On this cruise our group consisted of just myself (43), my husband (52), and our daughter (8). We are all experienced cruisers. I myself have previously sailed Carnival twice, HAL once, Princess twice, RCCL three times, and NCL twice, so I do not consider myself a cheerleader for any particular cruise line.
We specifically chose the Breakaway for the following reasons:
1) Ship's amenities
2) Suite availability and attractive pricing/rewards
4) Proximity of port to our home (driving distance - 4 hours)
In this case, reason # 4 was the driving factor -- we cruised during Easter vacation week when all schools in Massachusetts (and many in NH, NY, and NJ, from what I could tell) are on spring vacation. The point being, while I looked into several Caribbean cruise options departing from Florida-based ports, including Breakaway's brand-new sister Getaway, the cost of cruising PLUS the cost of flying to Florida was astronomical. While I don't mind paying a little extra to indulge a bit on a cruise (e.g., the suite), I refuse to pay $1,200/pp to fly from Boston to Miami. Not going to happen! In any case, we settled on Breakaway as an excellent alternative -- no flight required, a great cabin still available (I didn't book until less than 90 days prior), and $300 on-board credit was an extra-nice incentive.
I began reading the Cruise Critic forums, particularly focused on people's BA experiences, a couple of months prior to the trip. I tried to weed out the things that didn't apply to us and focus only on caveats that we might need to be aware of to get the most out of our cruise. It helped prepare me immensely for what to expect, and I highly recommend it as long as you are not likely to focus solely on the negatives you will read. It's best to remember that more people will take the time to write about something bad that happened to them than will take the time to write how perfectly wonderful their entire week was. It's just human nature.
Rather than provide a day-by-day guide (it's been done so well before by others, I'll let those reviews stand on their own!), I am going to summarize our experiences on the ship in the following categories (will review the actual cabin as well as the ports we visited in their own separate sections):
Embarkation/Disembarkation: As I already stated, we splurged a bit of the saved airfare on a Haven Aft-Penthouse Suite. One of the benefits of being in the Haven is priority embarkation/disembarkation, both initially and at ports along the way. We arrived early -- too early, around 9:30am, but we had no choice in the matter -- at Pier 88 in Manhattan. Parking was very easy ($280 for the week) and after dropping our bags, locating the Haven check-in and lounge, and completing all required health docs and getting our cards, we were all set before 10am. I knew from reading the forums that boarding would not begin until 11:30am. There were pastries and juices in the lounge. The chairs are not built for comfort but function. By 11:30 there were more people than seats but the concierge began taking us out of the lounge in groups beginning promptly at that time. It was effortless and organized. We were escorted directly to the 16th floor to the Haven lounge, where we were asked to make ourselves comfortable while we waited for an announcement from the concierge. Waiters were circulating with small plates of sandwiches or sliders and fries. Nice touch. The concierge, Adrian Bica, gave a little introduction about himself, his team, and the perks of the Haven. Then we were loosed to do our own thing. We were notified that our cabins were already ready if we wanted to go drop our things. In summary, embarkation was a BREEZE, and not confusing or unsettling in any way. I found less advantage in the "priority" disembarkation at the ports we visited -- if you had an excursion booked (we did, at two ports), you have to wait in the lounge with your groups so there is no benefit. We did utilize this feature at Great Stirrup Cay, but really it just translates to meeting your concierge in a designated spot with a group of other suite guests, and getting on one of the first tenders ashore. I am not typically one to get up super-early just to go to the beach, so it was almost an anti-perk to have to meet so early. :-) Lastly, disembarkation on the final day of the cruise was excellent and DID truly earn its priority status. We met Adrian in the Haven lounge after breakfast, and whenever he had a group of us ready, he took us to the service elevator, whisked us straight to the gangplank, and off we went. Easy as that.
Food/Restaurants: My two previous sailings on NCL have both been on the Dawn, and I have always enjoyed the Main Dining Room fare on that ship. I was somewhat disappointed in both the offerings and the quality of MDR fare on the Breakaway. I have always been SUCH a champion of MDR fare, and on Dawn only went to Specialty Dining a couple of nights because I felt pressure to try it, not because I really wanted or felt the need to. I am sorry to say that if I sail on Breakaway again (and I certainly would if it were the right price/itinerary/etc), I will likely take advantage of the Unlimited Dining Package NCL offers for their specialty dining venues. I have to say that even the Haven restaurant, exclusive to Haven guests, let me down in this regard: unlike the MDR, the menu offerings never changed (so there was no way you could eat there every night unless you like to repeat your meals). The food was supposed to be "upgraded" food but frankly they had the same short rib offering on the MDR menus another night so I'm not convinced about that claim. That said, the breakfast in the Haven was excellent -- again a fixed menu, but enough choices to keep you happy for a week, along with a small cold buffet and pastries off to the side to supplement whatever you order from the kitchen if you so desire. The Haven lunch was quite good as well, and actually there were two options here -- the fixed lunch menu in the dining room, or the "snack" menu (which included wraps or a burger) you could get poolside. We ate from both menus and enjoyed the food in both places. I do believe the Haven dinner menu, at a minimum, should offer varied selections, and it would be nice if the lunch menu did as well.
