NCL Breakaway review
Nov 25th-Dec 6th 2018
My wife and I are both 56 and are veteran cruisers. We took our very first cruise from New Orleans in 1997 on the HAL Nieuw Amsterdam with our two kids who were 9 and 11 at the time. We had an ocean view cabin which meant we had a porthole and I can distinctly recall it being underwater as we cruised through the ocean!!
Fast forward to the Breakaway. It is a large ship with about 3900+ passengers and 1700 crew. This was an 11 day Western Caribbean cruise that starts with two sea days and then seven ports and one more sea day before returning to New Orleans. Our embarkation process was perfect once we were checked in but the process of getting to the terminal was a little more challenging as there is construction on Convention Center blvd which creates lots of bottlenecks. We drove from Memphis on Saturday and stayed at a Hampton Inn on the West Bank as hotels in the French Quarter were very high as it was Thanksgiving weekend plus there was a Grambling State football game. We ate dinner at a very romantic French restaurant La Crepe Nanou and it was exceptional. Look it up and give it a try. You will be happy you did.
On Sunday we found a non-denominational church to visit before heading to the port to drop our bags before heading to the Fulton place parking lot. We had prepaid for 11 nights at $206.50. Once we parked we went downstairs to wait for the shuttle. This was the worst part of our day as it was disorganized and took about 90 minutes to get to port. Once we arrived and showed our documents and passports we went to the area where folks were waiting. By the time we arrived they were not assigning boarding numbers as we were used too in the past and there were already several hundred people in the seating area. I overheard someone in uniform say they were boarding in rows so my wife and made an end-around and went to the very back of the first row and went right onto the ship. Praise God and be observant. 🤗
Day one New Orleans
We were aboard about 1245pm and went to O’Sheenan’s for lunch. I had the hot wings (fried in batter) with buffalo sauce and my wife had chicken fajitas. They were both average at best so we did not enjoy lunch. After we finished, the announcement was made that the cabins were ready. We had gone through the upgrade process and had won (bid was $175.00 per person) a spa balcony cabin (14704) which was way forward.
Unfortunately our first set of keys did not work so back down to the 6th floor I went for a replacement set of keys. It was about a 15 minute wait in line to accomplish this. Back up to the 14th floor I went. I needed steps as I was way short having been in the car for six hours yesterday. As I tried my second set of keys, guess what? Yep they didn’t work either so very begrudgingly I headed back to the reception desk. This time I did not have to wait in line as I was met by a concierge type person who took my keys to the desk and said someone would go with me this time. I was escorted by Ginger (but she wanted to take the elevator 🤔). These keys also did not work!!! Not a very happy camper. Ginger let us into our room and said she would get this resolved. After waiting another 30-45 minutes someone showed up with keys that worked. It was now about 315pm and the muster drill was scheduled for 330pm so downstairs to O’Sheenans I headed to meet my wife who had previously headed downstairs instead of waiting with me.
The muster drill took about 45 minutes after which we were free to explore the ship. Did I tell you this was a big ship? There are 3964 passengers onboard. It is but except for embarkation day everything flowed nicely.
One criticism is their theater is too small for a ship this big. One very important suggestion is to pre-register for as many shows and restaurants as possible as many sell out if you wait to get onto the ship. We ate dinner in the buffet on our first night. There were plenty of options and we were both satisfied.
Day two/three sea days
One of our specialty restaurants was Moderno and it was amazing. The salad bar alone was worth the price of admission and as we had 4 specialty dining venues, there was no additional charge.
Day four Ocho Rios
We arrived at the James Bond Pier and had a short walk to get into town. After a delicious breakfast at the Garden Cafe we strolled into town and paid $3.00 per person to get on Ocho Rios beach which was cheap and accommodating. There were the typical hawkers trying to get you to buy boat rides, glass bottom rides and various other items, both legal and illicit drugs. We spent a couple of hours lounging on the beach and I went snorkeling and saw lots of fish, the largest of which was about 16 inches long. Not sure what variety it was but it was cool to see. I know there will be much better snorkeling in the days to come. Ocho Rios is mostly know for the Dunn’s River Falls excursion and it seemed that lots of cruisers headed that way. There was one other ship in port with us and that was the NCL Pearl. They had the better dock but it maybe because of our size.
Cagney’s for dinner was delicious. My wife has food allergies and they have exceeded her expectations thus far. After a relaxing afternoon by the pool we went to the thermal suite and relaxed and chilled some more. If you enjoy a more secluded and intimate spa experience, please consider either upgrading to spa cabins or just outright purchasing the Thermal Spa Package once onboard.
Day five Georgetown Grand Cayman
We arrived at the tender station around 730am and they made an announcement offering anyone not having a tender ticket the ability to get off first. We had group “A” and they were announced next which could have meant if you want to be off the ship at 8am then get group A-B-C-C as they were first even before the excursions which surprised me. Guess I am not an early bird as I am on vacation and was barely up at 8am. On to breakfast we go. After breakfast we went and prepped for a beach day. We had wanted to do one of three snorkeling excursions but they were all cancelled due to water conditions. Evidently the fronts coming from the west caused issues. We ended up leaving the ship at 930am in a very effortless tendering process. Once ashore we found one of the local busses which cost $2.50 per person and we headed to one of the public beaches on seven mile beach. The temp was 80 but pretty overcast. The locals charged us $15.00 for two chairs and an umbrella. Our contribution to the local economy. There were three ships in port: Breakaway, Carnival Dream and an MSC ship that I forget the name of.
