Overall we really enjoyed our 12-day cruise on the beautiful Norwegian Breakaway. Some of our appreciation, we'll disclose up front, almost certainly comes from our last-minute upgrade offer from NCL, which moved us from a mini-suite with large balcony (which we had been very happy to have) to a courtyard penthouse suite in The Haven. We are a married couple in our mid 40's and this was our 4th cruise and second on NCL.
We opted not to park at the pier, because we found a hotel 15 minutes away that allowed us to leave the car there for no extra charge. We took a car service to and from the pier. Embarkation was ridiculously fast.. From the moment we handed our luggage to a porter to being on the ship having a "snack" lunch of sliders and fries and punch in the Haven lounge was literally no more than 10 minutes.
Our room was ready almost immediately. It was spacious, about the size of an average hotel room, with a king size and wonderfully firm mattress. Tons of storage, his and hers closets, a full tub.. Great! Not a huge balcony, but larger than average, didn't feel cramped.
The ship is giant. however, the design is smart in that a lot of services are clustered more or less midship on decks 6,7 and 8 (678 Ocean Place they call it) and we never felt like we had to walk a long way to get to things.
We've read a lot about smoke in the casino. Frankly I think it's overstated. Yes, you can smell that people are smoking in the casino when you're nearby, but it never bothered us, and I would consider us pretty sensitive non-smokers. Parts of the casino are actually smoke free, and the parts that allow smoking actually seemed less hazy than similar spaces we've been in on other ships.
Does it seem crowded? Yes and no. On embarkation day, and on the last day (when it was cold out), yes there are a lot of folks about in the public spaces. Also at the height of the dinner time there are plenty of people moving through. But all the rest of the time we wondered where everyone had gone!
Speaking of quiet places on the boat.. The haven is heavenly!! We ate a wonderful breakfast daily and a few nice dinners in its elegant restaurant, and spent many hours lounging/napping by its pool. A relaxing oasis that never felt crowded or loud.
The staff is something we've also read a lot about. We found exactly one person who didn't seem to want to connect with us. He wasn't unpleasant, we think it was a language barrier thing. Everyone else was very nice and engaging, especially Ryan, our waiter in Shakers who reached out to us on Day One and was our "cruise buddy" everyday thereafter. He made our cruise very special and more fun. But there were many others who greeted us warmly and by name wherever we went on the ship from the buffet to the specialty restaurants. We just don't understand these complaints that the staff doesn't care.
We tried all the specialty restaurants, except for Ocean Blue (which at $100 per couple we thought crossed the line in expense). We liked them all, and thought the food and ambience in each was very good. We'd never been to a place like Moderno and so didn't really know the "process" and so that was less comfortable for us, but the food there was excellent. Cagney's was such an attractive "old school" steakhouse feel, with terrific food. Our faves were Le Bistro for its elegance and service and menu, and La Cucina for its casual comfort.
We also ate at the Manhattan room, where we enjoyed the feel of the room, the food, and watching folks dancing to the live music. We also tried Taste (or maybe it was Savor?). The food was good, but the room seemed a little oddly laid out and our server didn't seem to understand everything we said.
We also ate at the buffet.. Only for lunch to avoid a big meal in the Haven. Again, we're mystified by people who describe it as inedible. We had sandwiches and salads and other things that really hit the spot. Oh yes.. The ice cream is pretty good too.
About O'Sheehans.. We liked its pubby feel. The food we had was good, except for the spinach/artichoke dip which was runny and quite bad. We stopped there a few afternoons for the free brownie sundae, and one time for the for-a-fee hot fudge sundae, which is giant and delicious.
Carlos bakery/gelato was great. We had 2 kinds of gelato, the lobster tail, chocolate cannoli, and the mini white chocolate mousse cake. All superb and worth the small fees.
Far and away our favorite act was Slam Allen! So talented and a very fun performer, too. The venue- fat cats- is decorated perfectly in a soul-jazz-blues motif. We saw him four times!
We loved Rock of Ages, finding it very, very close to the "Broadway" production we've seen on land. The sets and the singing and the music are great. Note: it is loud and sexually suggestive at times, facts which are made VERY clear in the Daily and in the pre-show announcements.
We also enjoyed Graffiti Classics, a string quartet that did quirky takes on all kinds of music.
