December 2014 - Norwegian Breakaway to Caribbean - Bahamas
We just returned from a week on the Breakaway during Christmas week. Two families with college aged kids were looking for a way to spend a week together without any of us having to be in charge of activities, food, or any other decision making, so a cruise seemed the easiest choice. Our decision to take this cruise was driven more by specific date constraints, airports and price, so we knew when we chose this itinerary that the ports weren't that interesting, but thought it would be a nice way to just hang out together - and it was.
We all booked Balcony Mini-Suites, and even with stateroom guarantees we all ended up on deck 13 which worked well for our group. Rooms are adequate but small - I can't imagine what a Balcony Stateroom would be like, but I'd assume it would be even smaller than our 'Mini-Suites.' Staterooms had the most minimal of amenities: TV (no DVD player), shampoo and soap dispensers in the bathroom (no conditioner or lotion), blow dryer, a mini fridge (empty the mini-bar contents into the storage stool if you need the fridge space), coffee maker, and ice bucket. No bathrobes. Small balcony with two chairs and a small square table that could hold a book and a couple of drinks. That said, our clothes easily could be stowed in the closet and shelves (no drawers), and luggage stowed under the bed, so as long as we kept the room neat, there was room to move around. Bed was comfortable and while we could hear voices from the adjoining staterooms during the day, there didn't seem to be any noise at night and we slept well. It was nice to be able to view our bill via the TV in the stateroom.
Entertainment: We attended several of the Second City shows, Burn the Floor, Rock of Ages, and the female solo singer's performance in the main theater. All of these shows were at no additional cost - there are at least two shows on board which require an additional fee. Rock of Ages - a raunchy (for no reason) show with mediocre performances and mediocre staging. Second City was uneven - some of their bits quite funny, others fell flat - and after our third performance we were done with them. Burn the Floor had some amazing dancing, and the singer's show was quite good. NCL and our travel agent strongly encouraged us to make reservations at the shows. This turned out to be just a bit hassle as they changed the entire entertainment schedule and switched the dates we had chosen in advance to see shows. There is a 'standby' line - I don't know why NCL has added this reservation system as all it did was make it a slow process to enter the theaters as they had to scan our room keys to confirm our reservation. Seems to me they're doing this just to capture information about who is attending the shows. It was a big waste of time - we got into all the shows we wanted to, even without reservations.
Food: We ate at Taste, Savor and Manhattan Room (all the same menu and included in the cruise fare), as well as one dinner at Moderno. We liked that this ship broke up the main dining room into three distinct spaces - it made for much more interesting dining as each room had a different feel. Taste and Savor were probably our favorites because the rooms are smaller and more intimate than the cavernous Manhattan Room. Food was very good, although most dishes were served without vegetables, so we ended up asking for an extra plate or two of vegetables to share at the table. Service was good in all three, although not amazing. Plenty of choices for the non-carnivore among us. Moderno was good for the carnivores - nonstop servings of meats from the skewer and the college boys went at that meat with gusto. Nice salad bar comes with the meal - good for the non-carnivore (chicken options were a grilled drumstick or bacon wrapped breast) and the fish was not so great (and not on the skewer). Garden Cafe - crowded (as cruise buffets always seem to be), and we missed the completely open air, outdoor seating we've enjoyed on other recent cruises. Food was adequate but not very imaginative or creative. We enjoyed some quieter breakfasts and lunches in Moderno, Taste and Savor.
Highlights of the week included wine tasting (we attended two of them and tasted 6 different wines at each tasting - a bargain experience at $15/person), martini tasting and beer tasting (all $15/person). The martini tasting was basically a boozefest of overly sweet martinis, and the beer tasting...well that was just a raucous and entertaining evening with the fun bartender 'Chips' Ahoy.
Ports: Easy walk off in Port Canaveral. We chose to rent cars and go in a couple of directions: one family to Universal Studios in Orlando ( 1 hour and 15 minute drive), the others to Kennedy Space Center (20 minute drive). In both cases, we had to take a courtesy shuttle to the offsite car rental agencies (all about a 10 minute drive from the ship). Keep in mind the car rentals close around 5:00-5:30 and the shuttles back to the ship stop at 5:00, but we didn't need to be back at the ship until about 8:00 p.m., so that meant paying to take a cab from the car rental office back to the port ($15 fare for our family of four). The ship arrives at noon, so it doesn't allow a lot of time in the Orlando theme parks. Great Stirrup Cay: VERY slow process of getting off the ship and onto the tenders to the private island. The process took an hour which was ridiculous, with passengers being sent into the main theater to sit and wait. Once on the tender, it was a short ride to the island. We chose to walk past the main crowded and noisy area closest to the pier and found a quieter area with plenty of beach chairs. Lunch was adequate: grilled meats, salads, fruit, and dessert. There were plenty of bathrooms available. Our kids enjoyed chilling on the beach, and playing some beach volleyball. Nassau: Easy walk off the ship. We chose to do a self guided walking tour of the Queen's Steps and Fort Fincastle, then walked through town a bit before catching a cab to Cable Beach. There we hired a boat to take us snorkeling - the water was warm and clear and the fish were abundant. The boat captain agreed to take us all the way back to the port at the end of our snorkeling, so we saved the taxi fare back. Unfortunately, we were in Nassau on Christmas Day so most stores were closed and we missed the Junkanoo Festival. I wish NCL had flipped our days at Great Stirrup Cay and Nassau as it would have been very interesting to be in town to experience a truly local cultural event like Junkanoo.
The ship is just a year and a half old, and it feels new. Much, much nicer (and larger) than the Norwegian Jewel which we sailed this summer to Alaska. The water slides are a nice plus which our kids enjoyed. We didn't get to the rock wall or zip line as lines were long. With 4000+ passengers there is a lot to do on board.
Prices for drinks seemed reasonable. We chose to bring our own wine on board at a $15/bottle corkage charge.
Fitness Center is larger than most I've seen on prior cruises. FlyWheel is $30/class - I took two (only four were offered the entire week) and both classes were sold out so if you want to do any of the many different types of fitness classes, sign up as soon as you board the ship.
Overall, a good cruise experience. Passengers included a lot of families, and it was a much more interesting diverse and international group of passengers than we expected from a round trip NYC itinerary - many languages being spoken! Three days at sea were a bit too much - it seems to me there is one other port in the area we could have stopped at. Crew was friendly, but not as attentive as my most recent cruises on Norwegian Jewel and Celebrity Reflection.
If you're looking for a wide variety of dining options on a big new ship and don't need a particularly interesting or exotic itinerary, the Breakaway is a great option.