Norwegian Cruise Line Norwegian Breakaway Review
The largest cruise ship ever to homeport in New York, Norwegian Breakaway puts NCL’s “Freestyle” concept to the test.
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First setting sail in 2013, Norwegian Breakaway is the second largest ship in the Norwegian Cruise Line (NCL) fleet. In addition to being a sister to Norwegian Getaway, which arrived in 2014, Breakaway has that new car smell, and boasts a number of innovative features. As NCL’s first ship to launch following the rocky birth of the one-of-a-kind Norwegian Epic, designers devoted a lot of attention to making Breakaway fit the Freestyle concept—and in many ways they’ve succeeded.
Breakaway homeports in New York City, a boon for Manhattan-area cruisers who can take the subway to within a few blocks of the pier for embarkation. Curiously, the ship also carries a Big Apple theme, as though Tri-State residents need to be reminded of what they left behind while on vacation. It’s kind of like if the mouse house were to build a theme park called Floridaland and plant it next to the Magic Kingdom (oh wait, they already tried that in California). But Breakaway’s New York clichés, drawn in the broadest strokes possible, are inoffensive—after a couple days they’re almost invisible. We should mention that Norwegian Gateway, homeported in Miami year-round, is essentially an identical twin to Breakaway, save for a design that apes Florida.
Breakaway offers 7-night cruises to Bermuda in summer months, and to the Bahamas in winter. As crisp winds ruffled our jackets and the Manhattan skyline sailed by, we waved goodbye to the Statue of Liberty and eagerly anticipated sunnier shores.
About Our Cruise
Check-in and embarkation went smoothly, with no unusual delays. Although Breakaway’s hull artwork by Peter Max showcases a gaudy pop interpretation of Manhattan icons, the ship’s interior is less pedestrian, almost sophisticated. While the lobby atrium is an underwhelming two-deck affair dominated by a massive video screen, other parts of the ship impressed us, such as the glitzy casino, the main dining room with its grand supper club ambiance, and Spice H2O, a outdoor dance floor and sun deck.
Our cabin, a Balcony unit, was very comfortable, handsomely attired in a blue and brown color scheme. Though our quarters weren’t oversized, they were certainly adequate for a couple. Special kudos are due to NCL for the excellent shower arrangement—again, not big, but a real improvement over what we’ve dealt with on most mainstream ships. The slender balcony, however, was the smallest we’ve ever encountered.
Breakaway has more dining venues than any other ship in the NCL fleet—indeed, more than almost any ship at sea. Most of these restaurants and snack stands involve surcharges. Food quality ranged considerably, with the buffet venue presenting decent food in a clamorous setting and the main dining room offering serviceable if unexceptional food. Ocean Blue, a restaurant with a menu designed by Iron Chef Geoffrey Zakarian, provided an excellent meal that carried a $49 dining fee. We wouldn’t call Breakaway a cruise for foodies, but for those willing to pony up there were satisfying meals to be had.
In keeping with the more-is-better theme, the roster of activities is impressive. On the top deck there’s a waterpark with five slides, a ropes course that tested our vertigo, and a rock climbing wall. (Tip for parents: Pack your kids’ bathing suits in the carry-on so they can enjoy the waterpark before sailaway.) The evening entertainment featured a couple terrific shows including Broadway’s “Rock of Ages,” and we really enjoyed Fat Cats Jazz & Blues Club. Improv by Second City was a hoot. There’s even a fireworks show at sea.
Things we didn’t like included the prevalence of smoking, particularly in the casino (NCL is one of only two mainstream cruise lines that still allows smoking on guest balconies). There’s no lounge for enjoying the forward panorama above the bridge, as is common on most cruise ships, and lounge chairs along the promenade deck were at a minimum. We didn’t care for the video monitors spread throughout the public areas of ship, all set to display NCL marketing materials to promote Breakaway’s bars and surcharge dining—this seemed really excessive.
A few words about NCL’s Freestyle cruising concept. There are no set dining times on Breakaway, and at prime time dinner in the main dining rooms can require a wait. Fortunately, on our cruise we never waited more than 10 minutes to be seated. Norwegian has the loosest approach to the traditional Formal Night of all the major cruise lines. The designated dress-up evenings are barely acknowledged in ship literature or signage, so the majority of passengers dress like any other night, which is pretty casual. For three of the restaurants shoes and long pants are “requested,” otherwise (almost) anything goes. This policy isn’t a problem for us, but cruisers shouldn’t pack their fanciest duds for a Breakaway cruise and expect that other passengers will be in synch—most won’t be.
