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.
Last week Norwegian Cruise Line took a big step in establishing itself as The Entertainment Line with the launch of the 146,600-ton, 4,028-passenger Norwegian Breakaway. At a cost of more than $840 million dollars, Breakaway represents the first of a new class of ships for Norwegian Cruise Lines, designed specifically for its entertainment driven freestyle cruising.
I was fortunate to attend one of the 2-day media sailings of the Norwegian Breakaway out of its New York City homeport. To this editor, it appears that Breakaway has something to appeal to just about everyone, and the investment will pay off. The Breakaway has taken the best of the innovations found on the company’s Epic and Jewel class ships, including a large number of entertainment and dining venues, a water slide, and upgraded children’s programs, and combined them with the innovative Freestyle cruising components that has won accolades and fans across the ships of the line. With Breakaway, Norwegian has added a huge water park, enhanced its Nickleodeon 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.” But while the Breakaway is innovative, it also brings risks to Norwegian.
Breakaway’s impressive differences begin with the colorful hull art designed by iconic pop artist, Peter Max. But unlike the flashy hull, the inside of Breakaway is quite elegant and subdued. It’s really pretty. For a ship of this size, Breakaway feels spacious and well organized, with a remarkable amount of attention to detail.
For example, there are well lit maps on every deck, and touch screens located throughout the ship to help guests navigate and make reservations.
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 fancy showers and upscale bathroom fixtures and tasteful color schemes, and there are a wide variety of room types and sizes to suit singles, couples, and families.
The Freestyle concept is best seen in the dining and entertainment options onboard Breakaway. Breakaway has 22 restaurants (most with extra fee) and a bunch of bars of all types and sizes. Deck 7 has the spectacular “Waterfront” (Watch Video) ” 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 old style liners.
One major feature of The Waterfront is Breakaway’s new, seafood-centric restaurant called Ocean Blue, created by Iron Chef and native New Yorker, Geoffrey Zakarian. A $35 fee goes with 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, to watch people standing patiently in line to pay for cake and cookies when sweets are available at no charge throughout the day on the ship, but apparently, Valastro’s fame as a reality star enticed the crowd
For those who are health and fitness oriented, the gym will offer lots of high tech training tools along with the expected machines and weights and training services and classes (for an extra fee). On the media cruise, the Rockettes (the Breakaway’s Godmothers) offered guests a dance class (Watch Video) which was lots of fun, and they will be on board at least once a month. They are also developing a fitness class for the ship (again, that extra fee, but who wouldn’t want to work out with the Rockettes?!)
The Mandara spa and fitness area has some unusual amenities, including something called a “salt room” made with genuine salt. Unlike the older ships, this one puts the thermal suite in the middle, making it accessible to both men and women. It includes a sauna, steam room, vitality pool and room with heated loungers, and 22 treatment rooms offering more than 50 different spa services from facials to massages. Acupuncture, tooth whitening and even facial fillers, plus more traditional hair, nail, and waxing services, and a barber shop with treatments, haircuts and traditional warm shaves for men.
The Ice Bar (Watch Video) concept introduced on Epic is also offered on Breakaway, with “NYC-inspired: cocktails (but most of the guests were so excited and chilly that they quickly ordered by blue, green or yellow drinks). The bar is kept at 17 degrees Fahrenheit and features large ice sculptures of New York landmarks. All of the bars, restaurants and public rooms are exciting and lovely, but 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 simply relax quietly. Almost all of the venues are being used throughout the day for various extra-fee activities.
At a press conference on board the Breakaway prior to its first official passenger sailing, CEO Kevin Sheehan suggested that home-porting the huge ship in New York City is not a gamble at all, but a very smart move. After all, the City is a large, untapped market. When locals want to get away to somewhere warm, they have to fly which has become quite a hassle. Now, they can simply get in a cab and 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. He emphasized that cruising is still a very good deal. However, the more traditional format for cruises was pay a lot, up front, but after that (other than tips, drinks and personal services), everything else was included. Today, 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 options you choose to pay for, and which accommodations on the ship, you select (watch video tour of a mini suite). The for-a-fee options may produce a surprisingly large bill at the end of the cruise, but with so many thing to try, passengers will want to experience some or all of them. CEO 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 has a feel 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 is definitely going to like Breakaway is young families with children. If there’s one thing Norwegian knows how to do, it is catering 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 Kids’ Aqua Park featuring Nickelodeon characters including SpongeBob SquarePants, Patrick and Squidward who spray water at timed intervals. There is not just a kiddie-pool, there is a 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 the 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’s cruise 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 kids’ areas.
Another group of passengers who will enjoy the Breakaway, are more affluent travelers (with or without children) who want to travel in larger groups. For them, there is The Haven, 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, with 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. There is also a solo passenger’s lounge area with ouble-decker seating. There are only 59 solo cabins and they’ll book up quickly. A key card is used for access, making it particularly attractive to solo female passengers who want to feel “protected
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 web Site: www.ncl.com
*all photos except the hull, (c) 2013 Alison Blackman. For more information visit http://alisonblackman.info/