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Norwegian Breakaway Trip Report: Day 1

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Even before boarding the Norwegian Breakaway – which I’ve sailed a few times in the past – I had one goal: Snag a Vibe Beach Club pass. For those who don’t know, Vibe is the adults-only sundeck with its own bar, hot tubs, wicked comfy loungers, and more. But the thing which makes it worth the price of admission – $99 per person for the week – is the fact that it is a child-free zone. (Don’t get me wrong, I love kids. I like them to knock on my door, say “trick or treat!” and then go away.) And the key was going to be arriving at the port early. This was of utmost importance.

foggy NYC morning

I could have stayed at a friend’s place in Manhattan and walked over to the pier, but it was going to be a rainy day and that did not sound like fun. Instead, I ordered a Lyft for 9 a.m., putting me at the pier at 10 a.m. … or so I planned. But my Lyft driver cancelled, leaving me to scramble to book another, and I didn’t arrive until after 10:30. Given my boarding group number, I saw that it was 23. Meaning 23 groups of people were getting on that ship before me. With only 60 Vibe Beach Club up for grabs, I was pretty sure I was screwed. I waited patiently for my number to be called, trudged on board ready to accept my sad fate and move on… only to find out that miraculously, I made the cut!

Read More: Anthem of the Seas vs Norwegian Breakaway

Embarkation was easy and quick, largely because they clearly wanted to get Breakaway out of the port before the approaching storm hit. I was on board by noon, had a drink in hand by 12:10 p.m. and was having a sit-down lunch in Savor, one of the Main Dining Rooms, by 12:30. I went with popcorn shrimp, an amazing cajun shrimp salad (over arugala with radishes and red onion in a tangy-but-light dressing) and the grilled grouper on a pretzel bun. I know that sounds like a lot, but NCL – no doubt knowing people over-order – does a great job with portions, so when I’d finished I was full… but not so stuffed I couldn’t have a piece of peanut butter cheesecake. (I’m gonna take a LOT of stairs later to work that off!)

Pro Cruiser Tip: Skip the madhouse that is the buffet on embarkation day. Enjoy a nice, leisurely meal in one of the main dining rooms. It’s a great way to start things off. 

After lunch, I did what you might call “housekeeping.” Bought the internet package (which I totally should have done before getting onboard, but forgot), checked on my dinner reservations for the week etc. I have to admit, the first day of any cruise is probably my least favorite. Everything seems crowded, in part because some of the venues which will later help absorb the crowds (including the theater and casino) aren’t yet open. The ship and her passengers settle into a pattern by day two, with the latter finding their niche and everyone gravitating toward what would ultimately be “their” space.

By this point, rooms were ready so I went in and… what the what??? There, in front of me, was the biggest bowl of fruit I’d ever seen in my life. And more important, a bottle of wine stuck in the center like the most drinkable centerpiece ever, courtesy of the hotel director. (I’m pretty sure this is because I’m organizing the Meet & Greet on this sailing. I’d heard sometimes, people get nice little “treats” for doing it, and this was amazing… if enough fruit to feed a starving village.)

Speaking of the Meet & Greet (which will be tomorrow morning), I’d been talking to various members (we have about 100 people attending) on the internet for weeks, and started running into them in person even before getting on board. Pretty sure by week’s end, George – one of the members – is gonna be my new best friend. Thanks to those contacts, I also arranged to share a cabana on the private island with five other people (assuming we get to Great Stirrup Cay… the weather’s looking a little iffy.)

My Stateroom on Norwegian Breakaway

Which reminds me: I never told you where we’re going! New York to Florida, then Great Stirrup Cay (NCL’s private island) followed by Nassau and two sea days. It’s not the most exciting itinerary in the world. In fact, I’ve done this same route about 8 times, many of those on this ship. But I’m one of those people who doesn’t care where the ship’s going as long as I’m on it.

I also forgot to mention that my stateroom is a “bump” balcony. This means that because of its location and the way the ship is designed, the balcony is at an angle. Breakaway’s balconies are notoriously small (which is another reason the humongous aft-facing balconies are so popular), so any extra space is appreciated. This is actually a really nice size, especially for someone traveling solo, such as myself. If there’s one thing I don’t care for, it’s the configuration of the room itself. I prefer having the bed close to the balcony, but this one is near the closet. And when I say “near” I mean practically in. There’s not a lot of wiggle-room between the bed and the closet. For a solo like myself that’s not a big deal (I don’t have to sleep on that side and crash into the closet door every time I get out of bed), except when you are trying to get something out of the closet. I’m going to go out a limb and guess that after a few drinks, I’ll wind up throwing my clothes on the couch until morning rather than risk life and limb to hang them up.