We ate at just two specialty restaurants this trip. Cagney's we chose simply because so many people rave about it, and also it is one of the 4 restaurants that offer waterfront dining. We wanted an outdoor meal while in the Bahamas -- it was just a bonus that we happened to book Cagney's on the same night and time that the BA has its fireworks show off the port side (where Cagney's is located). But how was the food? It was fine. I'm not writing home about it (well, I AM writing here about it ...). I enjoyed my filet, the chicken wing appetizer was tasty (much better than the buffalo wings in O'Sheehan's -- guess I'd better talk about that in a minute), and the sides (salad and potatoes au gratin) were good. The dessert (apple crisp) was not good. You could say I chose wrong (other people rave about the raspberry creme brulee) but you could also say that you shouldn't serve something you don't know how to make well. :-) Our other specialty dining experience this cruise was at Teppanyaki, and I just can't say enough good things about it so I'll keep it short. Eat there, and not just for the experience -- you can get the experience at any hibachi place you go to. The food was EXCELLENT. The fried rice could be the best I've ever had. The steak and chicken were both perfect.
So I mentioned O'Sheehan's. We only went there once, and it was only because the Noodle Bar (which I had been itching to try) was just closing when we arrived at 1:55pm. I'm not a huge fried food person and there's a lot of that at O'Sheehan's. The buffalo wing appetizer was, from my perspective, perfectly awful. I do not say that about a lot of food. It was over-breaded, under-warmed, and frankly the buffalo sauce wasn't spicy OR tasty. A big disappointment. The chicken pot pie was better, but way too soupy and SO hot that even near the end of it, it was still too hot to eat easily. I wouldn't be in a rush to go to O'Sheehan's again but again, there are people who love it and maybe this is one of those times that it's just not a place that offers what I like to eat.
How was the buffet? Well, we ate at the buffet this trip only once for breakfast, and never for lunch or dinner, although I did go through the buffet at dinner time a couple of times to pick up "to-go" for my daughter on nights she wasn't joining us to eat. They had plenty of offerings and I liked the layout of the buffet. At the times I visited, it was never overly crowded. The food I tried there was good. I don't have any complaints about it, I am just not a huge buffet person either. :-)
Service/Staff: I have nothing but good things to say about all the service crew of the Breakaway. I've read other reviews where people complained of being treated rudely, and my experiences couldn't have been further away from that. Our room steward, Marlon, was always around, always working, always asking if we needed anything. Our butler, Jeffrey, stopped by at least once a day to check on us, often twice, and to answer any questions. He also delivered treats to our suite every day (I know, I know -- "it's his job" -- but it's still nice and the service doesn't have to come with a smile, and yet it always did). The concierge, Adrian, and Elvina, his assistant, never actually stopped by our cabin (on the Dawn our concierge visited us every day), but on Breakaway there is a concierge desk inside the Haven and either Adrian or Elvina (and often both) seemed to be available at that desk just about every time we walked through the Haven lounge. They were both extremely courteous and helpful. The restaurant staff, in all venues, was uniformly excellent. The worst I can say is that on disembarkation morning, our Haven waiter wasn't overly effusive or cheerful. And that is NOT the same thing as being treated rudely. I also met several of the ship's officers this week at various functions, and except for the captain (Evans Hoyt, who I found lacked much to say), they were really great, and remembered us and greeted us throughout the week. I had NO interactions with "Dan the Man" the cruise director, so can't speak much for him or against him other than what I saw on TV during a couple of the "game shows" we missed, and from the little I saw he's certainly not the best cruise director I've ever seen. Also had limited interactions with his staff (pretty much limited to Progressive Trivia) and can't say they wowed me either. But that's a personality thing and certainly nothing that negatively impacted me in any way.
