Sail Date: July 08, 2013
Sail Date: July 08, 2013
Sail Date: December 21, 2014
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.
Sail Date: June 14, 2014
Our family group of 14 just returned from a week on the Jewel cruising Alaska. Because of the vast differences in ages (grandkids ranging from age 11 months to 20 years through 81 year old grandparents), the cruise was an excellent way for us to be together while also offering the flexibility needed for such diverse interests, ages and abilities.
My parents had arranged for wheelchair assistance for embarkation at Seattle. Unfortunately, we were told the ship only had 3 wheelchairs to be used for this purpose, so there was a long wait for two chairs to become available. During this extended wait time, the rest of our group checked everyone's luggage, including the luggage of those people waiting for wheelchairs. Once the chair arrived, the crew couldn't have been nicer or more patient as we went through the check-in process to board.
Because one in our group was in a Haven suite, they allowed our entire group to go through Priority Boarding. This was a nice benefit as it allowed us to wait in a side room, with cold drinks and cookies, while each of us was photographed and checked in, however, this process took much longer than I thought it should have. Once finished, we were escorted aboard by our concierge, Bruno, who kindly told us he would help us out with dinner reservations for our group, and would do what he could to make sure our entire group had a good shipboard experience.
I've cruised four times on four different cruise lines, and the first impression when boarding a ship is always the worst. You are bombarded by crew welcoming you aboard, and you are encouraged to enjoy lunch at the buffet (which is an overcrowded nightmare). It was no exception aboard the Jewel.
After dumpiing our carry on bags in our staterooms, we headed to the Garden Cafe and had to fight our way through the crowds to get to the food and to find a place to sit. It probably took us 20 minutes to find seats that could accomodate us. My biggest problem with the Jewel was the Garden Cafe. Low ceilings, lattice panels on the ceiling with fake flowers (really??), dividers separating the seating area from the buffet areas. It felt closed in and claustrophobic, especially when packed with people who seemingly hadn't eaten in a week. HOT TIP: Later in the week we discovered we could sit in the La Cucina restaurant for breakfast and lunch - much quieter and easier to find a seat than the crowded and noisy Garden Cafe. Normally we would have sat on the Aft outdoor seating area, but the cool weather made this unappealing to the grandparents.
While the Garden Cafe offered a wide variety of food, there was nothing special, interesting, or creative about their offerings. It was adequate, but fairly standard American food (with the exception being the daily Indian and Asian stations - the curries were a bit too spicy for my tastebuds). Standard salad bar items, standard sandwiches, pizza, burgers, hot dogs, and hot entrees that you would expect. Omelet station in the morning had egg whites available, but limited vegetables to toss in (and they were using frozen spinach instead of fresh!).
Unfortunately, it seemed the crew was not very knowledgable about the ingredients in some of the dishes, and the small signs identifying the food didn't help. I wanted to know which dishes were vegetarian as I don't eat meat. A strict vegan or someone who required gluten-free (nobody in our group) would have had a hard time eating much beyond the raw vegetables and cut fruit. Additionally, the signs tended to get moved around or would disappear. NCL should do a better job of identifying the ingredients of their offerings. Every day there were sugar-free desserts available at the buffet. The kids overindulged in the
On the second or third day we discovered the meals being grilled outdoors near the pool - outstanding salmon, chicken, grilled vegetables and a few salads. It was a fresher and more delicous option than the Garden Cafe.
We had all but one of our dinners in Tsar's, the most 'formal' dining room aboard the Jewel. While they offered the same menu as Azura, we liked the spaciousness of the room and the stricter dress code (still casual, but no flip flops or shorts for men). Because of the Freestyle Dining, our choices were to make a dinner reservation or show up and wait for a table. On the first night, we had a fantastic server, Claudeth. She was attentive, sweet, and so patient with our large group. The challenge was getting seated in her section each night - we would make a reservation and request her section - sometimes our request was met, other times it was not. We found the front reception staff at Tsar's to be cold and impersonal. One in our group went to Tsar's for breakfast and asked to be seated in Claudeth's section - he was told she was not working (turns out she was). On another occasion, he asked to be seated in her section for lunch and was told she was on break (she wasn't).
