I won't be covering things like doing my laundry, driving, packing, and other stuff that has literally nothing to do with the cruise. I know a lot of people enjoy and have even come to expect that from reviews here on Cruise Critic, but I guess I'm a progressive thinker that believes reviews should be about the topic at hand. That's all I'm going to say about that!
This was our first cruise with NCL and it was our honeymoon. We stayed in a Haven Spa Suite stateroom. I also got to check off a life bucket list item; read on to find out what it was.
Okay, so on to my review of the Norwegian Breakaway and my Western Caribbean itinerary!
Itinerary (just informational):
1. Port Miami (embarkation)
2. Sea day
3. Roatan, Honduras
4. Harvest Caye, Belize
5. Costa Maya, Mexico
6. Cozumel, Mexico
7. Sea day
8. Port Miami (disembarkation)
** Overall Review **
If you read other reviews about the Breakaway, or even Norwegian Cruise Line here on Cruise Critic, you would think that this is the most horrible cruise you could ever go on. While on the ship, we encountered a fair share of complainers that were having a bad time, even in The Haven. My biggest piece of advice is to just ignore these people. We couldn't find anything to complain about, even if we tried! It was an amazing experience! All crew and staff were attentive, incredibly polite, quick, and full of energy. We always had a good time, no matter where we were, Haven or otherwise. The food was great everywhere, drinks were great, the entertainment was FANTASTIC, and the ship just felt right.
** Entertainment and Activities Review **
The entertainment on board was absolutely FIRST CLASS! All my expectations were completely blown away. There are live performers scattered all over the ship for pretty much the whole day. They almost always had a band playing in the pool area, plus there would be a pianist here and there, and guitarist here and there, or even a full band here and there. They were all quite good, and this is coming from a musician who has played these kinds of gigs before.
There was a guitarist at the Maltings bar playing rock and pop songs in a classical-ish guitar style. Things like Metallica, but also things like theme songs from TV shows. I thought I'd bust his chops a bit and request an obscure, ridiculously hard to play song. The response I was expecting was "what is that?," but instead, he laughed and said "okay, sure." I requested Classical Gas and he absolutely nailed it. I went up to him when he was done with his set and I told him I'd never seen anyone play it in person, that I was totally just giving him a hard time, and now I'm just flabbergasted. It turns out that he was the guitarist for both Rock of Ages and Burn the Floor!
So. Rock of Ages. I wish I could use some of the language from the show to describe what I thought of it. But let's just say... it ROCKED! Loved it! I would say it's a fun musical for people who don't like musicals. You do, however, need to like rock. But the musicians really are top tier, professional, and amazing. I got to meet up with some of them later; more on that in a moment.
Burn the Floor was phenomenal in basically every way! The arrangement and sequencing is spectacular, the dancing seemed to defy physics, and the whole thing was just full of "wow" moments. It had us on the edge of our seat the whole time. Don't miss this one! One of the most impressive things is that the musicians are the same guys from Rock of Ages. They're really that good.
Cirque Dreams was really incredible and some of the acts were other-worldly. The dinner was bad (more on that later), but the show was definitely worth it. It's being replaced soon, but they have some big shoes to fill.
I somehow convinced my wife to do the ballroom dancing lesson in The Atrium with me (she says she has two left feet, but I keep telling her she's good) and it was memorable.
Then there was the dueling pianos at Howl at the Moon. This was quite an experience and I got to check off a bucket list item! I threw them a request to let me play drums with them, since they had a drum set on stage. They let it happen! I actually played for maybe half an hour or so, then handed the drums to James Connelly, the godly drummer for Burn the Floor and Rock of Ages. He kicked major butt and is now officially one of my favorite drummers. He wanted to take a break so they actually brought me back on stage and I closed the set with them! I've always wanted to play drums on a cruise ship while drunk; ACHIEVEMENT UNLOCKED! It was a good time. So much fun. I'm honestly surprised they let it happen and honored that they let me stay!
