Before we dive into what promises to be a long and detailed review (which some of you may have already read in the Norwegian general forums, where it was done piecemeal under the title “Happy Birtday To Me), here’s the short-but-sweet version:
The trip – planned to mark my 50th birthday, and my first full-length cruise – was one of the best vacations I’ve ever taken… maybe even THE best. Fantastic food (via the Ultimate Dining Package), lots of new friends (thanks to my Cruise Critic Meet & Greet), a big win in the casino. Yes, there were a few misses, which I’ll detail in the review, but nothing significant. Yes, we had one wildly bumpy night that left a lot of people ill and a few things broken, although I emerged relatively unscathed. Yes, everything you own will wind up smelling of smoke thanks to the casino.
Want the full story? Read on… and hit the comments with any questions! Note that I’m going to break this into several entries here on the main board, but if you want to read the whole review without comments and questions interrupting, look for it in the “Review” section… once I get around to finishing it!
As New York City’s my home port, I was at the pier by 10 a.m., and checked in by 10:30. The process was incredibly easy, although right from the start, you could spot the people who were bound and determined to have an awful time. While we sat waiting to board, one older man began furiously expounding about how upset he was about having had to walk so far to check in. It’s worth noting that the check in’s at the far end of the space were FAR less crowded than those up front, so it’s pretty easy to imagine that had he gone through those lines, he’d have been complaining about how long it took. This behavior was something I saw over and over again: people complaining for the sake of complaining.
Let’s stop here to discuss the first of several lessons learned: When picking out your wardrobe for the first day, make sure it’s fully functional! Only after handing my suitcase — which was approximately the size of Tahiti — over to a porter did I realize that the zipper on the jeans I was wearing wasn’t particularly interested in staying up. Every 10 minutes or so, I’d check and find it down. And of course, I was stuck with this outfit until my luggage was delivered to my room later that day. I’m sure I wound up flashing more than a few people. File that one under #SmallThrills
Once the boarding process began, things moved incredibly quickly. I was on the ship by noon, and was in the atrium with a cocktail in hand by 12:15 p.m.! Before swinging by the bar, I went straight to Guest Services in an attempt to snag a pass for Vibe Beach Club. Managed to snag the 17th pass of the limited number they sell, then sank my butt into one of the big, cozy chairs in the atrium and soaked up the atmosphere. For about 30 minutes, I had the space completely to myself. Honestly, I sat there thinking, “Holy crap… after a year of planning and waiting and obsessing, it’s finally here! My first full-length cruise!”
Time for another lesson learned, and for many of you, this one will already come too late: Don’t over plan. Don’t read too much. As with a striptease, there should be something left to the imagination. When I finally got my first glimpse of the infamous chandelier that hangs at 678 Ocean Place, I was… underwhelmed. Don’t get me wrong: It’s gorgeous. But you know how the rearview mirror of your car warns, “Objects in mirror are closer than they appear?” Well, sites aboard the ship will prove more stunning if you haven’t seen 10,000 pictures of them. By not looking at every picture you can find and not reading every bit of info available, you’ll find that things make their own impression as opposed to seeming smaller or less grand than you might have anticipated.
By this time, the rooms were ready, so I made my way to cabin 12906… which for many folks on these boards, myself included, might just as well be called The Gambee Balcony. After all, it was his review of the ship in general — and the balcony of this room in particular — that led me to wind up in the aft-facing balcony of my dreams. Once inside the room, I found an envelope on the bed inviting me to a VIP meet-and-greet with the ship’s captain, being held the following night in the Haven. And after wandering around a bit, I returned to find yet another treat: This time, it was a plate of delicious canapés! Headed off in search of food, and found that they’d set up a mini buffet in Moderno. Nothing fancy, but the grilled chicken and fries hit the spot and promised to hold me over until my reservation that evening at Le Bistro.
Wandering through the casino, just to sort of eye which machines would be eating all my cash over the next week (or so I assumed), I signed up for a slot tournament which would be held during our sea days. (Registreation was $15 bucks, and you could enter as many times as you wanted.) My muster drill station was in the Manhattan Room, and this was actually the only time during the entire week that I set foot in one of the Main Dining Rooms, thanks to the fact that I had pre-purchased the Ultimate Dining Plan and would wind up eating all my dinners in specialty restaurants. At the muster drill, I met fellow Cruise Critic member Tita and her son… who it just so happened were staying in the aft-facing balcony room next to mine! We would wind up spending a LOT of time together over the next week, and lemme tell you something: those two were the proverbial hoot, as well as the accompanying half.
