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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Water Park Fun on Jekyll Island, GA

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Located just about an hour north of Jacksonville, FL, on tiny Jekyll Island, you’ll find “Summer Waves“… a perfectly sized, very clean water park, with enough attractions to keep everybody entertained for the day.

20160625_133545-1The park features a wave pool, lazy river, 2 splash parks (one for bigger kids & one for little tikes), and 4 water slides of varying intensity.  There are plenty of shady spots with lounge chairs to set up camp and although you can’t bring in your own food, “Larry’s Giant Subs” offers a fairly diverse, reasonably priced menu.  There are also several snack shacks, lockers, showers & changing areas plus a decent Surf/Gift Shop for anything you may have forgotten.

On a Saturday, at the very start of summer, it wasn’t too, too crowded, but I can imagine at peak times of the season, it can get a little overwhelming.  I’d recommend getting there early to secure a good spot and hit the big water slides first to avoid the lines that seem to build as the day goes on.  For park hours, click HERE.

My 10-year old had a blast and “Grandpa” survived multiple trips with him down the water slides, while “Grandma” & I opted for the wave pool & lazy river 🙂

Please note:  There is $6 entrance fee, per car, to get onto Jekyll Island.  It’s a beautiful remote spot that features a few hotels, a campground, beaches, miniature golf, historic trolley tours, and a few shops & restaurants.  For discounted Summer Waves passes, be sure to check out Living Social & Groupon.

I Found Peace… at Legoland

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On January 2nd of this year, we made our second trip to this fairly new theme park in Winter Haven, FL.  This time I discovered what used to draw people here in the first place… the original “Cypress Gardens.”  Opened in 1936, this 30-acre botanical garden was Florida’s first commercial theme park.  It is now nestled inside this plastic-piece haven, but still provides a beautiful oasis filled with tropical flowers, incredible trees & peaceful streams.

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That’s my mom… She’s tiny, but the tree really is enormous!

The centerpiece of this magical area is a gigantic Banyan Tree.  I’m guessing it spreads out over at least a 50-foot span (if not more), with new roots dropping everywhere to form multiple limbs all around.  Stand underneath it, in the very center, and look up to see a miraculous web of uninterrupted growth.

The park is bordered on one whole side by Lake Eloise (where the famous water-skiing shows were featured in Cyprus Gardens’ heyday) and where most of the Legoland shows still take place.  It’s a beautiful backdrop for the foliage & wildlife that now reside in this section of the garden.

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Along the winding paths in this botanical paradise, there are streams & small waterfalls where we saw plenty of birds and fish… we even heard mention of a gator sighting!   2015-01-02 18 41 16

The 3 shades of the Yesterday, Today & Tomorrow plant.

The 3 shades of the Yesterday, Today & Tomorrow plant.

And the flowers were amazing…  I was totally fascinated by this “Yesterday, Today & Tomorrow” plant.  I had never seen, nor heard of this beautiful flowering bush and was immediately fascinated by it.  A native of Brazil, the “Brunfelsia” has lush green foliage, accented by clusters of small flowers that change colors in a 3-day cycle.  It first blooms in a purple or violet shade, the next day, that same flower changes to a pale lavender and finally on the 3rd day, the flower turns completely white.  With hundreds of blooms on a single plant, it’s absolutely gorgeous!

It was hard not to take a picture of everything I passed… here are a few of my favorites:

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Our “Keepsake Photo” from Project X.

Now don’t get me wrong, Legoland itself is still a worthy destination for the whole family (and my son’s favorite park).  It has a nice assortment of rides, including a few good coasters (“Project X” is a must do) and plenty of Lego stores, shows and decent places to eat.  My son could have spent most of the day in the “Build & Test” section of the Imagination Zone where you can build & race your own Lego vehicles, but he also loved the rides, the mini village and the 4-D movies.

Located just 45 minutes south of Orlando, Legoland provides an easy escape from the mad rush of Disney and easily entertains a wide range of ages.  Big news at the park this year is the opening on May 15th of their very own 152-room, Lego-themed hotel.   Not sure you’d need to stay more than one day, but the hotel itself looks like it will provide plenty of its own additional entertainment.

In our 2 visits here, we still haven’t ventured into the Legoland Water Park – guess that will be on the list for next time!