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Norwegian Breakaway

Breakaway Live Blog, Day 4: Great Stirrup Cay



As I’ve mentioned before during this series of blogs – and I hope you’re having as much fun reading them as I am writing them – I don’t much care where the ship goes as long as I’m on it. But there’s one exception: I love, love, love Norwegian’s private island, Great Stirrup Cay. In fairness, it’s the only private island I’ve ever been to, a situation which will rectify itself when I visit Royal Caribbean’s Coco Cay during my March trip on Anthem of the Seas. As a kid, I wanted to live on Fantasy Island, so it makes sense that as an adult, I’d be all about these tropical paradises.

What’s Changed?


Over the past year, we’ve heard a lot about the changes taking place at Great Stirrup Cay, and because of both the on-going construction and the lingering effects of Hurricane Matthew, it wasn’t a done deal that we would be able to hit the island on this particular voyage. But I’m happy to say that we did, and offer up this look at some of the changes already in place.

The biggest change repeat guests will notice is to the much sough-after private cabanas. Yes, the price has increased. But I’m happy to report that so too has the bang for your buck. The newly refurbished cabanas, big and small, offer plush, comfy couches. The loungers are still there should you want to move one out into the sun, but the interiors of the cabanas now feature much more high-end furniture upon which to rest your butt when not hitting the water. The large cabanas also now feature ramp access, although I can’t say why they replaced the staircases. More than a few parents had to deal with splinters when their

The large cabanas also now feature ramp access, although I can’t say why they replaced the staircases. More than a few parents had to deal with splinters when their off-spring decided to slide down the fairly steep ramps! The other odd new feature to the large cabanas is a huge mirror against the back wall. At first, I thought these were flat-screen TVs, and while I know some would welcome those, I for one was happy to find out I was wrong. As it is, TV’s are everywhere on the ship, making it nearly impossible to avoid the real world should you choose to.


The small cabanas also got a make-over, and feature the same comfy couches and billowing curtains as their larger brethren. Another nice addition to the island is a cement walkway connecting the various cabana areas. While this might very well get hot on warmer days, it’s a pleasant change from the sometimes rocky terrain which had to be traversed in the past. There are also lovely, brown-wooden bridges and railings, giving the whole cabana area a much classier, for lack of a better word, than it had before.

The Bad News

So here’s where I have to apologize to some of my fellow cruisers. During the early days of the voyage, I was telling anyone who asked (and probably many who didn’t) that when they got to the island, they should bypass the main beach, trek past both the large and small cabanas and head for the lovely lagoon just beyond. “It’s much more private,” I’d say, “and it has its own, less-crowded buffet area.” All of that was true… the last time I was on the island. The lagoon area, however, is still undergoing refurbishment and is expected to re-open sometime in 2017. The downside to this is that lines at the one-and-only buffet can be pretty long. To help deal with the hungry masses, however, Norwegian has separated the dessert and beverage areas from those where one gets their standard burgers-and-fixings lunch, which goes a long way toward spreading folks out.

Rough Waters

It’s easy to see why private islands to which a tender is the only transport are so often skipped. The seas were a little rough today, with dark clouds looming on the horizon and rain sporadically showering down upon guests. As a result, the entire tendering process can be a bit dicey and even scary for those who aren’t fond of rough seas. Some guests were excitedly shouting out each time we crashed through a big wave, but others were clearly envisioning a Poseidon Adventure ending to their trip. And coming back, it became even clearer how such conditions can lead any line who operates tenders to consider cancelling. Once back at the boat, the waves caused the ramp upon which one had to traverse to rise and lower in a precarious seeming way, rather like the uneven floors of the funhouses we went into as kids. But clearly, the cruise ships know exactly what they’re doing and aren’t in the business of putting passengers in any danger. The crew helping people back aboard were exercising every precaution, with the biggest danger being impatient passengers being rude to them because the process was taking longer than usual.

Everybody Dance Now!

