In February 2023, Grant and I took our seventh cruise together, a seven-night Western Caribbean cruise on the Norwegian Breakaway. After seven cruises, all on different ships, we’ve definitely figured out what we like and don’t like. In this article, we’ll review the Norwegian Breakaway, including its layout and amenities.
When booking a cruise, we have primarily focused on the itinerary and dates to determine which cruise is right for us. Being teachers with limited days off, the dates we can travel are fairly restricted, so that tends to limit our options. Thus, we typically aren’t picky about what ship or cruise line. As long as we like the itinerary and can get to the ship’s departure port and back home within our break, we’ll book it.
As such, we have sailed with Norwegian, Royal Caribbean and Princess. While each cruise line has its strengths, we have found all three to be about the same in terms of service and overall operation. The biggest differences are the ship’s size and capacity, along with its layout and offerings in terms of restaurants, bars, activities and entertainment.
Honestly, though, we’ve never really focused on those things before booking a cruise. Our biggest takeaway from cruising on the Norwegian Breakaway is that we shouldn’t ignore those things. So, let’s take a look at what the Breakaway offers and how that impacted our overall cruise experience.
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On Board the Norwegian Breakaway
The Breakaway is now considered a mid-size cruise ship, with a gross tonnage of 145,655 and a guest capacity of 3,963 (double capacity). At its launch in April 2013, it was the ninth-largest cruise ship, by gross tonnage, in the world. With the move by the entire cruise industry to bigger ships, the Norwegian Breakaway is now only the 39th largest ship.
Its sister ship, the Norwegian Getaway, is very similar in terms of size and layout, though they do have different features and amenities.
Highlights of the Breakaway include The Waterfront, a 1/4-mile oceanfront promenade that runs down both sides of the ship, along with several water slides and a ropes course with a zip line.
One reason we love cruising is the fantastic food that you are sure to overindulge in! In terms of complementary offerings, the Norwegian Breakaway includes three main dining rooms, two specialty restaurants and a buffet for all guests.
Main Dining Rooms
The biggest dining room is The Manhattan Room, which spans the aft of Deck 7. Just above it, on Deck 6, are two smaller dining rooms, Taste and Savor, one on each side of the ship. Over the week, we dined in all three, with Taste and Savor being our favorites. Note: The Manhattan Room is only open for dinner while Taste and Savor are open for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
In terms of food, all three main dining rooms were fantastic. For us, The Manhattan Room just felt too busy and almost frantic at times. I suppose that is mostly due to the size difference between them. The Manhattan Room also tended to have a long wait, even when there was absolutely no wait for Taste or Savor.
The other staple dining option on just about any cruise ship is the buffet, known as the Garden Cafe on the Norwegian Breakaway. As we get older, we like the buffet less and less. Not because it’s bad, but because it is often crowded and noisy. We just don’t like fighting for a table and all the chaos.
We did get lunch from the buffet when we first got on the ship. Honestly, that was mainly because it’s where we were “funneled” and we didn’t realize the main dining room was actually open. We also grabbed a snack from the buffet one day.
As usual, the buffet offered a wide selection of salads, soups, entrees, burgers, pizza, and desserts. What we did have was good for a quick, basic meal. I certainly understand why families with kids (or other picky eaters) would prefer the buffet. It’s also great if you are in a hurry or just want a snack at an odd time.
Complimentary Specialty Dining
The complimentary specialty options are Shanghai’s Noodle Bar and O’Sheehan’s Bar & Grill. We do appreciate having these options at no additional fee. While we enjoy the main dining rooms, we also enjoy a change after several days. It’s nice to not have to pay extra for that!
We enjoyed both breakfast and lunch at O’Sheehan’s, which is a classic Irish pub. For breakfast, you can enjoy traditional American classics like eggs, omelets, French toast or pancakes. But, since we were headed to London in about six weeks, I couldn’t pass up the English Breakfast, which includes eggs, baked beans, grilled tomato, sautéed mushrooms and hash browns.
