Some background - I am an experienced cruiser - have cruised with RCCL, Celebrity, Carnival, Holland, NCL to name a few. Travelled with my 9 year old son. My parents were also on cruise in a separate cabin. We are from Southern New Jersey - so leaving from NY and saving the price of airfare was very appealing. I am a big fan of Freestyle Cruising - I enjoy the not having to follow a set schedule and having lots of options available to me. While there are some add on cost - I have never been on a cruise where there weren't extra costs. I love reading reviews to learn a few things about a ship before I sail so I wrote a pretty long review here hoping some of this info may be helpful to a future cruiser :)
Embarkation: Arrived at pier around 10:30am as parking is on first come first serve basis. Parking process easy $280 for the week paid upon entry to lot - cash and credit accepted but they do not take Amex. Dropped off bags and proceeded to check in - no lines very quick and efficient - received our boarding card (group 5), went through security, and was directed to a seating area. They announced boarding would begin around 11:30am. While waiting I noticed a Spa table - spa host provided information and explained some of the specials. Was able to make appointments and receive extra tickets for spa drawing. At 11:30am they started boarding and our group was called and very quickly we were on the ship.
Before you read this part - just know our overall experience was great!
The first 2 hours on board: We were able to go directly to our room to drop off our carry ons - which was very nice. From there I went from place to place to get stickers added to my card or waited in lines to sign up for services - this was the worst part of my week as I rushed around trying to get everything set up so I could start really enjoying my vacation. Would be great if NCL could give you UDP stickers and beverage stickers at check in. Went to Bistro to get UDP sticker, Mixx bar for soda packages, the waited in line to purchase Vibe pass - they quickly gave those in line tickets (felt like Black Friday) but then needed wait for a half hour to check out. They only had one person handling the Vibe line and the process seemed to take much longer then it should have. Once done with the Vibe line - we headed to Splash Academy to register my son. We traveled spring break week so there were a lot of kids - this line was unbelievable. Waited about 45 minutes and then they announced they would be closing in another 45 minutes for the life boat drill and that where we were in line, we may not get be able to complete registration within that time. At this point we left to grab something to eat and decided to register later. Would be great if NCL allowed preregistration and allowed you to bring a printed bar code or something to complete the process onboard.
The Garden Cafe: Crowded but was able to quickly get food and staff helped us find a place to sit. Same options on both sides with burgers and pizza towards the back and salads and entrees upfront. Food was buffet food - good and what you would expect for a buffet. It felt like all 4000+ people were at the Garden Cafe for lunch the first day - so next time I would head to Savor which was also open and not crowded.
iConcierge: I downloaded the app at home which is definitely the way to go. Onboard I was able to quickly register my devices and the What's Going On information provided by the app throughout the week was great. Also used the messaging service which was great to stay connected with others we were traveling with. The only thing I was a little disappointed with was that the service does not provide a list of your reservations. So if you make show and dining reservations print a copy and bring it with you - would be great if NCL could link this information for passengers to iConcierge in the future.
Balcony Room - Ok size for cruise stateroom. Balcony was small but adequate - 2 chairs and small table. Shelving in closet and storage in vanity stool and side cabinet. Bathroom was best I have had in a non suite on a cruise - shower was good size with adjustable shower head - great water pressure and temp control! My 9 yr old son actually looked forward to taking a shower each day (which really says something). Lots of shelves in bathroom - shower gel, shampoo, and liquid soap provided but I brought all my own stuff and there was plenty of space for storing large shampoo, conditioner, body wash, and bar soap in shower area. TV channels limited but had sports, news, movie channel, and kids channel. I brought an old hotel key card to put in the slot by the door to control power to the room. Used make up room and do not disturb buttons by the door and room steward followed the buttons. Our steward Mohammed was great - introduced himself the first evening & kept the room immaculate. He explained a few storage tricks the stewards use - for example if you don't see pool towels check the shelves of the far nightstand. Also if you leave personal items on your bed - they can not make up the room - the stewards have instructions to not move your personal items.
Splash Academy: Check in and Check out took a bit due to the large numbers of kids using the program this week - but overall the process was handled very well. My son really enjoyed the programs in the afternoon (sports games) and the themed events in the evenings. While parents are not allowed in - my son told me there was a lot of space (even with all the kids this week) and that all the games and activities were a lot of fun and that they were always doing something - even when waiting for parents at pick up time.
