The Norwegian Breakaway was just more than an hour from pulling away from its berth in New York when a handful of passengers braved the ship's aft top deck. Exterior temperature: somewhere below 21 degrees Fahrenheit.
"No need to visit the Ice Bar when you could just stand out here!" joked one of the group as they made their way to the bartender, who was clad in a navy jacket and being quite cheerful despite the chill.
There were chunks of ice floating around the Breakaway's hull. But when I made my way back to Deck 8, the line was several people deep for reservations at the Svedka Ice Bar, where the temperature is kept at 17 degrees Fahrenheit. Passengers were about to set sail on a two-day getaway, and there was no time to waste __ no lounge, restaurant, spa treatment or ice bar need be unexplored.
Short cruises to the Bahamas are a well-known route for cruise lines, but Norwegian Cruise Line does something fairly unusual: In the New York market it hosts a handful __ this year, three __ weekend cruises to nowhere. We left New York at 6 p.m. Friday and were back in the harbor before sunrise on Sunday.
With two nights and just one full day on this type of cruise, there is no time to "settle in." People boarded Friday afternoon, dropped their heavy winter gear and weekend bags in their cabins and then regrouped in 678 Ocean Place, Norwegian's name for its three midlevel entertainment decks. The freezing temperatures made for an instant and easy conversation starter, but it also had the effect of driving everyone indoors. A couple of people were taking selfies on the top deck, and there were the intrepid bar-hoppers, but for most passengers, the action was confined to heated areas. By 3:30 p.m. Friday, every bar that was open (and inside) was doing brisk business. Every barstool was occupied; every grouping of chairs had been claimed by a group.
Those who didn't work fast to secure a prime time at Le Bistro, Cagney's or Ocean Blue were out of luck (or, maybe for this group of cruisers, drawn primarily from the New York and New Jersey markets, the response would be "fuhgeddaboudit"). Of course, the main restaurants looked pleasing. But passengers had embarked on a vacation, however brief, and they were going to do it up. And so, the touch screens around the ship showed nearly no availability in the specialty restaurants.
I had a kid in tow, so even though we'd signed
her up for Splash Academy (known in our family as simply The Club) we still couldn't stay out late. My husband and daughter got an after-dinner snack at the Sabrett's hot dog wagon (previously stationed outside on the Waterfront but this night indoors on Deck 6), and then we tucked her into the third berth. I set out on my own around 10 p.m. for a nightcap and round of people-watching.
Folks were coming and going from the blues club and the two "Rock of Ages" showings (sold out), people were lingering in the restaurants, the casino was going full-tilt, and the shops were open. I peeked in at the Bliss nightclub and guessed, based on the ship's energy level, that it would be packed in an hour or two. I ended up at Shakers, debating the cocktail list with my barstool companions.
We were also near the entrance to the Svedka Ice Bar, so periodically groups
of people prepared to enter (or had just exited) the bar. They were easily spotted, as they were suited up in Norwegian-issued knee-length, hooded, fur-lined ponchos and black gloves, and they were chatting excitedly about getting a drink in what Norwegian has described as "a unique, arctic-like frozen chamber."
Then a passenger walked behind me and activated the sliding door to the promenade deck, and a blast of frigid ocean air swept through.
"Oh, man, what are you doing?" the guy on the stool next to me called out good-naturedly. "It's like ZERO out there!"