NCL Gets it Right for Family Cruising with its New Breakaway by the Auburndale Cruisers
NCL Breakaway Cruise to Bermuda, August 3rd to 10th, 2014
One of NCL’s newest cruise ships, the Breakaway is an ideal choice for family cruises offering plenty to do for children as well as adults. The ship is New York City all the way, home based there and christened by the Radio City Rockettes.
We had previously sailed the Breakaway to Bermuda in August of 2013 during its inaugural season. Our Cruise Critic review of that cruise (Auburndale Cruisers) indicated some dissatisfaction with NCL in the general service and dining. That changed on this August 2014 cruise as we were totally satisfied with service and dining and the cruise in general.
The rest of this review is very similar to that of our 2013 review, updating it where necessary.
We were a party of ten; my wife and I, both senior citizens, More
our two sons and daughters-in-law and four grandchildren ages five through ten. This was our twenty-third cruise since 2001, the sixteenth with NCL. Our children and grandchildren have sailed with us on seven occasions so we consider ourselves seasoned and savvy cruisers. We previously had sailed on NCL’s Crown, Dawn, Gem, Jewel and Star, all very pleasurable experiences. We also had sailed with Celebrity, Holland America, Princess and Royal Caribbean also very pleasurable experiences. My wife and I are NCL Latitudes Platinum members and received on this cruise amenities including priority check-in and boarding, priority disembarkation, champagne and sweets in-room, two complimentary dinners with wine at cover charge restaurants, a cocktail party and a ship tour.
We like NCL.
Arrival, Check-In and Boarding:
We arrived at the Manhattan Passenger Ship Terminal by limo Sunday August 3rd at approximately 10:30, were whisked through priority check-in and group photos, and boarded at 11:40. There appeared to be no difference between the Breakaway and other ships we sailed with only half the passengers in the time to check-in and board. Once aboard, lunch was being served in the Garden Cafe and by the time we finished eating, our stateroom was ready. Following the mandatory safety drill, we departed for Bermuda at 4:00 pm.
The Breakaway is one of NCL’s newest ships, entering commercial service in May of 2013. It is in a word, huge, at 146,600 tons, 1,062 feet in length and 130 feet at the beam. Passenger capacity is listed at 4,028 (double occupancy). The ship was spotless and showed no evidence of wear and tear. There were a lot of people and crew on board and there were times that it seemed like New Years Eve in Times Square with a lot of people milling about, especially at dinner time, mid ship in the atrium area, at the end of the evening show. However, the crowds soon thinned (except for the pool deck) and those areas became more comfortable. Early morning coffee in the Garden Cafe was a quiet pleasure. However, the amount of passengers would not deter us from booking summer cruises on the Breakaway with our family.
We had booked three mini-suites on Deck 11. The suites were typical of what we’ve come to expect, small. The balcony was almost non-existent, only about three feet deep, with just enough room for two small chairs and a tiny table, not the deck chairs we were accustomed to. There was sufficient closet and storage space. The biggest surprise was the bathroom, huge by NCL (and other lines) standards. The shower area was roomy and the shower itself, the best we’ve ever had, once we figured out how to turn it on. A flat screen TV, coffee maker, robes, mini bar, wall safe and hair dryer were furnished. In order to turn room lights or the TV on, or to use wall outlets, a stateroom key card ( or any card with a magnetic strip) had to be inserted into a receptacle and left there as long as power was required. This was NCL’s attempt to reduce power usage, a good idea and not an inconvenience. A complimentary bottle of wine and sweets were in our room on Day 1. Our children’s staterooms were fitted with drop down upper bunks which our grandchildren loved. The stateroom staff was extremely friendly, efficient and timely, quickly adjusting their duties to our schedule. Towel animals were there nightly for the little ones.
In NCL’s Free Style Dining system, dining venues consisted of “complimentary” and “cover charge applies”. The Manhattan Room, Savor and Taste were complimentary main dining rooms with table service. The Savor and Taste were available for breakfast, lunch and dinner (limited during shore days). The complimentary Garden Cafe provided self service buffet style fare for breakfast, lunch, dinner and in-between. Other complimentary dining was provided by O’Sheehans Irish Pub (24 hour service), the Uptown Grill, and a Sabrett Hot Dog cart. Pizza delivery was also available at no extra cost with some hour nighttime exceptions. O’Sheehans replaced the Blue Lagoon 24 hour service restaurant we were accustomed to on other NCL ships and which were smaller but quieter. Reservations could be made for the main dining rooms but only for seating between 5:00 and 5:30 pm. 5:30 is not the time most guests would care to have dinner. NCL should think about opening up the time slots for reservations, especially for larger groups. After all, larger groups pay larger money. However, with our Latitudes level and a friendly staff, (thanks Restaurant Director, Julian) we were able to secure reservations for the Savor and Manhattan at our preferred times.
