We were on this cruise because my Wife is a Sweet Adeline's International Champion/Queen and she was asked to fill in for a missing "Tenor" in a quartet that was part of the faculty/program for "Harmony 2020" ... Read More
We were on this cruise because my Wife is a Sweet Adeline's International Champion/Queen and she was asked to fill in for a missing "Tenor" in a quartet that was part of the faculty/program for "Harmony 2020" onboard the Breakaway. There were about 80 people participating in this year's "Harmony" cruise. If my Wife hadn't been part of the faculty/program we wouldn’t have normally chosen this cruise. We've been to BVI and USVI before. BVI and USVI have few reasons to revisit and this cruise wasn't a bargain. We've been on NCL four times before and on six other cruises before as well. I have several observations.....
Port Canaveral is a less than ideal port. Getting from the nearest airport (Orlando) is expensive and time consuming. The 1 to 1-1/2 hour travel time from and to Orlando adds risk and significant COST to your getting to and from the ship. It means you have to carefully plan for related air travel. If you choose other airports in the "area" like Ft. Lauderdale or Miami that are farther away this compounds your challenges.
We used "Always Superb Transport" out of Orlando for our transfer to and from the ship. Their service WAS superb, comfortable, and timely. It was occasionally hard to understand their staff on the phone when making arrangements, and they were relatively expensive, but we enjoyed using them.
We stayed at the Orlando Airport Residence Inn the night before the cruise because we had a "FREE NIGHT" certificate from Marriott Rewards we could use for the lodging and the hotel provides a free airport shuttle service. Compared to other Residence Inns we've stayed at in the past I was disappointed in the quality of the room and the breakfast but it was serviceable and it met our needs (though I feel a newer Hampton Inn, Fairfield Inn or Springhill Suites might have been of higher quality if available).
Embarkation for this cruise was a REAL PAIN. It took us 1-1/2 hours STANDING IN LINE from curb to cabin (the longest we've ever experienced on any of our previous cruises), but with extra passport checks due to COVID-19 and a rumored passenger who didn't disembark as expected from the previous cruise I can chalk this up to unusual and atypical events. However NCL could have done something significantly more than a few "announcements" in the terminal about why it took so long to process the embarking passengers (like adding more staff to the "checking passports" process).
Our steward appeared at our cabin when we arrived and brought an extension cord for my CPAP and pointed out he'd already placed a gallon of distilled water in the cabin. It appears from this that NCL maintains a fairly detailed record of previous guests and some of their needs and preferences (something we've suspected for several cruises). While this was a nice gesture, there was NO follow-up to this service. I asked for a longer extension cord so I could use my CPAP on the side of the bed I usually sleep on, but the steward only suggested I should sleep on the other side of the bed. Fortunately I always travel with a couple extension cords, so I could fix the problem myself. However, I did ask him if he could bring us some "Duck" or wide masking tape so we could affix the cords to the floor so we wouldn't trip over them in the night. He gave a non-specific response and WE NEVER SAW HIM AGAIN FOR THE REST OF THE CRUISE (and the requested tape NEVER appeared either).
There were only TWO well-worn and hard to plug into 110v outlets in the cabin (there's a "shaver" outlet in the bathroom but that's all it's good for). This is normal for most cruise ships we've experienced and even though Breakaway is a "newer" ship there are still not enough outlets. If you bring the usual amount of phones, tablets, laptops, curling irons, or similar you will need to bring a way to expand your power possibilities. Note that the cabin on Breakaway is wired like many European hotel rooms. You insert your key card in a slot by the door to enable power. When you remove your key card the power ends shortly after. This means you cannot charge phones, tablets, laptops etc. in the room in your absence. You can insert cards like your room key into the slot (a library card, half of an expired credit card, etc. could be used) and leave them, but you’re at risk that the room steward will remove them at cleaning.
