This was the second time that we have sailed out of New Orleans on an NCL cruise, and both times were memorable experiences. If you spend a couple a days in the city before your cruise and plan ahead for your stay on the Breakaway, you will have a enjoyable cruise to the Western Caribbean that will make you want to come back.
To set the background for my review, I want to note that this was my 7th cruise on Norwegian Cruise Lines, and my 18th cruise overall. My wife and I have cruised over the Christmas/New Years holiday fourteen times. This was our third time on the Breakaway (our two previous holiday cruises sailed out of New York City). We also have a good deal of experience cruising with multiple cruise lines such as Royal Caribbean, Celebrity, and Carnival. Over the past year, I had read a fair number of negative reviews about the Breakaway in Cruise Mate, so I was interested in finding out why this ship seems to bring forth so much negativity from other reviewers. I can definitively say that my wife and I had a great experience from start to finish. I have no reservations about recommending this cruise to anyone.
One thing that I think has caused a great deal of frustration and negativity among NCL cruisers comes from the way the company markets it cruises. Their freestyle cruise ads suggest that you can do whatever you want whenever you want and have the time of your life. This is not really true. If you want to experience the most an NCL cruise has to offer, you have to prebook everything (your specialty dining, your shows, etc.) Your will have a better experience if you do this online in your Cruise Planner well ahead of time. As an example, we knew that we wanted to eat at Cagney’s around 6 PM, so we attempted to book this over two months ahead of time, but we had difficulty finding a day and time that worked for us. I can’t say it enough. Forget the freestyling - you will have a much better experience if you book your specialty dining and shows ahead of time in your Cruise Planner. This will help you to get the dining times and restaurants that you want along with the shows you want. If you wait until you get on the ship, the optimal dining times and shows will already be full. If your are given the opportunity to book something like a comic or other show, book it as soon as possible. A little bit of planning and booking will greatly enhance your onboard experience.
5 out of 5
The process was remarkably quick and simple. We arrived a little after 11:30 AM. The only wait we encountered was the 10 minutes it took us to get through the security check. Since our cruise documents were filled out online, check-in took less than 5 minutes. We were on the ship before noon. A little tip: We arrived on Saturday for our Sunday cruise departure. We stayed at the Hilton Riverside and requested a room that was above the Riverwalk Mall. The room overlooked the Mississippi River and the hotel was very quiet. In the morning, we walked down to the Cafe Du Monde in the Riverwalk Mall (not the original in Jackson Square location) for some beignets. We left the hotel at 11 AM and walked up the mall right to the cruise terminal entrance. It was remarkably easy and uncomplicated. It is worth staying at the Hilton if you arrive a day or two before the departure of your cruise.
Food and Dining
4 out of 5
For dinner, we ate four nights at the Manhattan Room and three nights at the specialty restaurants: La Cucina, Le Bistro, and Cagney’s. For lunch and breakfast, we ate at the buffet on the 15th floor. We tend to eat less for these two meals, so we like the buffet option and the ability to control our portions.
The dinner offerings in the main dining rooms were not exceptionally fancy, but more on the basic side with fish, beef, chicken, and pork offerings. We were fairly pleased with everything we ordered, but there were some dishes that seemed below cruise level standards. I had a short rib ragu over noodles and a chicken cordon bleu dish that were average at best. There definitely was a good selection of appetizers and deserts - remember, you can order more than one, to enhance your meal. We found the portions to be perfect for us. The service was equally good in all the restaurants. The servers were attentive, friendly, and professional. If you want fancier food, then book some dinners in the specialty restaurants. The quality, presentation, and variety in the specialty restaurants were noticeably better than the main dining room and buffet. If you choose the dining package as one of your NCL “Free At Sea” options, then your final cost will be greatly reduced.
Our top two favorite specialty restaurants were Le Bistro and Cagney’s. Le Bistro features very good French dishes. Try the chocolate Napoleon for dessert. We really enjoyed Cagney’s Steak House. I ordered filet mignon and my wife ordered a pork chop along with a few sides. The meal was very good and well presented. For dessert, we ordered a chocolate cake that was excellent. The only downside of Cagney’s is that the full meal service took almost 2 and a half hours. This may have been due to the fact that our reservation was on the last night of the cruise and many people were eating an early dinner. It was not a problem for us, but it is something you may encounter when dining here.
As I mentioned earlier, this was our third time on the Breakaway. The Manhattan Room, the main dining room on the ship, is my favorite dining facility among the the seventeen cruise ships we have sailed on. When I was growing up, I have distinct memories of going to New York City with my grandparents. We often ate at one of the famous Manhattan dining rooms such as Jack Dempseys or the Rainbow Room. The Manhattan Room brings back those same memories. The focus of the dining room is the band and the dance floor. I love having live music playing during dinner as well as the opportunity to get up and dance. This room does a great job of recreating this experience. We had great service on each of the four nights we ate there as well as excellent dinners. If the main food choices were not the most exciting, we enhanced them by ordering multiple appetizers and desserts. There were a lot of choices. The combination of good dining, music, and dancing made for wonderful nights.