Read more about our trip to London in Bonnie’s upcoming article.
For lunch, O’Sheehan’s offers traditional pub fare of burgers and sandwiches, along with a few appetizers, soups and salads. We found both the food and the service at O’Sheehan’s to be fantastic for both breakfast and lunch.
Sadly, we never got to dine at the Noodle Bar, as it was extremely popular and always had a long wait. Honestly, though, it looked very crowded, so I’m not sure we would have enjoyed the atmosphere. If you are interested in dining here, plan on arriving early or having a bit of a wait.
The Norwegian Breakaway has nine specialty dining restaurants, plus a gelato shop and a bakery. Offerings include seafood, sushi, a raw bar, a steakhouse, a Brazilian churrascaria, plus Japanese, Italian and French restaurants. For something more casual, there is an American Diner near the pool.
Two of these restaurants charge a flat cover fee while the others are a la carte pricing. While some people may balk at the idea of paying extra for food on a cruise, I understand it is necessary for specialty dining. With limited seating, the fee helps to ensure that the restaurants don’t get too busy.
That said, I’m not a big fan of a la carte pricing, which seems to be what many are moving towards. It will be interesting to see if this trend continues. I suppose that as long as there are people willing to spend the money, the industry will continue the trend.
We had dinner at both Le Bistro, the French restaurant, and Moderno Churrascaria.
I don’t think that Grant and I have ever eaten at a French restaurant. If we have, it was so long ago that we don’t remember it. So, we were thrilled to have that option on the Norwegian Breakaway.
Grant started with the escargot, which he really enjoyed. Personally, I am not a fan of the texture, but I could tell that it was well-seasoned and well-prepared. I opted to start with the mushroom soup, which was perfectly creamy but not too heavy. For our entrees, I had the Coq au Vin (braised chicken) and Grant went with a dual lamb dish. Both were expertly prepared and tasty.
Overall, we really enjoyed our dinner at Le Bistro. Both the food and service were fantastic. Really, our only complaint was that the wine list only included a couple of French wines offered by the glass that were within the price limit of the drink package.
We first dined at Moderno when we did an Alaska cruise with Grant’s family on the Norwegian Pearl in 2018. As you might guess, we enjoyed it so much that we decided to return on this cruise!
The concept of a Brazilian churrascaria is fairly simple… think of it as a meat buffet that is brought to your table!
Our meal started with a visit to the salad bar. Here, you can load up on salad, soup, bread and various vegetables, cheeses, and other charcuterie. Of course, the key is to try to not eat too much!
From there, servers bring around various types of meat including filet mignon, flank steak, top sirloin, chicken drumettes, bacon-wrapped chicken, lamb, pork, pork sausage and pork belly. We were each given a card with green and red sides to set on the table, indicating if we do or don’t want more food: green for more, red for hold off. Of course, sometimes you think you don’t want more until you see what it is they have!
Again, everything was delicious and it was definitely a struggle to not overeat!
Technically, there are 15 different bars and lounges plus a Starbucks on the Norwegian Breakaway. That includes a couple of private access or extra-fee bars. Still, there is a wide range of places to get a drink, as you might expect on any cruise ship.
Perhaps the biggest downside of the Norwegian Breakaway for us was that we had difficulty finding a bar that offered the opportunity to escape from the crowd. I know that you pretty much just have to expect crowds on a cruise ship. But most ships also have one or two places where you can find a quiet spot to relax with a drink. That was pretty much non-existent on this ship.
Still, we did find a few good places to get a drink.
Our Favorite Indoor Bars
The Atrium Bar is located right in the middle of Deck 6 and is pretty much always open. It’s a great place to grab a drink as you are walking around or when catching a scheduled presentation or activity in the atrium. The bartenders here were some of the best, as you might expect.
Another favorite was the Prime Meridian Bar, located between Cagney’s Steakhouse and Moderno Churrascaria. That was a great place to grab a drink before (or after) dinner, even if you are dining elsewhere. Our biggest complaint was that they didn’t have a lot of seating other than right at the bar.