Tsar's menu worked well for our group - plenty of choices with one side of daily specials and the other side available every day. I had salmon for dinner three times and appreciated the smaller (but very adequate) portions. Again, the Tsar's menu did not identify any of the menu items as vegetarian, vegan or gluten-free. We sailed on the Celebrity Reflection last summer, and as I recall the menu in their main dining room did a very good job of identifying the items on their menu for those who had special dietary needs. I'd rate the food at Tsar's as 4 out of 5 - very good, but not extraordianary or super-imaginitive. We appreciated the calm of the restaurant and the slow pace which we could enjoy our meal. Even on the occasions when we ate early (around 6:00), we never felt rushed to clear our table. Most nights we ate closer to 9:00 p.m.
Traveling with an elderly parent in a wheelchair, I was very conscious of the helpfullness of the crew. They were always offering to help push up or down ramps, and a Garden Cafe employee saw two of us accompanying my father in his wheelchair and offered to carry our buffet items on a tray. She followed us through the buffet and beverage lines and to our seats. Very kind and we appreciated her pro-activeness - I'm sure she would have helped had we asked, but she offered up the help. A nice touch.
Entertainment in the Stardust Theater was OK. The 'Bijoux' show on one of the last nights was by far the best of those we saw. Magician/Comedian was OK - too much goofy joking around, not enough magic. Stand up comedian was funny, but in a "I've heard that joke many times before" kind of way.
Staterooms: We had several types among those in our group. My parents Deck 10 midship ADA balcony stateroom was quite spacious - they were very happy with the extra room which allowed them to easily maneuver around with the wheelchair (NOTE: wheelchairs do not fit through a standard cabin door). The ADA shower and toilet area had grab bars and a seat. My sister's Deck 10 adjoining balcony staterooms were comfortable and spacious enough. The 'family suite' on Deck 11 was probably the most disappointing - we were told it would sleep four, but with the Pack & Play (supplied by NCL) open (as it was the entire trip for an 11 month old who took frequent naps), it was close to impossible to access the balcony. I was also told the tub (one of the reasons they booked a family suite) was quite deep and too hard to reach over to bathe an infant. My kids were happy with their Deck 8 balcony stateroom. I didn't hear any complaints about excessive noise or rocking other than one night when the seas were quite stormy and everyone aboard the Jewel had to be aware of the motion.
On the other hand, my husband and I hit the jackpot and were upgraded to one of the Owner's Haven Suites, #9004. Two balconies (the forward balcony just under the bridge was large enough to accomodate all 14 of us viewing Sawyer Glacier - although it did get a bit windy there at times), a living room and dining area, separate guest bathroom (toilet and sink only), spacious bathroom with tub and shower (with wall mounted side water jets), dressing table in the closet, TV's in the main bathroom, bedroom and living room (DVD player in the living room and a list of DVDs available to borrow), Lavazza espresso maker (kept stocked by our butler), champagne on ice when we arrived, afternoon snacks and fruit delivered to our room daily, beautiful large fresh flower arrangement, three complementary bottles of wine or spirits (in addition to the champagne), umbrella and binoculars in the room, sodas and sparkling water also kept stocked by our kind butler, Henry. Our family all tended to hang out in the stateroom and I'm convinced Henry was even more generous with the cookies and snacks knowing we had a large group enjoying the room. It was an amazing experience to luxuriate in that much space, lovely furnishings, and multiple balconies. And the delicious espressos and lattes whenever we wanted kept us fueled with caffeine to explore Alaska!
My parents booked a Victoria, BC excursion through the excursions desk and were happy with the tour. All other excursions our group booked were done independent of NCL.
Overall, it was a great experience. The cruise was filled with families and kids of all ages, and other large groups like ours. Between the Alaska itinerary, cooler weather, and Freestyle philosophy of NCL, people were dressed VERY casually, even at night. College sweatshirts, fleece jackets and jeans were the uniform of the passangers. This is not a cruise where everyone gets glammed up at night. Very down to earth atmosphere.
Similarly, the food and entertainment were a notch below our experience on the Reflection last summer. Adequate, plentiful but not unique gastronomic experiences. We did NOT eat at any of the specialty restaurants, so I can't speak to the dining experience in those venues.
Others have commented about the incessant push to spend and I didn't find it bothersome, I just ignored it. Typical glittery costume jewelry for sale every day in the Atrium. Photographers were all over the ship and while we took a lot of photos, we weren't pushed to purchase (only bought two).
O'Sheehan's was a good place to watch World Cup soccer on sea days but it was packed and there could be long waits for a table.
