|Norwegian Breakaway's Moderno Churasscaria is a great restaurant for keeping the kids entertained, as waiters bring cuts of meat to the table for slicing. // Photo by Lizz Dinnigan|
This is the third and final installment in our “Mom’s Notebook” series on the family travel experience on Norwegian Breakaway. Journalist Lizz Dinnigan, her husband Joe and two sons, Jack, 10, and Casey, 7, spent a week on the ship sailing roundtrip from New York to Bermuda. This story is reprinted here with permission from SouthernCruising.com, which retains all rights.
By Lizz Dinnigan
Sailing to Bermuda or the Bahamas/Florida, Norwegian Breakaway provides families with plenty of sea days plus multiple port days ashore. In this final installment of my "Mom's Notebook," here's a look at our family's experience with Freestyle Dining, the balcony stateroom, onboard entertainment and Bermuda shore action.
Freestyle Dining Diversity
A big part of any Norwegian Cruise Line voyage is Freestyle Dining, the line's concept that allows guests to eat whenever and wherever they choose. There is tremendous diversity in dining choices.
What's good for families? There are no seating assignments and guests have the flexibility to eat when and where they want. With so many choices, having dinner onboard may seem complicated, but frankly, we found the process easy and convenient.
With complimentary dining in three dining rooms – Taste and Savor, directly opposite each other, and the more formal Manhattan Room, a supper club – you can show up whenever you wish or make a reservation for the time you prefer.
|Entrance to Taste, one of three "main dining rooms." // Photo by Susan J. Young|
If, by chance, you have to wait, the dining rooms will issue beepers and call you back when your table is ready. That said, we didn't find this necessary; the longest we had to wait was five minutes.
While we liked the flexibility of showing up whenever we wanted, families can also choose the line's "traditional dining" option, which is available between 5:30 p.m. and 6 p.m. in all three dining rooms.
If you set this up with the hostess on the first night or in advance online, you can dine at the same time and in the same restaurant nightly with your same waiter.
For our active family, though, we never knew exactly when we’d want to dine. So we just showed up. We often asked for and were given a window seat. One thing I could have done without was the distracting player piano at Savor's entrance.
|The Dinnigans often were able to secure a window table with water views at Taste or Savor. // Photo by Lizz Dinnigan|
During our cruise, we alternated dinners between Taste and Savor, as we wanted to remain comfortably casual. My husband Joe was even permitted to wear shorts.
Guests are required to dress more formally in the Manhattan Room, which features the same complimentary menu. At times, you'll hear a musical group or orchestra playing here, as guests take to the large dance floor.
From our family’s perspective, the menu choices and quality of the food in the main dining rooms were both excellent. You would think that with an emphasis on the specialty dining venues that a line's complimentary dinner may suffer, but that wasn’t the case on our cruise. If you enjoy a particular dish such as escargot and want another, you need only ask the server.
Main dining appetizers on our cruise included French onion soup, Norwegian smoked salmon tartare, escargot cassoulet, fried brie wedges with cranberry and fig compote, and lump crab cakes. Salad choices and healthy options were available.
Entrees included gnocchi with short-rib ragu, dijon-and-herb-crusted Australian rack of lamb, Mediterranean calamari salad, Chimmichuri skirt steak salad, papardelle and duck confit, and grilled shrimp with herb butter.
What did I like best? Taste and Savor were a departure from the bi-level grand main dining rooms found on many cruise ships. It was more like going out to eat at a contemporary restaurant.
Another plus? When we told the waiter we needed to eat in an expedited fashion because we had show reservations, the meal service was quick.
At lunchtime, we alternated between the complimentary Garden Cafe buffet and the popular Irish pub O’Sheehan’s, which overlooks the atrium.
I liked the sinks and hand sanitizer stations at the entrance to the buffet, along with a guitar player singing songs like, “If you’re happy and you know it, wash your hands.” It was a great way to prevent viral infections.
|Kids not only enjoy the buffalo wings and mozzarella sticks at O'Sheehan's but also its duckpin bowling lanes. // Photo by Lizz Dinnigan|
Speaking of O’Sheehan’s, the kids absolutely begged to go there. Casey and Jack particularly loved the buffalo wings and mozzarella sticks.
While Joe and I had a beer at O'Sheehan's, Casey and Jack also played games. For example, there was a two-lane duckpin bowling alley ($5 per game), and pay-per-use dart boards, pool tables, air hockey and a basketball free throw.
In addition, Norwegian has many high-quality specialty restaurants that carry an extra charge. They’re highly popular so reservations are a "must" in most cases.
|Ocean Blue's dining room serves Jeffrey Zakarian's seafood dishes. It also has a separate raw bar. // Photo by Susan J. Young|
Specialty venues and their per person charges are as follows: Cagney’s Steakhouse ($30), La Cucina ($15) for Italian cuisine, Le Bistro ($20) for French culinary dishes, Moderno Churrascaria ($20) for Brazilian cuisine, Chef Geoffrey Zakarian’s Ocean Blue ($39) for seafood with an a la carte raw bar, the Shanghai Noodle Bar (pricing of dishes is a la carte), the ever-popular Teppanyaki ($25) for Japanese hibachi and Wasabi Sushi (a la carte).