Another important point to consider about dining in the main dining rooms is that the pace of the meal is meant to be slow and relaxing. Each night, we spent about 1 1/2 to 2 hours enjoying our meal. We like to have drinks, enjoy appetizers, talk, dance, eat our main course, and finish with dessert and tea. We enjoy the slow pace and the opportunity to recap our day. For this reason, we often start early around 5:45 PM so that we are finished before the evening shows. If you want quick service, then try the buffet. Eating dinner on a cruise ship is meant to be a dining experience, not an assembly line process such as is often found in chain restaurants around the US.
Here is a great tip for anyone future cruiser who has made it this far into my review. One of the best show experiences on the Breakaway occurs in the Manhattan Room for one or two nights during each cruise. The cast of Burn The Floor does a show on the dance floor in the Manhattan Room. The show will take place on different nights during each cruise week (never on nights when Burn the Floor is performing in the theater). The show starts at 6:15 PM. Scarcely anyone knows about it, and yet it is a spectacular show. Find out which nights the show is on and show up at the Manhattan Room at 5:30 PM. Ask for a table around the dance floor. No one realizes they can do this, so you will easily get a table and have a front row seat for an incredible dance show. While you are eating, the dancers will be spinning and twirling around you. It is an amazing experience, that most people on the cruise do not even know exists. Trust me on this, you do not want to miss this show.
3 out of 5
This is one area that I found a little below par. Most of the activities were the normal selection of poolside, game show, and trivia activities. The other passengers on board seemed to enjoy these activities and they appeared to be well attended. There was a constant stream of things to do, but I did not find them as interesting as past cruise experiences. It would have been a great idea to have some learning experiences on board that helped educate the travelers about Mayan Central America.
I used the fitness center every day of our cruise. I never had a problem gaining access to the equipment I needed for my workout. There was a good variety of cardio and strength equipment. The fitness room was very busy on sea days, but empty on port days. In general, it was busiest in the morning, but much less crowded in the afternoon.
4 out of 5
We found the nightly entertainment to be very enjoyable. Burn the Floor may be the best show we have seen on a cruise ship. It is not to be missed. Rock of Ages was a light, fun tribute to classical rock that should appeal to almost everyone. Don’t analyze it, just enjoy the bad jokes and the great music. The performers worked hard to please the audience, and they received a standing ovation on the night I attended. They were a talented hard working group of performers who deserved the applause. The magician, Jason Andrews, was excellent. The comics were mixed. Some parts of their sets were funny and others did not go over well. I have found that when a comic starts a routine with the words “I am not a political person and I don’t like to be political ….” it never ends well. In general, the music in the clubs and bars was very good. People seemed to enjoy listening to them. Unfortunately, the singing duo Arvin and Emily were not on this cruise. I missed them.
One problem with the Breakaway is that in order to accommodate everyone, shows such as Burn the floor and Rock of Ages are repeated on multiple nights. We found that on Day 5 and 7, we had limited entertainment options, because we had already seen everything that was offered. It would be nice to have more options at least for one more night.
Both of our children are adults and did not accompany us on the cruise.
Service and Staff
4 out of 5
I will be very diplomatic with my answer here. For the most part, we found 90% of the cruise staff to be very attentive, courteous, and friendly. We had no problems, yet this seems to be an area of criticism among many reviewers. I would agree that some of the staff is not as friendly and helpful as other cruise ships I have been on. I was on the NCL Sun this past summer and that staff and crew were friendly and appreciative. At times on the Breakaway, there definitely seemed to be a coldness toward passengers that I have rarely seen on other cruise ships. My experience is that this usually begins in management and filters its way down. The hotel and dining service staff were consistently helpful and friendly, many other staff members were also, but some of the support staff could use more service industry hospitality training. This did not affect our vacation in any way, but it did seem to be an issues with some other passengers.
5 out of 5
The Breakaway was in great shape and well maintained. It felt like a newer boat. Even though it holds many passengers, it did not seem like some of the mega ships found on other cruise lines. The crew seemed to work hard to keep the ship looking in top shape. It was constantly being cleaned to help prevent the spreading of colds and flus that occur during this time of the year. Most of the nightlife happens on floors 6, 7, and 8. It was lively there each night, and the venues that offered entertainment were crowded - especially the comic club and music venues. Arrive early to get a seat. One nice area on the ship that very few people made use of was the outside promenade on deck 8. It was really a nice place to sit quietly or take a peaceful stroll.
