Overall the Breakaway is an excellent ship and I will likely cruise her again in the future. The Haven was Heaven and I think the Haven on Breakaway is more refined than any other ship (including Epic). We sail NCL and The Haven because we like the blend of relaxation that The Haven provides and the city-like atmosphere that the rest of the ship offers.
Embarkation and Disembarkation were easy and efficient. We were in the Haven so we got priority boarding.
Breakaway is a beautiful and well designed ship. There are several separate spaces to accommodate the crowds, even on sea days. That said, there are certain spaces and times were crowds are evident, but that is no different from any other mass market line. For example, the atrium also houses movies during sea days, so naturally, there are lots of people sitting watching the movie. Move slightly over to the Guest Services desk and it is empty by comparison. The elevator banks (forward-center and aft-center) were perfected placed making getting from one end of the ship to the other very easy.
TIP: The atrium wasn't designed for serenity, use the Waterfront instead. There were many quiet places to sit and read a book.
The pool deck is either poorly designed or it's intended use is not properly communicated. It appears to me that NCL sees the main pool experience as an activity/party space and not a serene/tranquil environment. There were several activities taking place everyday at the pool. I think they perceive Spice H2O as the adult relaxation area, but it is little more than an uninspired open deck.
TIP: The pool deck is crowded on sea days in the middle of the afternoon, but in my experience real crowding only occurred on the first two sea days. After that, people found other things to do which eased the crowding. If you choose to go to the pool during the middle of the afternoon on a sunny sea day, you should be prepared that others have the same thing in mind. If you don't like the crowds, zig when everyone else zags and you'll have no problem. There is PLENTY to do onboard.
It is very clear that NCL is pushing the limits of what people are willing to pay a premium for and Breakaway is proof of concept for their strategy. That said, things that are free on other mass market lines are also free on Breakaway. There are more for-fee premium experiences on Breakaway than any other NCL ship, which could lead to the PERCEPTION that you are being nickeled and dimed. If you truly think about it, you are getting a lot more for free on Breakaway than most other ships including, rock climbing, ropes course, dinner in 6 free restaurants (excluding room service, hot dog stand, and the Haven restaurant), Broadway shows, game shows, etc.
I am not very sensitive to smoke and I spend a lot of time in the casino, but this casino was noticeably more smokey than any other ship I've sailed. I think they could do a better job of ventilating the casino. Smoking is allowed in almost every land-based casino in the US, but modern casinos are able to better control the smell. There was a non-smoking section next to Shanghai, but it too was very smokey. Smoke did travel through the atrium, but if you stepped back from the staircase it was barely noticeable. It is not true that the entire ship smells of stale smoke.
Bliss is good for dancing late night and the LED walls are very cool. It's not as much of a lounge as it is on the other ships. Wish they would bring back some of the lounge feel.
Rock of Ages was great, one of the best shows I've seen on a cruise ship. It keeps you engaged for the full 1:45.
Magician was more comedy than magic, but good none the less.
Cirque Dreams was better than the Cirque show on Epic (they eliminated the verbal storyline), but not my favorite type of entertainment. My opinion only, others in my group liked it.
The Casino! The Casino was the worst and not just because I lost. The first day, it was very clear that they were out to push the house edge further. The payout on Blackjack was terrible. The only Blackjack tables without continuous shuffle machines were $50 minimums for 8 decks and $100 for 6 decks. One day they opened a $15, but it was 8 decks and the dealer hit on all 17s. They never opened it again. I did see a woman hit a $4,500 jackpot on a $1 slot machine. Most of the dealers were friendly faces I'd seen on other ships. A couple were jerks as usual. If you're going to take my money, the least you can do is be friendly and not deal 10 cards a second.
The ropes course, including The Plank were outstanding and one of the highlights of my trip.
The slides, especially the Free Fall were a lot of fun.
The Fitness Center is way too small and broken up between cardio and strength training. Both are small, but it was especially difficult to get access to machines because of the crowds. We typically went to the gym between 10 AM and 1 PM. On port days the crowds dissipate.
The Waterfront is an amazing concept and you should make it a point to use it as much as possible. It was great for reading or relaxing during the day, very quiet, and to have a drink at night. It was underused for most of our trip.
Teppanyaki was good as usual. Haven restaurant was excellent. Main dining rooms were average. O'Sheehans is worst than Applebees.
The buffet is good for what it is - a buffet. Generally, the lines were not long, but there were a lot of people. They've managed to accommodate the flow and amount of people very well by having two long hallways of repeating action stations. There are PLENTY of seats throughout and if you walk towards the back most of the tables are open.
Nearly the entire staff was very friendly and helpful. EVERY SINGLE STAFF MEMBER that we came in contact with greeted us and even attempted to personalize their greeting. The consistency and seemingly genuineness blew me away. That said, there are always bad apples. Specifically the bar staff at 21 Bar were not very friendly or helpful. We did encounter a few at O'Sheehans who wouldn't go out of their way to get you something if they had to.
Suite 10312 Aft Penthouse
The Aft Penthouse was amazing! Very large and the balcony was to die for. Others could not see into your balcony from above unless you were standing at the very edge. Ample storage space. 1 large closet and 3 smaller (2 with shelving) in the bedroom. An additional closet in the living room. 2 full bathrooms. We considered staying in The Haven (or closer), but glad we chose the Aft. The walk to The Haven was a breeze.