In general, service was excellent. This was a polished crew that aimed to please, but in a number of areas we felt they were stretched thin. One afternoon, on the aft stairwell between decks 13 and 14, we saw a sandwich roll and some of its fillings dropped on the staircase. We didn’t think much of it when we spotted it shortly after 3 p.m.; we were not impressed to see it still sitting there after 11 p.m. when we were headed to bed. A couple aspects we particularly appreciated: Any of the officers could be reached by phone, in the event issues needed to be escalated. And we loved being greeted with cold towels and water when returning to ship; on the last port day we were offered iced treats and there was line dancing on the dock.
Of Crowds and Corridors
Although NCL downsized Breakaway slightly from its last ship, the gargantuan Norwegian Epic, it’s still quite a large vessel. At 146,600 tons, Breakaway debuted as the world’s eighth largest cruise ship (though that status will soon be eclipsed by other new ships). The security team told us there were 3891 passengers on our cruise, just slightly less than the ship’s 4028 capacity, at double occupancy.
On our sailing we did not observe any major lines for the waterslides, ropes course, and climbing wall. But on sunny sea days it was all but impossible to find two lounge chairs together after about 9 a.m. NCL’s answer for this is Vibe Beach Club, an 18-and-up retreat where one could escape the sun deck gridlock—at $79 per person for a week-long pass. Indoor areas of the ship also could be quite crowded, especially, the buffet and casino, and on the last night of the cruise the shopping area was jammed with people. The same security folks told us that, in summer months and during school holidays, Breakaway sailed with a lot more people, mostly kids. NCL doesn’t state the maximum capacity of the ship with all beds occupied, but it is likely to be at least several hundred additional passengers more than 4028 (Epic can carry more than 1000 passengers beyond double occupancy).
It’s not unusual for today’s cruise ships to feel crowded, especially for cruise lines that particularly cater to families, as NCL does. But even though our sailing was not full, the ship felt cramped. The hallway outside our cabin was narrower than usual—a problem during the morning and evening when cleaning gear took up more than half the hallway’s width. The Waterfront, a deck that would be called the promenade on most other ships, was the one exterior area that rarely seemed busy, except that there were few chairs for taking in the sea breeze (most of the ones we found were dedicated to revenue-generating restaurants, bars and snack stands). The jogging track—just one-eighth of a mile in length—passes through one of the busiest areas of the ship.
The main theater, with just 800 seats, is large enough for only one-fifth of the passengers, which has necessitated issuing tickets for shows. The tickets are free, and we didn’t have a problem securing one but, with only three performances per cruise, at least a third of the passengers will not get to see “Rock of Ages,” Breakaway’s marquee show. By comparison, the showroom on the 2400-passenger Norwegian Jade seats 1042, almost half that ship’s capacity. However, seats were easy to come by for the Cirque Jungle Fantasy show, perhaps in part because this show required a surcharge.
While, for the most part, we found traffic moved well on our cruise, there’s not a lot of wiggle room when not everything goes according to plan, such as the weather. One rainy afternoon when guests diverted away from the pools and sun decks, venues were pushed to the limit—restaurants, bars and entertainment offerings suddenly became packed, and the staff struggled to keep up with demand.
Our cruise aboard Norwegian Breakaway was enjoyable. We liked our cabin (except for the dinky balcony) and most of our meals were good or better. The entertainment offerings were solid, and the nightlife jumped. Fairly unique within the industry, Breakaway has cabins for singles, reducing the cost for solo sailors.
But, from pools to lounges to corridors, we found Breakaway to be cramped, and short on places where we could stretch out and enjoy the seagoing ambiance. Downsized common areas may be a wave of the future in the cruise industry, but it’s not one we applaud—we were thankful we weren’t aboard during a school break. And though our cruise fare wasn’t high, once on board there were ample opportunities to bump up the bill.
Still, for anyone who likes a contemporary cruise experience or a high-energy ship, Norwegian Breakaway is designed to please a wide spectrum of guests. It’s a particularly good bet for families, and Tri-State area residents will appreciate the year-round access to tropical scenery Breakaway provides.