Dinner and a Show

I got a message from the ship’s Box Office saying that my reservation for the Cirque Dinner Show (which was to be at 8:30) had, for some reason, been shifted to 7 p.m. instead. Around 6:30 p.m., I headed down to the Spiegel Tent theater in which the Cirque Jungle Dreams show is held.

By the time I entered the theater, the ship was rocking and several people were feeling ill. One of the people at my table – a young woman who was on her honeymoon – was green and fairly sure that she wouldn’t make it through the performance. (Much to my surprise, she soldiered through it!) I’m somewhat surprised at the decision to put the Spiegel Tent and the show it houses at the front of the ship, where the movement is more intense. This is a performance featuring acts of agility and daring-do, as the old circus ads once claimed, and I actually wondered if the show might be cancelled due to the weather.

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It’s a very cool venue, with lots of great props and decor touches which make it worth wandering around to snap photos. I’ll do a full review once I’m back home, but here are the basics: Wisely, dinner is served before the show, meaning you’re not distracted once the performance begins. (This also assures that the cast members, who wander the room during the performance, don’t have to worry about tripping over the waiters.) There aren’t really options, meal wise: The appetizer is a mozzarella and tomato salad with sliced prosciutto, followed by steak and shrimp with a few roasted potatoes and a nice trio of desserts. Nothing fancy, but it’s pretty tasty, all told.

VIP seating at the Cirque Jungle Dreams show.

Helpfully, servers come around to warn you about 15 minutes before the show is going to start, warning there will be no drink service during the performance and that if you need to use the restroom, now’s the time to do so. As to the show itself, the costumes are stunning and the performances amazing. If Jungle Dreams has one fault, it’s that some of the performances go on a little too long… which I suspect is done to stretch out the running time. If there’s one act I could have watched for literally hours, it was the young woman who, while laying on her back, spun various objects — including a friggin’ table! — in the air above her. Truly amazing.

Once the show was over, I headed to the casino, figuring I’d drop a few bucks. But the machines I tend to like were occupied and the vibe just wasn’t “calling” to me. Yes, I’m one of those people who lets the machines “speak” to me. I also talk to the machines while playing, ignoring the looks other passengers give me. The movement of the ship was also giving me something of a headache, so I opted to call it an early night. I was in my bed and asleep by 9:30 or so, and didn’t regret it a bit. As I told a friend, cruising is a marathon, not a sprint…

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BEFORE YOU GO

12 Differences Between Carnival Horizon and Carnival Vista

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Just because two ships are in the same class doesn’t mean that they are exactly alike. After all, even twin sisters have differences — some subtle, some blatant. In the case of ships, changes can be made for numerous reasons. Perhaps a new feature is being added, or the initial design didn’t work out quite the way everyone imagined it was. Each new ship in a specific class is like a chance to enhance on what came previously.  So it’s not surprising that when Carnival Horizon was being built, the company incorporated lessons learned from the first-in-her-class Carnival Vista while also adding completely new elements to the already successful formula.

So what differences have we noticed so far between the two ships? Take a look at our list below, and then hit the comments if you’ve spotted other differences between the sibling ships.

1. New Lighting in the Atrium

Carnival Horizon

Chances are good that upon entering the atrium, your eyes immediately will be drawn to the Dreamscape funnels and their beautiful, constantly-changing imagery. But take the time to really look around the atrium. You’ll notice that between each of the three levels, there’s a circle of track lighting which not only helps create the illusion of a bigger space, but adds an additional design element which is somehow subtle and striking at the exact same time.

2. Tap Entry to Staterooms 

Carnival Horizon

Your sign-and-sail cards now have RFID technology which allows you to enter the room without sticking your card into the slot. If you look closely, you’ll see a small wire running along the outer edge of the card that lets it communicate with your stateroom door when you get close. This is the same concept utilized by Royal Caribbean for their WOW bands and Disney — both in the parks and on their ships — with the Magic Bands.