As the dinner hour approached, I headed down to Mixx bar, which was shockingly quiet despite being situated directly between Savor and Taste, two of the main dining rooms. Downed a potent Moscow Mule while reading, then headed to Le Bistro for my first dinner. And man, what a way to start the week! If you eat nothing else in a specialty restaurant during your cruise, I’m going to have to insist that you swing by here to try the escargot. Three words… To. Die. For. Oh, sure, I also had a tasty salmon mouse starter and the lamb chops, but the escargot was the star. I have to say, you KNOW a meal is good when I eat the veggies, which in this case were some kind of zucchini hash accompanying the perfectly-prepared lamb. I actually skipped dessert not only this night, but just about every night… which may have helped prevent me from gaining weight despite there being food here, there and everywhere.
For absolutely no reason whatsoever, I wound up attending the jewelry sale and raffle. I have to say, the energy exuded by the hostess was infectious. Whether you gave a crap about what they were selling or not, you couldn’t help but get caught up in her vibe. After that, it was a drink or two at Shaker’s Martini Bar before heading back to the room for some good, old-fashioned stare-at-the-ocean-and-mull-over-life time, after which I hit the sack.
DAY 2 (Sea Day)
Slept like a baby, or maybe just a plump, buzzed guy only days away from 50, rousing myself out of bed at 9. Eventually, I walked up to Vibe to check it out (the pass was $79 for the week). Nice area, kinda hard to figure out how to access it the first time you go searching for the entrance. The space was very quiet that morning, so I hung, read for a bit, then went to my Cruise Critic Meet & Greet.
Okay, let’s take a minute to talk about Meet & Greets. In a word, GO. And even before that, be active in your Cruise Critic roll call. Apparently, I managed to be at least mildly amusing during my roll call posts, because when I arrived at the Meet & Greet (late, because it had been moved and I’m easily confused), several people said they’d been looking forward to meeting me. I can only assume that either my mother paid them off for fear I’d spend the week bored and alone (what with traveling solo) or they were easily entertained. But no matter the case, I met people whom I’d cross paths with all week, and I met people who would make this trip a thousand times better than it would have been had I not attended. So… run, do not walk, to your roll call and meet and greet!
After the M&G was the slot pull, which Carol ran beautifully. Those of us taking part — and we had a great, fun group — paid $15 each, which bought us five spins on a Wheel Of Fortune machine. At the end, we divided up the profits. Paid $15, walked away with $19. Hey, given the odds of walking away with anything in a casino, that was pretty darn good! Following the slot pull, I wound up hanging out with Steve and Ann, whom I’d met there, for a drink and some really fantastic talk. Great people from Montana, a place I couldn’t find on the map if I tried.
When we went our separate ways, I headed to my room and met Louisa, my room steward. I’d already met her husband (Roberto?), so it was interesting hearing about their life as a ship-board married couple. Heading down to the atrium, I watched Deal Or No Deal… which is a blast, even just as a spectator. For the first time, I kinda understood the audience mentality that causes folks with absolutely no vested interest to cheer and boo as game shows unfold.
I was supposed to have dinner that night at Cagney’s, but I’d made the mistake of pigging out in the buffet earlier that afternoon, so I skipped dinner. I hit the buffet several times during the week, usually for lunch, and have to say I really enjoyed it. I’m a bit of a foodie, but it’s a really new development. Until about 10 years ago, I had a REALLY limited spectrum of foods that I’d eat. You couldn’t have paid me to eat escargot or anything that might be mistaken for a salad… even if you deep-fried it. Now, however, I’m far more adventurous. But even as a budding foodie, I’d still say the buffet food was pretty high quality. I always found something different, it was always right around the right temperature, and I never failed to find a table… although sometimes, the best approach was to leave the crowded main area and head to those closer to the pool.
It was time to head to the Haven for the VIP meet-and-greet with the captain. Yeah, yeah, sure, get a pic with the captain. I was there to check out The Haven! And man, is it gorgeous. From the private bar to the pool area, totally swankified. Ran into Steve and Ann again… and for some reason, at this point, I decided his name was Bob. I continued to labor under this delusion for several days. A couple of other folks from my CC M&G were there, including Jeffrey and June, who were on their honeymoon. Leaving the Haven, I headed down to the casino to throw some money down the toilet, and got an incredible invitation: Andrea (aka MommyTo2Girls) & her hubby, Harold, invited me to spend Friday — which was both my 50th birthday and our day at Great Stirrup Cay — hanging with them in the cabana they’d rented for the day. I couldn’t have been more excited. Heck, thanks to Cruise Critic, I was feeling like the bell of the ball… but unlike Cinderella, I crashed early, heading to my room around 10:30. Once there, my upset stomach had me convinced that I’d contracted nurovirus… which, um, turned out to actually be gas. A few burps later, I was good to go. Climbing out of bed, I went to the Norwegian’s Night Out Party for a bit, gambled a bit and then — having skipped Cagney’s — went to O’Sheehan’s for a late-night snack of fish & chips along with a platter of wings, all of which was as good as people say!