Not counting variations based on location or view, Norwegian Breakaway offers a whopping 22 different cabin types to choose from, providing something for everyone and every budget. Balcony units represent the bulk of the accommodations, and this is what we stayed in—described below. Inside cabins are as small as 129 square feet (take it from us: that’s small), while Oceanviews are a more reasonable 161 square feet. There are Spa cabins, which provide free access to the thermal spa.
Eighty suites are classified as part of The Haven, offering concierge and butler service and access to a private, top-deck courtyard. On Breakaway, the Haven has a private access lounge and restaurant on Deck 16. Haven suites are concentrated on decks 14, 15 and 16, though the forward and aft corner units of decks 9 through 13 are also classified as Haven.
Norwegian is one of the few cruise lines to provide cabins for solo travelers, called Studios. There are 59 on Breakaway—all insides located on decks 10 and 11. Although they are just 99 square feet in size, they provide an avenue for single travelers to dodge the (usually) onerous single supplement fees when occupying a cabin designed for two. You can ready about our experience staying in a Studio aboard Norwegian Epic here.
Our Cabin: Balcony
We did not stay in the rest of these cabins, but we have summaries here provided by Norwegian Cruise Line. Note that photos below have been provided by the cruise line and not our reviewer.
Private keycard access complex comprised of staterooms specifically designed and priced for the solo traveler. Featuring a full-size bed, a one-way window to the corridor and separate areas for your bathroom, sink and shower. Includes access to the private Studio Lounge. No single supplement required. Approx. Size: 99-131 sq. ft.
These staterooms include two lower beds that convert to a queen-size bed. Door opens to center interior corridor for categories IC, ID, IF & IX. Approx. Size: 129-150 sq. ft.
Centrally located mid-ship, providing easy access to everything on board. These staterooms feature two lower beds that convert to a queen-size bed. (Door opens to center interior corridor.) Approx. Size: 135-201 sq. ft.
Mid-Ship Oceanview with Large Picture Window
Located mid-ship, you will have easy access to everything. These staterooms feature a large picture window and two lower beds that convert to a queen-size bed. Approx. Size: 161 sq. ft
Family Oceanview with Large Picture Window
Perfect for families, these staterooms include two lower beds that convert to a queen-size bed, a bathtub and additional bedding that can accommodate three guests. There are also many connecting staterooms. (No bathtub in staterooms 5138, 5140, 5738 and 5740.) Approx. Size: 218 sq. ft.
These staterooms have a large balcony offering incredible views, two lower beds that convert to a queen-size bed and additional bedding to sleep one or two more. Approx. Size: 245 sq. ft.
Aft-Facing Large Balcony
These staterooms include two lower beds that convert to a queen-size bed and are aft-facing, so the view from your private balcony is amazing. Approx. Size: 250-550 sq. ft.
The Spa Balcony staterooms feature tranquil spa décor and include two lower beds that convert to a queen-size bed, easy access to the adjacent Mandara Spa experience and fitness center, as well as complimentary access to the Thermal Spa Suites during regular Spa hours. Approx. Size: 208 sq. ft.
Spa Mini-Suite with Balcony
Spa Mini-Suites feature tranquil spa décor, a king-size bed, oversized waterfall shower and multiple body spray jets, easy access to the adjacent Mandara Spa and fitness center, as well as complimentary access to the Thermal Spa Suites during regular Spa hours. Approx. Size: 239 sq. ft.
The Haven Spa Suite with Balcony
The perfect way to experience a total spa vacation, the Spa Suites include a king-size bed, in-suite whirlpool tub, oversized waterfall shower and multiple body spray jets, spa décor, easy access to the adjacent Mandara Spa and fitness center, as well as complimentary access to the Thermal Spa Suites during regular Spa hours. Access to The Haven and all its premium amenities. Approx. Size: 309 sq. ft.
Mini-Suite with Balcony
Enjoy a private balcony with amazing views from these Mini-Suites which feature two lower beds that convert to a queen-size bed, an upper bed, and a sofa bed. Approx. Size: 310 sq. ft.
Mid-Ship Mini-Suite with Balcony
Located mid-ship with easy access to everything, these Mini-Suites feature two lower beds that convert to a queen-size bed, sofa bed and a private balcony. Approx. Size: 239 sq. ft
Mini-Suite with Large Balcony
Featuring a king-size bed,sofa bed and a large, private balcony these Mini-suites also offer amazing views. Enjoy the dining and excitement just steps away from The Waterfront. Approx. Size: 289-310 sq. ft.