Onboard Activities: This ship has a LOT to do, and we tried to experience as much of it as possible. My daughter and husband both did the ropes course several times, and loved it. The Breakaway Bounce, which my daughter was excited to do, was closed a lot (I think it's a staffing thing, they seemed to open up once they were closing the ropes course) but she was finally able to experience that as well. My daughter was not heavy enough for the two big drop slides, but rode all three other slides many times during the week, and the lines were never too bad. The pools themselves, as can be expected on a ship with 4,000 people, were on the crowded side, with every available lounge chair on the lower and upper decks near the pool "taken" on the nice sea days. (And by "taken" I mean someone's towel was enjoying a nice relaxing day in the sun while they gallivanted around the ship, don't get me started on the chair-saving methods I saw employed this week. Pet peeve.) I much appreciated the Haven courtyard and pool (as small as it was), if only for the uncrowded hot tubs and the nice, plush loungers. Lastly, the entertainment options at O'Sheehan's were great, really giving it a true pubby/local bar feel (just because I didn't like the food, does NOT mean I didn't like the area!). At first I felt like it was a little nickle-and-dimey to charge for each of these entertainment options -- bowling, pool, air hockey, not just the arcade games. But then I realized that without putting a little "stake" in it, you would have people park themselves all day long and never remove themselves for other people to have a go. The fees were more nominal than anything else (except for bowling, which was a bit steeper at $5/pp, maybe $5/per game would be better!), but likely contributed to keeping the games from becoming overcrowded. One note -- BA could use another shuffleboard court! Would you believe that there is only ONE, and there was usually a wait to use it? SHUFFLEBOARD?!
Splash Academy: Since other than dropping off or picking up, parents aren't really allowed INTO Splash Academy, I can't really say much about the setup other than to say it's much larger than on other ships, two stories, and the daily schedule is pretty much the same as it is on the other NCL ships. My daughter enjoyed her time there but spent less time there during the day than on previous cruises just because there was so much more to do elsewhere (i.e., ropes course, slides, etc.). She had fun there at night though. The staff was all good and I recognized a couple from the Dawn last summer. The big negative for our particular cruise was the drop-off/pick-up. Yes, it was a school vacation week, and we were notified beforehand by e-mail that they expected Splash Academy to be very full -- they said there were over 1,500 children on the ship. However the sign-in desk is and staff available for sign-in is just not sufficient for the size of the ship (or just for the number of children cruising). This was the only place all week where we encountered significant lines! I waited about 45 minutes in line to register my daughter during open registration. Might be nice if NCL offered some kind of preregistration option as I am told some other ships do. I was able to do everything else online beforehand, from reserving shows to paying gratuities, it would only make sense to allow us to register for Splash online as well, and it would cut down on the general mayhem on Day 1. The chaos quieted a bit during the week but at peak times, you could always count on a line to either drop off or pick up your child.
Entertainment: We DID NOT see many of the shows that we normally would take in during a 7-day cruise. We skipped the Welcome Show, never saw the comedian/magician, and didn't even go to the big "Cirque Dreams" special show (didn't really want to spend $39/pp for it, if I'm being honest). What we DID see in the main theater were Burn The Floor, a ballroom dance show, and the musical "Rock of Ages". Burn the Floor featured unquestionably talented dancers, but the show itself, frankly, left me feeling fairly restless -- as in, I wanted to leave but couldn't politely do so as we were trapped in a row and for some ridiculous reason there are no outer aisles in this theater. I enjoyed the latter part of the show more than the beginning, which I suppose I would have missed if I'd skipped out. Still, I think I would have enjoyed this show more had I just seen the "sampler" that was offered during dinner in the Manhattan dining room one or two nights. (The problem there being that they don't advertise this ahead of time so if you have your dining plans otherwise arranged, you might miss it.) "Rock of Ages", on the other hand, I enjoyed much more than I expected to, based both on my own experiences (I hated the recent movie based on this musical), and on some negative reviews I have read for the ship's offering. I actually liked the music, thought the lead actor and actress were very good, and was really pleased overall with the performance. What I was NOT pleased with were the seats in the BA Theater -- miserable. Terrible, uncomfortable seats, with cushions so thin/cheap that you could feel a wooden bar right across your backside through the cushion. Not nice. Oh, and because it can't be said too often, "Rock of Ages" is NOT child-friendly, so please leave your kids in the lovely Splash Academy, which is kind enough to open up early on nights when the show is early or starting before the normal opening hours of Splash. I had no problem with the content of the show because I knew beforehand not to bring my kid. I'm always amazed by the people that ignore all warnings and then bring their kid anyway, and THEN complain that it was inappropriate. All of life is not child-friendly, nor should it be.
