|Left to right, journalist Lizz Dinnigan, her children, Casey, 7, and Jack, 10, and husband Joe journeyed to Bermuda this summer on Norwegian Breakaway. All photos by Lizz Dinnigan.|
PART 1: This is the first article in a "Mom's Notebook" series about the "family cruise experience" onboard Norwegian Breakaway. It will run throughout the week. This series is reprinted courtesy of SouthernCruising.com, which retains all rights.
By Lizz Dinnigan
From a mother's perspective, the 4,000-passenger Norwegian Breakaway is a jaw-dropping creation – the equivalent of a game of Candyland — full of color, geometric shapes and surprises. Launched in 2013, this ship is tailor-made for families.
Our family of four – myself, my husband Joe and our two children, Jack 10 and Casey 7 -- cruised mid-summer 2014 from New York City on a week-long sailing to Bermuda. The ship is now operating Bahamas/Florida sailings but will return to the Bermuda itinerary starting April 26.
|The Sports Deck and its extensive collection of water slides await guests on Norwegian Breakaway.|
More than 900 passengers on our sailing were kids. That says it all -- one quarter of the passengers were children. Fortunately, Norwegian Cruise Line's (www.ncl.com) onboard cruise product engages and entertains even the youngest of travelers.
Just how potent was the ship's brand proposition? Let's just say that when faced with free time to explore Bermuda or to remain onboard in port during our cruise, my kids pestered us to stay on the ship. That aside, we did go ashore as a family on several occasions.
Onboard the ship, though, we dived enthusiastically into everything from waterslides to a ropes course with a zipline and “walk the plank” option. Our boys cheered and laughed at the meet-and-greets with Nickelodeon characters, splashed in the SpongeBob-themed water spray park, watched the fireworks, tried their hand at bowling, ate popcorn while watching 3-D movies and spent much time in the cruise line’s supervised Splash Academy kids’ club.
Boarding Norwegian Breakaway
|Leave plenty of time to get to the pier and check in online, says "Mom" Lizz Dinnigan.|
Boarding in New York was an effortless, efficient process. Helping immensely? We pre-registered online before arriving at the port. I also suggest parents keep all printed documents and passports in hand when moving through the terminal. When transiting a crowded terminal, it’s good to not be searching for things, trying to corral the kids and read the signage or follow cruise staffer directions, all at the same time.
Another tip? I recommend arriving mid-day. This allows ample time to park or assure the cab ride from the airport is uneventful, or if it is – such as for a traffic jam – you’ll still have plenty of time to board without worrying about the ship sailing without you.
Our family enjoyed a leisurely lunch onboard, unpacked right away and settled into our stateroom when it was ready.
I also suggest parents get all “processes” – shore reservations, dining reservations, spa treatment appointments and kids’ club registration – out of the way first, either in advance if permitted, or on the first day onboard.
To avoid the need to book onboard, you can reserve tours online in advance; just go to www.ncl.com, have your reservation number ready and peruse the options. If cruisers know exactly what’s desired in the way of shore trips, that’s a great way to go. Then the tour tickets will be delivered directly to the stateroom. It's hassle-free and parents can avoid lines at the shore desk.
But, as in our case, a decision to book the “Bermuda Triangle Shipwreck Snorkel” tour was made just prior to boarding. So on embarkation day, we immediately visited the main atrium’s shore excursion desk. Fortunately, we were able to reserve this tour.
First Day Activities
Registered Norwegian guests can also make reservations for shows or restaurants online in advance. Keep in mind that some restaurants have limited seating capacity, and the system is operated on a first-come, first-served basis.
We did thoroughly research all specialty restaurant and entertainment options in advance, but opted to try out booking them onboard. I was pleased to see convenient digital touch screens liberally placed throughout the ship; they show which shows are free and which carry a charge.
Again, if you choose to book onboard rather than in advance, do it quickly after boarding. That will mean the best chance of getting the shows and dining arrangements desired.
|The Dinnigan family booked several shows and family events including the Nickelodeon Pajama Jam.|
As a mom, I always think it’s good to mix things up on the activity side. So we reserved a few comedy shows, a magic show and the Nickelodeon Pajama Jam, as well as two nights at the alternative dining MODERNO Churrascaria. Because this is a "Freestyle Cruising" ship with oodles of choices, I found it very helpful to keep a written calendar, a schedule of all dinners and events so we didn't miss anything.
Perhaps the most important activity we did on the first day was signing our kids up for Norwegian’s free onboard children’s program, Splash Academy. The center was open for registration on the first day from 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m.