Family Mini-Suite with Balcony
Perfect if you want to bring the kids, these Family Mini-Suites are conveniently located near the kids' area, include two lower beds that convert to a king-size bed, sofa bed and bathtub. Hang out with the gang and enjoy the view from your own private balcony. Approx. Size: 239 sq. ft.
Aft-Facing Mini-Suite with Large Balcony
These Mini-Suites have plenty of room for you to spread out with a king-size bed and a large aft-facing balcony to take in the amazing views. Approx. Size: 513-585 sq. ft.
The Haven Forward-Facing Penthouse with Balcony
Get a birds-eye-view of the amazing vistas ahead from your floor to ceiling windows and the serenity of your private balcony. Desirably located forward on the corners of decks 9-13, these penthouses have exclusive key card access to The Haven Courtyard area, restaurant and lounge and 24-hour butler and concierge service. Featuring a king size bed, luxury bath with bathtub and separate shower, living area with single sofa bed, dining area. Approx. Size: 451-420 sq. ft.
The Haven Aft-Facing Penthouse with Large Balcony
Located in the aft corners of decks 9-14, these penthouse suites offer unforgettable views with floor to ceiling windows and extra large balconies. Indulge in the premium amenities of The Haven, with exclusive key card access to the Courtyard area, restaurant, lounge, 24-hour butler and concierge service. Featuring a king size bed, luxury bath with bathtub and separate shower, living area with double sofa bed, dining area and guest half bathroom. Approx. Size: 655-824 sq. ft.
The Haven Courtyard Penthouse with Balcony
With exclusive key card access to The Haven and all its premium amenities, these Penthouses provide comfort and luxury with access to the secluded Courtyard Area, private restaurant and lounge. Featuring a king size bed, bath tub with shower (except in wheelchair accessible staterooms) and floor-to-ceiling windows that open to your private balcony. Approx. Size: 328-349 sq. ft.
The Haven 2-Bedroom Family Villa with Balcony
Perfect for the families, these villas offer plenty of space and privacy. The master bedroom has a king-size bed and a luxury bath with bathtub and separate shower. The second bedroom has a double sofa bed and bathroom with shower. Living and dining area with additional bedding to accommodate up to two guests. Experience amazing views from floor-to-ceiling windows and your private balcony. Approx. Size: 543-545 sq. ft.
The Haven Owner's Suite with Large Balcony
Marvel at the captain's view of the ocean in your private and luxurious Owner's Suite located in The Haven. This suite has a separate living and dining area with floor-to-ceiling windows and 24-hour butler and concierge service. King-size bed with a luxury bath containing a bathtub and separate shower. Additional bedding that accommodates two and guest bathroom. Approx. Size: 572 sq. ft.
The Haven Deluxe Owner's Suite with Large Balcony
Located in The Haven, these Suites offer amazing ocean views, a living and dining area with wet bar and an extra-spacious wraparound balcony. They include a king-size bed that faces floor-to-ceiling windows, luxury bath with whirlpool tub, separate shower and two modern vanity sinks. Large wardrobe and dressing area with full closet, double sofa and guest half bathroom. Approx. Size: 932 sq. ft.
Norwegian Breakaway had an impressive number of dining options to keep us busy, providing something for almost every taste bud. NCL calls it “29 different dining experiences,” but that includes things like the hot dog stand and room service, so we’ll break it down.
In terms of full-service, sit-down restaurants that are included in the cruise fare, we count four venues. Two of these (Savor and Taste) are virtually identical, right down to the menus, while the menu at Manhattan Dining Room is similar. The fourth restaurant, O’Sheehan’s, offers pub-style fare. Two buffet venues and three snack (hot dogs, pizza) options are also covered in the cruise fare. There is a restaurant designated for guests staying in Haven suites only, as well as room service, which is complimentary except from midnight to 5 a.m.
On the surcharge front, we counted nine full-service dining options that required an additional fee—ranging $15-$49 per person (kids under 12 half-price), or à la carte—along with three snack options. On a seven-day cruise, it’s impossible to try them all.
TV monitors were set up to indicate how busy each venue was. We never had to wait more than 10 minutes to be seated at Manhattan, Taste or Savor (ostensibly the “main” dining rooms), a little longer for O’Sheehan’s. Not described below is Cirque Dreams Jungle Fantasy, a dinner-show experience with a surcharge. The food was poor, and we’ve listed it on page 5 of this review, under “Shows and Entertainment.”