Since this was my third time on the Breakaway, I knew about the the Thermal Spa. It was my favorite place on the ship. It is for guests who stay in the Haven Spa Suites, but a limited number of passes are sold to other passengers. The best deal is if you pay for it ahead of time. I paid $199 prior to the cruise. It was $247 on board. It was a wonderful place to relax and escape the rest of the ship. In the spa you can relax indoors on padded lounge chairs or thermal heated stone beds. They also have whirlpools, steam rooms, saunas, etc. It was as nice as it sounds. For this trip, it was crowded, but I was always able to find a lounge chair and to use a thermal bed. One of my suggestions in the past was that there was too much reserving by the guests of the facilities. This was still a problem, but it has improved. I suggested in the past that the facility needed full-time attendants and it did appear that more workers were making their presence known in the facility. There was still too much inconsiderate saving of thermal beds and lounges by people who were not even there, but I did notice that the attendants were clearing off some beds when no one had shown up for a while. The policy should be enforced on a more regular and stricter basis. Truthfully, if people are not there, their stuff should be cleared after 5-minutes in order to allow other guests to use the facilities.
We chose the 250 minute of Internet access as one of our “Free At Sea” options. It was easy to connect, but the Internet speed was considerably slower than the service we have experienced on Royal Caribbean. It was fine for checking emails, but very slow for downloads. Sometimes, we found it faster late at night, but it seemed like Internet access found in old hotels five years ago. It was disappointing, and I would not have been happy if I had paid extra for it.
Cabin / Stateroom
5 out of 5
Our stateroom was a 14th floor balcony room set up with one large bed. The Breakaway is a relatively new ship, so the rooms are organized more efficiently than some of the older cruise ships. At the same time, most cruise ship rooms seem similar to me in the way they are set up. There was a good size closet and a fair number of drawers. I would have liked more, but we were easily able to put away all our clothing. Our stateroom steward, Richard, was exceptional. He was friendly, efficient, and made great towel animals. Our room was cleaned twice a day and everything was in working order. Of course, the bathroom was small and the room in general was compact, but it’s a cruise ship - the rooms are always small.
Our room had two 110 volt outlets for the entire room (two is a luxury on a cruise ship). It would have been nice if there were some USB ports for recharging as I have seen on other NCL ships, but there were none in our room. I knew that for our electronics (iPhone, iWatch, laptop, camera, iPod, etc.), this would not be enough. I brought along a USB hub that also featured an additional 110 volt receptacle. This allowed us to easily recharge everything each evening. If you like to bring along multiple electronics, plan some strategy ahead of time.
No cruise is 100% perfect - so don’t waste your time focusing on the very few negative things that happen and take pleasure in the abundance of positive experiences that occur during your cruise. You’re on vacation - have fun and enjoy yourself!
Since we arrived in New Orleans a day before our cruise, we did not arrange any sightseeing activities after our cruise. Nonetheless, New Orleans is a great town for sightseeing and enjoying life. Make some plans to stay here before or after your cruise.
We have been to Cozumel many times before. Our cruise docked there on Christmas Day. The tourist locations were open, but not much else. The Breakaway docked downtown, so it was an easy walk to the center of the city. There was a lot of shopping there and it was good stop. We just happened to make a call there on a day when much of the city was closed.
We were impressed with the beach and the quality of this stop. Of the private islands we have been to, this definitely had the nicest beach. The beach was very clean, wide, and the water was beautiful. The one drawback was that NCL does not provide lunch on the island. You have to come back to the boat for a complimentary lunch (many people did). There was a very nice Landshark Bar and Grill in the middle of the island, but you had to pay extra for your burgers and nachos. In fact, you cannot use your cruise card account on the island - bring a credit card.
This was a great stop for an excursion and a good place to pick up souvenirs for the family back home. There were a lot of shops and some Mayan oriented entertainment at a shopping complex at the docking pier. It was an easy walk from the ship. There were many souvenir shops as well as the normal jewelry stores and cruise oriented stores found in every cruise stop. On the day we stopped, there were rough seas and windy conditions. All water oriented excursions were cancelled, which was easily half of the options offered. In fact, water was crashing against the pier as we got on and off the ship. We spent about 90 minutes shopping and purchasing a few souvenirs.
2 out of 5
Getting off the ship in New Orleans seems to be harder than most other ports we have experienced. In the past, we usually take the self-assist option and get off the ship between 7 and 9 AM. Generally, we walk right off and are through customs in minutes. In New Orleans, we had a 1:30 PM plane flight, so we decided there was no need to get up early and get off the ship right away. We slept until seven, showered, and then ate. We left around 9 AM, but encountered big crowds. A suggestion I would make to get to the line entrance quicker would be to take the stairway in the aft section of the ship - this was where the line queue began. It took us well over an hour to get through customs. By the time we arranged some transportation and got to the airport, it was around 11:10 AM. This was fine for us, but if your plane flight is early, you should plan accordingly. The old New Orleans airport is relatively small for a major city. There was not a lot to do there, so there was no need for us to get there hours ahead of time. The new Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport terminal will open soon and most likely will have more options.
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