GCM is known for stingray city, scuba diving and gorgeous Snow White beaches. It should be on everyone’s list of ports to visit at least one in your lifetime. There are all the major resorts on 7 mile beach. Because Grand Cayman is so small everything is imported which makes it pretty expensive but it’s still a must visit. Dinner tonight was at La Cacinna which is set up as a romantic Italian restaurant. The food in my opinion was average. As it was part of our meal package we did not have to pay what would have been a $69.00 tab. When you get the dining and/or beverage packages tips are already added into the charge. I have seen lots of debate about the “free” packages not truly being free. Yes that’s true but you just need to do some simple math to determine if it’s a value for you. After all the perks that were added for us it became a reasonable upcharge. I think it ended up costing us about an additional $36.00 PPPD for the drink package and 4 specialty dining venues. Just do the math to determine if it makes financial sense to you. I will say I stalked the NCL site watching for a price drop and because this cruise was between Thanksgiving and Christmas and was an 11 day cruise, it was a soft sailing until almost the week prior to the cruise.
We ended up enjoying live music from the Tenors of Rock in Syd Norman’s. There was plenty of entertainment available in several venues. These included the Barricade Boys vocal group, Levity Entertainment group which is comedy and the always popular karaoke.
Day six Roatan Honduras
We docked about 930am and were given the go ahead to depart at 10am. Roatan is an island off the coast of Honduras and is about 35 miles by 3 miles wide. It lies 40 miles off the coast. We docked at Coxen Hole which is also called Roatan Town. It’s famous for eco tours, diving, snorkeling,caves,botanical gardens and beaches. Only one ship can moor at Coxen. The other port on the island is Mahogany Bay and it can handle two ships docked. High season in the islands started last week and they will have an average of 10-13 cruise ships per week until the season ends.
We exited the ship and walked through the port area of shops and more trinkets and junk as one of my meeting managers used to refer to most tourist spots. He always cracked me up and he is now enjoying retirement. We found a taxi to take us to West Bay Beach. We negotiated a price of $20.00 but somehow that did not get to our driver so we ended up paying $25.00 round trip. We had a brief tour from “Sam” our taxi driver who advised us he was born and raised Roatan. He was not married and had two boys, one 2 and the other 8. He was nice enough and we were comfortable all day. He took us to a resort that I’m sure they have a deal with. It was the “Paradise Beach Hotel” and for $20.00 per person we had access to two chairs, Wifi and all the pools and bathrooms and restaurants. We could have also gone with the all-inclusive package at $65.00 per person which included all the food and alcohol you can drink but seeing as we have access to that on the ship, we went with the $20 option. There were lots of cruisers here and at the far end of the beach was a coral reef with wonderful snorkeling and lots of fish and scenery so I was a happy camper as Cayman conditions were not up to their normal standards. We ended up spending three hours on the beach which was plenty as the sun was serious here. After making it back to the ship we went to the garden cafe for a lunch and then headed to the thermal suite for some serious relaxation. Back to the cabin for showers and freshening up for a night on the town as it is “Friday” everywhere.
Tonight’s entertainment options range from “Escape the big top, Ryan Joyce Comedy Hypnosis show, howl at the moon dueling pianos and Rock the Pour House with the house band-“The Guilty Pleasures”.
One thing that we don’t need on this cruise but we will in the future is the kids programs. NCL has the Guppies which is for 0-2 years old, NN names and ages here......
We had an appetizer before dinner tonight at Wasabi which is the sushi restaurant here. Most rolls are between $5.00 and $7.50 and are well worth the cost. Dinner was in the Manhattan room and was good. Cathy had tilapia and I had chicken and seafood paella. After dinner we went music bar hopping and headed to bed about midnight.
Day seven Belize City, Belize.
We arrived at the tender station around 730am and were scheduled to start tendering at 8am but it was about 830 by the time the tenders started departing. We used the local tenders which accommodated about 200 per tender. The top five shore excursions here are -Altun Ha Mayan Ruins, -Barrier reef snorkel and beach escape, -Island beach break, -Zipline adventure and cave tubing and -Lamanai Ruins and river safari. My wife and I have not yet done the eco tourism thing so although we know Belize is a great option for this, we just walked around the Downtown area. We walked to the lighthouse and the BELIZE sign and happened upon a “yoga” day-long outdoor seminar so we checked out the displays and spent about 30 minutes there. We then walked to the central business district and it turns out there was a Big sale/festival in the downtown area so it was very busy with locals getting their bargains. In the port area we were continually asked if we wanted a tour or taxi to the beach and we politely declined and they said have a nice day and left us alone but they were lots of them hawking tours and trips to the beach. Maybe next time. After spending a couple of hours in town, we shopped for some trinkets and junk and made our way back to the tenders and back to the ship for lunch in the garden cafe. They had good variety and the food was good. The lunch time options included Indian, burgers,hot dogs, chicken cooked several ways, different sandwiches every day, salads of all types although there was never any romaine due to the recall. Caesar salads were done with spinach. There were always lots of dessert options including ice cream and soft serve machines 24/7.