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Dinner was again in the Manhattan Room. Of the three main dining rooms, this remains my favorite thanks to the atmosphere and entertainment. Those who think they can skip this because they’ve already seen Burn The Floor should be aware that the performance in the restaurant is completely different from the one put on in the theater, themed to the 1940’s era around which the venue is modeled. Tonight, I went for the crispy spring roll, a Caesar salad and the prime rib roast, all of which was excellent… with the exception of the baked potato. I’m starting to think that cruise lines should just stop serving these, as rarely do they get them right. They are almost always undercooked, and no amount of tasty toppings – of which this had several – can cover that fact.

The other highlight of this evening, and my very favorite of the Breakaway’s themed parties, was the 70’s and 80’s Retro Dance party held at Spice H20. There’s nothing like being on a ship in the middle of the ocean, 80’s music blaring, people dancing, all under the open sky. One of my new friends and I hit the dance floor and hit it hard, although the party was brought to a rather sudden and unexpected stop when, in the middle of a song, the sound system blew. Rumor has it a guest spilled a cocktail on the DJ’s equipment. But the party was quickly moved to the Bliss nightclub, and continued late into the night.

Rather than head to Bliss, though, I took this as a sign from the universe I should go back to the casino. A $40 investment led to a $300 windfall… all of which, I’m sorry to report, went back into the machines. But I had hours of fun winning – and then losing – the money.
One thing the cruise lines need to keep an eye on is the overserving of guests, especially the 20something crowd. By about 1 a.m., there were drunk girls in the men’s bathroom (one of whom sounded right out of Saturday Night Live’s famous Drunk Girl sketches as she kept declaring to her friend “I love you, girl!”) Even as I type this, at nearly 3 a.m., there are two very drunk fratboy types yelling at one another in the hallway outside the staterooms. There’s a fine line between people having a good time and people being overserved, and this is something all the cruise lines need to be conscious of. Sure, cutting off over-intoxicated guests – and we’re not talking folks who’ve had a little too much, but people who are passing out in lounges – might make for a few uncomfortable situations, but not doing so is a recipe for disaster.

One thing’s for sure: I imagine tomorrow morning’s puffy eye treatment seminar might be one a lot of people could use!

Q: Norwegian prides itself on the concept of freestyle dining, but is it actually important to make a dining reservation?


A: As with most of life’s tough questions, this one isn’t easy to answer. If you really want to eat in a particular restaurant (especially a popular venue like Cagney’s Steakhouse) during peak dining hours, it’s definitely in your best interest to make a reservation. This also applies if you have a large dining party. Generally speaking, smaller parties seem able to walk into nearly any establishment and get a table fairly quickly. I haven’t had reservations in any of the restaurants this week, and have, as a solo diner, been immediately seated in all of them. But a party of 10 wanting to walk into a restaurant at 6:30 on any given evening might find themselves being given a pager and sent to a nearby bar to wait for a while. Not that pre-dinner cocktails are ever a bad thing.

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Norwegian Breakaway Trip Report: Day 7



All good things must come to an end, and that includes my week on the Norwegian Breakaway. By morning, we’d be back in New York City, but for now we had one last sea day — and night — to enjoy. And I intended to do exactly that.

One Final Day On The Norwegian Breakaway

Often when sailing in and out of New York City in the late fall or early winter, your first and last sea days can be frigid. Only a few short years ago, we had a terrible ice storm in the New York City area that left some without power for days. So it was a nice surprise to wake up on this early November morning and find that it was a pretty decent day. Sure, the winds were blowing and there were clouds on the horizon, but it wasn’t snowing and that, in and of itself, was a victory. I spent several hours on the balcony reading before heading up to Vibe Beach Club.

One of the benefits of a Vibe pass is that you often wind up bonding with some of the other folks who’ve purchased access to the private retreat. So this was a nice opportunity to say farewell to new friends (and give one final tip to the bartenders who’d been taking care of me all week). Afterwards, it was time for the dreaded “lasts.” You know… the last $20 bucks you’ll put in a slot machine on this trip; the last lunch in the main dining room; the last sunset over the ocean. All those things that you’ve been dreading all week.

Sunset from the deck of the Norwegian Breakaway.

