This was our first-ever cruise. We are a 50-something hetero couple; one of us is a bit of a "foodie" and likes to be pampered in spas, the other, less so. Neither felt the need to be around children. We were both very happy with this trip.
The reviews we read had worried us, but the ship is only eight months old, and maybe there were a few kinks to get out. There don't seem to be any more kinks.
Embarkation was very smooth. We got to the terminal early, around 9:45 AM, and were the first in the Haven waiting room there, but nothing happened until the room was packed with people over two hours later, when they herded us all on to the ship at once. The only advantage to being there early that I could see, was that we had seats; by the time we left that waiting room there were at least 20 people standing or sitting on the carpeted floor. There were juice, cookies and fresh fruit.
We carried on two bottles of wine, expecting to pay the $15/ per corkage fee, but somehow the bottles were not detected in the X-ray machine. By the time we realized it, we were aboard the ship, and loathe to alert anyone to the oversight.
From the terminal they took us a "Haven" area on board, and gave us a little welcome speech. The Vibe
After reading other reviews here, one of us ran off to reserve lounge chairs in the child-free Vibe Beach Club for a supplement of $79 each. Don't make my mistake and wait on the "Guest Services" line to reserve; they will redirect you to another line that has no sign over it at all, to the left of "Guest Services."
Because it was a school vacation week, and we thought a lot of people might be thinking like us, we opted for the Vibe "Cabaña" option, for $299 instead of $79 x 2, but it wasn't really necessary. The Vibe is outdoors, and on Sunday and Monday it was too cold to lounge out there. We used the Cabaña on the Port Canaveral day when it was very sunny and hot. The sun was beating down on that side of the ship, and although the Cabaña has an overhang, it provided no shade from the sun. We tried in vain to create shade by climbing up and draping a towel over the top of it (nearly breaking a neck in the process), and nothing really worked.
You can order and pay for snack food and drinks there, and they do still bring around complimentary fruit skewers and water. We used the cabaña one more day, and that was it. At any given time there were only about 10 other people at the Vibe.
Of the $142 extra that the cabaña cost us, they told us that the $100 onboard credit was only usable at the Vibe, but they ended up applying it to our general account. Last comment about the Vibe: they play popular music fairly loudly over the speakers and unless you use your own headphones you can't escape it. I could not fall asleep because of it, even after a piña colada!
Anyhow, back to Day One…
Our suitcases arrived outside our door separately, within a few hours of boarding. The room was impeccably clean and appointed. I recently renovated a apartment and I could tell that no expense had been spared in building and decorating this room. It had a king-sized bed, very comfortable, with extra pillows in the closet. Plenty of shelves and closet space with beautiful wooden hangers, and more drawer space than we could use.
They still provide a welcome bottle of sparkling wine (nothing fancy...the foodie wouldn't touch it so I had it all to myself!), fresh flowers, and a basket of fruit. There was a robe and slippers for each of us, also an umbrella which came in handy on the Great Stirrup Cay beach day.
There was a DVD player which we didn't use.
The flat-screen TV was large enough; there was a movie channel that showed, commercial-free, Skyfall, Meet the Fockers, the Hobbit, and more child-oriented movies during the day. You could also borrow from a list of about 80 other movies, and pay-per-view ($9.99) from a list of about 30 others. Another channel looped the same couple of episodes from 30 Rock, Two Broke Girls, Whitney… one channel showed a fascinating documentary on the building of the actual ship we were on, the Breakaway, and its maiden voyage from Southampton, England to New York. Worth watching.
There are individual reading lamps and lots of lighting options, from Operating Room to dim and romantic. The curtains black out the room pretty much completely if you like to sleep late in the morning.
There is a small safe and a fridge with minibar and snacks, not complimentary.
We also had a hot tub in the room, which I put to good use the very first afternoon by drawing a bubble bath to recover from the morning's travels. There's a window right in front of the tub from which I was able to watch New York and New Jersey slip slowly and silently away....
The balcony was not that deep, but held two armchairs and small table. We requested from the man in charge of housekeeping two lounge chairs instead. He tried to tell us that only one would fit, but we insisted, and indeed both fit, albeit sideways and with the backs up, with room for the table in the middle. Since the weather was fair the entire week, we lay out there a lot, reading, having breakfast or just watching the sun rise.
When you are sitting on the balcony there is absolute privacy; no one can see you from the ship, with one exception for Deck 14: there is a groove, level with the balcony floor that runs the length of the ship. Docked in one of the ports, we noticed a huge contraption sliding along the groove. It was about the size of half the width and height of the balcony and supported scaffolding from which a worker, several decks below, was washing other balconies' glass. It would slide and stop, slide and stop and at one point it stopped right outside our balcony for about half an hour. It wasn't really a nuisance. But another day, I was standing in my birthday suit in front of the window with my back to the balcony, and Foodie calmly indicated that I should look over my shoulder. The contraption was there, but this time there was a man sitting on it. He had his back to the room and never turned around, but "caveat nudo" (let the naked beware).
There are two phones in the room. I only ever used them to call the Butler (who, by the way, picks up immediately.) Speaking of phones, I put my cell on airplane mode and decided to be incommunicado for the week. (With one exception... see "iConcierge" section) Foodie used the Internet cafe to check his e-mail a couple of times. It cost him about $8, all told.
