ONBOARD THE NORWEGIAN BREAKAWAY — Travel agents getting a first glimpse of the Norwegian Breakaway had plenty of good things to say about the New York-based ship, which is beginning seven-day Bermuda cruises.
From its innovative Waterfront dining, to the nightlife, to the takeout window at its most sought-after restaurant, everyone found something to love on the ship’s two-night preview cruise.
Norwegian has a lot riding on the Breakaway’s success. The $840 million newbuild will likely be the prototype for its next three ships, including the Norwegian Getaway and two slightly larger ships styled “Breakaway Plus.”
Fay Dehaas, a Cruise Planners agent in West Hartford, Conn., offered a typical opinion. “For the cruise line that it is — the mass market — they’ve done a fine job,” she said.
Norwegian planned to host more than 5,000 agents on the Breakaway in two sample cruises. Two groups, Avoya Travel and Cruise Planners, each brought hundreds of agents to New York in conjunction with conferences.
American Express, Virtuoso and World Travel Holdings also had sizeable groups onboard.
The Breakaway’s Waterfront area won broad approval. Stretching along the length of Deck 8, it enables passengers to enjoy oceanview, al fresco dining and drinking at four restaurants and three bars.
“The Waterfront dining puts Norwegian in a different class from everyone else,” said Tina Meeks, a Cruise Planners franchisee on Staten Island.
Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings board member Adam Aron said he had high expectations, and they were met.
“It’s spectacular,” he said. “It’s as good as I hoped it might be.”
Jeff Anderson, vice president of marketing for Avoya, said he was impressed with the ship’s multistory ropes course and water slides. The large amount of space they occupy doesn’t steal from other attractions because it is located on the very top of the ship, he said.
Michelle Fee, president of Cruise Planners, said she liked the tranquility of the Waterfront, which is free from the Caribbean music that typically goes along with outside dining.
Cruise Planners agent Paula Cunkleman of Sun Lakes, Ariz., thought the large dance floor in the Manhattan Room would appeal to her mostly senior clientele.
Walt Schaffrick, a Cruises Only agent in Altamonte Springs, Fla., liked the takeout window at Geoffrey Zakarian’s Ocean Blue restaurant, which gives diners who can’t get a reservation a way to sample the food.
Takeout offerings include crab toast, crackling calamari and lobster rolls, at prices from $4.75 to $9.75.
Anderson said the Breakaway has all of the hits from the Norwegian Epic and none of its misses. The experiment in open bathrooms has been ended in favor of the traditional box bathroom.
The main dining room has been broken up into three parts: Manhattan Room, Taste and Savor. “It just feels a lot more like a restaurant than a big dining hall,” said Norwegian’s vice president of sales, Camille Olivere.
New York flavor
The New York flavor of the ship is a little less evident onboard than it is in Norwegian’s marketing. Although “Cake Boss” Buddy Valastro has an outsize personality, his bakery onboard is barely bigger than a cabin and shares space with Dulce Gelatto.
Several Sabrett hot dog stands and shows by the Rockettes keep the theme up without overdoing it.
Olivere said agents should “set expectations” prior to cruising in two areas. One is the extra-cost restaurants: She asked agents to talk up the 11 eateries (including room service) where the food is included in the cruise fare.
“If the first thing clients run into aboard ship is a specialty restaurant, that is where people start to get the wrong idea about Norwegian,” Olivere said.
She also cautioned that the ship’s big Broadway show, “Rock of Ages,” is chock full of adult content. “You might not want to take your 12-year-old daughter.”
Norwegian put plenty of thought into appealing to teens, however, with separate programs for ages 13 to 15 and 15 to 17. The Entourage teen club features an Emulator Pro DJ training machine that is one of only four in the world, Olivere said.
A few agents groused about the number of limited-capacity activities on the 4,000-passenger ship, such as the Ice Bar and the Spiegel venue that hosts the Cirque Dreams dinner show.
Only 25 people at a time can get into the Ice Bar, which keeps everything below freezing and boasts ice sculptures of New York landmarks. The Ice Bar was fully booked for both days by late afternoon of the first day, before the ship even sailed..
Norwegian CEO Kevin Sheehan is banking on an increase in onboard spending on the Breakaway, in part from guests eating, drinking and gambling into the wee hours.
Maria Ilioff, an Avoya agent in Vestal, N.Y., said she was up until 1 a.m. on the first night of the preview cruise, and the entertainment zone on Decks 6, 7 and 8 was still humming.
“I was impressed with the level of activity,” she said.
Another new offering on the Breakaway will be a fireworks display on the second-to-last night of every cruise. On the preview cruise, the Breakaway paused directly in front of the Statue of Liberty for a 15-minute pyrotechnic gala that lit up the sky over New York Harbor.
The show had most of the passengers braving a chilly wind to watch.
“It’s hard for me to get excited, because you go on so many cruises,” said Dehaas, of Cruise Planners, “but the fireworks were exciting.”Follow Tom Stieghorst on Twitter @tstravelweekly.