DAY 3 (Port Canaveral)
When sailing out of New York in March, you have to expect that it’s gonna be cold… and it definitely was the first day. By day 3, everything had changed… including the basic demeanor of everyone on board. Amazing what some sunshine can do for you! Suddenly, the pool deck and other areas were crawling with sun worshippers tilting their heads toward their god of choice. Folks were everywhere, and the mood was downright joyous… except, of course, if you were trying to use the jogging track.
Here’s the thing: In many cases, Breakaway proved that a bigger ship doesn’t necessarily translate into bigger (let alone better) public spaces. The jogging track is a great example. It is a ridiculously short track that could not be in a worse place, given that several of the slides exit directly onto it. You also have all kinds of gawkers standing there, looking up at the folks about to take the Freefall plunge. And while the track claims that five laps equal a mile, I’m pretty sure that’s inaccurate. I usually struggle to jog 2 miles under the best of circumstances, and I had absolutely no problem (aside from dodging interlopers) doing 12 or 13 laps.
But, as usual, I digress…
After doing my morning jog, I went down to the gym. Hey, I was inspired to work out, and heaven knew when THAT would happen again. I climbed aboard a treadmill and did another mile or so while watching as we sailed into Port Canaveral. This was the only day I exercised, although I can’t blame that on the size of the jogging track or the equipment in the gym (which was all perfectly fine), but rather… well, I blame Norwegian. They lulled me into a sense of relaxation that left me unable to do anything more taxing than walk to a bar, buffet or restaurant! How very dare!
Following my morning constitutional — wait, do only dogs have those? And does it mean that I pooped while I was walking, as dogs do? — I went back to my cabin and sat on my gorgeous balcony — bathed in the Florida sunlight — talking to Tita, who I think I told you was in the cabin next to mine (with her son, Charlie). We gossiped for a while, exchanged gambling tips and then made plans to have dinner that night at Moderno. The important business of “where will my next meal come from” dealt with, I headed up to Vibe (the adults-only area I’d bought a pass for on Day 1), which proved to be a great respite from… well, everything. The area was practically empty, and the staff was quite pleasant. Every now and then, they’d come around with fresh fruit skewers and even spray bottles which they offered to use to spritz you down with. You know, the way you do meats cooking on a grill. Honestly, this made me kinda laugh. I mean, I’m just not comfortable with someone coming over and spraying me down…. and it’s not because I’m like the dude in Beauty & The Beast (“Look away! Do not gaze at my unsightly form!”), but rather cause it feels so demeaning to the poor staffer who has to do it! If there’s one thing I’d love to change about Vibe, it’s that I wish they had a water feature like the one at Spice H20. But since they didn’t have one, I took full advantage of the hot tubs, which are perfectly positioned for staring off into the distance. I also took advantage of the bar, perfectly positioned to serve me drinks to encourage staring off into the distance.
Funny (to me) sidebar: At one point, a group of tourists came through. I don’t think these were people already on the ship, but rather people (I assume from Florida, since that’s where we were docked at the time) on a tour of the ship. They were ushered into Vibe, and they poked around a few minutes as if we were animals on display at the zoo. (Reminder: “Look away!”) Most of them were elderly. As they were leaving, one of them looked over at me and whispered, "Is this free?" I said, "No, it's $79 for the week." Like something out of that old hair commercial, he told two friends and they told two friends and so on... by the time they walked out of Vibe, the entire group of old folks was muttering about "nickel and diming" and I felt bad for the hostess, who was probably going to get an earful at the end of the tour...
After a couple hours, I moseyed on back to my cabin (okay, I've gone from being a puppy on his constitutional to a cowboy!) for more gossip with Tita. I later ran into a few other cruise critic folks and went to Headliners for some karaoke. Carol -- who'd organized the slot pull -- was there with her son, Jimmy, who had us all clapping and hooting and hollering like fools when he took the stage.
Dinner was with Tita and Charlie are Moderno, and the meal was fantastic. Just the salad bar alone was awesome! I have to say, this was probably the worst service I had during the entire week. It wasn't bad, per se, as much as... disinterested. The waiter seemed like he wanted to be anywhere else. Instead of making any form of eye contact when talking to us, he was always looking elsewhere. When we made requests, they took forever to be delivered (if they were at all). Fortunately, Moderno isn't a restaurant that really relies heavily on your server. And the company was great.
Once I had a full belly, I went back to my room and wound up laying down to take a "nap." Of course, being (at this point) three days away from 50, my nap turned into "down for the count." And I probably would have stayed there... had the music from the 70's Party being held up at Spice -- three decks above my aft-facing balcony - not kicked in. "Hey, fool," it seemed to shout at me, "You're on vacation! Get your butt outta bed!" So I did just that, went up to spice and grooved to the 70's tunes for a while before heading down to the casino where, sadly, the fortunes were not smiling upon me. But it was fun, anyways. With the next day being our stop on the private island, I eventually headed to bed in anticipation of a great day on the beach...
