. "Rock of Ages" was NOT for kids. They warn people but some just don't listen. A few people walked out. Maybe because it was completely puerile, genital humor or they didn't like AC/DC. My parents are conservative and they were warned about this show but they went anyway and stayed through the whole thing. No one in our party who went actually "got" the story, but the last part had some really good rock performances. My wife went to sleep in her chair and we both didn't like it much so we left half way through. No redeeming qualities as far as I was concerned but my mom liked the singing at the end. The Cirque show had lots of contortions, acrobatics, juggling, instantaneous costume changes -- overall was very good and worth the money. Was distracting to try to eat and watch a show so I missed some key moments. Premium seats are closer to the stage and are chairs around rectangular tables. Standard seating is around the back of the theater in cushioned semi-circular, slightly raised booths. I liked standard better. If you have premium, you need to show up early to get close to the stage -- with standard about 15-20 minutes ahead. We were told that after July 14th all seats will be the same price so this will no longer apply. The food was surf and turf. Kids got chicken fingers. Food quality was fine. The comedy magician, Michael Finney, who performed the last night was the most enjoyable entertainment on the ship for me. He was really funny and a great magician. The minimal innuendo went over the kids' heads and it was perfectly fine for kids. In fact, kids when up on stage to 'help' with some of the tricks. I would have seen him a second time if I had the chance. I did go to the dueling pianos "Howl at the Moon" and felt the talent wasn't up to par. I expected better playing and better songs. I didn't go back. I did like hearing the little bit of "Fire and Ice" that I did hear. I poked my head into Bliss where the DJ was playing dance music. I didn't like the music and it was too loud. Guess others felt the same as there was nobody in there.
Gambling. Smoking or non-smoking section, the casino smells like most in Vegas, at least a little smoky everywhere. I didn't smell the smoke unless I was actually in the casino or very close to it. I didn't have any symptoms from the smoke, so I would consider it very mild, but once you let people smoke in an enclosed space, it covers all surfaces and becomes part of the space even when the casino is closed.
Bingo. I'm an enthusiastic cruise ship 'bingoer.' Disney and Royal Caribbean both had electronic bingo devices. NCL was all about paper cards and it was quite expensive. Bingo calling was a little boring by the end. They had computer problems which delayed starting the games quite frequently and I didn't win anything. They had a raffle for a free cruise for two on Saturday. I also like video blackjack but they didn't have that.
Dining. The speciality dining on the Breakaway was a clear notch above other dining experiences on other cruise ships. I thought Teppanyaki was fun and very tasty. It was a show along with dinner, but this one didn't distract you from eating. Moderno had a fabulous salad bar and the 10 kinds of meat they circulated with were very very good. Ocean Blue was easily the best meal I had on board. You get awesome bread before hand, and I had the Calimari, the crab risotto and the panna cotta dessert. Just plain amazing. Finally we did eat at the Shanghai Noodle Bar for lunch on the last day. We both loved the pot stickers and the shrimp fried rice, but the Shanghai Noodles weren't our favorite. When the waiter saw my wife didn't eat hers, she made it right. Much appreciated. All in all, when we paid for specialty restaurants we got really good food and excellent servers. Very impressed. We ate twice in the Manhattan room which had live music during dinner, Savor once and the buffet innumerable times. There were minimal wait times at the included restaurants with the exception of the Manhattan Room - for a table for 10 we waited from 30-60 minutes. We got Cafe Mochas from Carlo's several times in the morning and they were GREAT! Be sure to try the lobster tail from Carlo's pastry shop as well: wow! It was odd that both the bake shop and the Dolce gelato shop were open only very limited hours (12 pm to 5 pm).
Activities. When the ropes course and aqua park (water slides) were open, they were a lot of fun. The kids enjoyed them. You need to be a certain weight (99lbs) to go on the free fall. I went about a dozen times. This is the slide where the bottom actually falls out below you. My typically height-fearing wife actually went down once. She was shaking with fear afterward, but come on, a 75 year old lady did it during our cruises… The Free Fall slides did occasionally have a breakdown. This was because maybe a person was a little small or short and didn't trigger the sensor that looks for a person to pass the egress point. When the sensor isn't triggered, you can't launch anyone and someone has to inspect the slide and reset the thing. You wear a strap on back board to increase speed and prevent abrasions. And, the water on all water slides is HEATED and fresh, so comfortable temp and no salty mouth. The pools are salty, however, and so I didn't swim in the pools much. I found the hot tubs smaller than the Oasis. They were fresh water, of course, but small. The placement of the running track is mind boggling. When you get aboard you will see it is in a horrible place which is also a major thoroughfare to get around the Uptown Grill and the sun decks. Oasis of the Seas has an awesome walking/running track. NCL should remove the deck markings and just tell people if they want to run, grab a machine in the fitness center. We did more walking on the "waterfront" than on the track. You stand on the running track to watch the rock climbers, etc, too. You'll see what I mean. The Ropes Course ROCKS! This is a heck of a lot of fun and I highly recommend it. So much better than anything else out there. They also have a trampoline jumper in the back with a spider web crawling thing for the kids. Also, the miniature golf measures up well to others I've seen. I think you will be very happy with the sports area at the back of the ship. My kids loved it. They have a short zip line, too.
