NCL Breakaway… Beautiful Ship, but the Extras Can Add Up!

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Three weeks ago today, I woke up to this beautiful sunrise from my balcony on the Norwegian Breakaway. This was a last-minute booking, as my husband had to work, but my 10-year old son was off from school so I decided to take advantage of his vacation days & hit the high seas!

Departing from New York City, the Breakaway is NCL’s newest & largest member of their fleet. Sailing with almost 4,000 passengers, this is the biggest ship I’ve been on & I was worried that I’d spend most of my week clutching the map. I was pleasantly surprised however, by the ship’s easily navigable layout. And the crowds only became a problem when looking for the ideal lounge chair up on the pool deck or when trying to get on or off the boat (we spent almost 1.5 hours in line to get off the ship in NYC!).

There were several promotions available when I booked this sailing, however they did not apply to the “Balcony Guarantee” category we selected because of its great price. For almost double the cost of our reservation, I could have chosen our specific balcony cabin location & received 2 of the following free perks: 3 dinners at their “specialty” restaurants, an all-inclusive drink package, free wifi or prepaid gratuities. Honestly, when traveling with a 10-year old, I really didn’t think those upgrades would be worth the extra cost, so I stuck with our base fare of $649 per person and hoped for the best.

We did ok with our cabin assignment… On a “Guarantee,” the cruise line picks a cabin for you, in the category you select or higher, and you’re notified of the cabin number a few days before sailing. We ended up on Deck 11, which was very centrally located, but all the way forward on the port side. No complaints… it had a balcony and that’s all I really wanted for this trip! Our cabin attendant, Ruby, was wonderful and the little extra walk to the very front of the ship was not a big deal (and always made it easy to find our room!).

Unfortunately, to really experience all this ship has to offer, you need to shell out some extra cash, and be prepared to make reservations for everything – even the shows! The promos that NCL was offering clearly would have enhanced our experience, but we kept to our budget and still managed to have a great time. Here’s my take on whether the promotional perks that I skipped were really worth it…

DINING – There are 3 complimentary main dining rooms on this ship, each with a different atmosphere, but all offering the exact same menu. There is also a huge buffet restaurant on Deck 15 with food literally available all day long. I have always been pleased with the quality & selection of the food in these “inclusive” venues without feeling like I had to spend extra money to get a better meal at one of the specialty restaurants. On this cruise, however, I was a little disappointed. The buffet was very good & full of options, but the dining room meals were just ok and the service was spotty at times. The menu lacked creativity & variety and there were several nights that I couldn’t really find anything that appealed to me. I truly look forward to my evening meal on a cruise (it’s the actual highlight of my day… can you say “foodie”?), but many nights here I was disappointed.

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La Cucina, the beautiful Italian specialty restaurant.

The specialty restaurants (some being a set price per person, others with an a la carte menu) received rave reviews and the selections all looked delicious. There were options for steak, seafood, teppanyaki, sushi, Brazilian, & Italian (which I was tempted to try as the prices weren’t too bad, but I couldn’t get a reservation 😦 )We did try the sushi restaurant for lunch on our last day & it was amazing.

Bottom line:  If you want to eat well on this ship, (and by that I mean quality, not quantity), pick the specialty restaurant promotion or purchase one of the dining packages & make all of your reservations online before you leave, to insure entry into your favorites.

DRINKS – This area was interesting to me. On every cruise I’ve been on, there have always been an abundance of waiters walking around trying to take your drink order. As soon as you walk on the ship, they are usually pushing the “drink of day” and I usually get one… lol! Not the case here. No welcome drink as you boarded, no waiters to be found in the pool area, and in the dining rooms I was only approached once. Now that so many people are opting for the all-inclusive drink package, apparently they’re no longer hungry for that money. So for those of us who would like to have a drink here and there, and actually pay their outrageous prices, you’ll have to find a bar & wait in line.

Bottom line:  If you get the drink package, you’ll have plenty of places to wet your whistle. There are uniquely themed bars for martinis, beer, whiskey, margaritas and more. But the all-inclusive packages are pricey… averaging around $400 per person for the week. However, a single glass of red wine was over $10, so you’ll make your money back in no time. It truly depends on how many days you’ll be on the ship (vs in port) and how much you think you’ll drink each day. To me, this one is still a toss-up.

WIFI – We sailed on Carnival last year and paid approximately $60 for 120 minutes of internet access. It was fine… no file size limits and easily trackable minutes. This ship only offered “per megabyte” plans, not minutes, or you could purchase an unlimited plan for $210 for the week (almost 1/3 the cost of my cruise!). I finally broke down on the 4th day & bought the 300mb plan for $59, but was afraid to upload any pictures or even scroll through Facebook or Instagram for fear of using up all my MBs!

Bottom line:  If you need to keep in touch with the outside world, this perk may be worth it, or plan to cough up over $200 to stay connected.

GRATUITIES – This is that little bill that they tack on to your account each day to cover the tips of all the people who serve you during the week.  In the old days, they gave you actual envelopes that you filled with cash and handed directly to those people providing you with the service. Now it’s simply charged to your account, at the rate of $13.50 per person, per day. For a 7 night cruise, we paid $189. If you’re not happy with this amount, you can go down to Guest Services and have it adjusted, but then you’d really just look like a big jerk. 😉

Bottom line:  This is a set fee, so you know the cost right from the start. It would be the least valuable add-on offered, but if you didn’t need the wifi or you aren’t big drinkers, it’s a nice perk.

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In front of The Breakaway in Nassau.

