My girlfriend and I (both late 20s) traveled the NCL Breakaway out of Manhattan to Florida and the Bahamas on the October 20th sailing in a balcony stateroom. I am a first-time cruiser and she has cruised on several cruises but this was her first time on NCL.
Embarkation: Quick and painless. We arrived around 10:30 a.m. as we wanted to obtain passes to the VIBE beach club. We were on the boat before noon and quickly went to guest services to obtain our passes.
VIBE beach club: We were one of the first people in the VIBE line and were able to book a cabana for the week. By far, the best decision we made. This adults only section is quite serene and exactly what you are looking for if you want to avoid the masses and relax. There are 5 cabanas, plenty of lounge chairs, 2 hot tubs and a private bar/bathroom. If you are traveling as a couple, or a group without children under 18 this section is a MUST and worth the extra money. Everyday we looked forward to seeing the friends we made in this section including the bartenders/wait staff.
Entertainment: We went to Rock of Ages and the Cirque dinner show. My girlfriend absolutely loved the Rock of Ages show and it certainly wasn't bad it's just not my scene. Cirque was great and the time flew by since you are being served appetizers then dinner then dessert which breaks up the time. I thought the food was pretty good as well.
Dining: We ate at pretty much every restaurant on the ship including specialty restaurants La Cucina, Teppanyaki, Cagney's and the Brazilian restaurant (all of which we booked before we got on the ship). Cagney's was the best with Teppanyaki a close second. The regular dining options Taste, Savor, Manhattan Room, Garden Cafe, Uptown Bar and Grill and O'Sheehans weren't exceptional but weren't bad either. Room service pizza was good just takes about an hour to receive. Generally speaking the options for late-night food are scarce if you don't want the pizza service. O'Sheehans has a limited menu late at night and there are maybe half a dozen options for room service.
A lot of reviews we read complain about the additional per person costs at the specialty restaurants and/or the food at the complimentary restaurants. As a first-time cruiser I have nothing to compare it to but generally I feel as though it is much like everything else in life. If you want the best, you have to pay a little extra. We felt as though it was worth the extra money.
My biggest complaint was the elevators. Seems like they should have another bank of them midship. There are only two sections of elevators which take awhile to get to your floor and are probably too small for a ship of this size. Once you are crammed into the elevator it takes awhile to get to where you're going because it stops at every floor to pick up new passengers (this is because so many people are waiting for the elevators). There were multiple instances where the elevator would get to our floor but be too packed for us to even get on.
Disembarkation: In short, a nightmare. However, I must admit it was partially our fault for not packing the night before. We elected for the "easy walk-off" option in which you carry your own bags off the ship. So we woke up early to pack and leave the ship, however by 8:30 a.m. everyone else has the same idea. The elevators (as usual) had a long line so we elected to walk down 6 decks via the stairs carrying our 7 days worth of luggage. There was mass confusion near the exit and only one NCL staff member directing the way. At this point, everyone is in a foul mood because vacation is over so it would've been better if the staff would have been out in full force to make the process flow more smoothly and keep order. Instead, the masses had no idea what needed to be done to leave the ship. Eventually, we hopped onto a long line which wrapped around O'Sheehans in its entirety. The logjam was caused by the fact that there was only one person checking keycards at the end of the line before you could leave the ship. The overall process of getting off the boat took over an hour, not to mention getting through the cruise terminals lines and customs. At the end of any vacation you just want to be home, so this adventure left a bad taste in our mouths.
Many reviews on here are very negative, however I would offer that any vacation depends on what you make of it. If you go in with an open mind and don't look to dissect every negative aspect of the ship you will have a great time. I recommend you do your research before even booking to ensure this cruise truly meets your vacation needs. Also, book restaurants/excursions beforehand so you have a itinerary for yourself in advance. We did so, and didn't have to wait to dine once. Nor were we ever unable to do something due to it being sold out. In conclusion, be prepared and have yourself a great cruise on the NCL Breakaway!!