I remember my first cruise well. It was a seven-day spin on a classic ship that was certainly stately but also somewhat stuffy. I left with a respect for the heritage of cruising, but also wondering if this form of travel was best suited for me.
This weekend's experience on the Norwgian Breakaway has allayed by concerns. I was invited to join a ship full of tour operators, travel agents, journalists and other industry VIPs for the inaugural of the Breakaway, the latest new ship to enter the Norwegian Cruise Line fleet. NCL showcased the new vessel with a pair of two-day sailings from New York, which will be its homeport thorughout the year.
My wife joined me for this weekend excurision, and we were almost immediately impressed with what we found upon boarding the Breakaway. A two-hour ship tour introduced us to many of the company's innovations. Perhaps most significant is the Waterfront, an outdoor thoroughfare that surrounds the exterior of deck eight. Many of the ship's restaurants and bars are located on this deck, and they feture outdoor sections that open up to the Waterfront. Guests can take a stroll to enjoy the open breeze and stop for an al fresco dinner or drink at one of eight restaurants and lounges that open up into this space. The Waterfront also features an a la carte gelato stand and bakery.
The Breakaway also represents Norwegian's next step in their "freestyle cruising" concept. Unlike my first cruise ship, which had one buffet, one dining room and one specialty restaurant, the Breakaway has a staggering 27 onboard dining options for passengers. Several — such as the primary buffet and three main dining rooms — are included in the price of the experience; many others are specialty restaurants that include an additional cover charge. The most notable of these establishments is Ocean Blue by Geoffrey Zarkarian. A popular New York restaurateur and Food Network personality, Zakarian oversaw the development of the high-end seafood restaurant himself, going so far as to create the menus and chose seafood purveyors from among the most trusted in New York. His wife worked with him to select the furnishings, decor and place settings.
The restaurant is a small space in high demand, so we weren't able to get a reservation on the short cruise. Zakarian was on board, however, and we enjoyed getting to know him and his approach to Ocean Blue his question-and-answer session with guests.
Ocean Blue is one of several initiatives that NCL undertook to bring elements of the New York experience onto the Breakaway. In addition to the hull artwork, whcih features images of the Statue of Liberty and the Manhattan skyline, the city's presence can be felt in the Manhattan Room (a dining room designed to resemble a New York supper club), and Carlo's Bakery, a New York family bakeshop made famous by the television series "Cake Boss." Onboard entertainment reflects New York traditions as well: Regular entertainment includes an adaptation of the Broadway hit "Rock of Ages," as well as shows by Cirque Dreams, Burn the Floor and New York blues musican Slam Allen.
I must admit, though, that what we enjoyed more the restaurants and shows was the menu of onboard activities. My wife and I played mini-golf on the top deck of the shock, and watched as daring passengers tackled the most extensive ropes course at sea. Were the weather a little warmer, we surely would have tried one of the five twisting waterslides in the pool area. Inside, we enjoyed pool tables and a miniature bowling alley at O'Sheehan's, the ships irish-inspired 24-hour bar, grill and arcade. We played enough games to make us feel like kids again.
Cruise enthusiasts who travel on Breakaway will still find some of the traditional stapels of cruising. But newcomers and independent spirits will also find plenty of options, activities and autonomy to make them feel at home on the high seas.
Breakaway salis year-round from New York, with trips to Bermuda; Florida and the Bahamas; and the Southern Caribbean.
Savor, one of three main dining rooms aboard the Breakaway
Ocean Blue by Geoffrey Zarakian is the ship's most intimate, in-demand restaurant.
Celebrity chef Geoffrey Zakarian