I am 41 and this was a first cruise for myself as well as my parents (64 and 66) and my 14 y/o son and first time to Bermuda. I have been to Jamaica once and Cancun 6 times in the past 22 years. First time to an island for my parents and son.
4 out of 6 personal friends who are seasoned cruisers recommended NCL so we went with it (one of them sailed Breakaway twice and loved it and one of them sailed Breakaway once and won't sail this particular ship again). Here is how it all went down...mostly good experience. Would cruise NCL again, possibly even Breakaway but would try another cruise line also.
We came from Allentown, PA to the NY port and our Trans Bridge bus station is very close by our house so we were able to drive to bus station, park there in secure lot (first 3 days for free with $5 per day parking after) and for 2 adults and 2 senior rates, round trip with parking cost $185 which was a steal as we didn't have to worry about driving our own car into NYC and pay for parking here. Bus dropped us right at port and the porters came on bus to announce their services ($2 tip per person to porter and well worth it; we tipped $10 for 4 of us). Check in was quick; our bus got into port around 1:30pm and we checked in and went directly to room where luggage was awaiting us by 2:30 latest. Checked out our room, unpacked quickly and we went up to Deck 16 for 4pm disembarkment. Asked a cruise employee which side Statue of Liberty was on and he pointed us to the wrong side of the ship, which we didn't realize until it was too late, lol. By this time, we were starving and went below deck seeking out some food. But, restaurants had started to stop serving by this time (the "Welcome Aboard" paper you receive says you can eat a late lunch at buffet until 5pm or at Irish pub "always open"...not true and this is clearly printed as such on the paper you get boarding the ship!) because within the next hour, all cruisers were supposed to report to their designated spot for the mandatory life jacket training course and no food was available. Now, us being first cruisers had no idea where we were supposed to go; many people milling about and it was quite confusing and we went to 2 different areas we were not supposed to be in until somebody finally told us where we should be (the theater for us). We had some time to blow and my son was anxious to sign up for the teen club so again, as first time cruisers, we had no idea where to sign him up, asked 3 different cruise employees who all told us different areas of the ship. For teen club, you still go to the younger kids Splash Academy on Deck 12 or 13 to sign up your teen for the Entourage club and they still offer enrollment until 7pm so don't feel rushed when you first get on ship. The "Welcome Aboard" paper you get says you can sign up for Entourage is on Deck 16...not so. So after the training course was over, it was like the running of the bulls as everyone rushed to get out of area to go eat, I think. The elevator/elevator halls were so congested and some people are just plain rude and were butting and stepping on others (not the ships fault) but there was not one ship employee there to control the crowding. My mom walks with a cane and it was very frustrating. We went to Garden Café for a quick bite, enrolled my son for teen club, walked the ship to familiarize ourselves with it and later went to Irish pub for some wings while listening to Fire and Ice in the Atrium below. Many teens did not go to teen club the first night so my son stayed with us but kept checking the club often. Everything was much better first full day at sea.....
Crowds in elevator were no where near as bad as they were on embarkation day! Go early to get seats on sundecks and pool level decks (especially pool level deck sun seats). They provide pool towels for you but I was glad I brought my own for myself and my son, which stood out and it was easy for my son to find where we were sitting on the decks when he needed to find us between his comings and goings.
Cabin: We had a larger ocean view handicap cabin as my mom needed that type of room after undergoing a hip replacement recently. Room was awesome and spacious for the four of us with lots of storage and closets and bathroom was decent sized. Beds: my parents had a king or queen bed, I slept on the hideaway bed that was a couch and my son was above me with a pull out hideaway from the ceiling, with a ladder. Those beds were all comfy and we all were pleasantly surprised. Plenty of room for family of 4. Our room attendant was nice and pleasant but did not go over and beyond. We are not a high maintainance, needy type of family by any means and we didn't ask for anything extra but from talking to other people who cruised NCL, (I am trying to explain my wording without sounding like I expected the royal treatment because I didn't) but I was expecting a little more...it was nothing more than we would've gotten from a regular everyday hotel reservation in any city at a cheaper rate per night...does that make sense to anyone? Here is where the really only big complaint comes from: the noise!!!!! Sweet Jesus, we heard hammering, drilling, people talking, chairs being slid and stacked, doors slamming all night, every night, like right next to my head in the walls aside me and below and above us. We were on Deck 5, handicap room, right outside of the room attendants supply/storage quarters, under a storage room and bathroom for the theater, above the tenders rooms. We also had what I would call a support beam in our room, between the desk and main bed. It creaked and sounded like it was leaking in the inside, incessantly, while we were at sea. All of us were awoken at night several times between all of those sounds...thanks goodness the beds were comfy and we were tired; had that not been the case, we would've never slept! We did complain to Alvin twice, the main representative on the ship for guest services, but only when we were approached and asked about the cruise.... otherwise, we would've just let it go as we did like our room and did not want to move. They sent us some chocolate covered strawberries and a bottle of wine our last night on ship as well as a follow up call to see if the problem had ceased. It had not, lol. We just dealt with it as we did like our room. Also, a room card controls the lighting in the room (slot is right next to inside of room door)....took us a day to figure that one out, lol. We were hanging glow stick necklaces we got at Glow Party on the handle to the cabin bathroom door to find our way around during the night. Such newbies......
