We as a family have cruised NCL six times, Disney once, and RCL twice. We are a family of five with three boys 15/13/12 years. On all our cruises we have utilized suites to enjoy the VIP perks.
We do enjoy the NCL experience due to the freestyle dining, as we find the set timings dining on other ships restrictive on planning your day. Some other families/people that prefer the set dining times, should be aware of this before booking an NCL experience.
Lets go through the NCL Breakaway experience.
We booked 9316 Haven Aft Penthouse Suite with 9314 adjoining balcony room.
ROOMS - the 9316 suite is possibly the best on the ship. The balcony is massive with shaded and sunny areas. We had two loungers, small dining table with four chairs, another two chairs, and still tons of room left. We had four kids, five adults watching fireworks from our balcony, and still had room for anther eight or so. The aft provides no wind whilst travelling and beautiful views in Bermuda. Our balcony was better than the Owners Suite that we got to see, and way bigger than any other Haven room. It had a separate bedroom with two bathroom both with showers. The only setback is it is opposite end from the Haven on the very very big ship. Lots of walking, but service from our Butler and Room Steward made up for this.
The balcony room is a little tight, but makes up for it with the larger size of the bathroom. I think this was a good move by NCL as you spend little time in your room, but the freedom to be able to move around in the bathroom is a good trade. And yes the balconies are small, fitting really one person with feet up on a chair, but gives a person an escape to the main areas of ship.
HAVEN - no where as good as the EPIC Haven. The retractable roof, gave a swimming pool type echo, that does not give the tranquility experienced on the EPIC Haven. There is very little room around the "pools" to have a coffee in the morning, which tends to be occupied extensively by very big families with lots of kids (we have kids too, so understand they are paying guests too). The second level gives some escape but the noise carries up. So a thumbs down to this area. Haven does have a very nice outside sunbathing area, which does give escape and relaxation on sunning days. The Haven bar does not have much character, so was not used much by many people, and the Haven restaurant was disappointing, low ceilings giving that echo again, making it noisy, not very relaxing in evening dinners, so again the experience was not as good as the EPIC.
PUBLIC AREAS - Interestingly enough, we felt the EPIC was a nightmare on crowds, but not so bad on the Breakaway. Yes the pools were crowded, but with the extensive (and we do mean extensive) different public areas on the ship, there was an area that you could relax in without too much trouble. There are sun decks hidden away near front of ship and upper decks that people tended to miss. So many bars knocking around, you can always find a chair or table free. We loved the outside eating/drinking areas on the Boulevard. Great touch. However, sometimes smokers tended to hang around certain areas, chain smoking away, oblivious to the poor tabes around them that we're also trying to enjoy the outside. But we did experience eating outside on a speciality restaurant without issue, and would advise this if no smokers around.
FOOD - Buffet was crowded, and some what repetitive, but it is the main buffet, what do you expect of a large ship? We could always find a table, and the food generally hot, and OK. Some people need to learn good manners of waiting, not eating in line etc., but we have seen that on every ship.
NCL freestyle relies on the paying speciality restaurants. Use them! If you are looking for just the non paying restaurants then food is not bad. But if you pay it gets better. We would suggest that you budget the extra costs in when going on an NCL cruise. Also do try and book a couple before you get on the ship.
If you like the fine dining experience then check on the Chefs Table. It is not advertised. Nine course with drinks. Twelve people only, once only during the whole cruise, first come basis. You need to ask customer service as soon as you get on the ship. It was served in the Haven, unfortunately with the noise issue, but food and wine and experience excellent.
We heard multiple bad comments on the Italian. The Teppanaki was excellent, the Brazilian was good, Haven disappointing, Blue Lagoon good, Irish pub good.
ACTIVITIES - book the shows before you get on the ship. Rock of Ages is good, but think twice for smallerSecond City Family Reunion, was just ok. Food is terrible but you are paying the extra for the show, so go have more free food after. If you do not have the budget then skip.
The Circque performance is good and worth the extra cost, but again eat after.
Search out the Magician performance online, it was on only once, and he s good.
Teenage kids group, well organized and appeared to keep them pretty happy. Get your kids going on first few days, after that the clicky groups have already formed.
The 10-12 group was very disappointing on this cruise. It was the organizers, not the activities. Lots of activities, but organizers disorganized and even rude. Hopefully NCL will revamp these employees to improve this experience for others in future.
The Atrium hang out for game shows, just did not work, way too many people, very little seating.
Great choices of evening entertainment for adults. Duelling pianos, Jazz, inside and outside pubs, inside and outside discos, singers.
For kids the various kids club appeared to be main choice with the odd outside or inside film. So if not into the kids clubs, kids entertainment could be a little limited.
The climbing activities, water parks, mini golfing great, amazing! Trick is to save them to the first day at Bermuda, else the lines could be long. Forget trying the first day at sea, as everyone else is trying that too!
Check of the FreeStyle Daily activities. There was always things to keep you busy, from lectures on Bermuda, towel animals, wine tasting, Jewelry lectures etc.
SPA - Massage good, petit cure not so good (very rushed), haircut good, men's shave OK (but barbers area located right next to spa reception). Workout room way too small.
So all in all...
Good points - We had the best room on the ship, the balcony room's bathrooms, lots of bars/areas to try, Brazilian and Teppanaki, Rock of Ages, Magician, outside ropes/water activities, adult evening activities.
Room for improvement - Pool area very crowded (try elsewhere), Second City Family Reunion, 10-12 years staff, barber area location, fitness room, atrium game shows, kids activities in evening if not at kids clubs.
Eyes wide open - Freestyle anytime dining with main dining times 6-7 pm being busy, book shows before cruise, speciality restaurants are better, so save some bucks for them and book a couple before you cruise, do not use outside rope/water activities on first sea day, big ship with a large number of people (some with manners, some without).
Would we go on this ship again? Probably not. But was it worth trying? Absolutely!