My fiancé and I sailed on the Norwegian Breakaway to Bermuda on May 11. This was our 7th cruise on NCL and the 6th NCL ship we have sailed on, so we have experienced many different classes and sizes of NCL ships. We were excited to try out this new ship for many of the new features advertised. Overall I would say the experience was mediocre, but with a few changes Breakaway could be an amazing ship and experience.
Much discussion has been made of Breakaway compared to the NCL Gem, the other NCL ship that is home ported in NYC year round. Having sailed the Gem twice, most recently this past Thanksgiving, I found myself making the same comparisons. For the benefit of those trying to decide which ship is better for them, I will compare the two here.
Room: we were booked in a Haven Spa Suite for the Breakaway cruise. The decor and layout of the room is modern and clean. The way they designed the room afforded a lot of storage space, much of it embedded in the walls as to not take up valuable space in the room. This made the room feel much bigger. Bathroom was also a decent size, with two double sinks and a deluxe shower with multiple jets. However as so many others have noted, the balcony is tiny. It was long but not wide at all. Gem's balconies are larger however, as she is not as new a ship, the decor is showing her age in some spots. However, Gem wins this category for one big reason. Directly amongst the spa suites the Breakaway has a staff store, which is used by the cleaning crew to get supplies, store dirty laundry, etc. Every morning right around 8am this very heavy door was opened and slammed shut every minute for two hours straight. This means if you are sleeping at that time you will get jarred awake by the slamming and shaking of the walls. Why they would put this next to spa suites (which, coincidentally, are built for relaxation) is beyond me. I even put a note in the Dear Jovo box (hotel director) expressing that they should just prop open the door when in use rather than constantly banging it and disturbing all the passengers. This note went unanswered (more on the staff issues later). Therefore, because the Gem provided me the opportunity to sleep on my vacation, I will say one point for the Gem here.
Food: in what may be the most important topic for many cruisers, Breakaway does add some new venues for eating. In addition to the usual main dining halls, Teppanyaki, steakhouse,etc found on most NCL ships, Breakaway adds O'Sheehans pub, Ocean Blue Seafood, Carlos bakery and a gelato shop. The quality remains the same, better in the specialty restaurants that have a surcharge. Even though there are 4,000 people on this ship, the number of venues provided is sufficient and we never had trouble getting a reservation. Purely for the extra selection, score one for the Breakaway over the Gem.
Entertainment: one of my main complaints as a repeat NCL cruiser us that most of the shows are repetitive and I gave seen them many times. Breakaway solved that problem by providing much more variety here. The Cirque jungle show was a pleasant surprise and worth the extra fee. Burn the Floor was decent and it was nice to see them perform in the Manhattan Room dining room in addition to the theater. Rock of Ages we had seen in NYC on Broadway and I would say the performance onboard was strong. And yes the show is raunchy, just as it was on Broadway. NCL warns people multiple times that this is suited for adults. If you are easily offended, heed the warning and don't go. There are also new musical acts on board, the best being Howl at the Moon dueling pianos and the jazz band in Fat Cats. The only negatives for entertainment were that the theater is much too small for the boat and having to get reservations was at some times a hassle, particularly when they were not clear on if you needed them (example: it was not noted in the Freestyle Daily that reservations were needed for the comedic magician but when you got there they expected you to have them). However, entertainment overall was fresh, new and top notch so this category goes to the Breakaway.
Spa: as noted we were in a Spa Suite which gave us access to the thermal suite area for the entire week. We usually purchase this pass on other boats and enjoy the relaxing, adults only area. The Breakaway spa thermal suite area is much larger than other ships and includes some new things, such as a salt bath. Because it is so much larger, there was never any problem finding a lounger. The staff kept on top of keeping it clean, towels picked up and water mopped. The only complaint was a few passengers who don't seem to get that this is a relaxation area, not the indoor pool. These people scream and yelp like they are at a water park. I wish the staff would enforce the quiet rules a bit more. The Gem also has a fairly large spa, however since it is smaller than Breakaway's it has less loungers. Both ships spas as great investments for the week if you're looking to relax, however due to the extra size and features, I will give this one to Breakaway.
Staff/Service: here is the black eye for Breakaway. For the most part the staff was painfully mediocre on Breakaway. It was very surprising to us to encounter so few staff that seemed to care at all about any of the passenger's experience. The staff on the ship do their jobs - the food gets to you, the ship stays clean and gets where it needs to go, but so few go above and beyond, which is rare for cruise ship staff. For example, we ate most of our breakfasts and lunches at the Haven restaurant. After an entire week I do not believe one person in that restaurant knew our names or anything we liked. There was really only one waitress in there that made any effort to speak or get to know the passengers. Hence, she was the only one who left you feeling like she cared if you were enjoying yourself. Compare this to the Gem where we also took most of our breakfasts and lunches in the suite restaurant. By day 2 of that cruise the staff there knew our names and what kind of tea I liked and had it waiting for me each day. It's little touches like that which make a real difference to the passengers. Unfortunately those little touches were hard to come by on Breakaway. The bad service continued all around. The concierge? Pretty much useless. Again, made no offers to help us out, barely knew our names. His assistant did more than him. The one time we called him to get us directions to a beach in port he basically blew us off, saying he had never heard of the place. Sorry sir, the correct answer would have been "I have never heard of it but I will look it up and get back to you shortly with some info." But no, there was no offer to take that step for us and that is inexcusable. Also as mentioned above, I wrote into the Dear Jovo box to the hotel director (which was encouraged in the Freestyle Daily with the promise of response) and received no response. No apology, no follow up call and no action on my problem. That would no have happened under Jenny Lim, who was our hotel director on the Gem. If you have a hotel issue and bring it to her, she gives you, the passenger, and your issue the attention it deserves. The bottom line is, on the Gem the staff is superb, they make you feel like family as soon as you board. On the Breakaway you just do not get that feeling. The staff does the bare minimum to make the ship run. For me, that was very unfortunate, particular compared to my other cruises. The Gem wins this category by a mile.
So in the end we come to three points for Breakaway and two for Gem. One might think after seeing this that I would choose the Breakaway over the Gem in the future. However, at this time I would actually go back to the Gem. Although Breakaway does gave some great new features in the entertainment and food departments, I cannot get past the service level on Breakaway. The service on the boat makes a huge difference in my overall experience. Until Breakaway improves this, the Gem is my pick in the future.