3.  Bonsai Teppanyaki

Carnival Horizon

One of the biggest and most noticeable changes is obviously the Bonsai Teppanyaki restaurant. Based on our experience and the difficulty people have had in booking the space (which has limited seatings available), we won’t be a bit surprised if this restaurant is not only included on future builds, but perhaps even added to other ships in the fleet when they go through refurbishments.

READ MORE: Bonsai Teppanyaki Review 

4. The Speeds Bumps are Gone 

Carnival Horizon

On the Carnival Vista there were several areas on decks three, four and five which had slightly-raised edges around the fire doors. Anyone dragging their feet (or using a cane or other mobility device) would definitely notice (and possibly trip over) them. On Horizon, however, they seem to have addressed the potential problem.

5. There are More Havana Suites 

Carnival Horizon

As soon as renderings of the Carnival Vista began circulating, people went nuts for the new Havana Suites and their lanai-like balconies. Not surprisingly, once the ship was actually introduced, the entire Havana area — including the aft area which is reserved for Havana guests during daytime hours — proved crazy popular. So it’s not surprising that when it came time to parse out staterooms on Horizon, they added a few extra cabins in this category.

Read More: Carnival Horizon Trip Report: Embarkation Day

6. The Pig & Anchor Smokehouse

Carnival Horizon

Yes, the RedFrog Pub is gone… but before you get your knickers in a knot, know that the Pig & Anchor Smokehouse/Brewhouse is most definitely a worthy replacement. The food is amazing, there’s plenty of cold beer on tap and entertainers keep your toe tapping. This is a very welcome addition to the Carnival fleet… so much so that I actually heard people say the Pig & Anchor alone could sway them to choose Horizon over Vista.

READ MORE: 35 Tips For Sailing The Carnival Vista

7. Entertainment In The Steakhouse

Carnival Horizon

Sometimes, the smallest ideas can have the most surprising results. Who would have thought that simply flipping the locations of Piano Bar 88 and The Library Bar would make such a difference? But because the piano bar is now directly next to the steakhouse, diners can enjoy the smooth sounds of someone tickling the ivories while they enjoy their meal. And as far as I’m concerned, the more live entertainment, the better.

8. The New Doors 

Carnival Horizon

You know how sometimes when you would go outside on deck 5, there’d be a gust of wind and the door might actually be hard to open? Sometimes, depending on the weather, you could hear doors slamming all day and into the night. Well, thanks to the airlock-style doors installed, it’s now a much smoother inside-to-outdoor transition. It may seem like a minor change, but it makes life easier, and isn’t that what we all want out of a vacation?

9. Taste Bar is Gone 

Carnival Horizon

Change is good… usually. But the jury’s still out on this one. Word is that Taste Bar will eventually be eliminated fleet wide. On Horizon, it’s already a gone pecan. You can still grab some limited food here at breakfast time, and on sea days they set up a salad bar, both of which help disperse the crowds at the Lido Deck Marketplace. Personally, I’ll miss the Taste Bar, which often offered samplings of foods from some of the specialty restaurants on board.

1o. A Larger Guest Relations Area 

Carnival Horizon

Frankly, we hope that you never have to visit the Guest Relations deck… at least not because you’re having trouble on your cruise. But if you do, the expansion of this space on deck 3 is a good thing, as it’s created more work stations at which the crew can try and make right whatever has gone wrong. Not only is the space larger, but it has a much more open feel did the same area on Carnival Vista.

11. Additional Seating Outside 

Carnival Horizon

A big reason many of us cruise is to connect with the ocean. There’s something about sitting outside — whether reading, eating or napping — and feeling the sun on your face as you gaze off into the distance that’s about as peaceful as life gets. So it’s only fitting that on a ship named Horizon, they’ve created a lot more spaces from which to… well, gaze at her namesake.xThis is especially true on the starboard side of deck 5, which on Carnival Vista was home to Guy’s Pig & Anchor. Here, the space has been freed up for more seating. In fact, that’s something we noticed at every turn on this ship: There are all sorts of areas, both indoors and out, to sit, whether by yourself or with a group. There are cozy nooks and loungers and quiet corners everywhere.