For a martini, we recommend Shaker’s Cocktail Bar, where you can get a classic gin or vodka martini or a wide range of specialty martinis. Surprisingly, Maltings Beer & Whiskey Bar did not have that extensive or unique of a menu. You could find the same whiskey offerings at most of the other bars. Still, it was a good place to get straight whiskey or a cocktail.
Our biggest complaint about both Shaker’s and Maltings is that the seating area was quite small and they were open to the main corridor. That meant that they both were busy and loud most of the time.
You’ll also find a bar at the casino, inside O’Sheehan’s, between Taste and Savor and inside a couple of the evening performance areas.
Our Favorite Outdoor Bars
Much to our surprise, the outside bars tended to be a little less crowded and noisy, at least away from the pool. And, as easily as I burn, we tend to not spend a lot of time by the pool.
Along The Waterfront, you’ll find one outdoor bar on each side. We generally opted to go to whichever side was in the shade!
Our favorite of these was Syd Norman’s Pour House. The bartenders there seemed to have big personalities and really know how to entertain people. Unfortunately, the seating area was fairly small and not super comfortable. But, we did manage to find space to enjoy an amazing sunset one night!
On the other side, the outdoor area of Shakers offered a little more seating and much more comfortable chairs and couches. It also was one of a few places where we could get a mojito, one of our favorite warm-weather cocktails!
Skyy Vodka Ice Bar
I put the Ice Bar in its own category since it truly is special. For starters, you don’t find ice bars in many places and, certainly, not typically on a cruise ship. Additionally, it does have an additional cover charge. But, if you’ve never been to an ice bar, it is definitely worth the charge!
At the Skyy Vodka Ice Bar, you’ll find the entire bar made out of ice. Yes, that means it is housed inside a very large walk-in freezer which is kept at 17 degrees Fahrenheit. It features four specialty cocktails made with Skyy Vodka. As you might guess, that is all you can get at the bar, though there is one non-alcoholic option. Note: your cover charge includes two drinks.
Entrance to the ice bar is at the bottom of each hour (5:30, 6:30, etc) in the evenings only. Stop by the host stand when it opens, around 5:00 each day, to reserve your spot. We found that some days and times were very crowded and other times not at all crowded. It really was very hit-or-miss.
When we visited, we were actually the only people inside. That was kind of nice since it gave us the opportunity to take pictures and just enjoy the experience. But, it probably would have been more fun with more people.
You’ll get a large poncho-like parka to wear inside. Of course, I was wearing a skirt and sandals, so my legs and toes were frozen by the time we left! Still, I handled the cold better than I thought I might. I suppose that the novelty and excitement helped to keep me warm for a while!
The Skyy Vodka Ice Bar is certainly unique and something that I would definitely encourage you to visit. But, it’s not going to be a place where you hang out often.
Activities and Entertainment
One thing we have noticed out of all our cruises is that the cruise lines really do a good job of making sure the ship offers a good variety of activities on longer itineraries with multiple at-sea days. That certainly can be said for the Norwegian Breakaway.
You’ll find the usual variety of pools, hot tubs, spa, fitness center and basketball courts. But the Norwegian Breakaway also has several water slides and a ropes course. The water slides definitely looked as though they were geared toward kids, so we skipped those. But we did make a point to try out the ropes course.
I will be the first to admit that I am not a fan of heights. Still, when it comes to zip-lining or similar activities, I usually do ok since I have a harness. I have to say, that really did not help much on this ropes course. Overall, it was just a terrifying experience for me. But, that is my own fear, not anything wrong with the course!
Indeed, the harness was perfectly secure. And the safety system that they have set up to keep you “attached” at all times works great while still giving you options of where you can go. There were a variety of challenges and obstacles that you could choose from, some easier than others.
Still, being that high over the ship and the water was a bit too much for me. And, we did the course while in port. There is seriously no way I could have done that while sailing! Of course, we saw several kids on the course who were zipping through it without any hesitation.