DAY 4 (Great Stirrup Cay)
This being my vacation and all, I had every intention of sleeping in. I knew that when I awoke, we'd be at Great Stirrup Cay, and I also knew that there'd be a mad rush by the masses to get on the early tenders. Knowing that Andrea and Harold would probably be on the island all day, my original plan was to sleep in, catch a tender around 11:30 or so...
Yeah, well, we all know what they say about best laid plans.
The night before, I'd received a note in my room inviting me to be in the Spiegel Tent (where the Cirque Dreams dinner show is held) by 8:30 a.m. in order to be on the first tender of the day. Apparently, my internal alarm clock refused to allow me to sleep in, determined that we be on that first tender. So up I got, throwing a few things into my backpack... and then came something very cool I didn't expect...
In order to tender, you head down into what I can only call the Breakaway's version of Walt Disney World's utiladors. Either you're a Disney fan who gets that reference, or you’re not... but think of it as the coolest behind-the-scenes glimpse possible. At one point, we walked past a large set of blueprints labeled something like "Crew Emergency Plans." I wanted to snap a pic of that for studying later because, you know, if the info is good enough for the crew, I kinda want to know it too!
A note about the tendering process: It's really easy to see why Breakaway so often winds up skipping Great Stirrup Cay. Even without high winds or waves, it's still a little bit tricky transferring from the behemoth that is Breakaway to the relatively small tender. Throw in some waves, and it would be accidents and lawsuits waiting to happen.
While boarding the first tender of the day, we could see several other small boats being loaded up with goods from the Breakaway. A woman near me said, "Oh my God, pirates!" Um, no, ma'am, that's actually the ship's crew loading stuff to take to the island. You know, so they can feed us. (I'd like to think that if pirates were raiding the ship, there'd be a tad more excitement about it than, "Oh, look... ")
A woman sitting by me on the tender as we made our way to the island was what I like to call a "Professional Complainer." She was talking to someone about the fact that there were children everywhere because it happened that the schools in Canada were out that week. "If I'd known that, I never would have booked this week," she declared.
"Oh, are they bothering you?" I asked.
"No, it's just the principle of it."
"Ma'am," I said (entirely in my head), "I'm not sure you know what that words means... "
She spent the entire ride from the boat to the island engaged in conversations about things she "wished she'd known" before getting on Breakaway. And y'all know what I was thinking, right? "Well, if you'd done a little research on Cruise Critic, you'd have known all those things... "
Arriving on the island, I almost immediately ran into Andrea and Harold, and we hopped on a tram to take us to the cabana they'd rented for the day.
A note about the cabanas: They'd rented a small cabana, which I believe is about $100 less than the large cabanas. The cabana, No. 12, was perfectly situated... not far from the restroom, a great view of the beach, not too close to the neighbors. Seriously, you could not ask for better. Later that afternoon, I checked out the large cabanas, and I have to say: The small ones had a better location. And "small" is a wildly inadequate word. You could easily, comfortably have six people in the cabana. My hosts had ordered some lovely nibbly bits (including delicious shrimp and corn chips with several different toppings for dipping). The three of us sat and talked and again, I have to point out that this entire day was made possible because I was involved in the Meet & Greet and slot pull. Otherwise, I might never have met this fantastic couple (who, as fate would have it, actually live about 10 miles away from me!) and been given the opportunity to spend the day with them in the cabana.
I'm a big believer in being grateful for what you have, and man, was I EVER grateful that day!
Because I was trying to avoid getting too much sun -- and I knew I'd be on a catamaran the next day -- I headed back to Breakaway around 1 p.m. I wanted to try the waterslides -- in particular, the notorious "cross-your-arms-listen-to-the-countdown-and-pray" Freefall slides. Of course, the problem is you can't have anything -- including eye glasses -- on when you do them. So I went to the cabin, changed, grabbed a towel and, sans glasses, did my best not to kill anyone as I did the nearly-blind-man shuffle to the slides.
My greatest achievement on this entire trip? Not screaming like a girl when the bottom dropped out and I was plunged down the slide. Kids, this is an awesome, wild, weird, scary, crazy experience. Do it. At least once. After taking the plunge a few times, I grabbed a quick lunch in the buffet, then headed back to the room. Caught up with Tita to find out what she and Charlie had been up to that day, then took a nap.
Hey, kids -- and this time, I mean actual children -- listen to your Uncle Richard: Stop complaining about taking naps! Trust me, there will come a day when you will wish you could interrupt the day to just curl up and snooze for a bit!