12. Smart Elevators

Carnival Horizon

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Carnival Horizon rolled out smart elevators that are often used in busy land-based buildings. These elevators eliminate the stop-and-go at every floor. Instead, you walk up to the elevator and push which floor you’d like to go. From there, the elevator’s brain picks which lift is quicker for you and assigns your an elevator. The new elevators also expedite disembarkation by moving 1,000 guests per hour. The new elevator system is scheduled to be implemented on Carnival Panorama and eventually retrofitted to Vista.

Have you noticed any other differences between the Carnival Horizon and the previous ship in her class? With the Carnival Panorama currently being built, are there any changes you’d like to see implemented on her? 

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BEFORE YOU GO

Everything Carnival Horizon, Part 4: Entertainment

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Over the past few days, we discussed the fact that whether you want free eats or specialty dining, you won’t go hungry on the Carnival Horizon. Now it’s time to talk about what you’ll be doing after the show and all we can say is… don’t plan to make it an early night. Why? Because there’s a whole lot going on around the ship, and it’d be a shame to miss out on the action.

There’s Music Everywhere

While there are several full-scale productions available for your evening’s entertainment, just walking around the ship will inevitably lead you to live music. One recent event, we found a great duo crooning country tunes in the Pig & Anchor, a singer-backed band (or a late-night DJ) keeping people grooving in the Havana bar, a violin trio playing on the elevated platform just above the atrium bar, and yet another band playing in Ocean Plaza… there’s no shortage of options on the Horizon. Don’t like the type of music being featured in one venue? Grab your cocktail and wander someplace else. And don’t forget to swing by the piano bar for a rollicking sing-along, or the Limelight Lounge if you want to get your boogie on.

The Shows You’ll Want To Catch

Carnival Horizon

Production-wise, Carnival Horizon offers several Playlist Production shows… all of which are designed to immerse the audience more than ever before. “We’re using [video-game] technology to create immersive environments,” says Media Producer Robb Wagner. “It’s going to make the audience feel more like they’re stepping into a world versus sitting down to watch a show.”

So what worlds do they take you to? With Soulbound, it’s the supernatural-tinged underbelly of New Orleans. While the cast is singing tunes like Superstitious, Soul Man, and Born Under A Bad Sign, the staging transports the audience to a haunted riverboat, a cemetery and an apothecary… the latter of which would make Alchemy Bar a perfect spot for pre- or post-show cocktails.

Carnival Horizon

Buck and Oz singing in the Pig and Anchor.

Vintage Pop is a little closer to the standard Playlist Production show Carnival passengers are familiar with, featuring a Cotton Club era vibe. The twist here? Modern tunes rearranged in a jazzy style by a six-piece live band… and a party which then moves to the atrium so everyone can join the fun.

Interestingly, the “world” passengers are transported to with Amor Cubano is the ship’s own Havana Club, which is partially recreated on the stage for this production. Again, the highlight here is live music as a seven-piece band performs Cuban-tinged hits from the likes of Gloria Estefan and Celia Cruz.

But perhaps the most original of the shows is Celestial Strings. For quite some time now, the string trio who has played in the atrium have been a favorite among cruisers, so it makes sense that Carnival would build an entire show around them. The idea here is to merge classical music and pop beats, then set the whole thing in a virtual “garden” that changes with the seasons and uses multi-sensory techniques to bring it to life. (Translation: You’ll not only hear the music, but see and even smell it!)

But Wait… There’s More!

Carnival Horizon

While we’ve focused here largely on the nighttime entertainment to be found, it’s worth noting that you don’t have to wait until the sun sets to find a good time… and this is especially true on sea days. This being a Carnival ship, you can count on a lot of music and activities (including crowd-pleasers like the Hairy Chest competition) around the pool.

One of the not-to-be-missed activities usually held by the pool, weather-permitting, is the Lip Sync Battle Open Auditions. (Be advised, you shouldn’t get the kids too excited about this one… participants have to be 18 years or older!) Look for the exact time of the auditions in your Fun Times newsletter, it’s usually on sea days.

Carnival Horizon

Hasbro, The Game Show!

And if you’re looking for one of our favorite family-friendly activities, keep an eye on the Fun Times newsletter for Hasbro, The Game Show. Want to be part of the action? Make sure to get to the theater early, grab a good seat, and make lots of noise when the hosts are looking for volunteers. (On the other hand, if you want to make sure you’re not among those chosen, sit in the upper levels… and maybe slouch down in your seat during the selection process!) Watching people of all ages compete in ginormously-sized versions of games like Simon or Connect Four is pretty much a guaranteed good time… especially when the kids prove far better at the games than do the adults!

