Despite the widely mixed reviews, we decided to sail on the Mar 30 sailing of the NCL Breakaway from NYC. My wife and I have now been on 7 cruises, 4 on NCL and mainly cruise for convenience to see incredible ports - past favorites include Istanbul, Israel, and St. Petersburg. We have been on Princess (Panama Canal), Holland (Alaska), and Disney (Alaska), but sailed with relatives on the Breakaway primarily to enjoy a great cruise and not explore incredible cities. The March 30 sailing took place in a relatively unpopular week for Spring Break (Ivy League schools were out, but not many younger folks) which made booking a Haven suite thru the world's largest warehouse club travel agency quite reasonable. Thanks to the large number of unreserved suites, we actually waited until Feb 14 to book the cruise which turned out to be about the lowest price available to the public.
We traveled from Seattle to NYC on the Saturday before embarkation - NYC was raining cats and dogs! We did little expect watch NCAA games in the Midtown Hilton and enjoy Ray's Original Pizza. I did get to run the reservoir in the morning as the rain subsided. We took a taxi for 8 blocks after a Noon checkout, and boarded the Breakaway. NCL does a great job with Haven guests having a separate lobby for check-in and escort to the Breakaway Lounge. We met the concierge, Ruth and got the usual introduction to the Haven. The Breakaway Haven includes a nice lounge with bar, the typical retractable room pool area (two levels on the Breakaway) and a nice restaurant. After a lunch in the Haven Restaurant, we enjoyed the sail away including great views of the Statue of Liberty.
My opinions on the NCL Breakaway:
1. Entertainment - in one word, amazing! I thought the NCL Jade and NCL had wonderful shows at night (even though the real entertainment was the amazing ports of the Eastern Med & Baltic sea). The Breakaway away establishes a standard so high, I will be so disappointed on other ships. We went to the Cirque du Solei show and had a terrible dinner (but who cares, we went to have a great dinner afterwards) - eat before or after the show! I have seen most of the Las Vegas Cirque shows (most more than once!) yet thought the Breakaway show was absolutely great. The sequence with one green man reclining on his back and flipping another green man in the air with his feet was unbelievable. I understand the stage is specially built to stabilize against ship movement but the stuff these cast members do is spectacular. Do not miss the $40 show! Rock of Ages is my favorite Broadway musical and I love 80s music. Their performance was a cut below the original cast but quite good! My wife's favorite show was Burn the Floor - the professional cast did a great job highlighting many different varieties of dance. I enjoyed some of the Howling at the Moon performances - dueling pianos is a bit of a misnomer as three talented performers play more instruments than just pianos and are more of a request band than dueling pianos. Some performances were filled with too much yapping and bad passenger tricks, but their music was good when they played. I used to live in Chicago and was not a fan of the Second City, but I did go to one of their performances and they were true to their roots. I loved the Breakaway's entertainment but now am worried I'll be in for a big letdown anywhere else.
2. Dining: I believe NCL has upgraded their overall dining experiences over the years since our first sailing on the Jade. We ate in the Haven Restaurant for about half of our meals (usually skipped breakfast), Taste/Savor for others, occasionally the buffet and paid for dinner at La Cucina. My favorite meal was the Filet Mignot / Lobster tail served on the Haven Restaurant on the second day of the cruise - both were done very well. My wife enjoyed the Spaghetti & Sausage at La Cucina the best. Many meals were very good - you can't go wrong with the Haven Lunch - New York Steak, Fries, followed by Macadamian Nut ice cream & brownie. In generally I thought the Haven menu was a bit limited but they were willing to go off menu for many things (like Caesar salads) and they offered the main dining room's daily specials. As expected the Haven service was the best - attentive and fast, while Taste and Savor were fine but you can't expect to have a full dinner in less than 2 hours. I don't think you pick NCL for their fine cuisine, but I wouldn't avoid them either. Like most places, they have some hits and misses and you can always go elsewhere. I thought O'Sheenan's prime rib wasn't good but their rib sampler was great. My brother in law loved the chicken pot pie. So you can fine great things if you look. NCL has always had the reputation of having sub-par desserts and that remains their biggest weakness. The gelato bar (not complementary) was always closed in the evenings which puzzled us.
3. Activities: Another win for the Breakaway. The rope course is thrilling with its "Plank" and leap of faith zip line. Sometimes lines got a bit long but at least during our cruise there were plenty of times where you didn't have to wait long. I paid $159 to go to Atlantis (see separate review) but in all honesty, their free fall water slide was comparable to Atlantis' marquee Leap of Faith. The mini golf course was very well done and a lot of fun, especially with some ship rocking. The gym was a bit small for the number of passengers, but it emptied out when the morning crowd went for food. I liked the Breakaway running track (I love running on the water, and avoid ships without outdoor tracks). The Breakaway track is listed at 8 laps to a mile, I think it is more like 9.5 and does not follow the ship stem to stern. It is "open" limited hours (basically because of crowds) in the morning and evening. I usually found myself running solo with some walkers in the morning so I can't complain about the limited hours - there wasn't a lot of demand. The main sun decks and pools were pretty much a zoo when we reached warmer climates which I'm sure is a sore point with many negative reviewers. The Haven was a quiet respite and we found ourselves frequently alone on the top deck at the very front of the ship looking thru the fenestrated glass at the ocean blue.
4. Ports: If you want to visit amazing ports pick another cruise. We stopped in Orlando, and found nothing outside the terminal so we went back to the ship - had no interest in a six hour visit to Disney, Universal or the Space Center. Grand Stirrup Cay was a nice island with good beaches although a bit rocky. I'm sure it is a work in progress and served as a nice break from the seas. They actually did a pretty good job with the complementary food service on the island. At Nassau, I went to Atlantis and did a separate review with a less than stellar opinion of the excursion.
5. Casino - on the first night it was quite amazing how every single slot machine was being used. I had a $50 slot coupon and used it for 23 plays on the Wheel of Fortune slot machine - can you believe not one of the 23 spins won any money whatsoever? In general, it didn't look like many winners were found either on the slots or at the tables. If you want to win, stick to AC or Vegas...