Although I had a 6:30 reservation at Cagneys, I just wasn't hungry. So instead, I went to the casino and gambled for a while. Happened to be lucky enough to win $25 in a Hot Seat promotion, and then, proving that the seat was, indeed, as hot as rumored, hit a $150 jackpot on a penny machine! Headed back to Cagney's around 7:45 p.m. and got a table without any problem. It was then that tragedy struck...
Seated a few tables away was a little girl named Ella and her family. Ella was downright adorable and, it turned out, it was Ella's birthday. Suddenly, her table was surrounded by Cagney's staffers with the best of intentions who proceeded to -- oh, it still haunts me -- sing the saddest, most wretched version of Happy Birthday it has ever been my misfortune to hear. You know those people on American Idol who think they're awesome singers, and are ticked when the judges tell them otherwise? That's kinda what this was like. But Ella, from what I could tell, was delighted, and ain't that what matters?
Dinner wise, I had the shrimp cocktail, baked potato soup, 16 ounce boneless ribeye, onion rings and baked potato. Was it good? Well... um...
Let's just say I had that exact same thing two other nights. It was THAT good. And no, I didn't have dessert... I didn't have room! I wanted the legendary oreo cheesecake soooo badly, but I just couldn't do it!
Full to the brim, I went back to my cabin and... well, I was completely ready to call it a night and go to sleep. But Tita had other plans. She called and basically said, "Get your butt outta bed! Meet me at the H2Glow party." We went up to Spice, shook our groove things (and for the record, Tita has some moves) and had a couple cocktails. Eventually, I headed back downstairs -- somehow managing to avoid the siren call of the casino -- and went to bed.
This time, for realsies.
DAY 5 (Nassau, Bahamas)
Another day, another adventure.
Today, we arrived bright and early in Nassau. When looking at the various excursions available during the week, I knew I wanted to do one thing: Snorkel. So when I'd gotten on board that first day -- which seemed oh so long ago by now! -- and gone to the Shore Excursions desk, I had it in mind that I'd book the latter of two available excursions, which would leave at 11:30 a.m. But the very helpful person I dealt with that first day admitted that most people preferred the 9 a.m. excursion.
But... but... what of sleeping in?
Taking the rep's advice, I booked the 9 a.m. excursion, figuring, "You'll sleep when you're dead!"
Awakening as we arrived in Nassau, I sat on my balcony and watched the process of tying the boat to the dock, which was really interesting. You'd think there'd be a more modern process available than pull the line, tie it to a truck, make things tight. It was also interesting to watch the dynamic between the three men who were dealing with this process on shore. Two of them were working their butts off, and the third was... well, definitely not. Even from a distance, I could tell the hard-workers were glaring at the non-worker. I imagined the no-doubt obscenity-laden conversations they were having about him... what can I say, I have an active imagination!
Anyhoo, got off the boat and stood with my group for the excursion. As we all signed the waiver and then walked to where we would be meeting the catamaran which would take us out to the reef, I started to think, "Geez, there's a LOT of people on this excursion. That boat is going to be packed!" But when we actually arrived at the pier (after, I might add, walking past the most gorgeous yacht I've ever seen in my life), TWO catamarans pulled up and they separated us into two groups. It became clear pretty quickly that they were breaking us up into "young, party" types and "older, more sedate types."
It hurt my one-day-away-from-turning-50 soul to be placed in the second group!
It took about 25-30 minutes for the catamaran to reach the reef. I was sprawled out on the webbed front of the boat, and at a certain point, we started going through waves. Water would splash up through the webbing, cause people to squeal at its coldness. Figuring I was going to be diving into the water soon enough, I just enjoyed it... and I looked backwards to see the captain, who had a wild grin on his face. It was pretty clear he was purposefully heading into the waves in order to hear everyone squeal.
He instantly became my new favorite person.
The crew was ridiculously friendly and, it's worth mentioning, ridiculously attractive. I mean, geez, as if I wasn't already feeling self-conscious about stripping down to my bathing suit in order to snorkel, hoping I wouldn't be mistaken for a manatee or a whale and harpooned! They distributed snorkeling gear...
... oh, sidenote! Remember way back on day 1 I talked about the fact that my luggage was basically the size of the ship itself? Well, my original plan had been to take along snorkeling gear I'd found down in our basement storage area. My housemate had, at some point, bought top-of-the-line mask, breathing tube and flippers. Sadly, despite having a suitcase bigger than some objects classified as planets, I couldn't fit the gear in. So I wound up using the excursion's gear. It wasn't nearly as nice as the stuff I'd left at home, but it was perfectly serviceable.
