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Christening Norwegian Breakaway in New York City
Note: please bear with us as we try to file these reports. Onboard internet access is very spotty as everyone vies for a reliable connection!
My Air Canada flight touched down at New York’s LaGuardia airport just before 10am this morning, in an unusual lull in between the heavy rain that lashed the Big Apple for the better part of the day. But I wouldn’t be staying in the city that never sleeps for long; instead, I was headed for the christening and maiden United States voyage of the ship that never sleeps: Norwegian Cruise Line’s brand-new Norwegian Breakaway.
I had planned to write an entire paragraph about all of the different dining, lounge, and entertainment venues onboard. But after a few hours spent wandering around Norwegian’s latest and greatest, I realized it does no good for me to just rattle off facts that can easily be found in the brochure because while she may have over 20 different bars and 28 dining options, the real story here is all about the experience.
First and foremost, Norwegian Breakaway is clearly a winner. There’s hardly a trace of Norwegian Epic’s clumsiness or awkward features; instead, the very best and brightest ideas that Norwegian pioneered aboard the Epic have made it onboard. What’s more, they have taken those ideas and built upon them, creating what I feel is quite possibly the best ship Norwegian Cruise Line has ever built.
My favorite feature, hands-down, is The Waterfront. In an age where so many cruise lines are killing off the traditional promenade deck, Norwegian’s has not only returned it (there was no Promenade Deck, as such, aboard Norwegian Epic), but they have made it a sexy and desirable feature again.
Tonight, guests lined the rails of the Waterfront, eager to get a glimpse of the Statue of Liberty and the fireworks spectacular put on at 8:45pm. It brought a tear to my eye to see all these people enjoying dinner, drinks, or friendly conversation on The Waterfront. I had nearly accepted that the Promenade Deck – always my favorite feature – was doomed to extinction in the never-ending quest to maximize revenues. With Norwegian Breakaway, Norwegian Cruise Line has redefined this traditional space in a way that, I think, will make passengers on other ships very jealous indeed when they see her pull into port.
The second thing worth mentioning is just how well my stateroom – a Category MB Mini-Suite with Balcony – has been designed.
The first thing you might notice is that stateroom doors open outward from the hallway, and not inward as is typical aboard most cruise ships.
The second thing worth noting is the bathroom: it’s gargantuan for a stateroom of this size. The shower in my suite has a rainforest shower head, supplemented by six adjustable jet nozzles that can be activated by choosing one of the four water modes indicated on the shower.
There’s no cylindrical tube showers here; this has a full glass door that slides open and shut, and there’s plenty of room to move around. Ditto for the bathroom itself, which starts approaching a spaciousness that’s typically found aboard ultra-luxury lines. Did I mention the sink is dual-vanity?
The room itself has been cleverly designed, with multiple light source options and switches that are conveniently placed. The desk is big enough to comfortably hold my laptop, and the flat-panel television is recessed into its own section.
The closet is very adequately sized for a weeklong voyage to the Caribbean, but the positioning could be better, as it’s tough to squeeze in between the couch to access the door closest to the wall.
I had read comments on some message boards reflecting discontent over the size of Norwegian Breakaway’s balconies; for sitting and enjoying the view – which I did last night – they’re just fine. No, you can’t stretch out and no, you’d never fit a lounger on them, but for time spent reading a book and relaxing with a drink, they fit the bill.
Also worth noting is that my Mini Suite is very much a middle-of-the-road category; there’s several cabin grades that are lower, and many that are higher. Yet the line has chosen to add some of these luxurious touches to these rooms.
Yesterday, I had the chance to tour one of the Category O1 Family Oceanview staterooms on Deck 5. Their bathroom has been designed slightly differently, but these rooms still offer an unusual amount of space inside; a theme that also applies to the stateroom corridor, which is the most spacious I’ve ever seen on a ship.
All around the ship, I have been thoroughly impressed by the beautiful design of the Norwegian Breakaway’s public rooms. Nothing is enormous or gargantuan; instead, intimate spaces that seat 50 or 60 guests have been created in a way that spreads everyone out – though Shaker’s Martini Bar was smoking busy well into the wee hours last night.
What’s really great about these rooms is that they build on the distinctive style that Norwegian Epic pioneered. It’s given Norwegian a real voice aboard Norwegian Breakaway; there’s absolutely no chance the ship will ever be confused with Carnival or Royal Caribbean, and I think that’s a good thing, particularly these days when the lines between, well, lines, seem to be blurring at an alarming rate.
The other thing that made an enormous impression on me today was Norwegian Cruise Line president and CEO Kevin Sheehan’s remarks during the christening ceremonies that were held around the vessel.
Sheehan himself is a former New York resident. He grew up here. He went to school here. He even drove a cab here. But he took the time on such a busy day to thank – by name – his team at Norwegian Cruise Line who were instrumental in bringing Norwegian Breakaway to life. He had them stand up in the Breakaway Theatre to be recognized. Suddenly, people all around me were standing up, their pride in this ship – and in their efforts being recognized – palpable.
Sheehan also paid tribute to the officers and crew, not just here but throughout the entire Norwegian fleet. And I’ve never seen that done before, ever. I have seen CEO’s put out a “shout-out” to “all the people who helped”, but to watch Kevin Sheehan personally take the time to recognize each of these groups of people was very moving.
Norwegian Cruise Line has a rich and storied history. They’ve flirted with brilliance and danced along the thin red line of disaster. Yet they have always been willing to try something new. They’ve always innovated in ways that other cruise lines couldn’t conceive of. Witness how Freestyle Cruising was mocked – then immediately implemented – by their competitors upon its introduction over a decade ago. Ditto for multiple dining venues. Let’s be honest; had anyone ever thought of having sushi aboard a ship until Norwegian made it cool? Or accessing the internet before the Norwegian Sky popularized the internet café concept back in 1999?
My first cruise was with Norwegian back in 1998 aboard the newly-stretched Norwegian Wind. I have sailed with Norwegian numerous times since then, each time with a different iteration of the line. But I’d still fondly look back and secretly wish for the “old” Norwegian. Until today.
With Norwegian Breakaway, I feel like Norwegian is finally on the right track. The old “NCL” that I sailed with in 1998 is long gone, and that’s okay.
The new Norwegian Cruise Line is better than I could have ever hoped for.
Our Live Voyage Report from onboard Norwegian Breakaway continues tomorrow, as we spend an entire day at sea trying to take in all this feature-laden vessel has to offer!
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