For young kids, they do have a very small ropes course that is only about one foot off the ground. That might have been more my speed!
Grant typically loves to spend time in a casino when cruising. We generally budget a certain amount and spread it out over three or four nights. If we walk away with any of that money, great. If not, we’ve made sure it is an amount that we are comfortable spending for a few nights of entertainment.
Unfortunately, that didn’t work out the way it usually does on this cruise. On the Norwegian Breakaway, the minimum bet for blackjack (Grant’s game of choice) was $15. That really just doesn’t go very far on our budget. In fact, with our budget, he only managed about 20-30 minutes of play one night.
After that, it just wasn’t worth the money. That’s the thing for us – he never gambles if he isn’t prepared to lose everything that he starts with. On past ships, we have seen $5 or $10 minimum bets for blackjack, which is far more affordable. Honestly, based upon the number of empty tables in the casino with idle dealers, Norweigan might have priced themselves out of range of a lot of recreational gamblers.
So, instead of nightly gambling, Grant decided to enter a Blackjack Tournament on the last at-sea day. For just a $35 buy-in, he was able to participate in the tournament. Each round included six people with $2,000 worth of chips. The winner of each round advanced, with the top six earnings making the final round.
Sadly, Grant did not win his round. But, he did have fun and it was nice to get more play out of $35 than he would have otherwise. Still, that was just one afternoon but it was also a lot more affordable for us than $15 bets and a lot of fun.
Other Things to Do
As usual, the ship generally had a good variety of scheduled programs and presentations on the at-sea days. I attended a martini tasting one day and Grant and I both participated in a Macallan scotch tasting another day.
We also attended a presentation with the ship’s Captain, Engineer and Hotel Manager. This was a great opportunity to learn about the workings of the ship and what it takes to keep everything running smoothly.
Grant also attended a presentation on upcoming Norwegian ships. In fact, that prompted us to go ahead and book our next cruise, which will be on the Norwegian Viva, a brand-new ship coming in July 2023.
I have to say, the entertainment on the Norwegian Breakaway was absolutely phenomenal. With several different small venues and the main theater, you are able to get a variety of nightly entertainment.
At Headliners (a small performance venue), you could find either a comedian or Howl at the Moon, a dueling piano show. We attended Howl at the Moon a few times over the week and enjoyed the show every time. The rotation of three performers kept things interesting.
Another small venue is Syd Norman’s Pour House. Some nights they offered Karaoke while other nights were a performance such as Rock the Prom. Unfortunately, that venue was very small, and lines for shows formed well ahead of time, which we didn’t want to wait in.
In the main theater, we saw Burn the Floor, a Broadway-inspired dance show, and Six, the Broadway show that tells the story of the six wives of Henry VIII. Both of these shows were absolutely amazing.
I know, ballroom dancing and a history lesson may not sound all that exciting. But, both performances were tremendous and hands-down entertaining.
We opted for a balcony stateroom, which is our preferred type of room when cruising. Our room on the Norwegian Breakaway was fairly standard when compared to balcony rooms on other ships. In fact, it was a little bigger than our room on the Regal Princess.
The room had a king-size bed with a sofa and a small desk area. What we did not like was that the closet was right next to the bed with very little space in between. This made getting to the closet very difficult. And, there was very little space outside of the closet to store anything.
On the flip side, I think the bathroom was a little bigger than average. And we certainly had plenty of storage in the bathroom.
The balcony was also fairly small, with barely enough room to sit in the chairs. We have found that balcony sizes can vary greatly, though – we’ve had some that were about the same size and others that were much larger. I think that just depends on the ship and the location of the room.
Overall Layout of the Norwegian Breakaway
Overall, the layout of the Norwegian Breakaway was fairly standard. It had the main shopping, dining, and entertaining areas on Decks 6, 7 and 8. Decks 14-18 housed the spa, pool, buffet, sports complex and other outdoor areas.