Getting into the water was a bit of a process. Rather than being able to just sort of jump off the side of the boat, as I'd done on my one previous snorkeling excursion a decade earlier, they had us one-by-one go down a set of steps, sit on the bottom step to slip our fins on, and then enter the water. This wouldn't have been bad... except for the fact that we had a lot of kids on board. And most of these were not of the "I'll try anything... lemme at it!" sort, but rather the get-to-the-bottom-step-and-then-freak-out-about-getting-into-the-water sort. And unfortunately, the parents weren't smart enough -- or considerate enough -- to say, "Let's let all these other folks get into the water first, then deal with forcing my child to have a good time."
This wouldn't really be a big issue except for the fact that we had one hour of snorkel time, and the crew had announced that time started when the first (not last) person got into the water. In any case, I wound up being one of the last to get in, not that I minded. I tended to swim away from the group, who weirdly largely did that "stay together" thing despite no instructions to do so. Maybe they figured, "Hey, if we all stay together, the odds of me getting eaten by a rogue shark are less..."
Saw a fair amount of fish. Not nearly as many or as exotic as my excursion 10 years ago in St. Thomas, but it was still a whole lotta fun. Once we were all out of the water, we sailed back. The music being played as we sipped rum punch was...um... I'm gonna go with "wildly annoying." But I didn't really care, because I was on a boat, zipping across the sea, looking at the big, gorgeous houses we passed and dreaming of one day owning one of them.
Arriving back on shore, I walked back to the boat, changed clothes, and then disembarked again in order to wander aimlessly around Nassau. On Marlborough Street, I found a restaurant whose name promised exactly what I was looking to try: Conch Fritters Grill! I ordered up a plate of the dish I'd heard about but never tried, and they were absolutely fantastic!
Amusing (I hope) sidestory: Sitting next to me at the restaurant was this guy who looked like the worst nightmare of every teenaged girl. Stoner, biker, drinking from a flask he didn't really bother to be discrete with. A girl sat down on the other side... cute, probably 20 or so. He struck up a conversation with her and she IMMEDIATELY became clearly smitten. Even as he talked about the two children he neither visited nor supported. His tale of not one or two but three stints in rehab left her practically swooning. I kept kinda hoping her parents -- whom she'd said were shopping nearby -- walked up, because oh, did I want to see their reaction! Sadly, they never did...
Back on the boat, I took a nap before dinner. Earlier in the day, I'd crossed paths with Steve (not Bob) and Ann, who'd asked if I'd like to have dinner with them that evening. I said sure, told them to pick a restaurant and leave me a message. Returning to my room, I had a message from Ann. I called her back, and she said that Steve was in the casino. (This was, by the way, the moment when I realized his name was Steve and not Bob... for a second, I was like, "Who is this Steve she keeps talking about, and why do I care where he is?") We made arrangements to meet for dinner at Teppanyaki.
Moment of honesty: Teppanyaki was the one specialty restaurant on board I had no interest in and had planned to skip entirely. But since they'd made the reservation, I thought, "Okay, let's give it a try!" And man oh man, am I glad I did. The chef's show was just outstanding. Unlike anything I'd ever seen (although Steve, who'd done Teppanyaki type restaurants before, said it was really not the best he'd seen). The food was outstanding. As the chef was making the veggie starter, I was thinking, "Um, yeah. I don't eat veggies." I took a bite to be polite... and then had to be restrained from stealing Steve and Ann's portions. It's also worth mentioning that the chef did something I really loved: As he was doing his running spiel of jokes, his references varied. Sometimes, he talked about his girlfriend. Sometimes, he talked about his boyfriend. This may seem odd or like a little thing, but it was incredibly cool to hear someone doing this in SO inclusive a way.
After dinner, I went to do a little more gambling, and then changed into my 80's outfit -- hey, I told you I brought a big suitcase! -- and headed up to the Awesome 80's Party at Spice H2O. there were supposed to be fireworks, but because of the wind creating safety issues, they were postponed until the next night. (Or so we thought... the next evening, they wound up being postponed, too.)
Around 10 p.m., I headed to the theater to see Rock of Ages. Wound up sitting in the front row... coincidentally, right next to Steve and Ann! (I say "coincidentally", but for all I know, they were stalking me. Sure, they got there first, but maybe they were REALLY good at the whole stalking thing!)
Having seen Rock of Ages several times on Broadway, I have to say, this cast was very good. Oh, a little tip for people who have heard all the complaints that the show is too loud: Sit in the first few rows. As with a lot of theaters, the sound-amplifying speakers tend to be further back so as to let people in the rear half of the theater hear. Sitting in the front, it's not loud at ALL. In fact, I wanted it to be louder. But it WAS kinda cool, because whenever they came to the edge of the stage, it was as if they were singing just for us. At one point, one of the performers was making hysterically sexual gestures toward Ann... much to Steve and I's amusement (and hers).
