-I really like Norwegian Cruise Lines
- I see things, as a travel professional, you might never notice. I have to so our clients don't find any surprises if they travel to the same resort, hotel or sail on the same ship.
I recently sailed on the newest ship sailing permanently from New York City, the Norwegian Breakaway. Norwegian has been kind to New York by offering year round sailings, going to Florida and the Bahamas and Bermuda on one of their two newest ships.
The Breakaway can carry 3,969 passengers and with the exception of the pool area, never seems crowded. There are 29 different dining experiences, Broadway shows - Rock of Ages, Burn The Floor, and Cirque Dreams Dinner Theater. There is never a lack of things to do on this ship and none of the issues we found would prevent us from sailing on the Breakaway again. We use a grading system for each category.
Embarkation- C. We arrived at 11:15 at the pier and embarkation is by deck number. Directed to the middle bank of check in desks where three agents were checking people in, there were only seven people/cabins in front of us and it took 45 minutes to get checked in. I asked the agent if a lot of people called in sick since there were so few people for check in. His response? "We take a lot of long breaks". Our friend are platinum members who have priority check in and they arrived 20 minutes after we did and their check in took almost an hour. When their room passes were being printed, the agent had to walk so far to the printer for their cards it took added five minutes to their check in time.
Cabins- C. We had cabin 11247, an interior cabin forward on deck 11 just past the studio lounge. Our room was in an alcove with other interior cabins and we thought it would be quiet and cozy but we were wrong, except for the "cozy" part.
Entering the cabin there was a desk to the left, bathroom to the right, closet with safe and shelves and shelves hidden throughout the cabin for small items. There was a footstool which doubled as a seat for the desk and a hairdryer under the desk. The stool top flipped up which gave a bit more storage. This stool proved to be pain in the neck. Every time we tried to put it as far under the deck possible, an extra piece on the hairdryer fell off.
All the storage space was in the closet, no drawers to put clothing. There were four shelves, one deep one, the rest very narrow with one holding the safe. There was also a shelf on top of the closet. There were lots of hangers. We stored our luggage under the bed but if you want to put more than two people in an interior cabin, forget it -the storage is woefully inadequate.
The noise in the cabins was terrible in the ship area we were in. The doors are extremely heavy and open out, and if people don't hold the door when entering or exiting, it slams shut loudly. We were constantly awakened by the people next to us in the middle of the night and then at 6 AM when they came and went from their room and slammed the cabin door. To top it, we constantly heard noise above our cabin up until 1 or 2 AM that sounded like carts being dragged. On day three, after being awakened the first two nights from noise, I finally went to see what was above us. It was an area open only to staff that they must have been moving carts around and putting metal away. One call to Guest Services resolved the issue once we knew what caused it.
We did visit a balcony cabin and there was sufficient room in that cabin, including a sofa. Other cruise lines like Royal Caribbean and Celebrity put a small chair or couch inside their interior cabins which makes a huge difference so you have a place to sit in the cabin.
The Haven is the exception to the rule on NCL ships. This area is where upscale cabins that rival the best on any other cruise line, even having one and two bedroom suites. All cabins in the Haven have their own courtyard area and pool that other guests cannot use, as well as their own restaurant. The cabins here are gorgeous and service is outstanding.
Norwegian also has Studio Cabins that are meant for solo travelers. People sailing on their own usually pay 100% of the cruise priced for two people. These Studio Cabins eliminate the surcharge for sailing alone. These cabins also have their own "living room", a public area only open to Studio guests where they can meet and mingle with other solo travelers. There are sign up boards for people to meet for dinner, activities and excursions so they don't have to experience these things alone.
Room Steward/Cleaning - C. Our room steward's name was Joel and he didn't speak English very well. As soon as I got into the room, I noticed that the rugs were dirty on each side of the bed, where the two twin beds were pushed together. I called Joel and asked him to vacuum the rugs after all the luggage was distributed. We also asked to have the refrigerator mini-bar cleaned out so we weren't tempted by the expensive snacks and we had room for our own beverages. Joel told us to call "00" to get the contents removed.
We came back from sailaway at 8:50 PM and the rug wasn't vacuumed nor was the mini bar cleaned out. I called Joel again and it was clear he had no idea idea what I was asking so I went down to Guest Services to make the request. The gal at Guest Services said that Joel called her because he didn't understand what I wanted. She told me the room would be vacuumed tomorrow. I also told her the mini-bar still wasn't taken care of either. When no one appeared by 10:00, we just went to bed and lo and behold at 10:45 there was a knock on the door and we were awakened to have the contents taken out of the refrigerator, put in a bag and stored in the closet. I could have done that myself.