We really enjoyed The Waterfront on each side and were surprised at how quiet that area was most of the time. That said, I think it made the inside area feel a bit more cramped.
The majority of the indoor bars were right off the main corridor. It seemed that when trying to relax with a drink you constantly had the noise of people moving about and even from other bars or restaurants.
A few of the restaurants and small performance venues had doors but most were just open to the walkway. Again, that just added to the noise and overall feeling of everything being busy.
I don’t know that there was anything specifically bad about the layout of the Norwegian Breakaway. For us, though, the number of people onboard combined with the layout definitely made the ship seem busy and chaotic most of the time. That said, our last cruise was less than 1/3 full following COVID, so that might be coloring our opinions a little.
Norwegian Breakaway Itineraries
The Breakaway sails out of several different ports throughout the year. In the US, the ship sails from to the Caribbean from New Orleans and Miami. From New York, it sails to Canada and New England, along with Bermuda and several places in the Caribbean.
In Europe, the Breakaway sails to the Greek Isles and Italy from Rome and the Mediterranean from Barcelona or Venice.
As you can see, this ship offers many different options on itineraries from several different departure ports. These sailings change throughout the year and with the addition of new ships to the fleet.
Western Caribbean Cruise on the Norwegian Breakaway
The cruise we did was a seven-night cruise of the Western Caribbean from New Orleans. Our ports of call were Costa Maya, Harvest Caye (Norwegian’s private island in Belize), Roatan and Cozumel. We also had two at-sea days.
This itinerary took us to two new ports, Harvest Caye and Roatan (also a new country for us!) and allowed a return to Costa Maya and Cozumel, which we had visited on the Regal Princess. We also really liked that the at-sea days were the first and last days of the cruise, allowing us to relax both at the beginning and end! The itinerary really was just about perfect for us.
We could have done basically the exact same cruise out of Miami. But, we chose to depart from New Orleans since we had never sailed from that port. Additionally, we were able to find inexpensive flights and take advantage of our promotional Southwest Companion Pass.
What we failed to consider is that we were sailing out of New Orleans the weekend before Mardi Gras! Yep, even seasoned travelers make mistakes sometimes! That meant hotel prices were insanely high and getting to the ship took a bit of advance planning to avoid road closures due to parades.
Finally, the cruise itself was absolutely packed since schools in New Orleans are out that week. We know this definitely played a large part in how we felt about the ship’s layout.
That was, perhaps, the biggest downfall of the Norwegian Breakaway. For us, its capacity is just too large compared to the ship’s size and layout. We know to expect crowds on a cruise. But there almost always is a place where you can escape the crowd, other than your stateroom. That really wasn’t the case on the Norwegian Breakaway.
Final Thoughts on the Norwegian Breakaway
Overall, we really did enjoy our Western Caribbean cruise on the Norwegian Breakaway. The itinerary really was just about perfect. Our stateroom was comfortable. There are plenty of activities and things to do on the ship.
I don’t know if I can say that the food and service were the best I’ve ever had on a cruise ship but they certainly weren’t bad. There were a wide variety of restaurants, even if most of them carried an additional charge.
While we didn’t find the perfect bar for us, that really is because we are fairly specific in what we prefer. And none of the bars were necessarily bad. I think what was most disappointing in terms of the bars was the lack of variety. It seemed as though most of them offered the exact same thing with only a few minor specialties.
The biggest takeaway for us was to really compare the capacity of the ship with its size. When Grant attended the presentation on the upcoming Norwegian ships, the capacity-to-size ratio really sunk in. In fact, hearing that the Norwegian Viva will be about the same size as the Breakaway but with about 75% of the capacity really sold us on that ship. We are very much looking forward to a Southern Caribbean cruise in February 2025 on the Viva, especially since our friends Dave and Jen will be joining us!
I definitely think we would have enjoyed Norwegian Breakaway more if our cruise had been less crowded. But, that’s just part of the experience. We’ve definitely learned that even with the same itinerary, the ship will make a difference so it is not something to ignore.
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