A travel review of the Norwegian Breakaway. Our first cruise since the pandemic.
CLIF NOTES VERSION:
- Sailed on NCL Breakaway out of New Orleans the first week of 2022.
- Stayed in the exclusive NCL Haven.
- Felt completely safe with 100% vaccinated crew and passengers only onboard as well as strict masking.
- Not as much entertainment due to COVID but not a big deal.
- Ships are about half full.
- NCL is serious about keeping the ship clean.
- Food was great as was the service.
- Ports are subdued, but COVID aware.
- COVID looms, but not large and for the most part, passengers are on good behavior with protocols.
THE FULL REVIEW:
In March of 2020, we were on one of the last ships to dock in the world before what would become a year long cruising hiatus due to the COVID pandemic. So for the first week of 2022, our family made its return to cruising and it was frankly glorious.
We set sail the day after New Years out of New Orleans on the Norwegian (NCL) Breakaway. To set the stage, we chose Norwegian for several reasons, but here are the top line reasons:
- In order to get on the boat, you have to be fully vaccinated, meaning that all passengers AND crew 100% fully vaccinated.
- They rapid test before you get on the boat.
- We love Norwegian.
We live in the Houston metro area and we usually would cruise out of Galveston, but currently NCL does not have a ship there. They used to go out of the Port of Houston, but stopped a few years ago unfortunately. We have since learned that they will be going out of Galveston starting 2023! Which is great because Galveston is much more convenient for us. In any case, we made the 6 hour drive from Houston to New Orleans on New Years Day, one day before our cruise was scheduled to embark. It makes sense for us to do it because a 6 hour drive offers too many potential pitfalls (traffic, weather, bathroom breaks, etc) and we would not want to leave it up to chance. Besides, it’s always nice to get a good nights sleep the night before a cruise. Embarkation day is a full day without all the new COVID protocols, so with the added layers of checks its best to be rested.
We stayed at the Hampton Inn and Suites Convention Center for the night and got the cruise package. This package allows you to park for the week at the hotel for $14 a day vs the $20 a day at the port. Our car was valet parked at the hotel in their garage as where if we parked at the port I would be parking it, it would be left out in the elements, and security is not as dependable. A no brainer. Now, it’s not all sunshine and roses. We were there during the Sugar Bowl, so there were a ton of folks valeting and picking up their cars. The valet staff seems pretty small, but this may only be a problem during big events. The staff is friendly and is as attentive as they can be considering the crush of people looking to park or pick up.
The hotel is surprisingly close to the port, our family of 5 actually walked over in a little under 10 minutes and that is with a 6 year old, 2 duffle bags and 3 roller bags in tow. There is a group of NCL porters under the bridge at the port reading and waiting to take your bags and put them on the ship.
From there, we were directed to a building across the street get our rapid tests. There was paperwork that you will need to print out in advance to do this smoothly, but if you do that, and you don’t have COVID, you will breeze through.
Our walk to the port.
The next step was pretty much the same as any embarkation day however this one was with masks. The staff at the port is very good about reminding people that they need to wear one and we didn’t see any real issues with that.
This cruise we elected/paid the extra money to stay in the Breakaway’s Haven. It is what they call a “cruise within a cruise.” It is all worth it too. When we arrived and passed security we were directed to a special line where we were checked in and received our sail cards. From there we were spirited away into a special room within the waiting room with snacks, water, soda, juices, coffee and tea for us to have at. There we met our “butler” for the week, Mel, who set us up to be escorted onto the ship and directly to our room. It is a really great set up.
The Haven has its own dining room, bar, and atrium area just for Haven guests. In fact, you have to scan your room key card just to enter the compound. Of course our room was not ready so we were treated to a great lunch in The Haven’s private dining area. There is a full menu every day for breakfast, lunch and dinner, and while full of diverse offerings at each mealtime, they are the same offerings every day. Also, if you are plant-based/vegan as our family is, you may as well resign yourself to being a combination of vegetarian/pescatarian for the week because there are very few meals that do not have some sort of meat, cheese, cream, or egg. The dining room staff is top notch; friendly, attentive, and thorough. By the middle of the cruise they knew our preferences and had them ready for us. They were great at accommodating our orders whether it be medium brown toast for breakfast, double orders of risotto for lunch, or no cheese on something for dinner. The food is truly made to order and fantastic. Ultimately, if NCL could offer more plant based options it would be great! That they have not struck up a deal with Impossible Foods or Beyond Foods is, quite frankly, “beyond” me. It’s a perfect partnership AND the “meat” keeps. I would have loved to have an Impossible/Beyond Burger on the trip with some of the perfectly cooked NCL fries.