The room was vacuumed the next day and we even had a gift in the bathroom. NCL needs to make more of an effort to insure that staff that is on contact with passengers has a better grasp of English than Joel did. He was very nice but not understanding that the carpet needed to be vacuumed was a poor reflection of his duties.
Sailaway: A.NY is always magnificent and a view I never tire of sailing from here. I've sailed when the Twin Towers were present, sailed after 9/11 when the pile could be seen and you could hear a pin drop as the ship went past as passengers were silent as a tribute, and now with the new Tower built. I still get chills going past the Statue of Liberty and of course were in Spice H2O for the count down going under the Verrazano Narrow Bridge.
Food - B+ I don't sail for gourmet food but I do like a decent meal and there were plenty of choices on this ship. The food in the main dining rooms was good. I had delicious steaks, good pasta, nice vegetable dishes, good sushi and found the variety in the buffet to be good. One particular plus is the fact that you can get ice cream at the buffet almost all the time and not just soft serve cones, there was an ice cream station with five or six different flavors that were scooped and changed daily. I also discovered pretzel rolls! I am not a bread eater but those rolls were delicious and I ate them as much as I could.
There is a Sabrett hot dog cart on the main pool deck where you can get hots dogs at certain times of the day and a grill on Deck 16 above the buffet where you could get hamburgers and sausage.
We didn't eat at any specialty restaurants except the Sushi bar because we were unable to make reservations before we left. We were attending a seminar on the ship and because we weren't sure what nights we would be free, we couldn't make plans in advance. By the time we knew what days we'd have open, there were no reservations available, so do yourself a favor and make sure you make reservations if you want to try one of them.
One restaurant we didn't care for was O'Sheehans. The restaurant is the 24 hour restaurant and I heard many people complimenting the breakfast. We had lunch and dinner there and were not impressed. I ordered a corned beef sandwich which was probably the worst corned beef I ever had. Another party with us ordered a hamburger and said it was awful. They changed their dinner menu daily and one night was all you could eat ribs but after my first two attempts, I decided I wouldn't eat there again.
There is a Carlos Bakery which was over priced. On the Epic, in the Atrium was a coffee bar that had free cakes and pastry. On this ship, Carlos' Bakery has taken over and there are no more free snacks. There is also a Gelato Bar on the outside of deck 6 where you can purchase gelato.
Entertainment - A Norwegian and Royal Caribbean hands down have the best entertainment at sea on our opinion. This ship is no exception. From the Broadway quality production of Rock of Ages (this show is NOT for the kiddies!) to the outstanding dancing in Burn the Floor, to Second City Comedy, you won't be bored on this ship. Fat Cats is a blue club with great jazz and blues at night. We sat in on Second City a few nights, and had some fun watching parents and kids getting slimed by the pool at a show and enjoyed Nickelodeon characters such as Sponge Bob, Patrick, and Dora the Explorer with the kids.
There were health seminars in the gym, plenty of trivia contests, Bingo and of course the Casino where one of our friends even walked away from BlackJack a winner.
Pools - C While this ship had several pools, they were the smallest pools I have ever seen on a ship. The pools are all in the center of deck 14, they are inadequate for the number of people on board. The adults only pool is by the Waves bar in front of the stage. It deceivingly looks large, but the pool is not swimmable - the deep area is in the center and there are two large areas on either side that are ankle deep for sitting in and possibly hanging your legs into the big pool.
The kids water park is a great area for the little ones and in between that area is another pool for families but again, not swimmable. We saw people standing shoulder to shoulder in both pools. I believe that the cruise lines purposely do this so that people don't spend much time in the pools, they dunk themselves and get out and order more drinks. We missed the H2O zone that the Norwegian Epic had. The H2O zone is strictly for adults most of the day and on the Epic, there was a pool under the movie screen. It was a quiet area for adults to sun and swim and they took it off the Breakaway and moved the pool to the center of the ship. All that is still in the H2O zone are hot tubs and chairs.
The water park had Nickelodeon characters and a spray park for the kids and very shallow water for toddlers. Thankfully the kids were in school when we sailed because I can't imagine how the pool area fares when the ship has 1,000 kids on it during school breaks.
