|Caryn Berla, a travel agent with Cruise Planners, West Windsor, NJ, checks out the Norwegian Breakaway // Photo by Caryn Berla|
The 146,600-ton Norwegian Breakaway, the newest class of ship for Norwegian Cruise Line (www.ncl.com), sailed out of New York Harbor this past week with thousands of agents, agency owners and travel industry leaders onboard.
What did they think of the new 4,028-passenger ship, which will sail year-round from New York? What does this new class of ship do for the line in terms of trade and consumer appeal? Sister ship Norwegian Getaway will launch in 2014, sailing year-round from Miami.
Travel Agent asked several people who sailed to give us their thoughts about the contemporary line’s newest “baby.” Anecdotal feedback shows that this ship absolutely hits the mark with agents, industry leaders and journalists who focus on cruising.
“I was extremely impressed with the ship,” emphasized Ruth Turpin, owner of Cruises Etc, Fort Worth, TX.
Similarly, the headline for a USA Today story on Thursday said: “Early Word on New Mega-Ship: It’s a Winner." Agents may read that story here: www.usatoday.com/story/cruiselog/2013/05/15/norwegian-breakaway-review-early-word/2161603/
Here’s a sampling of the feedback we received.
Outdoor Spaces and Places
With the new ship’s design, Norwegian seems to have adeptly captured the outdoor feel of sailing – that gentle wind in your face atmosphere. “I love the connection with the ocean, which has been missing from some of the newer ships,” emphasized Caryn Berla, a travel agent with Cruise Planners, West Windsor, NJ.
She particularly enjoyed the promenade because she was able to walk outside around the ship and on the same deck encounter dining/lounge venues with both inside and outside seating. “You can sit outside and enjoy the jazz music in Fat Cats or inside,” Berla said. “You can dine on the Waterfront or eat inside and see the ocean from the windows. Love this feature.”
Several others interviewed also cited the Waterfront oceanfront area on Deck 8 as a draw, because it creates the feel of a boardwalk at sea.
“I can see the waterfront being a great meeting place for passengers onboard,” said Michelle Fee, CEO, Cruise Planners, Coral Springs, FL. “Having a cocktail or eating some finger food, it's all happening while watching overlooking the sea below.”
For Nancy Schretter, managing editor of the Family Travel Network in Reston, VA, the Aqua Park atop the ship was her personal favorite ship feature. The multi-story, outdoor waterpark has five curving waterslides, two pools and four hot tubs.
She said it will appeal to families, thrill seekers and fun-loving kids of any age. “Don’t miss plummeting almost straight down on The Whip and the mind-bending Free Fall – pulling almost 4Gs and said to be the fastest slides at sea,” Schretter said. “There’s also a Nickelodeon-themed mini-waterpark area that's just right for little ones.”
Dine-Around at Sea
Nearly all our sources cited Norwegian Breakaway’s strong complement of dining choices as a big draw; the ship has 28 dining options, many of which are complimentary. In addition, the ship has nearly two dozen bars and lots of spots to dine and socialize. “Travelers want choices and that's what Norwegian Breakaway has given them,” noted Fee.
One cool option? In tribute to its home port of New York, the ship's Ice Bar - kept at a frosty 17 degrees - features New York City-inspired specialty cocktails, as well as ice sculptures of the Brooklyn Bridge, Statue of Liberty and the Chrysler Building.
It's the cuisine that wows, though, according to our experts. Damian McCabe, CEO, McCabe World Travel, Inc., a Virtuoso agency in McLean, VA, said, “I thought the food was excellent and loved the variety of the types of restaurants – Japanese, Chinese, Brazilian, Italian, French, Steakhouse and more.”
She also cited the ease of using electronic touch screens around the ship for making dinner and show reservations.
Turpin’s dining perspective? “The food was great,” she said. “I ate in Le Bistro, Ocean Blue and Savor; Ocean Blue has a $35 cover and is worth every dollar.” Ocean Blue is created by celebrity chef Geoffrey Zakarian.
Several of our respondents loved The Haven, a private access area that’s essentially the line’s ship-within-a-ship concept. Turpin cited upscale accommodations, 24-7 services, a concierge, butlers and so on.
“They have their own restaurant which reminds me of the Princess Grill on Cunard,” Turpin noted. “Even my most selective clients would love this.” Turpin also liked the family-friendly environment and noted that guests staying in The Haven can take advantage of entertainment and restaurants throughout the ship.
