Cruise Ship Review: Norwegian Breakaway
Start spreading the news… this floating mini-Manhattan is a New York dream come true!
By Fran Golden
When Norwegian Cruise Line recently christened its lively, new 4,000-passenger Norwegian Breakaway in New York, Buddy Valastro, of TLC’s TV’s Cake Boss fame, was front and center. Why? Because brash Buddy has a branch of his Hoboken bakery Carlo’s on board, and a lot of what makes Norwegian Breakaway the most exciting cruise ship to hit the scene in years is about branding.
That, and Buddy has a great Northern New Jersey accent.
Make no mistake: Norwegian Breakaway, as the largest ship ever to homeport in New York year-round, is very much about catering to the local market. Ask Norwegian Cruise Line’s New York–born-and-bred CEO Kevin Sheehan, and he’ll tell you the cruising world has never seen a ship like the New York–centric Norwegian Breakaway before.
“This is a game-changer. There’s the old industry and here’s the new industry,” he told reporters on a two-day christening cruise out of the Big Apple. “It’s a ship that’s been built for people to have a ball. But it’s also a ship built to be very profitable,” Sheehan added with a smile. “It just kind of worked out that way.”
Aboard Norwegian Breakaway, passengers can do a workout with The Rockettes, the ship’s official godmothers, then blow calories eating a real New York–style Sabrett’s hot dog, washed down with a Brooklyn Lager before diving into a cannoli from Carlo’s Bake Shop.
Want more? This water-borne version of Manhattan also has a real sub-zero Ice Bar featuring sculptures of such landmarks as the Brooklyn Bridge and Chrysler Building and, among its 27 eateries, seafood restaurants run by Iron Chef and New York restaurateur Geoffrey Zakarian. A lot of that you pay extra for. A cannoli from Carlo’s will cost you $3 (passengers can also order the bakery’s famous customized cakes). A special Rockettes-themed pink, fruity, and somewhat lethal Rockettini cocktail is $8.75. But the hot dogs, served from carts in two outdoor locations, are free.
Add three shows that have appeared on Broadway, including the raunchy Rock of Ages, an expansive waterpark, an extra-wide waterfront promenade and more than a dozen bars and lounges and you get a ship that’s part Coney Island, part Times Square, with a dose of Atlantic City for good measure.
Setting the tone before you even step aboard is the ship’s hull design, a bright pop-art depiction of the Manhattan skyline by Peter Max. Talk about marketing — the artwork will be seen by millions every week as the ship embarks from Pier 88 in Midtown Manhattan and out to sea.
Five brightly colored waterslides twist above the top deck, comprising the largest water park at sea and breaking records for both fastest and longest slides on a cruise ship. A tamer water park is themed with Nickelodeon characters including SpongeBob — part of Norwegian’s partnership with the kids’ TV network. The ship also has the largest Splash Academy kids’ playroom facilities in the fleet, also themed with Nickelodeon, and a separate teen lounge that hosts activities for older kids.
Breakaway’s three-level Sports Complex is action central. Passengers can play pirate on The Plank, a section of the expansive, 40-activity ropes course where you can actually walk 8 feet off the ship (while wearing a harness) with nothing below but the sea. There’s also a college regulation–sized basketball court and the line’s first mini-golf course, done up in an underwater theme.
Never-before-seen design features also include The Waterfront, the ship’s extra-wide, quarter-mile, ocean-view promenade lined with restaurants and bars. Passengers can sit and take in the views or stroll — while slurping a frozen treat from the gelato stand.
From the ship’s lively indoor hub, a multi-atrium, three-deck expanse known as 678 Ocean Place, passengers flow in all directions to more than a dozen clubs, bars, restaurants, the casino and entertainment venues — choosing diversions including improv comedy, blues, dueling pianos, dancing, and more. This is prime territory, too, for the sport of people-watching.
Stuff to do, things to see
A dozen Rockettes in glittering silver costumes kicked up a storm before officially naming the ship at a christening ceremony, and the legendary dance troupe has a permanent presence aboard Breakaway too. Passengers can do a work out in Rockettes-themed exercise classes that focus on the quads and hips, areas required for high kicking. There are dance classes run by a pair of the lanky ladies on select sailings (without the high steps, which are difficult on land and would be more so on a moving ship) and photo sessions, too. There’s also opportunity to learn Rockettes history at lectures and at a costume exhibit in the ship’s library.
Do not miss Breakaway‘s marquee show, five-time Tony-nominated Rock of Ages. But be forewarned: while it’s a fun time for adults who are into it, the show features heavy metal music from the 1980s, a bunch of F-bombs and even simulated sex. The opening night performance drew a standing ovation.
Also not to be missed, the best deck party at sea — featuring the music of the 1980s. Practice your Michael Jackson “Thriller” zombie moves and come to the open-air, adults-only Spice H20 club dressed as “Like a Virgin” Madonna, or with hair like David Lee Roth in Van Halen, and you’ll feel right at home. Added bonus: an impressive fireworks display.
The other shows are Burn the Floor, featuring sultry ballroom dance performances, and a brand new jungle-themed Cirque Dreams circus dinner experience held under the ship’s real big top.
In the ship’s two-deck spa, new attractions include Chi Balls Fire Yoga and Black-Light Spinning. Fees for classes range from $12 to $30. In its relaxation area, the spa also has the first salt room at sea.
Foodies are flocking to the Zakarian dining spots — so much so, the price of indulging at the chef’s Ocean Blue restaurant was raised from $35 to $49 per person within weeks of its debut. The menu includes such tasty but rich offerings as fried calamari with hot peppers and lightly roasted scallops with caramelized pork belly. There’s also a raw bar and a takeaway window, where you can indulge in a gourmet lobster roll ($9.75). Zakarian (also featured as a judge on the TV show Chopped) will greet passengers aboard select sailings.
New Yorkers who enjoy ethnic food will find plenty to like on Breakaway, with restaurant choices including Italian, Brazilian churrascaria, French bistro, Irish pub, sushi and Japanese teppanyaki, to name a few. Several involve a fee; a number have a choice of indoor or outdoor dining.
Among complimentary dining venues, The Manhattan Room is a lovely cabaret-style supper club with a dance band performing and, on select nights, the unfairly good-looking dancers from Burn the Floor doing a few turns on the dance floor.
Convenient to the Pool Deck, the open-air Uptown Grill serves up the quick food options of New York-style meatballs, sausages and deli sandwiches.
Norwegian’s “freestyle” dining system means you can eat when and where you want — though reservations are advised at popular spots.
Choice in accommodations
Those seeking top-end digs can indulge in the luxurious, contemporary environs of The Haven, an all-suites complex with keycard-only access and private facilities that include a restaurant, bar, and pool with magrodome cover (for all-weather use).
Cabins and bathrooms on Breakaway are a little larger than on the other Norwegian ships, though balconies were cut down to add the indoor space. There are special cabins designed for families and, as introduced on 2010’s Norwegian Epic, a Studios complex serves up accommodations specially designed for solo travelers, including a shared lounge.
Even with all the whiz-bang features, the biggest highlight of a Breakaway cruise is the delight of seeing the island of Manhattan and Statue of Liberty from the sea.