This afternoon was a sunbathing day by the pool. Tonight we are heading to Ocean Blue for dinner which we should be able to use our last “comp” dining package.
When using the dining package in Ocean Blue there is a $12.00 p.p. Upcharge which is well worth it. Dinner was amazing. We both had appetizers. I had the stone crab claws and Cathy had the Alaskan king crab claws. We both had surf and turf (8 oz filet and a lobster tail). Cathy had her usual “standing order” dessert and I had flourless chocolate cake with ice cream. Yum yum. Tonight’s entertainment included Cirque, comedy, dueling pianos, and a sizzling Latin party. After dinner we followed the music and ended up back in the room about 1230am.
Day eight Harvest Caye Belize
Harvest Caye was created in 2016 and is NCL’s private island. It’s a 75 acre oasis featuring an expansive pool with swim-up bar, salt-water lagoon for water sports, a seven acre beach and plenty of shore excursion options including a zip line and snorkeling the worlds 2nd largest barrier reef. The top excursions all seemed to revolve around the Mayan ruins. All the F&B on the island is extra and can be charged to your ship board account. The sun was very hot again today so we were careful not to get burned and returned back to the ship after about three hours of fun and sun.
We made our way to the garden cafe and had another enjoyable lunch and started the drink of the day trip, which is a Long Island Iced tea. We spent a couple of hours in the thermal spa enjoying the amenities and relaxing. Cruising can certainty be a stress free environment if you allow it to happen. We still see lots of people that are just mean and ugly and think their issues are first world problems.
Tonight’s entertainment lineup includes the Rock of Ages vocal group, Cirque Dreams and Dinner Jungle Fantasy. We had Cirque pre-reserved so dinner and show at 8pm tonight. We plan on hitting a couple of bars prior to dinner. The two other events are the Levity comedy group and an 80’s party at 10pm at spice h2O which is a cool venue on the aft deck 16. There are also the standard singers and games led by the cruise staff. I can’t even tell you the name of the cruise director so that shows what an impact he has made on me! One negative about cruising is no college football is shown. They show some NFL games but no NCAA.
Cirque was amazing. The performers were all amazing and talk about strength and agility. It’s worth the price of admission. The show starts at 8pm so I would suggest getting there about 7-715pm to get the better seats. It’s a relatively small venue so there are no bad seats. The meal is a set meal of prisuchito(sp), steak and shrimp and a dessert trio. Dinner lasts 45 minutes and then the show is 45 minutes. After dinner I went to the cigar lounge and then we had drinks on one of the waterfront bars. The waterfront wraps around lots of the venues on deck 8 and is a very enjoyable spot for a walk or to relax with friends in the fresh outdoor sea air. We headed back to the room about midnight.
Day nine Costa Maya Mexico
We arrived to the dock and were cleared to depart about 810am. Our plan today is to take a taxi to Mahahual, which is a fishing village about 2-3 miles from the dock. There are several restaurants and beach bars that are very reasonably priced. Once we exited the port area we took a $4.00 pp shuttle to Mahahual. It’s changed a lot since our first visit here about 13 years ago but it’s still quaint. We walked the boardwalk and settled at Nonoch Kay also known as Big Fish restaurant & bar. My wife had a $20.00/hour massage on the beach and she enjoyed it thoroughly. We had some beer and snacks and spent 2-3 hours there before heading back to the ship. It was a great day to reminisce about our past adventures there. We enjoyed some more music tonight and ate dinner at Taste which is one of the included dining venues. One of my criticisms is with the “Tenors of Rock” show. They only have one set and they play 4 or 5 times which sucks as in my opinion a headliner should have multiple sets available, especially considering the quality of NCL entertainment in general. We ended up back in our cabin about 1230am. One thing I don’t think I have shared is that the garden cafe has theme dinners each night. They have offered Asian, Mexican, Italian, Indian, Mardi Gras and a couple more that I just cannot remember.
The highlighted shore excursions are a catamaran cruise and snorkel, Chacchoben Mayan ruins tour and a Salsa cooking and dancing with beach break.
Day ten Cozumel, Mexico
We arrived at the dock at 8am and we were allowed to depart then. We had a leisurely breakfast in the garden cafe and then went shopping for vanilla and some souvenirs. The sun was hot today so we opted to just shop. My wife lost a silver bracelet the last time she was in Costa Maya and guess what? She replaced it today. It was a nice silver rope bracelet that she was able to bargain for and get it for more than half the original quote. We finished our shopping and went back to the ship to drop off our goodies before heading back out to get some lunch ashore. We ate at a Mexican restaurant on the square and were nicely taken care of.