Activities - A Besides pools, the Breakaway has a rope course and a "plank" to walk. There is mini-golf, basketball, a climbing wall, jogging track, and teen lounge and video arcade. There is a library and bowling alley inside the ship as well as Kids Clubs for the little ones. Wine tastings, martini tastings, enrichment classes, all held throughout the day.
Another thing you might want to try is the Svedka Ice Bar. For $20 you get a half hour in the ice bar and two drink coupons, good for either an alcoholic or non-alcoholic drink. You'll be given a cape and gloves and should wear long pants and closed toed shoes, but it still is awfully cold in there. I was out with my second drink after 10 minutes, it was just too cold for me. I didn't see anyone who lasted a half hour.
Staffing - B One thing we clearly tell our clients is that if you want five star service, you won't find it on NCL. That isn't to say that the staff doesn't try - they just don't have the inclination to rush to get anything done. For instance, in the buffet restaurant, many times there were tables weren't cleared promptly, which was an issue during prime times. Several times the coffee machines were empty at breakfast, especially the one on the outside deck. This requires a long walk inside to one of the other coffee stations. We had to request cream twice because the creamers were empty as well.
Sometimes there was someone manning the ice cream bar, sometimes there wasn't. We had no spoons one day at breakfast for cereal, the spoon holders were empty. One or two nights service in the main dining rooms was very slow or the drinks were forgotten about. One night the waiter never even asked if anyone wanted a drink from the bar. The supervisors for dining need to really step up to the plate and watch what is going on. It was extremely annoying to be asked every five minutes on the pool deck is we wanted a drink too.
As I stated about the noise above our cabin, that was a staff area where the staff wasn't considerate of what was going on under neath them when they are moving carts, dropping metal objects, etc. Others might have suffered through the noise, we knew to complain and it was fixed once we complained.
These things do add up so if you know what to expect, this shouldn't ruin your cruise, but be aware that you won't get excellent service on any NCL ship.
The Ship hallways - D - Getting around the hallways on this ship was quite inconvenient and anyone that is handicapped and using a walker or a wheelchair will be highly inconvenienced during the day when the cleaning carts are in the hallways. The handicapped accessible cabins aren't near the entrance ways in the hallway - many are down corridors that a wheelchair or walker can't get past with carts, which are out from early morning until the afternoon and then again at night.One person can barely fit in the hallway between the cart and the wall. The hallways need to be wider and whoever designed these ships should know to put the handicapped accessible cabins near the hallway doors and elevators. Andy Stewart - please get this fixed on the new ship being built!
Theater seating - D - Another area we said "who on earth designed this?" There is a metal bar on the bottom rear of the seat that is not upholstered BUT - you have to sit on it anyway. These seats are the most painful seats I have ever sat on. One night when we were early to the theater we watched a couple get up and down 16 times to try to find a comfortable seat before they finally realized all the seats had this metal at the back and were uncomfortable. Everyone we sat near we heard saying something about the seats. The whole theater really needs to be re-upholstered. Otherwise, the theater is purposely built so there are no columns interrupting your view. Bring a pillow or something soft to stuff on the back of the seat so you don't have the bar up your butt.
Disembarkation - B+ - The only reason I didn't give this an A is because of the lack of Immigration agents when we left the ship. And the fact that luggage wasn't always placed with the proper ticket color.
Norwegian allows you to choose the time you want to disembark, which I love. Since we were taking the train home and didn't have to make a flight, when we got off didn't matter. (Hint - if I did it again, I'd take the earliest disembarkation time. With that, you can get off any time after that tag color is called rather than having to wait to have your color called. There was quite a while in between colors being called to disembark. Once we got to the luggage claim area, it was chaos. We found one bag but the other bag was in a totally different color tag area.
We were directed to the right hand line by the staff in the terminal. Big mistake to listen when the agent said 'It doesn't matter which line you take'. Well, the right hand line only had two agents (and one had to take the Elite Latitude members off a separate line first). and the left hand side had six. And then a center line was made for those who were smart enough to ask for a porter to take their bags out and they were zipped out first. We waited on line for an hour to get to a Immigration agent and get out of the building while the other line sped through in about 15 minutes.
Hint: Observe and see how many agents there are before getting on a Customs line.
All in all, none of the issues we had were enough to not sail Norwegian again. We have a future cruise credit we will be using for another cruise. If you set your expectations properly. you shouldn't be disappointed with a Norwegian cruise.