Dining: We had the Ultimate Dining Plan and went to almost all of the restaurants on board at sometime during the week - so here is a rundown of each restaurant we visited.
LeBistro - French restaurant on deck 6 - nice inside the restaurant but would probably not like sitting in the sidewalk cafe area which is actually inside with very small tables in the walkway area between the art gallery's and across from headliners. We had a table in the actual restaurant - service was excellent and food was good to very good - mussels and onion soup were both very good and entrees were good.
Cagney's - Steakhouse on deck 8. We ate at Cagney's on multiple nights and got to try out most of the menu. I would never order an 18oz anything but at the recommendation of our server we got the 18oz bone in ribeye which was amazing - definitely order this and just eat what you can! We had the filet another night and we were wishing we had ordered the ribeye again. All of the appetizers and sides were really really good and the Oreo cheesecake was a favorite!
Modernos - Nice salad bar and more great service. The meats are cut at your table and everything was really good. My son was not looking forward to this restaurant but the food quickly turned him into a fan. Steak, filet, lamb, beef ribs, pork ribs, chicken, sausages, and grilled pineapple - so lots of choices - we tried taking just one bite of each and we soon realized there would be no room for dessert at Modernos.
Teppanyaki - Japanese restaurant on deck 6. Similar to a Benihana without any fire - so less dramatic but still very fun! My son loved it so much, we went there twice. Both times service was good and chefs were entertaining - this experience is really what you make of it - so if you really want to have fun - sing along with the chef, clap, and make some noise! Food was great - had seafood one night and chicken and filet the other night and everything was excellent. Didn't care for the green cake which my son describe as a green Twinkie so I would suggest the fruit option instead.
Taste/Savor - Main restaurants on deck 6. Went to these for breakfast some mornings - never crowded, service good, food good. Menus the same at each of the main restaurants so choose the decor you like the best as the food and service seemed consistent at each. Breakfast options included cereal, eggs cooked to order, omelettes, French toast (w/ raisins), pancakes, and eggs Benedict.
O'Sheehans - 24 hour Pub restaurant on deck 7. Breakfast menu included bakery basket, eggs cooked to order, omelettes, and French toast. For lunch and late night - mozzarella sticks, chicken tenders, burgers, fish and chips, wings, and chicken pot pie. For dinner starting at 5pm each night they had a different special - one night it was prime rib, another night fried chicken. Food was always good and service was good but sometimes food came out slowly when really crowded.
Room service - Ordered from room service twice. Both times food came as ordered and at the delivery time provided. Food was good - menu was rather limited but not bad considering all the other dining options onboard.
Cirque Fantasy- Dinner was a prefixed menu. Food was surprisingly good considering some other reviews I had read. Show would have been great on land but then when you realize they are doing all of these acts on a moving ship - it is amazing. My son was completely mesmerized. Seats are on first come first serve basis and doors open 1/2 hour before - people start lining up before the doors open so keep that in mind.
Second City - Comedy shows held at multiple times throughout the week. I went to multiple shows including 1 at 7 pm (kid friendly) and 1 at 11pm (adults only). Personally I loved the 7pm show and was a bit disappointed with the 11pm show. Sketch comedy parts were just ok but improv was really good and very funny. They do a show called "Scriptless" which would probably be my 1st choice of all the Second City shows.
Michael Finney - Comedy/Magic. Show was very good and both my son and I enjoyed this very much. We had seen Mac King in Vegas recently so we had some high expectations - Michael Finney was different but still really good and very funny.
Onboard Activities -
Mini golf - free - 9 holes located in the sports courts area. Nicely decorated with sea theme and well maintained. My son really enjoyed this and the course itself did not get overcrowded as there was only a limited number of clubs and balls that could be in use at any time.
Ropes Course - free - also located in sports courts area. Open during the afternoons - if weather conditions were not good the course would close for safety concerns (which as a parent I appreciated). Do not leave til the last day as weather is not guaranteed. Definitely plan to do early on and to avoid longer lines show up before the scheduled opening time.
Bingo - Sessions held daily. Most of the time cost was $39 for cheapest package and up to $69 for largest package. They typically played 3 games and prizes varied based on number of cards sold. Prizes were good but considering costs to play and low odds of winning anything, other activities definitely offered better value.
Deal or No Deal - Cards are sold and 2 people get to play the game. What is actually cool is that as the game progresses - audience members can play along and can win smaller prizes. Fun activity - was very entertaining.