For lunch, I had chicken nachos followed by fried chicken with cole slaw. Not wanting to put it off until the last minute, I headed back to my room to get everything packed up and give my room steward a final tip. (I tend to tip at the beginning, middle and end of the trip, with the amount varying based on service. I can’t say the young woman who was taking care of me this week was particularly great, but she was fine. I’ve had better and worse, over my various trips.)

9 Tips for Norwegian Breakaway

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The rest of the afternoon and early evening is something of a blur, comprised of equal parts napping, reading and wandering aimlessly about the ship, soaking in the atmosphere. Afterwards, I got dressed and headed downstairs for a few pre-dinner cocktails.

As usual when I sail on a Norwegian ship, I’d arranged for my final meal of the trip to be at Cagney’s Steakhouse. Another order of the amazing pork belly, followed by a decent Caesar salad and an amazing ribeye with chimichurri sauce and, of course, a side of the restaurant’s signature truffle fries. It was a perfect meal, making it a great way to end the trip.

The ribeye at Cagney’s Steakhouse.

Returning to my cabin, I realized that I’d never received information on disembarkation. As a gold-level member of Norwegian’s Latitudes program, I knew that priority disembarkation was available to me (especially since I always carry on and off my own luggage), but wasn’t sure where the designated gathering spot was. A quick visit down the guest services gave me the info I needed, and I called it an early night.

Sunday morning, I woke early to enjoy the trip up the Hudson river as we returned to New York City. Heading down to the Manhattan Room as instructed the night before, I waited while the ship cleared customs and was surprised at just how smooth disembarkation was: I was one of the first people off the ship and walked into a completely empty customs hall. (This was an especially pleasant surprise given that in the past, I’ve experienced some absolutely hellish disembarkations from the Norwegian Breakaway.) Walking a few blocks away from the crowded pier, I was able to grab a Lyft and be back home less than a half-hour later.

All too quickly, real life — a leak in the basement, a problem on the work front — reclaimed me. But I signed onto my computer and smiled at seeing the countdown clock indicating it was exactly 90 days until my next cruise, this time on the Norwegian Gem… 

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Norwegian Breakaway

Norwegian Breakaway Trip Report: Day 6



I love sea days. People often get bent out of shape when their itinerary changes and they have to skip ports, but I joke that the ship could go out into open waters and do figure eights and I’d be happy. That’s one of the reasons I like the Norwegian Breakaway itinerary I’ve been doing this week — and have done numerous times in the past — it ends with two sea days, the first of which is today.

Like most mornings, this one began with an hour or so of just sitting on the balcony, watching the ocean while thinking about life. (Okay, truth be told, I attempted to think about pretty much anything but life, given that I was here to relax, not stress about everything back home.) Eventually, I roused myself and went upstairs to the Vibe Beach Club… where I proceeded to sit and watch the ocean.

The view from my bar stool at the Vibe Beach Club.

Lunch on the Norwegian Breakaway

As I mentioned a few days back, they do special, themed brunches on the Norwegian Breakaway, held in Moderno restaurant, on sea days. I headed down to check today’s out, but the American picnic theme — with ribs, corn on the cob, coleslaw and more — didn’t grab me. It looked great, but wasn’t what I was in the mood for. Instead, I headed down to Taste (or possibly Savor… the sister dining rooms, located across from one another, are pretty much indistinguishable to me) for a sit-down lunch. First up? A crab-stuffed baked potato skin. I’m not sure what I thought it was going to be, but it so caught me off guard when it arrived that I thought the waiter had given me someone else’s appetizer. Being game to try new things, I bit into it, realized it was what I’d ordered and found it so delicious I was tempted to order another. This was followed by the cajun shrimp salad (a favorite of mine) and, for the main course, a spicy shrimp arrabbiata.

Review: Norwegian Cruise Line’s Vibe Beach Club

Just as I was finishing lunch a hullabaloo — that’s right, an actual, honest-to-God hullabaloo — arose from outside the restaurant. As it turned out, a pub crawl of about 30-40 people had arrived at Mixx bar, which sits between the Main Dining Rooms. I’m sure the noise they were making ticked off some diners, but I wasn’t anything but jealous. They sounded like they were having a blast! I actually might have tried to crash their party (it was clearly a group travelling together, given their matching T-shirts) were it not for the head cold I contracted a day or two ago. I’d vowed that I was going to avoid drinking and medicate all day so I’d be ready for tonight’s main event: The 80’s Dance Party at Spice H20, always my very favorite night of a cruise.