All in all, we had a great time… our trip was fairly low-key, focusing on activities for the kids (although none of the kids we met were overly thrilled with the kid’s club) and not participating in too much of the ship’s nightlife. The itinerary was unfortunate as our beach day at NCL’s private island was cancelled due to damage from Hurricane Matthew & our late arrival into Nassau only gave us a few cloudy hours of beach time on shore. Our best day was in Port Canaveral, FL when we chose to just stay on the ship & enjoy the less crowded pool areas.

As for NCL’s concept of “Freestyle” cruising, I’ve realized after taking this trip, that the structure & formality of a traditional cruise vacation is something I actually enjoy! I missed getting dressed up for dinner, getting to know my servers in the dining room, looking forward to each meal without having to make a reservation or pay extra & being able to decide last-minute if we wanted to attend the main nightly show (at no additional charge!). As for the food, I certainly ate my fair share, but I just didn’t find the high-end options in the dining rooms that I’m used to.

Bottom line: This is a gorgeous ship with tons to offer. The public areas are beautiful and everything is new and spotless. Kids will have plenty to do during the day, but if they’re not into the Kid’s Club, finding something to do at night will be a bit of a challenge. For the adults, there seem to be enough bars, shows and of course the casino, to keep everybody busy. Our particular itinerary wasn’t great, but the usual route should be adequate for most. Don’t rule this one out, especially with the convenience of leaving from New York, but it’ll be tough to find a bargain if you want to take advantage of all this ship’s extras.

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Tuesday’s Travel Tip – Cruising!!!

 

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Planning a cruise?  Already booked?  My FAVORITE site when it comes to cruising is www.cruisecritic.com. They offer professional & traveler reviews, detailed ship information, port guides & so much more. From dining room menus, to debarkation tips; best beach bars to roomiest cabins… this site has it all!

To get the most out of this site, be sure to join the “Community” for access to all the forums. There are message boards for First Time Cruisers, Ports of Call, each individual cruise line, specialty cruises, etc. This is a great spot to do your research before booking, or to gather more information once your trip’s been confirmed.

mercuryFor me, the most valuable forums on this site are the “Roll Calls.”  These are specific threads where you can meet other cruisers who are booked on your sailing. You simply search by cruise line, then by ship & departure date to connect with the people who will be sailing with you. It’s a great opportunity to share information & get answers to any questions you may have. You can also hook up with other families who have kids the same age as yours or plan excursions ahead of time as a group to save time & money. Most of the people you will meet are experienced cruisers and have a wealth of information to share.

We’ve had so much fun with the people we’ve met & have gone on some great excursions with these groups – usually at about half the cost of what the cruise line would charge for the same outing… everything from zip-lining in Costa Rica to swimming with the stingrays in Grand Cayman.

Some cruise lines even offer a Cruise Critic “Meet & Mingle” party for everyone in the Roll Call once you set sail. Or a member of the group may organize a more informal meet-up on their own. In either case, it’s a great way to connect with the people you’ve been talking to for the months leading up to your cruise. And most times, there are cocktails involved, so don’t miss it!

Honestly, I’m not always up for making tons of friends on vacation, but cruises can be overwhelming in terms of info & options, especially for first-timers. The more knowledge you have going into the cruise, the more relaxing & enjoyable it will be.  I’ve relied on this site for over 15 years & 16 cruises… so I’d have to say it’s well worth a visit!

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I Love to Cruise, But I Hate the Packing!

ourshipDon’t get me wrong… I love a good cruise.  The blue water, the exotic ports, the amazing food – it’s all fantastic.  There is one thing, however, that I wish I could somehow avoid… THE PACKING!

Packing for a cruise is difficult for several reasons.  First of all, there is some formality to these trips. Eating in the “Main Dining Room,” which I thoroughly enjoy, requires a dress code, and depending on your cruise line, that can vary from nice shorts to a suit & tie.  And if you’re sitting at an assigned table, where you’re going to dine with the same people every night?  That certainly means no repetition of any part of your wardrobe.  Luckily, we choose the flexible dining option where we enjoy a table for 3 and can wear the same black pants a few times without worry.

During the day, there are other obstacles.  Walking around the ship is a bit different than just hanging out at a beach resort.  You really need an “outfit” versus a “cover-up” over your bathing suit.  This is especially true if you’re planning to eat lunch inside or want to hit the casino for a few rounds as you’re passing through (and it always seems like we’re passing through, no matter where we’re going!)

Then there are your Port Days… something to wear while sightseeing, or shopping, and then something for the beach.  You need to pack a beach bag, possibly a few sand toys for the kids and a whole numerical range of sunscreen.  And don’t forget you’ll still need another outfit for dinner that night!

Planning to hit the gym during your cruise?  Add that stack of work-out clothes and those special sneakers to your pile.  And I haven’t even touched on shoes yet!  Dress shoes, sandals, flip flops, water shoes for the beach…  And the toiletries, and the first aid supplies, jewelry, toys, books, cameras, all the chargers, a power strip (cause there are never enough outlets), and don’t forget the “Rum Runner Flasks” to smuggle on a few cocktails!

So as our upcoming cruise rapidly approaches, I’m in that state of packing-hell, with piles of clothes and accessories taking over my home office, and the stress of fitting it all in the suitcase yet to come… oh and did I mention that we’re sailing on Halloween?  And that my son is a Giant Hot Dog?  That’s right… find a place for that costume in your suitcase!

All complaints aside, soon I’ll be on my balcony with my coffee or cocktail in hand, watching the sun rise & set over the ocean… and it’ll all be worth it!!!