We liked that Norwegian Cruise Line had digitized registration, a process that took just five minutes; there was no paperwork as I’d experienced on past cruises. We sat down individually with a camp counselor and answered a series of questions about allergies and special needs. All information was entered into an electronic tablet.
Our kids were then issued a muster bracelet listing any special requirements; bracelets must be worn for the entire sailing. “We switched to a tablet to expedite the process and get as many people to register beforehand,” says Julie Valeriote, cruise director, Norwegian Breakaway. “That way they can go right in when the program starts.”
She explained that about 350 children were registered by their parents or guardians on the first night of the cruise; that equated to one third of all kids on our cruise.
When all the first-day-onboard processes and reservations are completed, the bags are unpacked and families have completed the mandatory safety drill, then it’s time to kick back, relax and enjoy the top deck “Sailaway Party."
|Norwegian Breakaway's "Sailaway" unfolds as the ship sails under the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge.|
Despite being "locals" from the New York/New Jersey metropolitan area, we loved the fun music, festive atmosphere and magnificent skyline of New York that unfolded before us as we peered out from the open air deck. Our kids loved watching the ship pass beneath the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge.
Becoming Aquainted with Breakaway
The 144,000-ton Norwegian Breakaway is a big ship. So prior to dinner our first night, we took a bit of time to familiar our boys – and ourselves – with the ship’s layout.
I recommend this as it's important for kids to adeptly navigate on their own should they become separated from mom and dad. Older kids also will be more comfortable knowing how to get here and there.
Another tip? I always insist my kids memorize their stateroom number. Getting kids to do this and testing them as you're unpacking is one way to assure they know where they're staying right from the "get-go."
It's also good for parents to point out a directional aide that may go unnoticed. Norwegian's stateroom corridors are nicely carpeted to reflect schools of fish.
Just notice the direction they're swimming. If kids walk along with the fish as they swim “forward,” they'll be heading toward the ship’s bow, or front of the vessel. We showed our boys so they'd know how to get back to the cabin when entering the corridor from the elevator.
One positive observation? Although enormous, Norwegian Breakaway’s design has a fluidity to it. It's easy to traverse – without the cut-up styling or confusing passages we’ve experienced on some other ships.
The Wow Factor: Sports Complex
I’d normally start out a story talking about the atrium or the dining, but from an active family perspective (with two boys that bring a ton of energy to every day), we felt the most impressive feature of Norwegian Breakaway was its massive three-story sports complex.
|The "wow factor" three-level Sports Complex on Norwegian Breakaway has a Ropes Course.|
That included an extensive aerial ropes course -- a massive, blue-orange-yellow contraption on Deck 16. Climbers are fitted into a harness, which is safely locked into an overhead zip-track system. As cruisers maneuver their way across netting, ladders and challenging elements about 20 feet in the air, the harness slides along with them.
The course includes a zip line and eight-foot-long, walk-the-plank ledge, which dangles over the edge of the ship, giving the illusion of falling overboard. There is no safety netting or padding below, which gave it a greater sense of excitement (but rest assured, the person walking the plank is secured via a harness from above if they happen to slip).
|A separate ropes course for little ones, as Casey Dinnigan shows, is a lot of fun.|
Within the complex is also a miniature ropes course for the little ones who want to try it but are too short. My husband and Jack completed the adult course, and although Casey was tall enough to do it, his short legs couldn’t securely reach the very first stepping stone, so he happily played in the mini-course instead. There were limited open hours for that, so my suggestion is to go whenever you see it open.
My family did the ropes course at sunset. It’s interesting that Joe and I kept remarking how much the wide open deck and its amusements reminded us of strolling along a Jersey Shore boardwalk at dusk.
|Miniature golf is just one diversion to keep kids occupied onboard Norwegian Breakaway.|
The floor space below the course is spacious – creating a communal atmosphere where people socialized, but in a bit different way -- milling around and sharing stories about their "ropes course accomplishments or lack thereof."
This complex didn’t feel so much a part of the ship, but rather as if it were a separate neighborhood, a space all unto itself. We liked that.
Not surprisingly, as a safety precaution, in the event of strong winds, the sports complex is completely closed.
On the level directly under the ropes course is Norwegian's first mini-golf course, complete with ocean characters at each of the nine holes. We opted to play a round of golf after finishing our time on the ropes course.
There's no need to sign in and out for mini-golf equipment. Just grab a ball and club from the kiosk near the first hole. For hoops fans, there's also a full-size basketball court just a level above.