Pro Tip: If you even suspect there’s a chance you’re going to get ill — whether from eating too much or because you’re susceptible to the germs of others — pack whatever meds you might need. Otherwise, you’ll pay an arm and a leg for basics like cold meds in the store aboard the ship! 

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As has become my shipboard habit, I headed back to my stateroom after lunch for a little napping and reading. I managed to finish an amazing novel called Do Not Be Alarmed (by Maile Meloy), about a cruise gone horribly horribly wrong; and then I finally had an opportunity to binge-read (and thereby catch up on) my favorite thing on all the internet (aside from Cruise Radio, of course!), the always hysterical Dark Shadows Every Day blog. If you were ever a fan of the long-ago spook opera, I can’t recommend it enough.

I managed to snag a late reservation at Cagney’s, NCL’s steakhouse and one of the best meals you’ll have on any cruise ship. Before dinner, I swung by the Waterfront to again listen to jazz man Charlie Love and his band entertain the crowds at Fat Cats. It was raining outside, and I began to wonder if my beloved 80’s Dance Party would wind up being cancelled. But rather than dwell on that, I headed to Cagney’s.

The pork belly appetizer served at Cagney’s Steakhouse

Now, lemme tell you: Most people go with the shrimp cocktail appetizer, and I can’t blame them one bit. But if you want to try something that’ll melt in your mouth, order the pork belly. As a friend of mine used to say, “It’s so good, it’ll make you slap your mama.” I started with that and the baked potato soup, then followed it up with a ginormous slab of prime rib served with Cagney fries (coated with truffle oil and a little bit of Parmesan) and onion rings. I hear you out there: “What? You went to the steakhouse and got prime rib?” Well, calm your nerves, because I’ve also got reservations tonight, and I’ll be getting the prime rib.

Here Comes The Rain Again

After dinner, I swung back to the room for a quick change of clothes before heading up to Spice H20 for the 80’s Party. It was just getting started, and people hadn’t really gotten into it yet when… the rain began. The cruise staff did their best to keep things going, and it looked as if the weather might cut us all some slack. Just as a conga line got started (to Gloria Estefan’s similarly-named hit, of course), the skies opened and people abandoned the dance floor quicker than a house on fire.

Rain washed away plans to hold the 80’s party at Spice H20.

My favorite night of the cruise… it couldn’t end like this, could it?

Nah. Two minutes later, they announced that the party would move to Bliss nightclub. And while not the same as dancing under the stars, there was still a whole lot of 80’s music and enough dancing that, as I told one of my favorite bartenders, there was a good chance I’d be feeling pain in places I haven’t for a long time.

Here’s something I’ll never understand, and I’ve seen it happen on other ships, too (most recently, Anthem of the Seas). You have a theme party that has packed the space (on Anthem, it was the Music Hall) and an hour or so into it, you change gears. In this case, they went from classic 80s tune to modern club music on a dime… and lost half the crowd, who wandered out. Now, maybe that’s on the assumption they will go somewhere else and spend money, although by this time, it was midnight, so their only real options were the casino or bed… and it sure seemed as if most were choosing bed.

Most, but not all… because of course, I hit the casino. And again, it hit back… hard. I don’t remember ever being on a trip where the casino treated me as badly as the Norwegian Breakaway’s has this week. Usually, I have at least a few small wins, some periods were I get a lot of play before eventually losing. But that has not been the case at all this week. In fact, I doubt I’ll do more gambling — and if so, not much — on this trip as we head, tomorrow, into the final day.

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Norwegian Breakaway

Norwegian Breakaway Trip Report Day 3



Halloween. It’s not just for kids anymore. That was definitely true on day 3 of my Norwegian Breakaway cruise. But before we get to the costumes and dancing and overindulging let’s back up to where the day started: Breakfast.