There is the Lavazza coffee and tea maker which I used often. Yes, the blow dryer is in the bedroom, but it's it's in front of a large mirror and someone vacuums the room every day so it didn't really matter. If you want to bring your own dryer other appliance there is a plug in the ceiling in the bathroom. The bathroom also had more storage space, a nice big shower with soap and shampoo dispensers, a line for drying clothes or towels, a double sink, and a scale. There were also little bottles of shampoo, conditioner ,shower gel, and body lotion.
There is no iron, but maybe one could have been borrowed… we didn't ask.
So basically, anything you would expect to find in a luxury hotel room, you will find in a Haven Spa Suite.
In the Haven you have a Butler assigned to you. We started out tipping him every time he brought us something, but he protested and said, if you're happy with my service you can give me something at the end of the week. We ended up tipping him $175 on the last day because he brought us room service about five times. Every afternoon he also brings 4 little savory or sweet snacks.
The Haven is no insulation from children. They are pretty much everywhere, all the time, except in the spa, and the spa lounge area, where I think they are allowed, but where there is nothing much for them to do.
With a few pleasant exceptions they were loud and treated every area they were in, including restaurants, as their personal playground, parents present or not.
They told us that on this voyage the ship was filled to capacity, so that explained the very crowded common areas, like the Atrium, in the evening. The fitness room was never too bad; whenever I wanted to exercise, morning or evening, I was always able to find a free treadmill, elliptical, or stationary bicycle.
We never had to wait very long to be seated in a restaurant, either, reservation or not. Contrary to what I read here, there was never any pushing or rudeness that I observed. Maybe because they gave those of us from the Haven priority all the time, so there was no need for it.
This is a free app to download before you get on the ship, or after. It's useful because you can consult your onboard charges on your phone very quickly and easily. They say that you can consult it on board for free using NCL's Wi-Fi....I won't really know until my next cell phone bill comes whether that is true. You can also see most of the restaurant menus on there, and you can maybe even make show reservations… I'm not sure. You can also do some of this on the TV in your room but the remote isn't that great, so it's easier to use the app.
Smiling, helpful, hard-working. Yes, some people's command of English was not perfect, but it wasn't really a problem.
Anyone can use the spa, but those not staying in the Haven pay a supplement.
The spa appointments for massages, facials etc. filled up very quickly but we were always able to get the services we wanted at more or less the time we wanted.
By the way, regular deep-tissue massages are about $160 a piece. They offer a discount on some slightly more expensive specialty massages (hot stones, bamboo sticks) if you do several of them, but we never saw any discounts on regular massages.
The "basic" facial was, I think, $120. It lasted about 30 minutes with a darkened room and soft music… Very nice.
Manicure and pedicure were about $45 and $55 each, and you are given the hard sell to buy some oil, which was a little annoying.
The promo that I read about here, of a free bottle of wine offered with a reserved dinner in any one of the specialty restaurants the first night at sea, no longer exists.
Overall, the food was fine, maybe not "top-notch," but it was fresh and tasted good and was pretty much prepared the way we asked for it.
The Haven restaurant, which we used a lot, has the same menu for breakfast, lunch and dinner every day, with one different "special" every day. There is an extensive wine list, with moderate prices. At breakfast there is both a buffet and the possibility of ordering omelettes, pancakes, eggs Benedict, etc.
The sushi restaurant, Wasabi, you pay for à la carte, not expensive at all, and although it was fine and I enjoyed it, Foodie felt it was not on a par with the best sushi we have had in NY. Teppanyaki was delicious, but even with a reservation they wait until eight people show up to seat you at a communal table around the grill (at least they did the night we were there). But, the food was worth the wait.
Great Stirrup Cay
The private island beach day was fun. Reserve your clamshell if you want one. $30 and they seat two. When we got there they had all been reserved. There were, however, plenty of areas with very tall scrub and/or trees for shade. The 10–15 minute walk to the lagoon area is definitely worth the effort. It's mostly flat and the walkway Is smooth. (You can also get a shuttle to there). Fewer people, no music blasting, and the water though not warm, was probably warmer than the ocean side. It's right near a food area, and the bathrooms were so clean I sat right on the seat.
Stay on boat. Cocoa Beach not worth the $10-12 taxi ride, unless you need to go to CVS for something or another.
Don't forget it's a third world country, and you'll be fine.
Local people way less friendly than I expected.
Took a cab ($10 for 2) to FishFry area for some local food. Forget Goldie's Fish Shack, which someone recommended here. Food was disappointing, and we would've died of old age before they brought our second round of drinks, so we canceled them.
Cab driver had recommended Twin brothers in the same area, but I didn't eat there, so I can't vouch for it.
Despite what they will tell you on the ship beforehand, shopping is cheaper in New York.
I did buy a few Cuban cigars to take home for a friend; the salesgirl told me it was legal, but back on the ship I found out that you are not allowed to bring them into New York. I packed them anyway and somehow they got through customs. Viva la Habana.
I'm running out of steam, so suffice it to say that paying extra for the Haven services, areas and privileges was absolutely worth it, and I'm the cheap one.
There is live music everywhere, inside bars and the theaters as well as outside in public areas. Mostly pop and standards. We couldn't find any classical.. There are a couple of real virtuoso musicians, and the rest are good enough to enjoy listening to.
Even though we didn't pay the corkage fee, it would still have been worth it to bring a few bottles of wine on board, for times when you just feel like having a quiet drink in your room, or in your own hot tub.
Can't wait to get back on the Breakaway.