The Haven as a whole is quite a marvel. Guests get the highest levels of customer service. There is a Haven concierge who sets up any reservations to the spa, specialty dinners, shows, etc. Each room gets their own “butler” who along with the concierge can get you just about anything. The butler along with you cabin steward are always on call and ready to assist. They will also bring snacks and treats to your room daily as well as take care of any special needs you may have. I happened to have a birthday on our cruise. My wife let NCL know and confirmed with our butler Mel when we arrived… all unbeknownst to me. The day of my birthday Mel and our cabin-steward Francis truly surprised me. Room decorations, champagne, and cake specially ordered by my wife. Mel also added a personal touch by remembering that I asked about hot chocolate during the cruise. He actually had specially made hot chocolate for me and the family including marshmallows and dark chocolate shavings. Amazing!
We got a Haven suite on the ship and it was probably the best cabin we have ever experienced while sailing. With a main bedroom with full size bathroom including spa tub, a sitting area with TV and bistro table, to a more traditional side room for the kids, the room comfortably housed our family of 5. We never felt cramped, in fact, looking for our 18 year old who could sometimes be found in his room watching TV was sometimes a chore.
Mel serving up that hot chocolate!!!
Besides the private Haven guests only dining room and spacious cabin, the compound also has an atrium area with a small pool, 2 hot tubs, a sauna, and seating if you didn’t want to eat in the dining room. Above that there is more seating and outside there is a deck area for Haven guests who are 16 and over where they bring food and serve drinks from the private bar. Which brings us to the hidden jewel of The Haven… the bar and bar staff. Friendly, attentive, and just plain fun. 2 days in they knew our names, our drink preferences, and what we were up to. When times were slow they would come over and engage you in conversation and give you little insights into working on the Breakaway. They especially loved our 6 year old who was a staff favorite. The bar/lobby area turns into a mini-Cheers by day 3 of the cruise with the bar staff knowing your name and really ecstatic that you came. We brought out 21 year old son who after cursing for years with us had sworn off ever getting on a boat again because after he was ineligible for the teen clubs, he just didn’t have fun any more. Well after his stay in The Haven, he’s back to loving cruising and part of that is because of the incredible bar staff.
The Breakaway its self is quite the vessel. It has it all including an Ice Bar. Yes a bar made of ice. You have to book a visit, but it is incredible. There is a library/game room where we checked out books to read and dabbled in chess. A couple of mini bowling lanes and video games right off of the Atrium. There is a nice big screen in the Atrium as well where they show movies and play all the games. There is another huge screen on the aft of the boat in the Splash H2O area of the ship. Unfortunately, on the promenade deck with the pool there is only a stage and because of COVID that stage usually just had a DJ. A big screen outside would be nice and with the pandemic it would be great to sit outside by the pool and watch a movie under the stars.The pool area outside is nice, but smaller than many other ships. I think some of the pool area gives way to the 3 or 4 slides on the deck and the kids pool which is actually pretty big. The sport deck is not bad and there is a ropes course that you can do. There are LITERALLY a boat load of bars and restaurants and a nice shopping area that was closed at random times. The Casino is smack dab in the middle of the ship, but I think it is non-smoking so that makes it nice to walk through.
Quick video of the suite.
We are what many may consider veteran cruisers so we have a usual routine we follow, however with COVID, specifically Omicron, we knew this cruise would be different. First off, NCL cleans like no ones business and there was hand sanitizer EVERYWHERE! Our 6 year old never missed a chance to “washy-washy.” The buffet was in one door and out a separate one and both entrance and exit had hand washing stations and sanitizer. While there was plenty of entertainment onboard and the ships Cruise Director Alan kept everyone engaged, it was not as crazy hectic as cruises of the past. The main room did not have a show every night like pre-COVID cruises rather opting for smaller things around the boat like comedy shows at Headliners, game shows in the ships Atrium, and dance parties at the ships aft. Not as many musicians playing around the boat and not quite as many ancillary sales presentations. This is probably all for the best as it seemed to spread people out around the boat making it never too crowded as to feel overwhelmed by people. Magician comedian Joseph Rohem ended up doing 2 nights instead of the usual one that magician usually have as one (or more) of the cast members of the Broadway musical “Six” supposedly caught COVID and was unable to perform. It was disappointing missing out on the Broadway show, however it’s COVID so we must all be flexible. They brought back Joseph Rohem to fill the void. There were also 2 performances of the NCL mainstay show “Burn the Floor,” but only the two on the same night. There was Howl At The Moon dueling pianos and family Karaoke to round out some of the entertainment.