“The Wow Factor is definitely The Haven," stressed McCabe. She said it’s a good option for multi-generational families where the family member paying [for the entire family’s cruise fares] is more used to a luxury ship experience, or even for younger couples who don't quite have the luxury ship budget but appreciate luxury hotel stays.
|The new Carlo's Bake Shop created this Norwegian Breakaway cake // Photo by Ruth Turpin|
Activities and Entertainment
Frankly, “it will be tough for anyone to be bored on this ship,” said Schretter, citing a range of activities and entertainment including “three Broadway shows, lots of nightly entertainment choices including the fabulous Slam Allen at Fat Cats, an awesome three-story sports complex featuring the largest ropes course at sea, large dedicated areas for kids’ and teens’ programs” and more.
Berla loved the ropes course coupled with the age-old shipboard scare – walking the plank: “This was unique and not something seen elsewhere. It provides a little sense of adventure and daring but is still lots of fun.”
She also felt the onboard entertainment was fantastic, noting that she saw "Rock of Ages" and thought it was Broadway worthy. From Fee’s perspective, “'Rock of Ages' was edgy yet fun, but no matter what age your age, the music made you tap your feet and sing along - especially if you grew up in the 80's.”
Among the new options on Norwegian Breakaway, clients might head for Carlo's Bake Shop, an extension of the family business set up by master baker Buddy Valastro, star of the TLC television series "Cake Boss" and "Next Great Baker." It's a good place for a treat, or just eyeballing the delights. Turpin shot this photo (above) of Carlo's while onboard.
But of all the features onboard, Turpin was impressed most by the onboard children's club facilities. “I thought the various levels of the children program were amazing,” she says, noting she spent more than an hour in Splash and was very impressed by the counselors in costume as well as the diverse activities available.
“My granddaughter would never want to leave,” Turpin added.
Hands down, our anecdotal feedback showed this new ship is really a good fit for families. “There is so much to do for all age groups, but I especially love the teen lounge and activities,” said Berla.
“This ship is perfect for families and Type-A cruisers looking for tons of choices, activities, entertainment at sea,” believes Schretter.
Turpin said there are two groups of clients she would like to have try Norwegian Breakaway – first, families, and second, what she calls “The Yuppie Land Vacationer.” From Turpin's perspective: “They would get so much more for their money.”
Fee said Norwegian Breakaway is a great ship for family reunions, because picking the right ship is one of the hardest things in the initial planning. Why? “In most cases families have members with Ritz-Carlton budgets all the way down to the Holiday Inn budgets... and usually someone has to make a sacrifice,” Fee acknowledged.
But she said Norwegian Breakaway solves that issue with cabins for every budget. “Starting off with the Haven Suites- this exclusive area gives those clients full concierge service, with their own restaurant and pool area,” Fee said, adding that the solo cabins are a great idea for budget-conscious clients who want privacy but also to sail with a family group.
Overall, Berla loved the look and feel of the ship and its diverse and one-of-a-kind features. “The one negative was the balconies were really small - barely enough room for two chairs and a table, unless you had a handicapped cabin,” she said.
Turpin felt the crew seemed well-trained and comfortable with their jobs. She and McCabe also both felt that Norwegian has done a complete turnaround in its relationship with the trade.
“I'm amazed at how far Norwegian Cruise Line has come,” McCabe said. “It's been 20 years since I've sailed on a Norwegian ship and the hardware, food and service [equate to] a completely new company as far as I'm concerned.”
She views Norwegian as a strong cruise partner, noting that Partners First shows the line is investing in the travel trade’s success.
“Examples of this are never marketing direct to clients booked by travel advisors, no price advantage to booking direct, and a call to action to calling a travel professional on all marketing materials,” said McCabe.
Turpin similarly expressed confidence in the line’s senior management - specifically citing CEO Kevin Sheehan, EVP Andy Stuart, SVP Camille Olivere, as well as Lizz Finn, business development director for The Haven and others.
She previously sold a lot of what’s described now as the “old NCL,” but said she stopped a few years ago due to problems. As with McCabe, Turpin said she is re-energized to sell the ship and the line.
“They truly want to be our partners…and this is very refreshing,” Turpin said. “I now want to be a part of Partners First.”
Turpin planned a staff meeting this week to discuss her thoughts, feelings and experiences onboard what she describes as “the new Norwegian.” She said she will encourage her staff to think about Norwegian for their premium clients and The Haven for luxury clients. She hopes to get a few of her staff onboard so they can experience it for themselves.
“Then I personally am going to plan to take my family on the Norwegian Breakaway or Norwegian Getaway in 2014,” Turpin revealed. “Yes, I really like it.”
For more information, visit http://www.breakaway.ncl.com.