** Beverage Review **
All of the bars on board had the basic staple drinks, but each bar had something different about it. For example, the pool bar was essentially set up for fast service, using pre-mixed drinks whenever possible. They have piña colada coming out of a machine, for instance. The Maltings and Shakers bars do not have blenders, so you won't be getting frozen drinks there, but they have their own unique cocktails that you can't get anywhere else on the ship. I got absolutely hooked to the Espresso Martini at Shakers! When it gets busy at Spice H2O, they set up an additional drink cart that has beers and a few other pre-mixed cocktails. In general, there are a lot of bars and lots of variety.
With calibrated expectations, I think any reasonable person would be more than happy with the quality of the drinks and the service. The service was very, very fast, in my experience. You just can't expect the pool bar, which is serving maybe 50 people at a time, to be as fast as Shakers, which is serving 15 people at a time. With that in perspective, you should be able to appreciate having a drink made to order in just a few minutes by the pool! That's incredible! Not only that, but the crew really does go above and beyond to accommodate you. We were at Maltings, a whiskey bar that doesn't have a blender, and my wife asked for a mudslide. They said they don't have a blender, but they'd be happy to go get the drink from another bar. They delivered her drink to her in maybe 3 minutes! That's amazing!
Then there's The Haven. I'm reluctant to bring this up, since most people won't be able to access this bar, but it's worth mentioning. It's very, very good. They can make basically any drink on the ship and it rarely gets crowded. The bartenders here are top notch, too. I wasn't here too much, though, since I found the ambiance to not be nearly as fun as other places on the ship, such as any of the venues with live music.
Overall, and I know this is subjective, my favorite bar was Shakers and my favorite bartender was Milan, also at Shakers. Great drinks, good guy, funny, and would keep surprising us with fun and funny drinks. I won't even mention some of it because it was definitely pushing the limits of company policy! But we had some GREAT laughs and got some serious buzzing going!
** Dining Review **
Overall, absolutely fantastic. There were a couple minor dings, but even the best restaurants in the world can't knock every dish out of the park, so we didn't knock our overall review. But where these dings happened may surprise you. So why don't we get the controversial bad stuff out of the way, first, shall we?
Cagney's is overrated. There is nothing that wowed us and it's very traditional, which in some circles, is synonymous with boring. The meal was good overall, but the filet steak was very sub-par. The actual cut of meat was fantastic, but there was basically zero sear, and thus no Maillard reaction. It looked and tasted like a braised beef medallion, basically. It was fine, we ate it, didn't complain, but would not recommend it. This is in stark contrast to Chops on Royal Caribbean, which we absolutely LOVED and was very memorable in every way. We probably won't do Cagney's again if we ever go on NCL again.
Cirque Dreams, from the perspective of the dining only, was just bad in every way. First of all, it's billed as a dinner-show, but it is in fact, NOT a dinner show. You eat your appetizer, entre, and dessert all well before the show starts. If this is the case, we're seriously questioning why they even serve food, because you'd be much better off getting food literally anywhere else on the ship and THEN attending this show! The show was great, and I'll cover that separately, but the dining was just bad. We ate half our entre and didn't eat the desert. We understand that this show is being retired in one week, but I'd apply some skepticism if it's replaced by another dinner-show.
Now with the negativity out of the way, let's talk about the awesomeness.
Our favorite of the bunch was Le Bistro. It was a surprise to us since we've seen tons of bad reviews. But all things considered, Le Bistro was our favorite dining experience out of all of them. The lamb was great, as was everything else!
We also very much enjoyed The Manhattan Room. We sat right in front of the band, which we enjoyed very much. My wife and I are both musicians and we even played at our own wedding, so this being our honeymoon, sitting right in front of the jazz band was a real treat. The food was great, too.
We went to Savor for breakfast one day to give it a shot and experience the "normal" dining room in a normal setting. While not as good as The Haven, which is where we ate breakfast all other days, it was more than adequate and we're convinced that complaints come from generally unhappy people.
La Cucina was quite good, too. My veal was too salty for some people, but I love my food to be very salty, so it was just right for me. My wife was really in the mood for pizza, so that's what she went with. Wow - that pizza obliterated all expectations. It was sooooo good! The highlight of the meal was the desert, though. We had cannolis and tiramisu. I almost want to book another cruise just for the tiramisu...