Cirque dreams in Spiegel Tent.. Typical cirque costumes, pulsing New Age music, tumbling and juggling and swinging, all impressive, as well as an astounding very quick change magic act, beautiful room, food was quite good, although the "coconut shrimp" in the surf and turf might as well have come from SAMs club. It is hard to eat and watch the show simultaneously.. Would look down to take a bite and hear an "ohh!" From the crowd about something I missed. Don't know how to fix that. But I have to give NCL credit for bringing this to a ship. They pulled it off quite well.
As for live music around the ship, we like Annika on piano, Jazzy Lady T and her piano guy (she was a real "lounge act", but in a good way!). Piano guy sometimes played and sang solo, we liked that too. IMPAC played in various places and did all kinds of music and people really seemed to like them.
Now, we weren't crazy about everything...
After a few minutes of Howl at the Moon, we looked at each other and said "is something wrong here?" I play a little piano and have listened to piano music my whole life. This was just "off". The singing was bad, the arrangements were bad, the sound of the pianos was very one-dimensional (just sounded like noise). Weird... We left pretty early in the program.
We went to see the Four Seasons tribute Oh What a Night. Four guys, all good singers, no sets, prerecorded music tracks. The problem for us is that after the first couple numbers we got very bored and thought they all sounded the same. Guess you really have to love the Four Seasons to enjoy this.
We were also somewhat lukewarm (no pun intended) on Burn The Floor. High energy for sure, talented dancers certainly, but after a few minutes of high speed twirls, you've about seen it all. Again, fans of this current "dance" fad would like it, and there were plenty of whoops from the crowd. But to us it fell flat.
We skipped second city after reading so many people say it wasn't funny. We also heard some passengers who had seen it say the same thing. We saw them on the Gem a couple years ago and thought they were only OK.
We did attend the 80s party in Spice H2O, which included the 5-10 min of cool fireworks, and had a blast. We brought really ridiculous costumes and danced like teenage fools. It was a ton of fun.
Shakers was our bar of choice, though we also spent a little time in Maltings, which we thought had an odd layout and was dark. The chairs there are comfy, though, and we enjoyed a margarita tasting there with "Don Julio". We liked how Shakers sits in the middle of things and we could watch people come and go. We liked our Mojito tasting there also.
Even though it was very nicely appointed, we didn't spend any time in the Haven's lounge, because it was so quiet around there it didn't seem like a fun place to hang out.
The water slides were just as good as some on-land ones I've seen, "free fall" was particularly exhilarating. The ropes course was also very fun. We wish there were some places below for spectators/family members not participating to sit. They have to sort of wander around below the ropes course, trying not to step on the mini golf course.
A lot of people have talked about the mess at debarkation. For us it amounted to an extra hour waiting in the Haven lounge to get off the ship. Once we started moving, however, it was actually pretty speedy. Don't know what caused the delay, we think it was that it took longer to process suitcases for a 12 day cruise than the 7 day trips they've been used to.
San Juan.. We arrived almost two hours late due to stormy seas on the way down from NY, this caused us to miss a private tour, but we found some nice shops and a good local restaurant with wifi to grab a bite and a couple drinks. The ship stayed later to make up for arriving late.
We really enjoyed the rest of the ports, except maybe Barbados. Partly this is because of the fun we had in St. Lucia and at the 80s party the day before, but when we got off the ship around midday, we thought we'd take a cab into town, but were told almost everything was closed because it was Sunday. There were three ships there and it seemed like everyone from all three ships was crammed in the sweltering cruise terminal. We hurried back to the ship for some sandwiches in the buffet.
We did, however, love this itinerary with its sea days at both ends and 6 days of island hopping in the middle.
Except for that first choppy day out of NY, it was a very smooth ride. More so than on other ships we've been on. Sinan was the CD. He was ok, but we wouldn't say we are as excited about him as others are. He wasn't a problem, but certainly did not stand out as exemplary either.
So.. Would we sail on her again? We talked to a lot of people who, like us, have sailed on the Jewel-class ships. We heard people say they really miss the Spinnaker lounge. We loved that on the Gem, and frankly don't know where we'd have gone to relax during the day on the Breakaway if we didn't get lucky enough to get the Haven. As big as the ship is, it's true what people say: the spaces feel smaller.
So yes, we liked it enough to consider it for a future cruise, not just because we liked what the ship itself had to offer, but also because of the itinerary and because leaving from NY works for us.
It all combined to make what was about the best vacation we've ever enjoyed!