David and I are no stranger to Norwegian Cruise Line, and this was my second time on the Breakaway, the first being a 2-night “cruise to nowhere” out of NYC a few years ago, much of which I don’t remember. After all, it was January, the outer decks were closed because of bad, freezing winter weather, and there was nothing to do but drink, eat and socialize. Happily, this April cruise was much more enjoyable, due to gorgeous weather, great ports, and more ship to experience this time around! I was a little worried about cruising during April vacation, fearing that the ship would be overrun with kids. While there were a lot of families on board, we didn’t find kids to be a problem (except for maybe commandeering the jacuzzis in the afternoon). They had their own pool/splash park, rock climbing wall, and other stuff to keep them busy. Breakaway received an extensive refurbishment last summer giving her a new shimmer and shine, and we loved the decor throughout. As a bonus, the weather turned out perfect the entire week.
I managed to pack at the last minute without a list and without forgetting anything major. Can you guess which bag is mine? Hint: it’s not the huge, overstuffed one (thankfully, Southwest did not charge for the half-pound over the limit).
The Shuttle from Hell: We flew Southwest to Ft. Lauderdale, and had a great stay at the Comfort Suites FLL Airport/Cruise Port. The next morning, we experienced a miserable shuttle ride to Miami, which was the last time I ever subject myself to a shared shuttle. We were the last two people picked up for the “two” remaining seats on the bench seat in the back of the van. I say “two” loosely, because the remaining space was really only sized for one average size butt cheek. With three large adults seated, I was forced into the corner on the window ledge with my feet planted on the wheel bump. I rode the entire ride to Miami half sitting/half standing with my knees up to my chest. Meanwhile, we saw two little boys occupying two seats in the front row. You might think the parents or the driver would scoot one over to make an extra seat. In hindsight, we should have refused the ride, but by the time we figured out the seating arrangement wasn’t going to work, we were on our merry way. We expressed our disappointment to the driver when the torture finally ended, but he just shrugged it off without sympathy or apology. Lesson learned: Uber or Lyft.
Embarkation: Quick and painless. We arrived at the port around 10:30, checked right in, got our boarding number and waited in the Latitudes area for about 20 minutes before boarding. It was all very efficient. The mandatory safety drill, however, was a low point of the day. Our muster station was in the atrium, along with a bunch of others, and it was disorganized and confusing, forcing people to stand for a ridiculous amount of time.
Balcony Cabin 14180: Nice, standard size cabin with a sofa. Storage could be better, and I would have liked more space between the bed and the closet, as it was too awkward to access. He used the closet, while I rolled my stuff and stored it in the cupboards under the TV. Thankfully, I packed light for this cruise. Bathroom is a decent size, and the shower more than manageable. Balcony is small, with barely enough room for 2 chairs, but fine for my afternoon snooze. Occasional fumes were detected on the balcony from the above funnels, depending on which way the wind is blowing, sometimes forcing us to keep the door closed. Note that the cabins on Deck 14 sit under a large overhang from the pool deck above, which is great for shade from the hot Caribbean sun, but not so great if you want to sunbathe on your balcony.
WiFi and NCL App: WiFi, when connected worked great, but I often had trouble connecting, especially at peak times. So I did most of my connecting early in the morning. The new and improved App, is great to have. Log in with your normal cruise planner user name and password, and you have all the same features – deck plans, reservations, etc., plus the daily schedule. I had no trouble connecting.
I sorely regret leaving my good camera at home, and without a quality lens and relying on my IPhone, I came home with many fewer photos than usual. In fact, I had no photos of the cabin, but did manage to capture these photos of Miami at sailaway:
Pools: I don’t know what NCL was thinking when they designed the lido deck on this ship. There is just one very compact main pool and lounging area on deck 15, adults only. The pool crew did a nice job of redirecting the kids to their own pool but did absolutely nothing about the chair hogs, who were out of control on this cruise. David witnessed one guy, who appeared to have just climbed out of bed, proceed to pull random items from a plastic bag and deposit them on a bunch of assorted chairs – a book here, a hat there … all of which were unoccupied for hours, his friends and family still asleep in their cabins, no doubt. Tempers flared and heated arguments could be heard when a few brave souls removed items and took possession of chairs. From our seats, it was all very entertaining. I totally get saving a couple of chairs while you go for a bite to eat – my husband and I admittedly do the same, or play tag team. Saving an entire row in the off-chance someone might occupy it at some point throughout the day is just plain greedy and selfish. The jacuzzis were relaxing in the morning and overrun by kids in the afternoon. Now, if you don’t care about the pool or the noise, then head up a deck or two, Aft. There are lots of quiet spots for sunning yourself on decks 16, 17 and 18. From the stairs, you can even have a peak at and envy the folks lucky enough to have paid for and gotten a pass to the private Vibe Club.
Fitness Center: Split into two areas, a cardio room and weight room, we made use of the fitness center each morning between 6:00 and 7:00 to combat the weight gain we were sure to encounter. The first morning was busy, but after that, there were plenty of machines, bikes, treadmills and ellipticals to pick from. Most machines were in good working order throughout the cruise, and the two disabled bikes I saw were promptly fixed by day 5. The view from a treadmill:
FOOD AND BEVERAGES
Reservations are suggested for all complimentary dining venues, but if you don’t have one, don’t fret. We dined after 7:30 pm every night and had no problem getting a table for two in the Manhattan dining room. We did not try Taste or Savor, so can’t comment on the wait for either. Specialty restaurant reservations can be made on board daily through the screens around the ship or at the restaurants.