Ocean Blue was awesome. Do it. Pay the upcharge and enjoy life.
The Haven Restaurant is almost like having an additional specialty restaurant available to you without an additional upcharge. It was very, very good for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. The only thing is that it doesn't rotate items on its menu, but that's totally okay since there's still a great selection and it's all very, very good. For lunch, the brie burger really hit the spot. The beef tartar (dinner) was probably the favorite appetizer on the whole ship. Breakfast was to die for and I couldn't stop ordering things!
The buffet is not bad at all. Pretty good, but I'd give the edge to Royal Caribbean here. Not a huge deal, though, since NCL has an additional sit down restaurant that's included in your fare: O'Sheehans. Limited, but otherwise very good menu, plus they're open 24 hours! You get to sit at a table and get waited on any time of the day, complimentary, and it's good. How can you complain about that?!
We didn't go to Margaritaville for anything other than a margarita. It seems like that was the case for everyone else, too. We didn't see a single person actually eat there. NCL may want to reconsider this as an upcharged restaurant and just make it complimentary. It seems like a waste of space at this point.
Knowing that nothing is perfect, I'm giving NCL a 9 out of 10 for my dining experience.
** The Haven Review **
The Haven was mostly amazing. The only issues I had with it were out of the control of the staff and crew, so I'm not holding it against them, but I'll mention them here. In our anecdotal experience, maybe 50% of the guests in The Haven are just not good people to be around. They're rude, obnoxious, insulting and demeaning to the crew. We hated talking to these people when we had to and generally thought they were just a bunch of entitled jerks. We especially didn't like the way they'd talk down to the bartenders, servers, and concierge folks.
And then there was Family A. You will learn more about Family A when you read my Roatan Mini-Review. There's a lot of class in The Haven, and these people had a lot of it. Well, low class, that is. They were a loud, rude, annoying, disrespectful family with demon children who don't know how to behave, respect other people's space, or even care about safety. I won't even get into how distasteful this entire family was. But basically everyone in The Haven gave them angry stares. At one point, their kids were literally running between the Haven Restaurant tables in the courtyard while people were eating, screaming at each other, and playing with some toy rubber chicken that made really loud chicken sounds. We were laughing our butts off watching from the second story and got some of it on video. We think it'll be very good stock footage for creating a birth control commercial.
With the bad stuff out of the way, we have nothing but praise for The Haven. What an experience! The hot tubs, courtyard, sundeck, and restaurant are all just top notch. They really added to our ability to relax. That said, I think we used the spa thermal suite more than The Haven's amenities (other than the restaurant), although this mainly had to do with the fact that kids weren't in the thermal suite.
The star of the show in The Haven was Bowen, the concierge. He made literally all of our requests come to fruition, even things that were normally not standard. Lots of other people weren't as satisfied as we were, but those people were the entitled elitists of the population. We politely requested reasonable things and were very thankful when Bowen made them happen. That guy is magical and he's probably the most patient person I've ever met. How he keeps his composure at all times is a mystery to me. He really made our trip special!
So would I do The Haven again? Well, I went ahead and splurged since it was our honeymoon. I booked it outright to make sure we got it. But even at upgrade bid prices, I believe it's a bit too steep for what you get and overall, I wouldn't recommend it. For the money, a cruise on a premium line might be a better way to go, such as Celebrity, Princess, or others. Simply, I feel like The Haven is overpriced for what you get, especially if you consider the multitude of upcharges NCL likes to tack on here and there. However, I still think the experience is phenomenal, so if you don't mind spending the money, it's pretty amazing.
My one suggestion to NCL here is to make The Haven Courtyard an adult only area, or at least 16+. Kids really ruined from time to time because they can't behave.
** Amenities Review **
The water slides were awesome, which is great because I'm basically a big kid! I didn't do the "kids" slides, but I did do all of the others. One awesome thing is that most people are afraid of the free-fall slides, so there's never any wait time for them. I must have gone on them maybe 20 times or so. This is a wild combination when you've had one or five drinks!