Food: We ate at Garden Café for all breakfasts and lunch, except for lobster night (2nd day of cruise) which was also at café. They had plenty of offerings and food was good. I AM a foodie and I thought the food was good considering how much food has to be supplied and cooked. Don't go to buffet if you are expecting a meal from a 5 star restaurant. If you don't find anything you like at the buffet, something is wrong because there is something for everyone: any breakfast food imaginable hot and cold with omelet station and lunch was cold cuts, hot main and side dishes including veggies, grill foods, salad bar, deli salads, hot pastas, pizza, sandwiches, fresh fruits at all times, soups, breads, desserts. Mostly same menu for dinner in café also with a few more hot dishes for you to choose from and café also has a later evening munchies bar that included wings, nacho bar, fried chicken, pizza, mac and cheese, Mexican dishes, sweets, etc (I think they stop serving that around 10 or 11pm). We mostly ate at Taste or Savor for dinner. They may have served one of the best steaks I have ever ate, grilled to perfection of medium rare with some nice sides/appys/desserts. We ate early on, around 6pm so we did not need reservations, always walked right in. My mom and I dressed casual in nice top and capri's, my Dad wore long Khaki's with a polo or button down short sleeved dress shirt and my son wore khaki shorts with a nice polo or short sleeved button down shirt. We also had some late night appys at Irish bar (wings were ok) and a lunch there also which was very good (fish and chips, chef salad, mozzarella sticks, burgers). Ordered a pizza from room service before midnight one night, cost $5, it was....pizza.
Shows/Entertainment/Games/Casino: we saw Burn the Floor. If you love Dancing with the Stars as I do, you will enjoy it. Casino was a casino...table games not so high per hand early on, as any casino would be. I thought it was spacious for a cruise ship and most of the slots and tables were half filled during the day if not mostly filled more towards night. Yes, Casino is smoke friendly. If you smoke, you can also go to Deck 6 to smoke inside ship in a special room at Humidor Cigar lounge or outside lounge on that deck at bar area there that runs aside of Fat Cats. And you can also smoke at bar at Spice H2O club on Deck 16 AFT. Spice H2O is adults only bar, lounging area and hot tubs area until evening then it opens up to themed dance parties for all ages complete with lounging areas, bar, dance floor and huge tv screen which was a good time. Atrium on Deck 6 held activities all day and evening long, including movies some nights. We enjoyed "Dancing with the Breakaway Stars", "Not So Newlywed Games" and "Deal or No Deal" (you can buy 2 games for $20 bucks to play at your seat). They also had some good music in Atrium, duets from "Fire and Ice" and other solo singers which were very good. They had some trivia games and bingo games too. I visited Bliss lounge and they had some good music but not much of a crowd.
Cruise shopping/Gym/Spa/Pools: They had a duty free tobacco/liquor/perfume store. My parents brought some spirits back for pretty cheap. My Dad is a smoker and got a good deal on smokes. Perfume was expensive. Jewelry store there...expensive though while at sea, they did run some good sales on their jewelry, watches, hats, scarves, souvenir style stuff...sales got better towards end of cruise. They have a photo gallery where you can view and buy your pics from the ship.....check out your pics before you buy them. The border on our first pic said "Bahamas 2014" when really is should have read "Bermuda 2014". We noticed it pretty quickly and notified the sales girl in gallery and she just laughed and said, "yes, we made a mistake, we can change it"....how many people didn't notice it? It was $20 a pic! Also, there is a night where you can "buy one get one free" photo so don't buy a photo right away(they keep all your pics in one folder) and make sure it states your correct destination, lol. Gym was very nice, state of the art equipment with cardio in one room overlooking sea and weight room/machines in other room but not large and always crowded, no matter what time of day. You do have to pay for many of the exercise/yoga classes. Spa was beautiful but pricey but they did run some good specials that included massage/facial and a third service for under $100 on the 2nd to last day of cruising.
