Both to organize my own thoughts, and to help the reader find specific information of interest, I have used a bullet-point format and segregated this review into the following sections: Introduction, General Comments, Food & Drink, Entertainment, Activities, Technology, and Cabin.
First, a little about us to set context. We're a family of four with two teenagers. My wife and I had sailed two years ago on the QM2, and this was the kids' first cruise. We are not big drinkers or party all night types, and since the kids had been at camp all summer, they wanted to hang out with us rather than do any of the kids activities.
We booked our cruise in March 2012. We had originally wanted a mid-ship balcony and inside cabin across the hall for the kids, but that configuration was not available, so we booked two mid-ship balconies. After reading more and more on Cruise Critic, I realized that I wanted aft balcony cabins, preferably on Deck 9 as those are the deepest, and was able to snag them for about $120 more per person. Overall, we all had an excellent time on this cruise. It did not disappoint.
* The Breakaway is huge. Having only sailed on the QM2 before, it was just about the same size, but is twice as big as some other NCL ships. That being said, while the kids found the size a bit overwhelming at first, they quickly figured out where everything was. Since the common areas are all on 6, 7, 8, 15 and 16 - that wasn't very difficult.
* We arrived at the Manhattan cruise terminal at 10:30AM and were on board after a short wait at 11:30AM.
* For the most part, the staff are all great. Many are funny, and most seemed sincere. The only exception - as has been mentioned by others - is Guest Services. Some were helpful and friendly, some were dismissive and not so knowledgeable. This is the one area in which work is needed on the staff.
* Given that this was the week before Labor Day, the crowd looked like it was everyone who had not gone to Walt Disney World before school started.
* Of the 4,797 passengers on board, over 400 were teenagers (numbers provided by crew).
* Speaking of which, the reported 4,200 passenger capacity is based on double occupancy, and does not account for heads in 3rd and 4th beds. Consequently, the real passenger capacity is closer to 5,500. That being said, with 4,797, the ship rarely felt crowded. Exceptions were the pool area on sea days, and 6,7,8 on Saturday night when everyone seemed to be out.
* Life boat drill was quick and painless. Everyone had an opportunity to get to a good viewpoint for sailaway.
* The time for one of our pre-booked shows had changed, and the day of the week for one of our shows had changed. We were told that an e-mail had been sent in advance, but many, including us, had not received it. There was a message waiting for us when we boarded on the TV and on iConcierge, and they were able to change our dinner reservation to match the new time of the show. Advice: Check when you board.
* There were a few occasions when the time listed for an activity said one thing in the Freestyle Daily, and another in iConcierge. I learned that the Freestyle Daily wins.
* Check the Freestyle Daily for specials and deals.
* Three of the most useful tips I picked up from the Cruise Critic forums were to bring big plastic clothes pins for drying bathing suits on the balcony (we clipped them to the chairs), magnetic clips to hang up the Freestyle Daily and notes on the cabin walls (which, as on all ships, are metal), and a highlighter to mark up the Freestyle Daily. I opted not to get the hanging shoe bag for the bathroom door for additional storage, and am glad that I skipped it - there was more than enough storage space in the bathroom.
* We really enjoyed the Freestyle concept of cruising. Not only did it permit flexibility, but it meant packing less.
* There really are no public quiet places besides the Library to sit and read. Even on the Waterfront at 5AM (I'm an early riser) there was music playing.
* Had all charges for both cabins placed on my cabin and credit card for consolidated billing. Also, was able to put a block on my kids charging anything on their key cards. Had that not been the case, I suspect I would have had an unpleasant surprise from the video arcade (no cash or tokens - you swipe your card to play). You can request this when you check in.
* The Cruise Critic Meet & Greet was a lot of fun. We had a great turn out, it was great to meet people we had been chatting with on the forums, and many ships officers turned out, including the captain.
* It was a very easy on and off while docked in Bermuda.
* The azipod thrusters were not as loud as others had mentioned, and we were closest to them in a Deck 9 aft balcony cabin.
* Seventy percent of the crew is from the Philippines, and their English is good for the most part. The large percentage is due, in part, to very high unemployment there, and working on the ship provides income they can send home. Our Teppanyaki chef has been with NCL for 12 years, and does 9 months on board, and then 2 months at home. His kids are 11 and 13, and he Skypes with them regularly. Even with the separation, he is able to provide a better life for them, rather than being unemployed at home.
* You will get a note that while docked in Bermuda, they hose down the windows and balconies, so remove anything from the balconies at that time. My kids didn't see that note. Oh well . . .
* The Laundry special ($24.95 for a full bag) was run on Wednesday. You leave the bag by noon, and it is returned on Friday.
