To set the stage, we are a 62 year old, newly retired couple completing our fifth NCL cruise. Our life style consists of only North America travel and we always choose family style restaurants, medium priced hotels (3 and 4 star) etc. Gourmet food and expectations of 5 star service with staff fawning over us, are not in our past, but if you would like an average person's view of this cruise ship... READ ON!!! Overall impression was good, but we do note a few areas where we have enjoyed other NCL ships better.
The ship is big and very new and modern. We mostly choose NCL mainly because of their Free Style Dining option that allows us to eat in the Garden Cafe buffet area (just great!!) or one of the three main dining rooms (Manhaatan, Taste & Savour a bit formal for us) or O'Sheehan's 24 hour location on deck 7 ... a good informal option but staff need to be a bit more welcoming like they are in all other dining areas. We enjoy cruising but do not want to restricted to a formal dining room with a set eating time, and a table shared with folks we do not know. As fast food and family style diners, we will not presume to rate the food other than to say it was as good or better than any that we have had on any ship. NO, we do not sail on the "top priced ships" geared for gourmet tastes and staff pampering!! Don't buy a Toyota expecting a Bentley.
Let's look at the cruise in sequence. Embarkation was very smooth, with an efficient registration and quick loading of the ship. We were on board by 11:00am for a 3pm sailing. Despite the over 4000 passengers, the process as just as smooth as smaller ships we have been on. Rooms were ready before 1pm.
At first glance the ship's layout is quite different than the Gem or Pride of America, but after just a few hours of getting our bearings, the layout actually turned out to be an improvement in many ways. (See exception below re: entertainment venues) There are just two banks of elevators instead of the usual three BUT again after the first day, the logic of this became evident. With only two, AFT and FORWARD each one is skewed a bit towards the center of the ship and so the overall walk from one end of the ship to the other seems considerably less and makes for great mobility as one moves about especially on decks 6.7 and 8 where the main inside action is. After the initial surprise of only two elevators, we give it two thumbs up!!! Pool area is quite crowded but not an area that we tend to use.
The casino has raised some criticism by others for its long spread out area along deck 7 and for the smoke effect. As non smokers we were concerned, but quickly learned that it is an easily avoided area if one wishes. Simply walk along deck 6 or 8, which are very open and accessible to reach your desired end of deck 7. Most often we did use deck 7 and simply did not linger in the casino area. Again no problem for us.
Entertainment is the BIG change for us. We were used to NCL ships like Gem, Jewel, Pride of America and we learned later that one has to Pre-Book the four shows on the BREAKAWAY. Having sailed her once, it is a workable proposition BUT NCL needs to better prepare folks for this new way of seeing shows. It is mentioned briefly in your eDocuments but it needs to be highlighted much more clearly. We only became aware of it a week or so before sailing. Booking can be done prior to sailing (one booking per person per show). If you love a show and wish to see it again, you can book a second time once on board. (At least at this time.) We understand the need for pre-booking and are OK with it, now that we know.
SHOWS: Burn The Floor was excellent, Magician very good, Second City very good but getting very repetitive if you have seen them on other NCL ships. (This may become a big issue for NCL in terms of repeat business!!) Rock of Ages did not suit our tastes, which is fine, but despite that, we actually thought that the acting and singing was mediocre at best. Language and PG 13 content was not offensive to us at all, but the quality of the performance was!! Did not book tickets to the "extra charge" Cirque show. Probably would if dinner were not included. Love shows but will eat always at the complimentary restaurant sites on board.
Our MAIN bone of contention with the big shows was around the issue of late arrivals to the show. In ALL of its literature, Breakaway says that ticket reservations to the show are automatically cancelled ten minutes prior to the show and made available to standby guests and that all audience members must be seated at show time, late arrivals will not be admitted. We were OK with this and were actually looking forward to an uninterrupted show atmosphere. The reality is however that this policy is NOT actually in effect. For all shows, the audience were still being escorted to their seats by cruise staff 5, 10 15 and yes even 20 minutes after the show started. That is fine and it is like most other ships BUT if you have a no late policy, then either enforce it or eliminate it!!!! NCL we understand the dilemma it produces for you, BUT YOU MUST CHOOSE one way or the other.
The other minor entertainment note that we made was that the various bars and venues used for the piano players, musicians etc. were not as conducive to quiet enjoyment as on other NCL ships. These were too small and the conversations at the bars far out stripped the entertainment. Bliss is a long narrow room, great for dancing but not good for general entertainment. Shaker's, Mixx and Ice bar are great examples of where the bar and the entertainment do not coexist well. The entertainment seemed quite good, but in most cases we could not hear it and the entertainers must have felt that they were just playing to the air!! THe ship band, IMPAC was very good and very visible throughout the cruise. The Atrium location was great for them.
Disembarkation was equally smooth. We chose to use the easy walk off since we had a pre noon flight and were less than two minutes in line!!!
Overall a most enjoyable December cruise, but all things considered we might choose the GEM or JEWEL layout for the same cruise. A different venue might, however, see us back on the Breakaway since NCL is our favourite cruise line!!!