Taste and Savor Restaurants
O'Sheehan's Neighborhood Bar & Grill
Uptown Bar & Grill
Ocean Blue and the Raw Bar
La Cucina Italian Restaurant
Shanghai's Noodle Bar
Le Bistro French Restaurant
Other Dining Options
Carlo's Bake Shop
Sabrett Hot Dog
Café and Bar at the Atrium
Bliss Ultra Lounge
Maltings Beer & Whiskey Bar
Prime Meridian Bar
Shaker’s Cocktail Bar
Spice H2O Bar
Waves Pool Bar
Mandara Spa and Pulse Fitness Center
Operated by Steiner Leisure, the company that manages spas and salons for the vast majority of cruise ships, the Mandara Spa is a spacious facility. Despite the name, aside from a couple potted bamboo plants and batik prints in treatment rooms we didn't see a lot of Asian influence here.
Spa prices started at $119 for 50-minute La Therape HydraLift facial, Swedish massage or reflexology treatments and ranged up to $169 for a 50-minute Elemis Oxydermy facial, $195 for a 75-minute aroma stone therapy or Thai herbal poultice massage, and $269 for a couples Swedish massage. In the salon, full hair and nail service were available—ranging from $29 to $49 for a traditional manicure or pedicure to $119 for a hair styling session. There was also a spa menu for kids. These included a 50-minute acne attack facial ($99), ice cream manicure or pedicure ($45-$65), or the 50-minute mother/daughter or father/son massage for $195. An 18 percent service charge was added to all spa treatments. Various specials and discounts started to materialize as soon as we set sail.
The Pulse Fitness Center and aerobics room was adjacent to the spa. The cardio equipment was Precor and there were plenty of treadmills and a few climbers; bikes were in short supply. Teens age 13 to 16 were allowed to use the fitness center when accompanied by an adult. There was a roster of fitness classes—both complimentary and for a fee. Free classes included a morning stretch session daily, Fab Abs and various promotional seminars that ended in a product pitch. Yoga and Pilates sessions were $12 each, TRX suspension training and spin classes were $20 each, and Body Sculpt Boot Camp was $69 for two classes or $120 for four.
Shows & Entertainment
Norwegian Breakaway's casino was seductively lighted—it was a beautiful spot. Often crowded, we found the dealers to be unusually engaging and friendly. Gaming lessons were conducted the first couple days and tournaments for Texas Hold 'Em, Blackjack, Roulette and slot play were announced in the ship's newsletter.
The kids activity center on Deck 12 was conveniently located between the Garden Café; and pool area, and flanked by the arcade room, making this section of the ship family central.
Kids were broken into four age groups—age 2 to 5, age 6 to 9, age 10 to 12, and teens. The 2 to 5 year olds had such activities as Lego building, Nickelodeon adventures, and a fairytale parade. The 6 to 9 year olds played King's Camps games, had a Survivor night, a treasure hunt, and craft making such as leis. A parent or assigned guardian had to check the kids in and out of the facility.
Teens used the nearby Wipe Out Teen's Club—a venue decked out in surfer themes, naturally. There was a black and white party, a Matrix team challenge, a scavenger hunt and a Ping Pong challenge.
Sitting services were available for children age 2-12, at $6 per hour, and $4 per hour for each additional child in the family. Services could be scheduled for late night (10:30 p.m. to 1:30 a.m.) or during the day while the ship was at port (when parents wanted to go to shore).
The ship’s newsletter, Freestyle Daily, was delivered to our cabin each evening, and detailed the various events taking place the following day. Offers were announced inside—drink discounts, internet specials, etc. along with a long list of activities.
Whether using the ship's computers or WiFi for our laptop, internet time was priced .75/minute, plus an initial $3.95 activation fee. But various packages purchased upfront brought the price down—100 minutes for $55 (.55/min) or 250 minutes for $100 (.40 min). Specials were availed the first, second, sixth and seventh day of the cruise.
Laundry and dry cleaning services were available onboard at inflated rates. On the fifth night of our cruise we received a flyer that offered a full bag of laundry washed and folded for the discounted price of $24.95. There were no self-serve laundry facilities on Norwegian Breakaway.
For information on Norwegian Cruise Line’s tipping and service charge policy, see here.
For information on Norwegian Cruise Line’s alcohol policy, see here.
For information on Norwegian Cruise Line’s loyalty program, see here.