* If your beach towel is swiped by accident from the pool deck, your cabin steward will get you a replacement.
* There was a two-hour sale Tuesday morning on logo wear. I picked up a fleece top and a windbreaker for 50% off.
* There are some spelling and grammar mistakes on the life vest instruction placard on the inside of the cabin door. Does not instill confidence . . .
* There is no bar soap - only liquid soap, shower gel and shampoo. Bring your own if that's a problem (wasn't for us).
* There were lots of large family groups (10+). They said they did not have any problems being accommodated in any of the restaurants.
* In cabin corridors, if you are confused about which way to walk, just follow the fish on the carpeting. They swim towards the front of the ship.
* Take your key card with you when you disembark - you will need it to get off the ship, even in New York.
* All public areas were spotless and shining.
* Our one big problem was that Tuesday night there was a crew party in the Manhattan Room, directly under our cabin. They only do it every few months (this was the second) and it was so incredibly loud, that not only did we hear it, our entire cabin was vibrating and pulsing. This was close to midnight. We called Guest Services, and it got turned down a smidge. We then called the Cruise Director (we had been given his direct line at the Meet & Greet) and he got it turned down some more, but it still shook the whole room. This went on until 1AM. The next day we got personal calls from Guest Services apologizing profusely, letting us know that it would not be held in the Manhattan Room again, and offered us dinner at a specialty restaurant to compensate us for the trouble. I should mention that when my wife called both Guest Services and the Cruise Director to complain, she was very very nice about it, and gave no indication that we wanted anything except for the music to be lowered. An example of excellent customer service.
FOOD & DRINK
* Coffee wasn't terrible. Not great, but not horrific. The Atrium Cafe serves up espresso-based drinks that were very good, and cheaper than Starbucks.
* If you booked Cagney's for the first night, you received a free bottle of house wine for every two adult dinners.
* Like other cruise lines, if you don't finish a bottle at one meal, they will store it and bring it to you at a subsequent meal, no matter which restaurant, and even if dining in a different restaurant for the next meal.
* Dinner at Cagney's was great except for the shrimp cocktail. They were either poorly defrosted or old.
* La Cucina was a great meal - not sure where it gets the bad rep I've seen on the forums. Yes, the pizza was excellent, but so was the rest of our meals. My osso bucco was particularly good, though my wife said hers could have been more tender (mine fell off the bone. Like butter.).
* One of my favorite features was that in the buffet, there were servers walking around at breakfast to refill your coffee. They even brought you more milk so you wouldn't have to get up. I had joined my wife one morning who had already started breakfast, and the server not only refilled her cup, but brought me one as well. A small thing, but so very much appreciated. Proof that little things do make a difference.
* Le Bistro meal was good, but a bit rushed. Still liked La Cucina better - and my wife is not only a foodie with some professional experience, but a Francophile as well.
* Wine selections at all restaurants was good, and well-priced too.
* O'Sheehan's is a great place to hang out. Good drinks, fun atmosphere, and games for the whole family.
* There is a fairly significant difference between the MDRs and the specialty restaurants, both in the quality of food and the service. Not that the MDRs were bad. Not at all. They just lose in the comparison.
* The Uptown Grill is a very nice alternative to the buffet for lunch.
* Room service pizza rocks. Well worth the $5 for a large pie.
* Food in the Spiegel Tent was among the most unsatisfactory. And at that, the lunch served at the $20 Second City Dysfunktional Reunion was better than the $40 dinner at Cirque Dreams.
* Saved the best for last. Teppanyaki. Even with a $25 charge, it was excellent both in terms of quality as well as entertainment. I have been to several Hibachi restaurants, and this was the best show. Food was delicious and plentiful. The guy beside me couldn't make up his mind between Land & Sea (Filet & shrimp) or Seafood (Lobster, scallops, calamari) so he ordered both, with no extra charge. Skip the fruit sashimi for dessert and head straight for the Green Tea Cake with Green Tea ice cream.
* Burn The Floor - Outstanding. You will get tired just from watching them dance up a storm. There is a reason that NCL gets the highest marks in the industry for entertainment.
* Rock of Ages - the other reason NCL gets such high marks. You can't help singing along, and the casting was perfect. Be aware that the cast is switching out after the September 8th cruise (new cast has been rehearsing in Tampa). The fellow who plays Dennis is headed to Broadway to cover that role while the current actor goes on a break, and the fellow who plays Lonnie is going to the ROA national tour. Like I said - highest caliber performers. Another thing to be aware of - this show is not for anyone younger than teens.
* For good seats, especially for ROA, make sure you are there BEFORE the doors open. The house was packed. And if you're in the Haven, get there early as well, since the Haven reserved seating is actually on the side. We got there just before the doors opened and got better seats than then the Haven guests section.