I never had an issue getting a lounge chair on the upper decks. Sure, maybe I didn't get one in the shade, but I could always get one. It would be nice if they could add more shade features, though, similar to how Royal Caribbean is adding awnings, cabanas, and other things on their tops decks in recent dry-docks.
The Bliss Ultralounge is pretty cool, but incredibly under-utilized. 90% of the time, it's empty with nothing going on. I really think they should host more activities in there, including live music. That said, the bar was actually pretty good (when it was open) and the lighting effects were super cool. My wife and I are both lighting hobbyists, so we especially appreciate the room.
The Atrium was a lot of fun! Unlike most reviews, we did not experience cigarette smoke in The Atrium. They hosted a lot of activities there and it was a good time, overall.
The ropes course was awesome! Of course, my wife made me "walk the plank," knowing that I'm afraid of heights. I survived. Alcohol followed shortly thereafter.
The Spa Thermal Suite was very relaxing and you can use jets in the pool to massage yourself. There's a section of the pool with tons of bubbles which is a bit misplaced because it's not so relaxing, but it's instead tons of fun to play around in. There are two saunas: a normal one, plus a low-heat variety. The salt room, however, seemed pointless and other passengers agreed. We would have liked to have seen a snow room, or even an ice/cold tub (basically, the opposite of a hot tub).
I do have one nitpick for the amenities on the whole. It's pretty hard to find clocks on the ship, which normally isn't a big deal, but you're supposed to remove all jewelry, including watches, to go on the free fall water slides and to go into the sauna. It's hard to keep track of time if you can't find a clock. This is a simple, low-cost thing that NCL could do to improve a couple experiences. Not a big deal, but I figured I'd mention it.
** Room Review **
We stayed in a Haven Spa Suite room on the 14th deck. For two people, which is the maximum, it's quite spacious. There are many negative remarks about the balcony being too small, but not once did I feel like it needed to be bigger. It did the job nicely! Also, a frequently asked but seldomly answered question is whether or not two people can fit in the whirlpool tub. It's a hard question to answer without offending large groups of people, but I'll do my best. If you are both in good shape, then yes, two people can fit. Otherwise, if even one of you is not in good shape, two people might not fit.
We fully unpacked our bags into the room. There's enough closet and other storage space for literally everything. We even over-packed for the trip and still had enough space.
The Nespresso coffee machine is totally a good perk, especially considering that NCL doesn't include good coffee in their drink package, unlike literally every other cruise line. It's not as good as the Lavazza espresso available in the Atrium, but it's definitely good enough.
I really think this was the perfect room. Right amount of luxury without being excessive. I loved the diffuse lighting and the shower, which is definitely big enough for two. Or heck, three? 😉
** Mini-Reviews of Ports **
Port Miami Mini-Review:
This is the smoothest running embarkation port I've ever experienced. I drove to and parked at the port. Zero issues, everything went smoothly. I rolled my bags up to the porter, walked up to priority embarkation, did the security checkpoint, did some washy-washy, and I was on the ship in maybe 5 minutes. During disembarkation, it took longer to go down the escalator than it did to go through customs. From the time we set foot on the gangway to when we set foot back in the parking garage was maybe 15 minutes. Port Miami really has their stuff together!
One minor, semi-off topic thing I think is worth noting, however, is that people in Miami drive like they're trying to kill you. They are horrible drivers. If you're driving, pay extra attention to your surroundings and make sure you have the most patient person in your group behind the wheel. It'll get hectic!
We did a ziplining excursion. It was us and two other families. One family was very polite and had very well behaved kids. They were all great - let's call them Family A! The other family, Family B, consisted of a loud, rude, obnoxious father, a ticked off (but quiet) wife, a little girl that liked to hear her own voice at all times, and two demon-child boys who were easily the worst behaved kids on the ship. One of these boys, due to their clowning around, caused one of the zip-line guides to get injured. That aside, the zip-line tour guides could tell that Family B was ruining the experience for everyone, so they did a pretty good job of separating them from the rest of the group, as much as possible. It was a very, very good excursion and I highly recommend it! It was the zip line excursion available directly through NCL.