A FEW RANDOM THOUGHTS:
White Hot Party: Fun! My husband and I (50 somethings) had a blast dancing away to to the pounding music, video screen, black lights, foam sprays, glow necklaces, and crew dancers but we were definitely among the older passengers enjoying the fun. It seemed to us all the 20 somethings came out of hiding and showed up at the White Hot Party. Hot sweaty fun which harkened back to a college dance party.
Bingo: NICE that everyone got one free bingo card for the second game. We bought some too...nobody in our group won. I guess we had already gotten lucky with the stateroom upgrade!!!
Karaoke: Need I say more?
Washy Washy: Incessant singing of the "Washy Washy" song as passengers entered the Garden Cafe and were spritzed with hand sanitizer. I guess it is good to remind everyone so we could all stay healthy.
No toilet seat covers in public bathrooms: With all the emphasis on hand sanitizer, it kind of surprised me that they didn't think the toilets could be a place where germs hang out.
Basketball Court: My basketball playing sons were looking forward to this but with fairly strong winds, a net above the court which prevented arcing shots, and a flat basketball (the only one aboard ship - they ended up playing with a soccer ball - no excuse for not having a stock of basketballs) it was close to impossible to play.
Ping Pong: Another activity my kids enjoy aboard ship. Unfortunately, the tables were outdoors in windy areas. Impossible to play, lots of balls overboard. When we sailed last summer, ping pong tables were set up indoors in meeting rooms and they were a POPULAR activity for both adults and kids with competitive games!
Onboard shopping: Nothing special and lots of tacky souvenir type junk in the main store. One nice touch I haven't seen on other cruises: they sold travel guide books to Alaska (one of which I'd already bought at my local Barnes & Noble).
Excursions: Through Shore Excursions Group, we booked the Skagway train ride with a return ride on bicycle. It was a challenging and exciting experience and we even had an up close encounter with a bear at the side of the road. My family who took the train round trip said the ride was way too long...probably should have taken a bus tour back via a different route.
Gratuities: On the last night, we had a very hard time tracking down our server to hand deliver a gratuity to her. We went to find her in the dining room to be told she was already off duty and leaving the ship the next morning to go home for three months. If we had left an envelope for her at Guest Services Desk, who knows when (or if) she would have received it. We really had to push the dining room staff to try to track her down so that we could hand her an envelope personally. The entire process took about 45 minutes: the dining room staff saying they couldn't do anything, sending us to Guest Services, who sent us back to the dining room.
Overall, a great experience which met the varying needs of our group on an Alaska itinerary which matched the casualnes aboard ship. However, if I were just planning a trip for my family of four (and there wasn't a vast difference in cost), I probably would choose Celebrity again for the slightly higher quality of food and service, and slightly less casual dress code.
Kennedy Space Center is a short drive from the port and will make you feel proud of man's accomplishments in space.
Spent the day of disembarkation at 9/11 memorial, ice skating, window shopping, etc.
Fun day at the beach, but it took WAY too long to get off of the ship and onto a tender to shore.
Beautiful beaches, calm warm waters, great snorkeling at Cable Beach.
Moderno for breakfast on days at sea. Taste and Savor for lunch - you order off the menu and the setting is lovely.
The Butchart Gardens - took a cab from the front of Empress Hotel. If paying cabbie by credit card, pay in advance as there is no cell service at Butchart to process the credit card payment!
Gorgeous views as we approached the glacier out the forward balcony.
Took the funicular, walked to Totem Heritage Center.
Mendenhall Glacier - walk to the waterfall via the "road not maintained" path along the lake.
Enjoyed our train ride up the mountain and bike ride down.
Space Needle, Chihuly Glass and Gardens, EMP Museum - great!
Breakfast and lunch in Tsar's to avoid the madness that is the Garden Cafe. If you must eat at the buffet, go sit in La Cucina.
Bypass excursion and take a cab into town then walk to Acropolis.
Great swim in the small cove just below the windmills in town.
Walk up the hill and back with donkeys was memorable! Easy public bus trip to Oia - beautiful!
Easy train connection from Rome.
Spent no time in Naples, all on excursion to Pompeii and Amalfi.
Nice walk to Spice Market and Grand Bazaar.
Breakfast outdoors at the rear of the ship was a great way to start the day. Enomatic Wine was a good way to have a 'wine package' for wines by the glass. They discounted the cost on the first day aboard ship $250 wine credit for $200, but keep in mind they add 15% service to the $200 cost.