* The Second City PG-13 show is in the same format as the Chicago main stage shows, but less edgy. The Dysfunktional Family Reunion lunch show was fun, if not a bit cheesy, but it really is for the whole family.
* Cirque Jungle Dreams is not Cirque Du Soleil, but good entertainment nonetheless. Good for kids.
* Bought the spa pass as soon as we boarded. Only went about 4 times, but especially on sea days, it is one of the only places you can go where there are no kids. Good steam room and sauna, good whirlpools and the heated stone loungers are nice but could be warmer. In the pool, you need to know that there are individual stations each with their own jets, each activated by their own button. My wife didn't figure that one out until I showed her. The facility itself is very nice and well done. Still, however, cannot for the life of me figure out the value of the salt room.
* We did Father & Son and Mother & Daughter massages. They are done in the couples rooms, and is a much better value than 4 individual massages. It was my kids' first professional massage and they loved it.
* Bingo is a bit pricey, though it is more economical if you have more people. The cruise bingo crew is hit or miss. Joey was our favorite.
* Our Wreck and Reef Snorkel Dive excursion was cancelled due to high seas. We were offered a refund, or the captain offered to take anyone who wanted to go, to a smaller closer reef and unlimited rum swizzles ("Instead of a reef and a wreck, we'll give you a reef and get you wrecked."). Not being big drinkers and having two teenagers, we opted for the refund. It worked out, because we got to spend time at the pool, hot tubs, and water slides with zero crowds.
* If you're a geek like me, I highly recommend the technical presentation followed by the officers Q&A. Highly informative, well done, and you get to see that the captain has a great sense of humor.
* The casino was pretty big. Had a small selection of table games and lots of slots. The slots were no where near as loose as Vegas where you have the option of moving to another casino next door. That being said, they were much looser on our last night at sea.
* iConcierge is nice when it connected to the network. It worked much better at the beginning of the cruise, and the talk and text function was very helpful for us all to stay in touch. Since it is app-based, you cannot change the ringtone or the volume of the ringer. What I found to be particularly helpful was the Account Review function. Things are posted there instantaneously and it is great for keeping tabs on your on-board charges. It is how I caught a mistake by NCL early on, rather than having to deal with it on disembarkation day.
* Very good interactive television services in your cabin, and the IP phones are very robust and work well.
* Touch screens throughout the ship are helpful and fun to use. Especially helpful - the Map It function which not only shows you where something is, but shows you how to get there from where you are.
* As we docked port side, I was able to get Dockyard wifi on my aft balcony ($15 for 3 days)
* We were in cabins 9320 and 9322. Of all standard balcony cabins, they have the largest balconies. And here's a secret: 9320's balcony is even bigger than 9322's due to the placement of the dividers.
* When we were told that cabins were available after embarkation, ours was not yet completely made up. We couldn't find our cabin steward so we called Housekeeping. Within 3 minutes, our cabin steward was there, and within 5 minutes an officer in Housekeeping arrived to make sure everything got addressed.
* We asked our cabin steward for loungers (2 for each balcony). He apologized and said he wouldn't be able to do it until the next morning. A little later we tipped him - something I had learned to do in advance, and over and above the daily service charge. Wouldn't you know, we had those loungers 30 minutes later. Amazing what a tip will do.
* I can confirm that the cabins with the bed near the balcony do seem larger than those with the bed by the door. It is psychological as it is all the same space, but it did make a difference to me.
* Even though were in an aft-balcony, we heard nothing from Spice H20 above. My wife is very sensitive to night-time noise, and she slept like a baby.
* There is plenty of storage space. We did not use it all.
* Safe is pretty small. Glad I didn't bring my iPad as I don't think it would have fit.
* Little known fact: If your balcony door handle is in the open position, the A/C shuts off. Even when on the balcony, close the door and return the handle to the closed position. There is a separate lock for locking the door from the inside so you won't lock yourself out.
* Very comfy beds, so-so pillows. Lots of room under the bed for storing luggage.
* The blue dot on the thermostat provided enough ambient light at night to function as a night light. No troubles finding our way to the bathroom in the middle of the night.
* The aft does sway a bit, but it is back and forth, not up and down or rocking. My wife is very sensitive to motion, and it did not bother her at all.
* While the shower is adequately sized, it is still on the small side. We knocked the shower gel dispenser off the wall twice, though it was easy to reassemble and put back.
* Helpful tip: The first click on the shower dial is not the only one. Turn it past that first click for more water pressure. And speaking of water pressure, that too was fine, and lots of hot water delivered quickly in both shower and sink.