The Roatan port area (I believe it was called Coxen Hole) was okay. Obviously, things are incredibly expensive (example: $25 for a small plate of ceviche) as soon as you get off the ship, but if you walk down the road a bit and can communicate with the locals, there are some really neat places to grab a bite to eat. Within 10 minutes of walking time, you can get some super killer ceviche for about 3 bucks! Plus, if you keep walking, you can really take in some of the culture shock, which is always humbling and an experience of its own.
Harvest Caye Mini-Review:
This was probably the worst port I've ever been to. It is undoubtedly the most overrated place on the itinerary. If you trust the reviews you see on here, you'd think that there's lots of great things to do and it's super clean and amazing! However, only part of that is true, and it's not the whole story. The truth of Harvest Caye is that it's a total money-grab tourist trap. There is ZERO culture on the island; everything is just overpriced tourist junk. The largest building is a Landshark Lager bar/restaurant, which is from St. Louis, Missouri! What a joke! And the other little huts are just mass-market garbage. We tried their piña coladas (at about $15 a piece, mind you) just to try something, but it was pretty bland and hardly had any alcohol. We tried their coconut water drinks that you can buy from a cart at $12 a piece and they were warm, but at least actually had some alcohol in them.
The amenities aren't nearly as good as people make them out to be. The beach was terrible; the sand is awful and incredibly coarse. The animal/nature sanctuary they boast about has a whopping two, yes TWO, birds. This is not a mistake; 2 birds. People were laughing and making fun of it, using (hilarious) language that is not appropriate for these forums. The butterfly sanctuary had, well, zero butterflies. We did find one dead one on the walkway, though. Yes, you could find a lounger somewhere on the beach pretty easily, and yes, the island was clean, but it was boring. Even the excursions were pretty stupid; the over-priced zip line course had ONE zip line currently functioning. And all of the aquatic excursions (paddle boards, kayaks, electric boats, etc) were confined to a very small, boring, nothing-to-see lagoon, roped off with buoys. You could literally just walk along side the whole thing if you wanted to.
If this ever ends up on an itinerary for us again, we're just going to stay on the ship. Literally everything that is offered here is better on the ship.
Costa Maya Mini-Review:
The actual port area was pretty cool! The theming and scenery was better than I had anticipated. However, as with any other port, prices are fairly steep right there at the pier, but they're wayyyy cheaper than Roatan and Harvest Caye. You'll be at about 5 bucks for a beer, about 10 bucks for a small lunch snack of sorts. I would have loved to have gone to Mayahual, and I hear things are even better there, but we felt "in the mood" to go back to the ship. It was our honeymoon, after all... 😉
This is our second time in Cozumel and is easily our favorite port on this itinerary. We were at Punta Langosta. Just like any other port, prices are higher right as you get off the ship, but it's still a really cool place! You can walk around and leave the port area in no time, which is where you can do your shopping for nick-nacks wayyyy cheaper. You can find restaurants maybe a block away from the direction of the ships with better menus and more authentic cuisine, and of course, authentic prices. We also went to Mega, which is essentially a Target or Walmart style super-store, but also sells prepared foods that are super, super good. I was able to pick up my otherwise expensive medicine here for super cheap, too ($12 at Mega in Cozumel, $200 in the port, $300 in the USA). We ate some empanadas, ceviche, and cookies here. The total, including the medicine and drinks and everything, was less than $20, just to give you an idea. This also seemed like the place to go for the crew; we saw pretty much everyone from the ship crew here! It was pretty cool and they were surprised to see us.
We also did an ATV tour with the Wild Tours company. It was very, very fun! We informed the guide that we're pretty fast drivers and can keep up with anyone (my wife and I both have performance driving experience with other types of vehicles), so he made sure to put us at the front and really rip through the trail. We just had to stop for a few minutes here and there to let the rest of the group catch up, which was guided by a second tour guide. We stopped at Jade Cavern and jumped into the cool water, saw a ton of bats, made jokes about sacrificing tourists to the Mayan gods, and got back onto the ATVs. It was a ton of fun and I highly recommend this excursion!
** Conclusion **
I hope you enjoyed my review. Feel free to ask questions.