Bermuda. Well, there is a good reason it's got its own triangle! It probably wasn't a good idea to go to Bermuda in early June: it was windy and had drenching rain. But I guess that can happen any time of year but our three days there was essentially ruined by wind. It gets hot/humid in July and August, so take your pick. The major problem is the wind which churns us the water, reducing quality of snorkeling around the various reefs and shipwrecks. I would recommend being verrry flexible with your plans. This was the first time there for us and we arranged for a private van to take all 10 of us around the island. It was 450 USD for 6 hours. We went to numerous beaches including Warwick Long Bay Beach, Horseshoe Bay was well as Glass Beach and we found ourselves all the way in St George's and Tobacco Bay which is about 45 minutes from the port as it was the only calm north side beach. Tobacco Bay is quite famous, but we were quite underwhelmed. While the place does have beach services (lounge chairs, snorkel rentals, restrooms and food/bar it is smaller than we thought it would be. Our group did snorkel and saw a few fish, but not many. However, fairly nearby there is a much larger beach without services that was completely empty near St. Catherine's fort. The waters are beautiful. We loved the pink sand beaches on the south side of Bermuda, but the waves were so choppy, you couldn't really snorkel. The second day we rented motor boats, but again, even though we made it out to the Vixen wreck and more remote beach, it was too windy and choppy to enjoy it. We did not book any NCL excursions. On the third day we stayed at the dockyard.
Dockyard. The area where the Breakaway was docked was a short walk to an area called the "dockyard" which is still clearly under construction. It has shopping, restaurants and some entertainment. There is a gazebo where you can connect to the internet, but it isn't free. There is a small charge and you can buy time in the shop. We enjoyed shopping in the two clock towers mall area. We also went in and tried the Bermuda Rum Cakes. They were deeelish. If you want to take a picnic to a beach you can stop at the pharmacy/deli (within walking distance) for drinks and sandwiches and then catch a cab. John Lennon spent his last summer alive in Bermuda and composed some songs there. On Thursday nights in the "Victualling Yard" (part of the dockyard complex right out front of the Frog and Onion Pub) they have live performers singing Lennon and Beatles songs. There are also artists selling island jewelry and artwork which we enjoyed buying after visiting some of these beautiful places. I really enjoyed this and purchased the CD/book boxed set that tells the story of Lennon and his time in Bermuda. I can't wait to get home to listen to them while eating Rum Cake with Coffee!!! Also, in the dockyard area there is easy access to a snorkeling park. Kids under 12 are free and adults are 5 bucks. You go in and rent lounge chairs, snorkel gear, umbrellas (if it isn't too windy), kayaks, paddle boats, etc. There is a trampoline floating in the water a few feet off shore that was fun. Not nearly as extensive a water play area as on Labadee, but fun and close to the ship. We didn't eat there, we just went back to the buffet. Bermuda was clean and the people were uber friendly. The golf courses looked fabulous and they have some nice resorts. Our time on Bermuda was significantly impaired by the weather. There are so many other places to visit and harder to get to from the US West Coast, we probably won't be back. It has a lot going for it and would have been a very nice had it been less windy. Cruising is probably one of the most economical ways to enjoy the island.
Our driver talked about how dangerous it is for people to drive scooters on Bermuda when they aren't used to driving on the left side. NCL warns against in on their daily documents while in port. Nonetheless there are injuries all the time. Some drivers don't even make it out of the dockyard!
Unfortunately our ship board fireworks were cancelled due to high winds. Usually they do this the night of your departure from Bermuda. Safety was the stated reason, of course. The seas were quite a bit rougher on the way back to New York. The stabilizers were deployed and working but could still feel some movement, especially at night. We didn't come close to feeling sea sick and I think the scopolamine patches should be worn by the very sensitive.
NCL has a color coded disembarkation process which worked quite smoothly, but because we were a little anxious about our noon departure at JFK, we opted to keep our bags overnight in the room and wheel them off ourselves to avoid any delay. NCL kept ahead of schedule getting groups off the ship. We had a leisurely breakfast in an understandably crowded Garden Buffet area. We exited the ship at 9 AM and found our line was much shorter than the one of the color coded groups. We talked to the most friendly customs person you could ever meet, turned in our forms and were at the curb by 9:15. Our pre-arranged Super Shuttle was there on time at 9:35 and we were at JFK by 10:30-ish. Our noon departure was no problem. NCL currently does arrange transfers to La Guardia, but not to JFK. We saw lots of people boarding limos and taxis in the Pier 90 and Pier 88 areas. We didn't hit any traffic. Looking back I probably wouldn't book a flight departing JFK before noon because I enjoyed a slower pace on the morning of debarkation and didn't feel like I had to rush off. If you have a flight departing JFK before 10:30 I would think that would be risky.