These restaurants can be booked individually, either online in advance or once guests get onboard. Or, to really splurge, the “Ultimate Dining Package” at $119 per person allows guests to dine in all the specialty restaurants during their week onboard.
In addition, it's nice that children 4 to 12 dine for half price in the specialty restaurants or even for free if they order off the restaurant’s designated children’s menu. Available nightly, this kids’ menu typically consists of a choice of juice, burger or cheeseburger with fries, hot dog, chicken noodle soup, macaroni and cheese, chicken tenders, PB&J, cheese or pepperoni pizza and dessert.
|The Teppanyaki is another dining choice with built-in entertainment as Japanese chefs prepare the meal "live" mid-table. // Photo by Susan J. Young|
Our favorite specialty restaurant? Hands down, it was Moderno Churrascaria. We loved it on the Norwegian Gem and so we went back twice on Norwegian Breakaway.
The salad bar alone is a meal unto itself, displaying high-quality Prosciutto de Parma, wet mozzarella, marinated and delicately sliced mushrooms, all kinds of antipasto, and shrimp ceviche served in a martini glass. See my plate of salad bar items in the photo at right.
For the sit-down dinner service at the churrascaria, diners are each issued a card that is green (go) on one side, and red (stop) on the other. The servers walk around with skewers of meats, from linguica Portuguese sausage to lamb chops and filet mignon, plus a zillion other cuts.
You can pick and choose what cuts you're interested in savoring. If you want more meat, just turn the card to green. When you’re stuffed, turn it to red. The food was very tasty and creatively presented.
It's actually more an experience than a dinner. One plus? If your kids are picky eaters, the churrascaria will give them an eclectic variety of some favorites as well as many new things to try.
We returned three times to see the Second City improvisational group’s Scriptless shows at Headliners Comedy Club. Each performance was different but equally funny. The venue is cozy so definitely make reservations.
Another night we saw the comedy and magic of illusionist Martin Brock. The show was not long, but my boys enjoyed this much more than they would a song-and-dance show.
|Norwegian Breakaway's entertainment includes Howl at the Moon's Dueling Pianos. // Photo by Lizz Dinnigan|
We also watched Howl at the Moon's Dueling Pianos, where audience members write down songs they want to hear and the musicians play them. But I think Joe and I enjoyed this more than the kids simply because they didn’t recognize any of the music.
For $39.99 per person with dinner, families can see the Cirque Dreams and Dinner "Jungle Fantasy" Broadway show beneath the colorful, big-top Spiegel tent.
The popular “Burn the Floor” dance show and “Rock of Ages” were also popular with adult cruisers and teens on our voyage. Adults can imbibe in after-show vodka drinks at Svedka Ice Bar. Just grab a fur coat from the rack before you enter, because the temperature inside is at 20 degrees. There’s a $20 cover charge for the ice bar experience.
|Balcony stateroom, #11244, easily accommodated mom, dad and two kids. // Photo by Lizz Dinnigan|
Of the 2,014 staterooms on Norwegian Breakaway, nearly half are balcony cabins that measure 207 to 280 square feet. Those work well for families, but parents can alternatively choose spa suites, oceanview, studio, inside, mini suites and penthouses.
For the ultimate in pampering, families might book a stateroom, suite or villa within The Haven, Norwegian’s ship-within-a-ship upscale complex with its own pool, concierge, restaurant and lounge.
For our family, though, a Deluxe Balcony Stateroom, #11244, comfortably accommodated the four of us. The cabin had a serene, muted decor in beach tones. The sandy brown carpeting and couch were accentuated by teal throw pillows and curtains, and dark wood finishing.
It had a queen bed for mom and dad, plus a sofa-bed for Casey and an upper berth that could be pulled down at night for Jack. The upper berth has its own nightlight, a nice touch. During the day, we sometimes left the upper berth open so the kids could play both up and down -- but they only were permitted to do so while we were present in the cabin.
|Deluxe Balcony Stateroom with aqua and tan decor. // Photo by Lizz Dinnigan|
The room was spacious for 207 square feet, with abundant storage space. Although there were no drawers, the closet had ample shelving, with additional shelves around the desk area. As a mom, I felt there was plenty of closet space and shelving for our family’s needs. I appreciated the shower gel and shampoo dispensers in the bathroom.
The stateroom also had good techie features, including electronic switches for “Do Not Disturb” and “Make Up The Room.” The key card must be inserted in a slot near the door to activate the room’s electricity, which is good for energy savings when no one is in the cabin; it’s just important to remember to remove it when you leave to explore the ship.