Thrilling Aqua Park & Pool Play
Another major highlight for the kids (and adults) is the Aqua Park, which strongly resembles a land-based waterpark.
This park has five amazing multi-story waterslides: two intertwining twister slides, an open-flume body slide (slower than the others) and twin Free Fall slides, for which you must weigh a minimum of 100 lbs.
|The thrilling Free Fall water slide has a floor that drops from beneath the rider.|
If the ultimate in thrills is desired, the brave need only head for Free Fall; guests stand up and the floor just drops beneath them. Getting the courage to take one's position in the stand-up position is -- for many -- even more difficult than the journey itself, which is a quick trip straight down.
Children are not permitted in the ship's main pool, but beneath the slides is a designated family pool. From a mom’s perspective, I felt this was a very good concept.
Why? Normally, the main pools on cruise ships tend to be a depth of about five feet throughout with two-inch-deep overflow areas on either side. But we've learned from our past cruises that it’s often difficult for kids to play in the main pools because the little ones can’t touch bottom.
While the Norwegian Breakaway's family pool was the same size, its depth ranged from three- to four-feet deep, enabling our kids to stand and play. Although more chaotic and crowded, because it was family-designated, there was no worrying whether your child was annoying another passenger with splashing and games.
The line's policy is swim at your own risk. Still, every time we were at the family pool, it's interesting that we noticed unofficial lifeguards with whistles patrolling the area.
While we are vigilant at watching our kids, this just gave us a bit more peace of mind. But, still, it's the parent's responsibility at all times to be vigilant.
One question that many parents have asked me since my return is whether my children wanted to spend more time at the Aqua Park or in Splash Academy? I tell them it's really the best of both worlds for kids and parents.
“There are so many children onboard, it helps spread them throughout the two facilities,” notes Valeriote. Adds Simpson: “It’s a balanced, Freestyle approach. We’re not going to meet everyone’s tastes. It’s a great concept, because there are a variety of things to try.”
Water, Water, Everywhere
|Adults have plenty of space for water play and sunning onboard Norwegian Breakaway.|
Norwegian Breakaway has a plethora of water spaces for adults and kids alike. For the preschoolers and toddlers, there is a creatively themed SpongeBob "spray-ground" -- a fanciful, spritzer water park for toddlers and young children.
Located next to the family pool, it has a baby pool and slide for young kids. Parents also can comfortably sit along the edge of the area to supervise.
|The SpongeBob themed playground is a "spray-ground" for young children // Photo by Susan Young|
Simply put, it's very cute. Flanked by fake palms, it boasts oversized cartoon characters and multiple water spray features. I particularly liked that this spray-ground also had a spongy surface material, perfect for small kids who purposely frolic and fall down in such parks.
One funny thing we discovered was a testament to the power of branding. My kids are a bit older, yet loved spending time here playing amid the sprays. They're simply huge SpongeBob fans.
As for hot tubs, those flanking the main pool and at Spice H2O are for adults only. Spice H2O also has tiled benches beneath a waterfall -- a nice feature for adults seeking to cool off on a hot sunny day.
Kids under 18 are only permitted in the two rear hot tubs near the main pool. We found the hot tub temperatures there were quite comfortable, with pleasantly warm water (not scalding as with some hot tubs we've encountered elsewhere on vacation).
We relaxed in the hot tub with our youngest son, Casey, nearly every night. After dinner and the shows, Jack who is a bit older, would disappear into Splash Academy. But Casey chose to be with us in the whirlpool. We all really enjoyed the night-swimming together.
Kids love climbing the rock climbing wall.
From an active perspective, it really was incredible how much we squeezed into a day. Many onboard activities are free, including the rock climbing wall. We enjoyed watching our boys climb to the "summit."
While the line was at least 20 minutes long, it was entertaining to watch guests trying it before our kids began their climb. The entire experience created camarauderie with other guests and helped pass the time.
While high-octane energy experiences abound on Norwegian Breakaway, I should emphasize that we had plenty of couple's time, thanks to having our kids supervised in Splash Academy. So my husband Joe and I enjoyed abundant reading poolside, on our balcony or in a two-person lounger.
As a couple, we also enjoyed vibations in the ship's many watering holes. And nothing is quite as romantic as peering over the railing into the vastness of the deep blue ocean.
Stay tuned for the rest of my series this week. I'll provide more detail on Splash Academy, the best dining experiences for families, balcony accommodations, our shore trip choices in Bermuda and additional "mother's tips" and gleanings about Norwegian Breakaway.
For more information visit www.ncl.com