This is a review of a cruise on Norwegian Breakaway to the Caribbean in February 2015. The bottom line is that this was a very good cruise experience.
Breakaway is a very innovative ship. She was one of the first ships built to the new model of cruising in which guests not only have a number of quality choices about dining but also about entertainment. Thus, she is not only bigger in size than most other cruise ships, she is different in kind.
Built by Germany's Meyer Werft, Breakaway is a good quality ship. I was pleased to see that in the year since I was last on her, she has been well-maintained. No visible rust, worn carpets or furniture past its sell-by date.
In all, I have now been on Breakaway five times. Each has been a good experience.
The Itinerary - - This was a 12 day cruise from New York into the Caribbean. The ports of call were to include San Juan, Puerto Rico, St. Thomas, St. Maarten, St. Lucia, Barbados and St. Kitts. Thus, it was a good mix of the more popular Caribbean ports.
There is always the risk of encountering a storm sailing out of New York in the winter. I have done it many times but have only been in a few significant storms along the route from New York to the Caribbean. Indeed, only a week before this cruise, I sailed nearly the same route on Quantum of the Seas and the weather was fine throughout.
This time, we were not so lucky. Breakaway encountered a major storm off Cape Hatteras and the ship had to slow down to provide a more comfortable ride for her passengers. Still, the ship pitched and slammed. (Slamming is where the ship rises up and gets hit with another wave usually on the bottom causing a loud noise and vibration).
The movement of the ship did cause some guests to take to their cabins. However, most people continued out and about, which is always a testimonial to a ship's seakeeping ability.
I believe Queen Mary 2 has the best seakeeping qualities based upon her ability to remain stable in similar (and worse storms) as the one Breakaway encountered. While Breakaway does not rise to the same level, my general conclusion is that Breakaway handled the storm pretty well.
Because of the storm, Breakaway had to cancel her call in San Juan. Even running near full speed she could not get to San Juan in time to make a meaningful port call.
Here, I will pause to criticize Norwegian. At one time, the line prided itself in having some of the fastest cruise ships in service. Thus, when a Jewel-class ship such as Norwegian Gem encountered a storm while going up or down the east coast, it was able to slow up for the storm and then use her speed to keep to her schedule. Then there was a management change and those in a decisionmaking position could not see the point in fast cruise ships. They just seemed like an expensive luxury considering the seemingly ever increasing price of fuel. As a result, the Breakaway class ships do not have the speed of the Jewel class ships. On this voyage, we saw a consequence of that decision. With the recent significant decline in fuel prices, that decision seems even more misguided.
Once in the Caribbean, the weather was fine and the ship moved easily between ports.
Food - - I found that the food on Breakaway had improved significantly over last year. The new menus in the main dining rooms offered an interesting array of dishes. In addition, the chefs executed their task well.
On previous Breakaway cruises, I had never found a satisfying place to have lunch. The meals offered in the main dining rooms (Taste and Savor) at lunchtime are too much and personally, I do not like buffets which lets out the Garden Cafe. But now there is The Uptown Bar and Grill. It had a radical change of concept last fall. It now combines the attractive qualities of the Guy's Burger Joints on the Carnival ships with the Tuti salads of the Royal Caribbean ships. In other words, it is now made to order burgers and made to order salads. These were quite good and are only available in the afternoon. Come early if you want to get a seat as this is a very popular venue just through word of mouth.
Of the specialty restaurants, we visited La Cucina, Le Bistro, Cagney's and the Moderno. All were good but dining outdoors at Moderno on a warm Caribbean night was a great experience. The sea, the stars, the good-natured waiters bringing various tasty cuts of beef, pork, lamb and fish to the table all made for a tremendous atmosphere. In addition, I met a particularly congenial group of people on this cruise and so the after dinner conversation often lasted for hours. Despite this, the staff never attempted to hurry us or even hint that we should leave. A manifestation of the attitude of putting the customers first, which was common among the crew on Breakaway.
Service - - Breakaway was humming like a well-oiled machine. The staff knew what they were supposed to be doing and executed it well.
I also liked the fact that a pair of officers circulated through the Manhattan Room (one of the main dining rooms) each night asking guests whether they had any complaints and whether there was anything that the ship could do better. To me, this showed a real interest in the guests' opinions and in providing good service.
Entertainment - - The main shows on Breakaway have not changed since the ship entered service. Since I have seen Rock of Ages twice before, I decided not to go again. I was not impressed with Burn the Floor. The dancers performed well but the show lacked a theme to bind the various scenes together into a cohesive whole. One of the people that I went with said that she thought it had too much violence against women.
Also in the theater was a tribute to Frankie Valey and the Four Seasons called “Oh What A Night.”. This was very well done and the songs are natural crowd pleasers.
In addition to the shows in the theater, Breakaway has other entertainment in more club like settings. Of these, I particularly liked the Second City Comedy Troupe who did various scripted and improvised shows. They also did an improvisation workshop that I enjoyed participating in.
Breakaway's resident blues guitarist Slam Allen was not on this voyage. In his place was Charley Love and the Silky Smooth Band. They were good but I think Mr. Allen has more star quality.
Enrichment - - Norwegian does not place much emphasis on enrichment. On this voyage, there were no port lecturers or speakers talking about the ports or the history of the region. Hypnotist Brenda Kaye gave several talks/shows and these drew large crowds to the theater thus showing that Norwegian's guests do appreciate speakers.
Cruise ship review - - Norwegian Cruise Line - - Norwegian Breakaway