By Alison Blackman
The launch of a new cruise ship is a big gamble. Not only does it represent a billion dollar investment, but every new ship impacts the reputation of the entire cruise line. That’s certainly the case with Norwegian Cruise Line’s newest ship Breakaway. Norwegian Cruise Line took a major step in establishing itself as the line for families and entertainment with the launch of this 146,600-ton, 4,028-passenger cruiser. The ship debuted last month and represents the latest class of ships for Norwegian Cruise Lines: those specifically designed for entertainment-driven freestyle cruising.
Breakaway has something to appeal to just about everyone, including those who relish a traditional cruise ship format. Breakaway has taken the best of the innovations found on the company’s Epic and Jewel class ships – entertainment and dining venues, a water slide, and upgraded children’s programs — and combined them with the innovative Freestyle cruising components that garnered accolades and fans across all of the Norwegian Cruise Line ships. With Breakaway, Norwegian has added a huge water park, enhanced its Nickelodeon franchise for children, and created a multitude of new dining options from celebrity chefs like Buddy Valastro (the Cake Boss) and Geoffrey Zakaian. New entertainment features include the Broadway musical Rock of Ages and a dance show called “Burn the Floor.”
Breakaway’s exterior features a colorful hull with designs by iconic pop artist Peter Max. Inside, however, the ship has a more subdued decor. The central three-story Atrium has a beautiful waterfall chandelier, and a virtually unobstructed view from several decks. All the staterooms are nicely appointed, with upscale bathroom fixtures and tasteful color schemes. There are a wide variety of room types and sizes to suit singles, couples, and families. But the Freestyle concept is best seen in the ship’s dining and entertainment options; Breakaway has 22 restaurants (most with extra fee) and a variety of bars of all types and sizes. Deck 7 offers the spectacular Waterfront, featuring a quarter-mile-long outdoor “Boardwalk” with eight al fresco dining venues and lounges. The idea was to bring back some of the romance of the sea that used to be found in the winter gardens on traditional ocean liners. One major feature of The Waterfront is Breakaway’s new, seafood-centric restaurant Ocean Blue, created by Iron Chef and native New Yorker, Geoffrey Zakarian. A $35 fee is attached to dining here. Another Breakaway first is a for-a-fee gelato shop, part of Carlo’s Bake Shop created by Buddy Valastro, star of TLC’s Cake Boss. I was literally amazed when watching people stand patiently in line to pay for cake and cookies when sweets were available at no charge throughout the day on the ship — apparently Valastro’s fame as a reality star enticed the crowd.
When it comes to the public spaces, all of the bars, restaurants and public rooms are exciting and lovely, yet many seem under-sized for the potential of a full ship. This is especially true for the entertainment venues and the restaurants that do not have an additional surcharge. This may mean that passengers who fail to book entertainment and dining in advance may find themselves waiting in lines or worse: unable to enjoy some of the many dining and entertainment options on the ship. Also, on Breakaway there are not too many lounges or open spaces where one can quietly relax. Almost all of the venues are in use throughout the day for various extra-fee activities. The exceptions are the spectacular pool deck with multiple water slides, a few hot tubs, and a generously-sized children’s pool area.
For Norwegian CruiseLine CEO Kevin Sheehan, home-porting a large ship in New York City isn’t a gamble, but a very smart move. New York is a huge and virtually untapped market. Locals who don’t like to fly to warmer weather can get be at the pier in less time than it would take to get through the security line on a busy day at JFK Airport. Plus, New York City is already a favored destination for both domestic and foreign tourists who can easily add a cruise to their vacation plans. Sheehan emphasized that cruising is still a very good deal. The more traditional format for cruising where passengers paid up front for everything (other than tips, drinks and personal services) has been abolished. Now, on many modestly priced cruise lines including Norwegian, the per diems are low enough to allow even a person with a modest budget to cruise, but the experience will be different depending upon what activity options you choose, and which accommodations on the ship, you select. The for-a-fee options may produce a surprisingly large bill at the end of the cruise, but with so many things to try, passengers will want to experience some or all of them. Sheehan, who managed a variety of businesses in the airline, railroad and hotel industries, is continually moving the line closer to the model of a (floating) hotel. As such, the Breakaway feels less like a ship and much more like a resort. This could be disappointing to traditional “cruisers.”
Will the Breakaway be your new, favorite cruise ship and vacation destination? It depends. The best cruise in the world isn’t going to make you happy if it’s the wrong ship for you.
One demographic that will definitely like Breakaway: families with young children. If there’s anything Norwegian Cruise Line clearly knows how to do, it’s to cater to families. Their children’s programs are offered on every cruise year round, and NCL has created a wide range of special venues catering just to the younger set. On the press sailing, children were going absolutely nuts for the pool areas. For the younger children, there is a Kid’s Aqua Park featuring Nickelodeon character fountains, including SpongeBob SquarePants, Patrick and Squidward, that spray water at timed intervals. There’s a kiddie-pool and small water slide, too. Other Nickelodeon-branded activities include a Pajama Jam Character Breakfast, Dora’s Dance Party, character meet-and-greets, and even well staffed impromptu games utilizing pies and a kid favorite: slime.
The children’s programs are well defined by age group. Splash Academy will be divided into Guppies (6 months to 3 years, with parent), Turtles (3-5), Seals (6-9) and Dolphins (10-12). On Breakaway, the two-deck facilities will be located on Decks 12 and 13, adjacent to the ship’s family cabins. Babies and toddlers under age three, along with their parents, will also have their own dedicated play space with activities. Entourage, the dedicated teen space located on Deck 16, has the requisite video games and a video jukebox for late-night dance parties. Babysitting is also available on Norwegian Cruise Line ships, but with some restrictions. When it comes to housing the kids, there are 42 family ocean view cabins that can accommodate up to five people, and some Family Mini-Suites that will sleep four. These are all nicely located near the children’s areas.
More affluent travelers (with or without children) who want to travel in larger groups and want a more luxurious experience, can book “the Haven.” This is a ship within a ship concept that can only be accessed with a special key card and features 42 suites including some “Spa Suites” that offer complementary access to the Mandara Spa area. The Haven provides a small ship experience at the top of the Breakaway. It has its own pool, hot tubs, sun deck, gym, lounge, bar and restaurant areas, butler and concierge service, and other upgraded amenities for passengers staying in its 42 exclusive suites, For those not able to sail in The Haven, there is an adults only area, again accessible only after paying some additional fees, but it has spectacular ocean views, a lovely bar, and a few, protected “cabanas.”
Solo cruisers can book one of the unique, single studio cabins on the Breakaway, without any of the traditional singles supplements. The cabins are tiny, but there is a solo passenger’s lounge area with double-decker seating. Violet mood lighting in the hallway and access only by key card, will make this option particularly attractive to solo passengers who want to feel protected. With only 59 solo cabins, they’ll book up quickly.
The Breakaway will be offering 7-day cruises to Bermuda, with three days at King’s Wharf. Then, in October 2013, Breakaway will sail a series of seven-night cruises to the Bahamas & Florida. Port stops include Nassau, Great Stirrup Cay (NCL’s private island) and Port Canaveral. The ship will also mix in a pair of 12-night Southern Caribbean itineraries (San Juan, St. Thomas, St. Maarten, St. Lucia, Barbados, St. Kitts) in January 2014, and two “Weekend Escape” cruises on January 17 and 31, 2014. To learn more and book a cruise, visit the Norwegian Cruise Line website at http://www.ncl.com.
A video tour of an NCL Stateroom (mini suite):