Wound up unable to resist the allure of the casino, so went down and gambled for a while. Then, needing a little late-night snackage, I went to O'Sheenan's. The nice thing about this is that not only is it open all night, but you can get stuff to go. Sure, it's a limited menu, but at 1 a.m., all I wanted was an order of wings and some fish & chips to go! Took them back to the room, munched, and then hit the way.
DAY 6 (Sea Day)
And here, poodles, is where this particular itinerary won my heart. During the first five days, I was all about getting up early, going to shows, doing excursions... but the next two days would be sea days. As a result, expect the rest of this review to be rather zippy, because what I did the most of was relax. This particular morning, I woke up, realized I had just turned 50... and decided that deserved a couple more hours sleep. I did, however, at least get up and move... from the bed to a lounger on the balcony!
I spent almost this entire day reading and napping. In other words: It was awesome. Eventually, I made my way to dinner... that's right, there really was nothing interesting to report the rest of the day! Went to Cagney's again, where I met a really fantastic couple who happened to be seated near me. We had a great conversation about everything from politics to travel, and I had yet another fantastic meal (exactly the same as my first Cagney's meal, except I subbed the baked potato for the Cagney's fries... which I didn't love, to be honest.) As the fireworks were cancelled yet again (big surprise, as the seas were getting rougher, I went down to the casino where...
... HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO ME! I hit a $1,000 jackpot on the dollar Western Stars machine. I actually didn't even realize it. For those who don't know, Western Stars has a bunch of fun bonus rounds. Poker hands, shooting bottles, etc. So I was going up ($200 bonus!) and down (Bar... Bar... 7. Nada!), and then all of a sudden, I got three symbols marked 2X. I looked up and said, "Oh, I just won $250." But it kept going past $250, and I realized that no, $250 was if you were playing one credit. I was playing three. I'd won a thousand bucks!
Of course, I gambled for a couple more hours, but I still walked away with $800 of my $1,000 jackpot. And it was as I was exiting the casino and walking toward the elevator that I realized the ship was REALLY rocking!
By the time I got to my room, things had gotten fairly intense. We were in 25-30 foot waves, and of course, I was in an aft-facing balcony. For those not in the know, the very front and very back of a ship are, of course, the worst places to be during a storm. The middle basically stays fairly flat while the two ends go up and down like a teeter-totter. Looking out the window at the waves, it was rather like something out of The Perfect Storm... minus George Clooney. Surprisingly, despite having a penchant toward motion sickness, I didn't get sick at all. I thank my twice-a-day doses of Bonine and Nauzene.
That's not to say I slept, because I didn't. I was lying in bed listening as things crashed all around me in surrounding rooms. (I'd pretty much made sure anything that should be secured was before climbing into bed.) A while back, I'd read a post here from someone who'd done 39 cruises, but had hit rough seas on her latest and declared it would be her last. At the time, I'd thought, "Wow, you'd let one bad night take away something you'd enjoyed so much?"
Um, well, actually, I didn't think it, I posted it. And she (or someone else, I can't remember) responded, "Just wait until YOU have a rough night!"
Well, here was my rough night. And I have to say, it was kinda... cool. Remember back in the 70's and early 80's when a lot of movies like Earthquake and Midway came in "Sensurround", with the theater vibrating so you could feel like you were in the middle of whatever disaster was unfolding? That's what this felt like. I was lying in my bed as it wildly tilted one way and another... sort of like one of those bucking bronco's you can ride, but this one vertical.
I finally dozed off around 5 a.m... so of course, the captain came on at 6 a.m. to assume everyone we weren't going to be pulling a Poseidon Adventure and flipping over. My words, not his. But you get the drift. I guess you can tell it's not exactly normal seas when the captain comes on at 6 a.m. to sooth frayed nerves...
DAY 7 (Sea Day)
If possible, I did even less today than yesterday. At some point, I roused myself out of bed and joined Tita and her son for some Bingo. I later wandered into the atrium to use the Internet Café, which I'm proud to say I rarely did. I bought the 200 minute package at the start of the trip, and only used about 30 minutes of it... usually to check and see how things were back home, and to find out what I'd be walking into when I got back to work.
As I sat checking my E-mail, the Who's The Boss? game was being played in the atrium. For those who've never seen this, it's basically The Newlywed Game, but for parents and children. It is also absolutely hysterical. At one point, when the parents were ushered off stage so the children could answer questions, the kids were asked, "What's something embarrassing that your mom or dad do often?" One little girl answered, "Fart." Needless to say, the audience just about died laughing. But even better, when the parents were brought back, the father, when asked the question, got a sheepish look and said, "Probably pass gas. I'm doing it right now."
In the early evening, they had a Q&A session with both our captain and the hotel director. Obviously, a lot of people asked about the previous night's weather. But the best question came from someone who said, "If we were to just keep sailing, which would run out first: The booze, the fuel or the liquor?" The hotel director smiled and said, "Normally, I'd say the fuel... but the way you people have been eating this week, I'm not so sure!"
