This was our first experience on one of NCL's large ships. We are gold latitudes so have been on numerous cruises before with NCL on other ships which held in the range of 2000 passengers. The Breakaway is quite a change from those ships. It is truly massive putting quite a bit of distance between the dining rooms which are Aft and the entertainment venues which are forward. I was quite impressed with how well it was designed to avoid crowding despite the constant movement of people. There were 4100 guests and 1600 crew when we sailed.
Although not large, our BC Balcony cabin on Deck 11 was well designed with a great deal of storage area. Friends of ours were in a mini-suite and there did not seem to be a substantial difference in size despite the statistics in the schematic. I would recommend a room where the bed is adjacent to the balcony rather than the couch/desk as it was in our room. It is nice to lie on the bed and look through the glass. The balcony itself is small - it can only accommodate two straight chairs (no lounge) and a very small table. The bathroom was a decent size again with plenty of storage area and a nice size shower. There are no privacy issues as on the EPIC.
The embarkation process was quick although they should have some Information Technology people around the check in area to help with glitches. It took some time to record our information and the check in person had to keep interrupting a colleague for help. Once on board, around noon, we were told that cabins would be available at 2 and we headed for the Garden Cafe on 15. In actuality, the rooms were available closer to 1:30. My policy is that i tip the room steward as soon as I meet him and find that gets me very smooth service for the cruise which was the case this time as well.
Our largest complaint was the NCL for reasons I can't fathom has downgraded their provision and marking of vegetarian food. In all our other cruises, vegetarian items were plentiful and clearly marked whether in the buffet or the dining rooms. This time even salads like cole slaw regularly had ham in them. I spoke with Hugo, the hotel director and he immediately had me meet Mustafa the food and beverage director who explained that menus were dictated from Miami and this menu was being rolled out throughout the fleet. He suggested that we special order on a regular basis which we did. Each night we would eat in the Manhattan Room and they would bring us the menu for the following day and work with us to craft vegetarian options if nothing was available or to special order if necessary. The Garden Cafe continued to be a problem - tofu appeared once the whole time and only 3 options of sandwiches are offered on a daily basis and they ALWAYS had meat or fish in all three. We never encountered a long line at the buffet and always found a table in a reasonable amount of time. For breakfast, we at the the Outdoor Grill on 16 which is fantastic - a more limited buffet but quite spacious and seemed to be a well kept secret until my mother in law found it! The Maitre D Hari and his staff (Jessica, Marisol and Joven) in the Manhattan Restaurant were wonderful and creative in meeting our needs.That being said, we are on vacation and would prefer not to always be planning meals 24 hours in advance but to be treated as part of a valuable customer base as we have been in the past on NCL and on other lines currently. This is really the item that would drive me to focus on options other than NCL. We ate in Cuccina once and even there had to special order. Other than that, the specialty restaurants had no appeal.
On the positive side, other than Rock of Ages, we thoroughly enjoyed the entertainment. We attended Second City 3 times for improv shows, saw Brenda Kaye three times (the hypnotist/comedienne) and really enjoyed Burn the Floor and Oh What a Night. Unlike other ships you have to reserve in advance though stand-bys are let in on a space available basis about 10 minutes before show time. I can understand that with an 800 seat theater and 4000 guests it is necessary to force people to divide themselves into groups the theater can accommodate. Rock of Ages would have been ok, not great, if it was played at a normal decibel level. I was told by numerous staff that the contract allows the Broadway production team to set the volume and it was actually painful. I have no problem with rock music or heavy metal but not when it actually hurts to listen. They do handout optional ear plugs and they should be taken (my error not to). This is the only show I ever walked out of on a cruise ship. Cirque was definitely worthwhile - I had booked the first night in advance and when we boarded they offered a $10 per person discount and automatically applied it to my account. Sinan is an excellent entertainer as a cruise director.
The ports were fine - you know what to expect in the Caribbean but due to bad currents, we were delayed getting into San Juan and they were able to extend our time in the port. The synagogue in St. Thomas was a definite highlight of our tours. Overall the weather was fine with just an occasional quick tropical shower followed by the return of sunshine. The night of the fireworks was quite windy and the last one they set off, blew back onto the ship and a man near me had his shirt singed. Luckily he was not injured but I am still not sure if that had been planned as the last of the fireworks or if it had become too dangerous.
The large v. medium ship is a matter of taste. I personally found a distinct lack of community on this ship since you were generally held in small spaces. The theater holds about 20% of the cruisers and that is the largest facility. Dining is freestyle and unless you make a reservation, you can wain a long time. I think they are trained to say 25 minutes but really have no idea how long. In many cases there were empty tables inside and long lines outside the dining room which implies that they aren't adequately staffed. There are very few areas for them to hold events - for examples movies were always shown either on the atrium on 6 or on an outdoor deck on 16. The atrium is a very noisy place, the seats get taken quickly, and people are always walking through as guest services, shore excursions, a large bar and a coffee shop are all in that section. It is surprising that they didn't do a better job incorporating a venue like Spinnaker on the other ships.
Disembarkation was slow. As gold latitudes we were given priority luggage tags which was supposed to get us off the ship at 8:30. It was closer to 9:45 when we were called and frankly, I think everyone just headed for the gangway at that point since there is no one to check your luggage tag color. Customs was fast and we were out by around 10:15. The delay wasn't significant since live in the NY area and were not catching a flight.
In sum, we did enjoy ourselves. The ship forces you to get exercise walking which is not a bad thing. The staff really was very helpful and gracious and as they say speak up (as we did on food) early if you have a problem and they will try to address it. A number of people told us they had been called by NCL and offered space on the cruise at the last minute at a very reasonable rate. If you can make a last minute cruise, see if you can get yourself onto those lists.