Manhattan: Love this space. It’s big, open and nicely decorated, and the live band is a great enhancement. Most of the food was good and servers were friendly and professional. A few dishes were way off. For instance, if you love good paella, don’t bother with the main dining room version. It’s just glorified rice.
Noodle Bar: Delicious rice, appetizers and noodle dishes. Like this venue on the Epic better, though, as they have more space at the bar, and is contained in its own space. Noodle Bar on Breakaway shares space with the noisy, smoky casino, separated only by a rope.
Garden Cafe: Typical buffet fare, ranging from good to inedible. Ate there every morning, and on one night when we weren’t particularly hungry, we tried it on “Caribbean” night, and we weren’t impressed.
Margaritaville: If it’s a beautiful morning, dump the insane, crowded Garden Cafe and head up to Deck 16 Aft to the complimentary breakfast buffet served in Margaritaville’s covered, breezy, open-air restaurant. Same food on a smaller scale, but so much more pleasant!
Ocean Blue: This was our only specialty restaurant of the week. The service was great, and the waitstaff even referred to each of us by name throughout the meal. My scallop appetizer was delicious, as was my seafood linguini. My husband’s seafood stew was fine, but something he’d probably not order again. A la cartel prices were similar to what you’d find at home.
Entertainment: We had already seen the big shows previously so didn’t bother this time. The two comedians we saw were not all that funny, and the magician was ho-hum. We stopped into Howl at the Moon for a little while, and the singers/piano players were fun, talented and entertaining. Dance and reggae bands were good.
As I said, I wasn’t in a photo frame of mind on this cruise, so got very few ship shots. Here are a few of the highlights:
Despite rumors to the contrary, Towel Critters are alive and well on Norwegian.
Roatan: I’ve only found a handful of cruise ship excursions to rave about in all my cruises, and this is one of them – Maya Key Private Island Retreat, just for cruise guests. It’s not a party place, but a manageable-sized beautiful place with palm trees galore, a small swimmable beach, snorkeling, a pool, wildlife sanctuary, and a replica/museum of a Mayan ruin. There is plenty to keep families busy, and there were plenty of loungers for everyone. The fact that the weather was perfect with a tropical breeze blowing made the day that much better. We were the only ship in port, so it was uncrowded and quiet. The included lunch was delicious, and the bathroom and showers were spotless. Highly recommend!
Harvest Cay (Belize): This is fairly new island resort just off Belize built specifically for Norwegian and managed by the people of Belize. I have mixed feelings about Harvest Cay. On one hand, it’s just a long walk down the pier to a beach oasis with loads of palm trees and greenery, a huge pool, beach, water activities, bar, restaurant, gift shops, and everything you’d want from a relaxing beach day. On the other hand, if you are looking for an authentic Belize experience, it’s not here. To get that, you have to book a ship excursion or find your own way to the mainland. Unlike Norwegian’s private island, all food and drinks are extra, and you can’t use your key card for purchases because, as stated before, the resort is run by the locals. We went for a few hours first thing in the morning when they opened, and enjoyed the pool, where there was more shade. Lack of shade at the beach and the sign there warning about jellyfish stings was enough to choose the pool over the ocean. We did notice that the clamshells reservable in advance for a fee were located furthest away from the beach and situated side by side right up against the boardwalk in a long line down the beach. I’d be interested to know if they were worth it.
Costa Maya, Mexico. The port is basically a eating/drinking/shopping haven for tourists. To see anything of interest outside of the port, book an excursion or hire a driver. In fact, my niece and her fiancé found a fun tour right off the ship – a golf cart rental. They said it was a blast and they drove it all over. I have their business card – message me if interested. Since we have been here before and had no excursion planned, we stayed on board by the much quieter pool (except for the crew hammering and drilling nearby) and enjoyed the food and drinks we already paid for. We were joined by two Royal Caribbean ships in port – Liberty of the Seas and Rhapsody of the Seas.
Cozumel: I highly recommend the ship’s “Jose Cuervo Tequila Tasting Experience,” which we thoroughly enjoyed. Instead of a big bus, they taxi small groups of guests to Discover Mexico Park, where we were greeted with a tequila sample to start things off on a winning note. Our guide was “Bou”, who was charismatic, engaging and funny. He obviously knows his tequila and explained to us where it comes from, how it’s made, and how to drink it (mixed or sipped – no shots!). We were then taken to a tasting room where we sampled three varieties using the three senses, very much like wine tasting. Next came an exciting aerial performance of sorts by the “Papantla Flyers”, actually an ancient ritual, followed by a delicious margarita and tacos. This is another ship excursion I would highly recommend. Even though there were lots of people here for the tasting, because we toured with a small group, it never felt crowded or overwhelming. Last stop, of course, was the gift shop, where Bou explained how to shop for authentic tequila. There was no pressure to buy, but we couldn’t resist snapping up a bottle to take home! I was skeptical that this would be a touristy kind of experience, but it was far from it. Instead, it was both fun and educational!
Disembarkation: We booked an early private Everglades tour and airport transfer and carried off our own luggage. We were in line by 7:15 am, which was pretty long by that time, and off at about 7:45.
Post-Cruise Tour: We pre-booked a small group tour with Wild Lime Adventures, which I recommend highly. We were picked up with our luggage at the port and were joined by 3 others and taken deep into the Everglades National Park for an easy nature walk, followed by an hour-long airboat ride. With a small van, a total of 5 guests, and a small 8 passenger airboat (we invited two other people to join us), It was far more enjoyable than a similar big-bus post-cruise excursion. Later, we were dropped off at FLL in plenty of time for our flight home.
For inspiration or help with booking your own cruise or land vacation, visit: Seven Sea Journeys