Our balcony cabin was smaller than we expected, especially the space between the bed and the closet. It was very awkward to turn around in the tiny space provided at this spot. The rest of the cabin was fairly normal, but we missed the extensive cupboards and storage spaces we'd found previously on the EPIC. The bathroom was fairly normal for a NCL ship and since there were only 2 of us we had enough space for our "stuff". If we'd been a "family" (since there was a small space for ONE other person to sleep on the "couch") the bathroom space for toiletries would have been a challenge.
Overall our experience onboard tells me this ship was built to "house" LOTS of revenue-generating passengers but didn't plan well to "serve" the passengers. The public areas seemed always to be crowded and very hard to navigate because they were cramped. The restaurants and buffet were always crowded (on "sea days" they "opened" additional places where you could get Breakfast or Lunch beyond the buffet, regular restaurants or even O'Sheehan's because the "normal" places were overcrowded). There was a "line" almost everywhere. You had to "make a reservation" to "see" even the "free" shows (I've NEVER experienced this before). The pool appeared tiny and crowded when we saw it. The "specialty" restaurants were comparatively small, more like those in size that we've seen on Pride of America, Jewel and Dawn. It seemed that all the public areas and services were sized for a smaller ship. The library had space for about 6 small card/game tables and only a few bookcases. It was the smallest library I’ve ever seen on a NCL ship. The “take one leave one” space only occupied about six feet of shelving and half of the books shelved were in German.
I'd read the reviews that admonished people to make reservations EARLY in the cruise, or even pre-cruise for the specialty restaurants, but we were unable to do this because of the unsettled schedule for the "Harmony 2020" activities. By the time the schedule was established we could only use our specialty dining package for two meals because the special restaurants were almost FULLY booked. To use the two opportunities we found ourselves eating at 9:15PM and 9:30PM. We wasted/lost the 3rd opportunity in our package. We ate in Moderno and Le Bistro. Our Moderno experience was mediocre at best. The waitress was nice and personable. The salad bar was not up to par and the meats were OK but not superb. We were expecting something akin to Fogo de Chao and instead got an ersatz or generic version. Le Bistro had very good food but comparatively mediocre service. In both cases we felt we were being "tolerated" by the end of the meal as the waitstaff cleaned up the restaurant and prepared for the following day.
On a good note the quality of food on the buffet has improved since our last NCL cruise on Dawn, when it was more like a CHEAP Golden Corral. We still missed almost any vegetables. Though they're very hard to do well on a buffet at least Golden Corral can turn out some vegetables that are palatable. NCL seems to have forgotten what vegetables are except for providing salads. The buffet was HEAVY on carbs. However the food quality on the buffet has improved and the nightly focus on a different cuisine is entertaining.
The service quality of waiters, bartenders, and similar support staff has continued to decline over our experience with NCL. Waiters no longer "serve from the left and remove from the right" in ANY of the venues we used as they should (even in the specialty restaurants). Bartenders don't know what a Sazerac is and haven't heard of a Vieux Carre. The quality of drinks whether it's a Bloody Mary, a "Mudslide", a Manhattan, an Old Fashioned or a Margarita varies throughout the ship (there is NO consistency).
Based on earlier reviews about the lack of service from bar waiters I avoided them. I never had a problem getting prompt service at any of the bars I used. Rather than depending on the RARE bar waiter I usually ordered our drinks at the bar and carried them back to wherever we were seated. If I'd waited for a bar waiter I doubt we'd ever have been served in any of the venues we used.
We "walked off" carrying our own luggage, which made disembarkation much easier.
I'd also note a major improvement in our ability to disembark was that NCL offered the usual "room service" continental breakfast on the disembarking day. In the past this hasn’t been an option. This saved us lots of time, even though the breakfast arrived 30 minutes earlier than expected.
Disembarkation was far faster than embarkation, though that was not hard to accomplish.
Now that we're "Gold" in the Latitude program and MIGHT get a modicum of better service I MIGHT consider a future NCL cruise, but this cruise did NOT make me say I can't wait to take another NCL cruise, especially one as expensive as this one was and as poorly as it was executed. Read Less