Teen lounge/rock wall/mini golf/arcade/sports complex/pools/water slides: my son gives it 2 thumbs up! He met a lot of other kids there, had a wonderful time. He did the rock wall (when it was open), sports complex (zip lining and plank included) and had a great time. He LOVED the teen club and they have many activities (open from 10:30 am until 1:00 am while on sea and opened at 7pm until 1:00 am while at port). The staff was wonderful there (Teddy, Cookie, Diesel). My son was with us at all times while at port but on the ship, he was with the teen club most of the time and he preferred it that way because it was so much fun. I was skeptical at first letting him roam the ship, at 14, but I relaxed about it after the 2nd day. He was in good hands, having fun and I got to spend quality time with my parents. He usually went to a meal with us once a day but for the most part, the teen club had a scheduled lunch, breakfast or dinner each day and he went with them or just caught a bite to eat with other friends he met in the club. Pools are not big and there are only 4 hot tubs by the pool and only two of them are kid friendly (also a hot tub or two at Spice H2O I saw, adults only, I think). There is an adult pool by the 4 hot tubs and then a kid pool and an area off of there that is SpongeBob themed that has water splashing out of characters...pretty cute. Water slides, there were 4 or 5. My son did not care much for pool or slides because it was always crowded with little ones and it was stocked with salt water, which I found weird and am hoping they also used chlorine???? Because someone threw up in the kid pool the 2nd day......
Bermuda: Very layed back, very beautiful...not a party town (remember, I am a seasoned Cancun visitor 6x, lol) but I enjoyed it. When we got off ship, every day, there was a photographer waiting off the ship with the crew and either a pirate, a parrot, some kind of prop or someone in dress up etc, with dance music pumping from speakers! And when coming back from ship, we were welcomed with cold towels given to us by a staff member with tongs and something cold to drink. When we left ship for first time, we bought ferry/bus tickets for 3 days in a ticket shelter off the dock (I since read a review on here that states you can buy a 2 day pass on the ship). We traveled to zoo/aquarium first day on bus there...nice bus ride to see the sights (you get off at Hamilton bus stop and transfer bus for a short ride to zoo/aquarium). Zoo/aquarium was nice, cost $15 total for my son and I to go through, took about 1 1/2 hours. We caught bus back to Hamilton, walked about 3 blocks down through town (nice walk) to ferry and caught that back to Dockyard. (They have a nice coffee cafe at ferry waiting area with good coffee, bakery treats and ice cream). Ferry fits ALOT of people on it, don't be fooled. My parents stayed back at Dockyard and walked around. Later on, we all went back to Hamilton via ferry (Wed night) for the street festival. They had about a three block long festival with just a handful of food vendors, some dancing, some stands set up with crafts and jewelry....was not impressed. Maybe we were off season but I was told the yachts would be lit up, etc. We didn't spend much time there. 2nd day was my son's 14th birthday so his present was to swim with the dolphins (Dolphin Quest). They have many other price packages than what is on their website so my advice is to book once you get there. We booked offshore, not with NCL. We were lucky to book it that day and have to come back only one hour later for his swim. We also walked into Snorkel Bay but did not swim there, just to visit. Then we took my parents on the bus and went into Hamilton by bus to see the scenery and took ferry back to port. 3rd day: my parents stayed back at Dockyard and shopped and my son and I took a shuttle...we were going to go to Horseshoe Bay to snorkel but driver said Church Bay was better for snorkeling (Church Bay is right before Horseshoe). Wish we would've went to Horseshoe....we didn't snorkel because there were Portuguese Man O War jellyfish all over that beach! Water was very cold....East had a very cold winter plus it was only mid May). Go to Horseshoe Bay!
Prior to sailing back home upon disembarking, when you came from port onto the ship, the cruise line had set out a red carpet for the guests to walk back onto ship and the staff and cruise director, etc were on either sides of the carpet dancing (some on stilts) with dance music pumping from speakers and it was all filmed and showed on the big screen in Atrium upon leaving the ship as well as other videoed clips from the entire cruise. A nice personal touch that really make me want to sail NCL again.
One important thing I want to mention if you are cruising with or without kids and need contact with the cyber world: I turned my phone and my son's smart phone to "Airplane Mode" when we stepped foot on the ship so I would not incur any charges. When you get to port in Bermuda, there is a gift store you will hit head on, next to a restaurant/bar as soon as you walk past the bus station and ferry area. It has 2 floors. 2nd floor sells internet plans. I bought 72 hours of "WiFi" for $15 for one phone, so I could just surf the web, interact with messaging via Facebook, check email...that is it. There are "WiFi" areas on the island to use this at as well as directly off the Breakaway (NCL has a tent set up with some chairs right between the ship and customs area that is WiFi friendly). Now, something I wish I had known before I went aboard: if you have kids or family you want to be able to "Message" from your smart phone to another smart phone while on board, download "iconcierge". For $8 or $9 per phone, you can download this on a smart phone and be able to message your family member on the ship as well as other shore excursion into, restaurant bookings and menu changes, etc with no message charges on our smart phone account. They don't advertise this enough or I would've downloaded it before I knew about it on both my son and my phones. Do it before you board the ship.
Ok, I think I am done here, lol! Sorry for all the info but I learned a lot as a newbie cruiser and can't wait to book another and I hope I helped others who may be new to this too. I would do NCL again for sure. Definitely was a family friendly cruise. I love the "Freestyle" aspect of it. I would do a different port again..so that means another ship. I heard good things about the Gem, Jewel, Epic and Pear. We'll see. :)