Immediately following this presentation (in the Breakaway Theater) was the international Crew Talent Show. It was crazy cool to see various members of the crew whom you might not even notice during the day (a waiter, say, or maybe someone who works in the back office) take to the stage and belt a tune. And the love they were shown by the audience was... well, flat-out awesome.
One of the folks who performed was Scooter, one of the assistant cruise directors, and I really want to give him a very special shout-out. Dan The Man was our official cruise director, but it was Scooter who seemed ever-present. He taught us dances and got us to do them during the various parties at Spice H20. He sang a great number during the International Crew Talent Show. While Dan was the voice we'd hear making announcements, it was Scooter who did the actual entertaining. I made sure to fill out one of the "My Cruise Hero" cards giving him a shout-out, because he really was the star of this ship.
Around 8 p.m., I headed to Cagney's for one last steak dinner. (I was on the Ultimate Dining Package, and I have to say, it was completely, totally, one million percent worth it). The very nice hostess said she couldn't fit me in at that moment, and asked if I could come back in an hour. No prob... this gave me time to do what I'd been putting off all day: pack.
After doing so, I went back to Cagney's and had a fantastic meal. My server tried his best to get me to order the oreo cheesecake, knowing I'd been jonesing it all week, but I was just too full! "Order it and just take a bite," he suggested with an evil, enabling smile. But I just couldn't do it... both because I was full to bursting and because it just seemed wasteful.
Instead, I made my way back to the cabin and tucked myself in for one last night...
I'd debated whether to take advantage of the priority disembarkation I'd been offered in a letter or to just walk off with my luggage. In the end, I opted to walk off. I headed downstairs with The Suitcase That Ate Manhattan around 7:30 a.m., and already there was a line of folks waiting to disembark. There was a bit of confusion, as the line wound up stretching to directly in front of the elevators. So folks would get off and either A) stand there confused or B) try to just cut in line. But soon, the line started moving. I was off the ship by around 8 a.m., on a subway by 8:30, back in New Jersey by 9:30... and grocery shopping by 10:30.
Real life intruded just that quick.
It was over.
And so, finally, is this review.
Except for a few final thoughts. (I just don't wanna let y'all go!)
* Thinking about taking a solo trip? DO IT. I knew not a soul when I got on board, yet thanks to the Cruise Critic roll call, Meet & Greet and Slot Pull, I wound up meeting all kinds of people. And that's not including the ones I met casually at bars and restaurants.
* Think about what you will or won't actually use when considering add-ons. I spent over $100 on a bottle of whiskey for the room, but I used almost none of it. I did, on the other hand, get my money's worth from the Ultimate Dining Package and the Unlimited Soda Package. (My original plan was to get the Ultimate Beverage Package, but it wasn't available on this particular voyage). Also, while I did buy the $79 Vibe pass - and probably would again -- I actually only went to Vibe once.
* I got lots of requests for information on the Main Dining Room menus, but I never actually ate in any of them, so I'm afraid I'm a big ol' let down in THAT department.
* This was, without doubt, the best, most relaxing vacation I've ever taken. In large part, that had to do with two things. First, the two final sea days. They really allowed me to just lounge around and do absolutely nothing. Second, as a New York/New Jersey resident, getting to and from the ship was easy. As I mentioned earlier, I'm a HUGE fan of Walt Disney World. But I hate that at the end of every vacation, I have to go to the airport, wait in lines, fly home, get a cab from the airport... this was SO incredibly easy for me, and that meant no end-of-trip stress.
* Bonine and Nauzeme work. Take them. Start a few days before your trip.
* In the final analysis, Breakaway is a big, beautiful ship. Would I sail her again? Perhaps. But today, a week after disembarking, as I'm booking my next cruise (that's right, I'm hooked), I'm looking at The Gem (which I did my only previous excursion, a one-nighter, on back in October). One of the main reasons is the various public spaces. Where Bliss on Gem is a gorgeous, expansive space with nooks and crannies galore, the Breakaway version feels kinda like a big, empty box. I missed the Spinnaker Lounge, which Gem has and Breakaway doesn't. I liked that on Gem, the casino isn't impossible to avoid, which it pretty much is -- smoke and all -- on the Breakaway. This, by the way, was the impression of many people I spoke to over the course of the week who had sailed both ships: The Breakaway was beautiful, but they preferred the Gem. Of course, in the end, it all comes down to a matter of personal tastes.
Meanwhile, I'm already dreaming of my Gem cruise, which will be the first week in September. Maybe I'll see some of you there... But until then, hit me up with any questions you might have, I'll do my best to answer them!
Thanks for reading...