Showtime... Masked Up and Ready to Go!
Masking was required throughout the ship unless eating or drinking and for the most part it was followed by most of the guests. From what we saw there were no huge Karen-like outburst regarding the issue and people for the most part were courteous. We live in Texas and quite frankly there was more masking on the boat than most places we happen to go to locally. I actually felt safer on the boat than I do in our local grocery store.
As for keeping the little, vaccinated, one entertained, the kids club was closed for those 12 and under. We knew this going in, so we brought along games and puzzles to keep us all entertained. However, NCL did have one of the kids club areas open for kids and teens play in as long as they were accompanied by an adult. It’s in the preteen room which is loaded with video games and tv’s however now there is also a play area for the littles. From our understanding teen club was open in a truncated way just not as many organized events and I don’t think the kids had to sign in. We also rented a couple of movies and watched them as a family during down times and at night. Not typical cruise entertainment, but when you travel with a little and kids club isn’t an option you do what you gotta do.
This all makes sense overall. The ship was probably half to three-quarters as full as a traditional cruise which I don’t know is done by design or fate but it figured that the usual full gamut of entertainment was not necessary. In fact, one of the ships main dining rooms was not open. We did happen to enjoy one night of dinner in the Taste dining room (Savor, the other main room was closed). Another great experience with the servers and food.
Dinner for my birthday!
With NCL guest are able to pick what extras they would like to add to their package. From 250 minutes of WiFI, to drink packages, to discounts on shore excursions, all guests get to pick. My wife and I selected drink packages (of course) and 2 nights of specialty dining. Completely worth it. The hibachi grill, Teppanyaki was a great time. The chef was entertaining and held our interest even thought we have seen some of the same schtick before at Benninhana’s shoreside. The food was cooked perfectly and he even had extra rice (which I definitely overindulged in). Our next specialty dining experience was at Ocean Blue, which is on the Breakaway’s Waterfront deck and it was some of the freshest, best cooked seafood I ever had.
There were four ports on this cruise: Cozumel Mexico, Roatan Honduras, NCL’s private island Harvest Caye in Belize and Costa Maya Mexico. For me that means there is a lot of on the ship off the ship on the ship and I could do with one less port and one extra day on the sea, but in current times it makes sense. People would truly get cabin fever possibly if there were only 3 ports and 3 full sea days. The weather was perfect at each port. Everyday sunny with a high of about 83F (28C). The workers at the ports are really good about masking and for the first time I didn’t feel hassled by the locals to take a cab or an arrant excursion. The people seemed very subdued frankly, but it was not bad. They seemed to be more focused on delivering quality customer service versus playing the high numbers quantity game. On the excursions we wore masks and the drivers, all masked up, sprayed our hands before we got on in the vans and busses. We were encouraged to wear masks at the ports and on any excursions as we would not be the only ship in the ports. Only one day were we the only boat in the port and that was at NCL’s island Harvest Caye. It has really come a long way since our last cruise there, however prices and taxes have gone up and don’t forget to bring your credit card as they do not accept your sail card as payment method. It makes no sense, but I am not an international tax expert and have no idea how they handle such things. The final day at Costa Maya we were in port with 3 other ships but were only there until 12:30pm which we thought was quite a short excursion. In fact, 4 hours is the shortest excursion I’ve ever experienced on a ship and outside of the great port it has become wth shopping, spas, restaurants, dolphins, and birds we could have passed it up. It was just too short a time.
The beach in Cozumel. Beautiful.
Because of the short call at Costa Maya, the next day it did feel like we were standing still in the water. The ship barely moved most of the day and we docked back in New Orleans that Sunday at like 4am, which was great because we got off the boat early and home before we planned. The only downside was that we were back in the real world and off of the Breakaway.
Till next time Breakaway, thanks!