We had only been on NCL once previously - the Dawn from Boston to Bermuda a few years ago. That was a pleasant surprise and we enjoyed our NCL experience enough to try the Breakaway last minute. Although we managed to find a way to enjoy ourselves on this ship, it requires effort… and that in itself was a first for us and says a lot about our experience.
The ship is indeed far too crowded. Although we've been on bigger ships, Oasis and Allure, this ship is not designed or staffed to handled the number of passengers. The pool deck is a madhouse … even when compared to the 2 early Carnival cruises we did long ago. No deck chair availability, pools and hot tubs so crowded you would be lucky to step into one.
So to deal with that, we paid $400 for a spa package for 2 for the week. That was really nice. Plenty of chairs, including those heated tiled chairs, along with nice sauna, steam room, salt room, and most importantly, a great indoor thelossatherapy pool with awesome massaging jets and other nice features, including a lack of crowds.
We had a balcony guarantee and were very happy with our cabin mid ship on 13 (so between passenger decks). Comfy bed, and nice relatively roomy bathroom. Balconies are indeed tiny on this ship but fine for sitting for a few minutes in the morning and evenings with coffee or whatever.
Other pluses, the soft serve ice cream was the best we've ever had on a ship. Not icy or flavorless like many we've experienced, but DQ quality creamy and delicious. Actually all the desserts were notably good. The rest of the food was average … with no real improvements in quality from buffet to dining room to specialty restaurants (we tried 3 and would only recommend Teppanyaki).
The most frustrating aspect of the cruise was the freestyle dining concept. It really only works for the specialty restaurants where u can make reservations, but most of those were completely booked up almost immediately after boarding. They have 3 regular dining rooms where the drill is u show up, wait in a line for 5-10 minutes to give them your cabin number. They give u a beeper and you wait another 15 minutes of so for a table. Then once you are finally seated, everything takes forever because the restaurants are so understaffed. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner, we waited 5-10 minutes to be welcomed or to get water. Then the friendly wait staff (its not their fault NCL under staffs so badly) tell you they will be with you as soon as possible. So you wait another 10 minutes or so before you can order a drink or your meal. It's just the way NCL runs it, and for us, it's just a really unpleasant experience, which is too bad because the dining experiences on other cruise lines are regularly among the best parts of the cruise.
The other thing I'd caution folks on that may be considering this cruise. Almost everyone seemed to have the "all you can drink" package - either as a TA perk or because they purchased it. It's also common on Celebrity and Royal, but I've never seen it used to the embarrassingly drunken degree so many folks on this cruise used it. It's just not fun being around a ship full of folks drinking around the clock and to see and smell the consequences of those who had one (or 10) too many.
So as I said, we found ways to enjoy this cruise, too, but we are agreed that NCL's freestyle dining, problems with understaffing, too many drunken passengers, and way too crowded conditions, mean this was our last NCL experience.
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