Mini bowling - Located in O'Sheehan's bar area. $5 per person per game - same price as I have seen in other resorts (Great Wolf Lodge). Only 2 lanes available so there was typically a wait in the early evening.
Arcade - Located on deck 15 aft. Largest arcade I have ever seen on a cruise. Lots of selection but all games were $1-$2 per play, so it was a bit pricey. Be careful if giving your kids charging privileges - I saw one kid play a $2 game about 30 times in less then 5 minutes ($60) - his parents weren't around and this kid was swipe happy - wouldn't want to be him when that bill got delivered to his parents the last day of the cruise.
Art Auctions - Lots of art onboard and if you are a Peter Max fan you won't be disappointed. Overall good selection and good prices. The only issue I had was that none of the auctions ever started on time (may have been due to low attendance - with all the kids onboard this week I don't think the art auctions got their normal turnout) - if you arrived for the preview an hour before you waited around for an extra half hour for the auction to start.
Spa Services - spa was very large, prices were a little high but specials and packages brought prices down to the same as a nice day spa on land. Overall services were good but nothing amazing - nice day spas on land provide a better experience.
Other activities - lots of trivia, origami, napkin folding, pool games, sports challenges, dodge ball, shopping talks, etc. There was always something to do rain or shine. Kudos to Cruise staff for providing lots of offerings and leaving it up to the cruiser to make a choice - really loved that there was a choice and that if you didn't want to pay for bingo you had an option to go to Elvis music trivia (which my son enjoyed a lot more then the bingo).
Dancing with the Breakaway Stars is a really good time and not to be missed.
Music in the Atrium - great band - good music
Fat Cats - Karaoke earlier in the evening and really great Jazz music later.
Port Canaveral - Being Easter week and the limited time in port, Disney, Universal, and Sea World were out. If it wasn't a holiday week we probably would have done the Space Center but instead we just got shuttle tickets to Cocoa Beach. Shuttle was well organized and easy. They drop you off across the street from the beach (public rest rooms and foot showers in building at the beach). Weather deteriorated so we headed over to Sand Bar to get something to eat and drink. What a great place - food was great (fish tacos were the best), family friendly - kids meal comes in a souvenir frisbee. Getting back to the ship was easy with the shuttle and it left at scheduled times.
Great Stirrup Cay - We actually arrived before schedule and they started tendering process around 830am. We headed over just before 10am and they were still stocking the bars - so for the first half hour or so what was available was limited. NCL has made some major improvements. My son loved the hippo slide and renting a party float was a big winner with him as well. For food we skipped the long buffet line and opted for a burger grill closer to beach area. The far side of the island was empty as most people stayed at the beaches closest to the tendering docks. Took afternoon Eco tour which was fun - guide provided great local information, we fed the fish, and they pulled a sea star and sea cucumber out of the water which the kids got to hold and get pictures with. Tenders to return to ship ran every ten minutes and process was easy.
Nassau - Have been here multiple times before - most people seemed to be headed over to Atlantis which is always fun but my son wanted to do something different since he had never checked out Nassau before. We walked over to the Pirate Museum - small museum but nice - great for kids. Walk thru self guided tour - lots of info on walls to read. I gave my son $1 for souvenirs for any typos he found (there are just a few but the incentive got him to read all the museum placards). From there we took the #10 down to the Fish Fry - walk up the street to the Gardens & Zoo. He loved this - there were only a few people there so it was like having a private tour. Lots of birds, a snake, a jaguar in exhibits - peacocks and flamingos roamed freely. My son really enjoyed the parrot feeding and even donated his souvenir money to the zoo to support the costs of the parrot food (apples). From there we headed back to the Fish Fry to try some local food and then caught the #10 back to downtown.
Disembarkation - In Freestyle fashion you choose your disembarkation time. Option for easy walk off with bags seemed very popular but we didn't want to be rushed so we got the 2nd earliest option and had a nice breakfast before leaving. Process was well organized and after a short wait to clear customs we were on our way.
Overall we had a great vacation on the Breakaway. We didn't have any issues or service problems that I had read about in other reviews - everyone we encountered was pleasant and really wanted to do a good job. The are some processes that could be improved (but there always are) to benefit both staff and cruiser and I hope that NCL continues to listen to customer feedback and make improvements. My son and I are already planning our next cruise on the Breakaway!