There is a fully stocked minibar (fees apply for items used), hairdryer, coffeemaker, safe, plenty of under-bed room for suitcases, and a flat-screen TV with such channels as Family Movies and Nickelodeon. The TV also offered the same interactive option as the digital touch-screens throughout the ship. You could book shows, make reservations and even check your shipboard account from the privacy of your stateroom.
|The stateroom steward created a "towel animal" to befriend Casey's own stuffed dog. // Photo by Lizz Dinnigan|
My kids’ favorite stateroom features? Not surprisingly, they loved the towel animals left for them by our stateroom steward at turn down. They also liked ordering pizza (available 24 hours on Norwegian Breakaway) to the cabin for a $5 charge.
Talk about a different point of view. From a mom's perspective, my favorite features included the clean scent of the linens and being able to drift off to sleep on the rocking waves.
On Bermuda cruises, Norwegian Breakaway docks at Heritage Wharf, which shares a pier with King’s Wharf alongside the Royal Naval Dockyard on Bermuda’s northwestern tip. Typically, the ship remains docked as a floating hotel for three consecutive days.
Tip for parents? Based on our past cruises, we knew that all the passengers would be clamoring to get off the ship to explore Bermuda as soon as the gangway was in place. So we hung back and opted to go off the ship after lunch, which in hindsight, turned out to be a brilliant decision.
We literally had the entire ship and, most importantly, the waterslides and family pool to ourselves. We were the only ones in the pool, so we set up races against each other, enjoying the rare mobility in a pool that is much more crowded on sea days.
|Playing on waterslides during port days often means "no lines." // Photo by Lizz Dinnigan|
If your children love waterslides, keep this “stay-on-the-ship” option for shore days in mind. Our boys also played on the ship's multiple waterslides all morning with no lines.
Snorkel Park in Bermuda is a great spot for relaxing, family fun. // Photo by Joe Dinnigan
After we have a fun morning of pool and waterslide play, without the crowds, we ate lunch onboard (a saving for parents as food can be expensive ashore in Bermuda).
Then we headed out on a 15-minute walk through the dockyard to reach “Snorkel Park," which is usually open when ships are in port. It's adjacent to the massive walls of the dockyard's fort.
Admission was a bargain at $5 per adult and free for kids under 12. We rented chairs and an umbrella and brought along our snorkel equipment from home. While equipment can be rented on site, it's a saving to bring along your own and avoid the rental fees.
At Snorkel Park's beach, the four of us spent a long, leisurely afternoon exploring the marine life and coral reef.
Tip? It's good to wear enclosed water shoes to protect against against a rocky bottom.
On a second day in Bermuda, we booked Norwegian Cruise Line's “Bermuda Triangle Shipwreck Snorkel” excursion. Bermuda is home to more than 200 square miles of the Atlantic’s most northerly fringe reef; it's beautiful yet treacherous. Historically, more than 300 ships have gone down in this region.
Since our children love to snorkel, we felt this was a good choice – giving the family the chance for water play and to view two of those underwater shipwrecks – the Constellation and Montana. The shipwrecked vessels have created homes for both coral and fish, so we knew we’d see colorful sea life here.
|Snorkeling and "shipwreck spotting" is one shore option during a Bermuda cruise. // Photo by Lizz Dinnigan|
During the cruise on a small ship out to the reef, the captain gave an overview of the island’s history and that of some of the shipwrecks.
On site we were issued snorkeling equipment, given a safety briefing, and then it was into the water for an hour of fun.
On the return trip, the kids enjoyed complimentary soft drinks, while Joe and I sipped on complimentary Rum Swizzles, included in the shore excursion fee.
Couple of things I should note for parents. First, the minimum age for this tour is 5. Second, foam noodles are used as floatation devices, not life jackets. So parents need to be comfortable with that.
Third, this snorkeling adventure is from a boat in open water -- not from a beach. If you’re the adventurous type and your children are fearless, I highly recommend it. The only challenging part for my 7-year-old was keeping the water out of his mask.
This half-day excursion cost $79.99 for adults and $49.99 for kids.
From the fun shore options in Bermuda to the plethora of restaurants on Norwegian Breakaway, from the ship’s three-level Sports Deck to myriad shows and a robust Splash Academy supervised children’s program, our vacation on Norwegian Cruise Line was definitely a good family friendly experience.
Perhaps even more importantly, crew members including our cabin steward, dining room staff, and the Splash Academy staffers, were friendly, responsive and truly seemed to want to assure we were having a great time onboard.
|The Dinnigans posed for a photo souvenir of their Norwegian Breakaway cruise in summer 2014.|
When booking a vacation, it can be hard to choose a cruise ship. There are an overwhelming number of choices -- many high quality -- in the cruise industry. But if you’re traveling with children in tow, from one mom's perspective, this ship is as good as it gets.