“Cover charge applies” venues consisted of Cagneys Steakhouse, La Cucina (Italian), Le Bistro (French), Moderno (Churrascaria), Shanghai Noodle Bar, Teppanyaki (Japanese), Wasabi Sushi (Japanese), Ocean Blue Seafood and Fresh Raw Seafood Bar. Cover charges ranged from $15 to $49 per person depending upon the venue. The $49 for the Ocean Blue seemed excessive. Seating in these dining rooms was by reservation only.
There were many bars.
The system seems to work ok, but I still prefer fixed dinner seating at fixed times.
My wife and I were comp’d with two dinners with wine at LeBistro. We consider LeBistro to be the finest dining at sea (land also). The wines offered were from the master wine list. We were unable to procure reservations for La Cucina at our convenient time but were surprised that the restaurant seemed only lightly filled at those hours.
Our children ate at Cagneys and considered it very good.
The Garden Cafe offered a large variety of hot and cold food which was well prepared and tasty. The Garden Cafe was a favorite of the grandkids.
We considered the food in the main dining rooms to be very good in selection, preparation and quantity. Extra entrees and desserts, to taste, were provided as well as complimentary wine on the last evening of the cruise.
Breakfast service in the Savor and Taste restaurants was spotty at times in getting orders straight.
Except for breakfasts, the dining rooms service however, was excellent with an attentive, patient and competent wait staff.
We did not order room service or pizza which was always available.
We only attended the “welcome aboard” show on the first day. We’d seen or had little interest in the others. We preferred instead to listen to three Atrium and lounge entertainers who performed nightly. On this cruise there were “Fire and Ice” a .singer/ keyboard musician combo whose Motown and soul music was simply amazing. There was also “Arvin & Emily, also a singer/keyboard combo who performed more timeless hits, and “Dueling Pianos”. Other typical cruise type games, Bingo, pool games, cooking demos, mini-bowling and a game room were also available. Two Rockette dancers were aboard for photos and dance lessons.
So much for adult only entertainment. Where the Breakaway really shone was entertainment for children of all ages. Besides the usual pools, a complete water park was provided with conventional water slides and a heart stopping free fall water slide which our brave daughters-in-law tried last year (only once though). A ropes course, high above Deck 17, provided daring children and adults with a hooked-up traverse suspended from ropes, over wooden plank bridges, steel beams and even a walk-the- plank out high above the water. When I first saw pictures of the water park and ropes course on NCL’s website, my first reaction was a naval architects nightmare, function trumps form. However, the architects did well to blend it into the ships superstructure. From the ground the park is almost hidden. You can see pictures of these and other features by clicking on the NCL link at the end of this review.
For the young children there was the Splash Academy, a morning, afternoon and evening fun school. Our grandchildren primarily attended the evening sessions and loved them. The children performed a show in the main theater at the end of the cruise which was quite well done. Nickelodeon cartoon character Dora the Explorer was also on-board to dance and be photographed with the very young children and their families.
There was a fireworks display on Friday night.
We didn’t book shore excursions preferring to go to the Snorkel Park and Tobacco Bay beaches.
We arrived at the Manhattan Passenger Ship Terminal quite early, Sunday August 10th, about 6:30 am. Our priority disembarkation was scheduled for 8:30 and we actually got off at that time, no delays. It was our smoothest disembarkation ever.
What We Liked and Loved:
We loved the change that has come about since our first Breakaway cruise. We loved the amicability, courtesy and attentiveness of the ships staff as well as the dining experience. We’ve always considered NCL’s staffs to be the leaders in the industry.
We loved LeBistro and Cagney’s.
We loved the fact that our children and grandchildren had such a wonderful time and can’t wait to go again next year.
What We Didn’t Like:
There wasn’t much we didn’t like, and the little that we didn’t like is hardly worth mentioning here.
It was truly a great cruise. However, as seniors, who don’t partake of the physical entertainment, we probably wouldn't book the Breakaway for our winter cruises preferring smaller ships with many fewer passengers such as the NCL Gem or Star. But, for family summer cruises, there is no doubt that we would sail the Breakaway provided it continues to be based in New York City.