The main dining rooms on Norwegian Breakaway are open for breakfast, but the hours are very limited. So by the time I went down at around 10 a.m., I’d missed the opportunity to have a sit down meal in the MDR. Instead, I wound up going to O’Sheehan’s. Unfortunately, because both Taste and Savor were no longer serving, O’Sheehan’s was packed… and it definitely showed in the service. Although I was seated immediately, it was about 15 minutes before a server came to take my order. (There were, on the other hand, a whole lotta people serving coffee. I must have been approached at least 6 times by people offering caffeine, but what I really wanted was something to eat. When eventually my server did come around, I went with the corned beef hash and two eggs, and it was pretty dang satisfying.

After a quick swing by the Vibe Beach Club for a mid-morning cocktail, I went down and prepared for my shore excursion to Walt Disney World. Now, NCL used to offer a shore excursion which included transportation to the park as well as admissions, but a crew member told me that they got so many complaints about the limited amount of time passengers were getting in the park for the price, they now only offer transportation to the park (which runs $59 round trip). Honestly, this seems like a smart decision. We didn’t dock until around 1 p.m., and by the time the bus departed at 2 p.m. — followed by an hour-long trip from Port Canaveral to the Ticket & Transportation Center, it was 3 p.m. Given that you have to be back on the bus by 6:45 p.m., you wind up getting about 3.5 hours of actual park time. And if you’ve ever been to a Disney theme park, you know that ain’t a lot of time.

Norwegian Breakaway

Fortunately, I wasn’t there so much for park time as I was to visit the Nomad Lounge, a new upscale bar/small-plates venue at the Animal Kingdom. The spot is fantastic – one of the best lounges on Disney property – and offers an assortment of cocktails and tapas-style appetizers. My friend and I ordered everything from poutine to pork ribs, fish tacos to an African-style chili, and everything was fantastic. The venue itself is beautiful, offering both indoor and outdoor seating. We had fastpasses for a few attractions, but missed the window for all but one because we wound up sitting, talking, and just enjoying the ambiance of the Nomad Lounge.

Halloween Aboard Norwegian Breakaway

The bus from Disney arrived at the ship around 8 p.m., with the Breakaway leaving the dock at 9 p.m. The maneuevering the ship has to do to leave Port Canaveral is pretty impressive. After pulling away from the pier, the ship does a 180 degree turn so that it can sail down the channel and back out to open waters. After hanging out in my stateroom for a while and getting some work done (yes, I’m one of those people who tries their best, but fails miserably to disconnect from the office), I donned my costume and headed out for the night.

Norwegian Breakaway

As it turns out, my priest costume was pretty darn convincing, with people all night long asking if I was a real padre. (This would especially prove true in the casino, where several folks asked me to bless their machine!) One of my favorite things about the Norwegian Breakaway is the nighttime parties, which are held at Spice H20. There’s nothing like partying to loud music while in the middle of the ocean under the open sky. While I hadn’t really been “getting my money’s worth” out of the drink package up until now, that definitely changed during the Halloween party.

Pro Tip: If there’s a venue you know you’re going to be drinking at, find a bartender and tip him well. He will definitely take care of you.

The party didn’t really get started until 10:45 (and if you’ve been reading the trip report so far, you know I’ve been in bed long before that all week). Prior to the actual festivities, they’d set up a pretty elaborate Haunted House in the Entourage area (which is, under normal circumstances, a teen club). NCL did a fantastic job, turning the space into a real frightfest with great decorations and creatures coming at you when you least exepcted it.

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My normal routine is damned, because once the party got started, it was rocking, and I was on the dance floor, blessing people and boogying until nearly 1 a.m. After that, I hit the casino where I didn’t necessarily have a whole lot of luck, but I did make $120 last for a couple hours. For those keeping track, that means I didn’t actually return to my stateroom until nearly 3 a.m.

Despite being hungry, I managed to somehow avoid a late-night visit to O’Sheehan’s (which is open 24 hours) for some wings and instead went to bed hungry. But with a 10 a.m. call time tomorrow for my tender to Great Stirrup Cay, NCL’s private island, here’s hoping there’s not a hangover in my future…

You can read yesterday’s trip report here.


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