Can't finish the entertainment review without a huge-shout out to our favorite entertainment of the week, which was Howl at the Moon Dueling Pianos in Headliners. They were SO GOOD and it was so much fun, with lots of crowd participation and just a good, fun time, that we went THREE TIMES.
The Haven: The perks and amenities that come along with having a suite in the Haven were well worth the upcharge from a normal balcony stateroom, for us. Particularly we loved the Haven courtyard (even though our cabin, as an Aft Penthouse, could not have been FARTHER away fro the courtyard!), where you could almost always find peace, quiet, a comfortable lounger, yummy snacks (gummy bears and M&M's every afternoon by the jarful, never mind cookies or sweet breads or other goodies like cold fruit skewers passed by circulating waitstaff), and a hot tub not overrun by teenagers. I'm not saying there weren't exceptions -- there was a wedding in the courtyard one afternoon in port, and that brought some extra noise and frivolity, but frankly it didn't prevent me from falling asleep in a nearby lounger! And on the last sea day, with the weather having turned very windy and much cooler outside as we returned to NYC, there WERE a lot of unruly children inside there who had probably spent most of their week in the outdoor pools, so the serenity was lost. But that's not a knock against the SHIP, it is against the parents who let their kids run rampant without regard for other passengers, and that is the case in the Haven or not, and from one cruise line to another. (And that is coming from a parent of a younger child, so I'm not a kid-hater, I'm just a person who likes well-behaved kids -- and well-behaved adults, come to think of it. :-)) Anyway, back to the Haven, we enjoyed the afternoon treats that were delivered daily to our cabin, and we enjoyed the dining perks of the Haven restaurant for breakfast especially. And of course we really liked the extra space that the Haven suite provided, which I will describe separately.
Cabin/Suite: Describing this here as well as separately, as I just realized this won't appear with my review unless I include it here. We were on Deck 10, cabin 10912, which is an Aft-Facing Penthouse Suite. We really liked the layout and decor of the suite. The decor is very classic and chic, not cruise-shippy at all really -- no flowers or pinky-orange colors to be found. The suite had a living room, small bathroom, separate bedroom (separated by a DOOR, not just a curtain), and a very large master bathroom with walk-in (large) shower, huge tub, and WC. There was also a HUGE balcony, which had a square dining table for 4, four chairs for the table, two comfortable chaises, and two other upright chairs with cushions. You are doing yourself a disservice if you find yourself in a suite like this and don't have breakfast on your balcony at least a couple of times. Back to the room. The living room has a flat screen TV, armchair, and a sofa which turns into a twin bed (max. occupancy is 3). There is also a table with 4 chairs for dining, and a bar with a refrigerator/mini-bar, Lavazza coffeemaker/coffees/teas, and various cutlery/glassware/bar tools that might be needed. The smaller bathroom is here as well, with just a single sink, toilet, and a shower. The master bedroom has a king-sized bed, flat screen TV, and the big bathroom. (I will note that considering the size of the bathroom overall, a few more inches could have been spared on the WC portion of the bathroom -- the toilet cubby felt VERY much like being in airplane bathroom, unfortunately. Slightly claustrophobia-inducing.) One thing that is important to note if considering booking an Aft-Penthouse Suite is that NOT ALL FLOORPLANS ARE THE SAME in this category. I am thinking this is why they do not show a floorplan for this category of suite on the NCL website! I believe most of the suites are like ours, where the entrance to the balcony is from the sliding door in the living room only, and the master BATH, not the master bedroom, has the big picture window looking out to the balcony/sea. There are two decks (I BELIEVE it is 11 and 14 but am not positive) that feature a different layout, in which the master bedroom and bathroom switch places, so the bathroom would not have the seaview but the bedroom does, and consequently also has a secondary door (not a slider) out to the balcony. I can see how it would be useful if you wanted to get outside at night without waking whomever is sleeping in the living room. That said, I liked this configuration perfectly well and loved the shower with the big window to the sea. The rainfall shower-head was heavenly and I thought the bathroom was really well designed overall. Plus, I could still see the sea from my bed as the bed faces the doorway between the bedroom/bathroom. (Which, by the way, does NOT have a door, but just a curtain. The WC does have its own door though.) Lastly, the storage space in this cabin is UNBELIEVABLE. I way over-packed, and I had everything put away neatly with drawers and closets to SPARE. I cannot imagine a scenario where this cabin wouldn't have enough storage space for someone.