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Looking to prove you’re a total know-it-all? Of course, you’ll find trivia competitions covering everything from Geography (we’ll take a hard pass on that one!) to 80s Music (that’s more like it!) And while many dance parties are held in the atrium, keep your eyes on the Fun Times for a special, adults-only party held — where else? — on the Serenity deck.

And yes, of course, there’s Bingo galore… but you probably already assumed that, right?

Next up as we continue our Carnival Horizonpalooza? Make sure to eat a little something so you’re not drinking on an empty stomach, because we’re going on a bar crawl.

Read our past entries:

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CARNIVAL HORIZON

Trip Report: Carnival Horizon Disembarkation Morning

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Today was the day that every cruiser dreads, the end of our trip and disembarkation. Is there anything worse than walking out of the cabin, hearing the door shut behind you and knowing your vacation is over? Before leaving my stateroom this morning, I took a few minutes to stand on the balcony and tell myself I’d be at sea again soon. It was a little easier this time than it has been in the past, given that I knew I’d actually be back on the Carnival Horizon in just a few weeks to do the transatlantic. And until then, I’d have the latest addition to my miniature ship collection, as I remembered last night to run down to the gift shop and purchase one before they closed.

Carnival Horizon

If there’s one annoying thing about European sailings, it’s the VAT tax you have to pay on merchandise and drinks you purchase on the ship. For those who have never had to deal with it, the VAT is a Value Added Tax… which is basically the EU’s way of saying “We want our share”… and they get it, too, at a rate of up to 22% of your purchase price! If you spend over $120 in merchandise while on board, they give you a form which allows you to get some of the tax back at the airport but let’s be real. Unless you spent a whole lot while on the ship, it’s not going to be worth your time to deal with this on top of all the other hassles already in store for you at the airport.

Despite the annoyance of the VAT, I did wind up getting my model ship, so my personal fleet — which I started back in 2016 — has a new addition.

READ MORE: Former Carnival Cruise Ship For Sale!

I should add that when I left the room to get my ship last night, I made another purchase… and this was one I probably could have lived without. But Cherry on Top was still open, and their amazing build-your-own ice cream sandwiches were $1 off and, well, I’m only human. I went with vanilla ice cream sandwiched between chocolate chip cookies and rolled in M&M’s. I think it was around $2.50 with the discount, and a gratuity was added. The cookie was a little harder than I expected, but it probably has to be so the whole thing doesn’t just crumble in your hand the first time you try and take a bite.

Carnival Horizon

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Carnival no longer allows you to order breakfast from room service on disembarkation morning, although you could tell from the number of order tags hanging on doors this morning that a lot of people either didn’t know that or figured, “What the heck, maybe it’ll work!” Hope they were prepared to be disappointed.

Because my flight was so early, I wound up carrying my own luggage off. The goal was to meet in the Reflections Dining Room at 6:30 a.m. to take advantage of priority disembarkation, but when I walked down to deck three, they were already allowing people off the ship, so our group walked off and was at the curb in less than five minutes. Because you clear customs at the airport in Barcelona or when leaving the country, you don’t need to declare anything or fill out a customs form as you exit the ship. So much different than the states. We didn’t even need to show our passports when we were getting off the ship.

Carnival Horizon

We wound up taking a cab to the airport, which cost 39 euros ($47 USD). We could have used the Carnival transfer option for about the same amount, but the last thing I wanted to do was wait in another line, so the cab made things easier. When we were heading to the airport we passed Norwegian Epic, a ship I had last seen in Port Canaveral about two months ago, so it was cool seeing her again in Barcelona.

Final Thoughts

Our sailing was very port intensive and didn’t really leave a lot of time to explore the ship, which is a big reason why I booked the transatlantic cruise in May. During that sailing, which is a 14-day trip, there will actually be six sea days in a row. I’m excited about that for several reasons. For one thing, it will give me a chance to explore the ship more than I was able to this week. After all, it’s tough to get a real sense of the nightlife on board when you’re so exhausted from hiking around gorgeous cities that after dinner, you want nothing more than to go to sleep. This will also give me a chance to hit some of the restaurants, bars and other venues that I wasn’t able to this time around.

I don’t think I’ll be doing a trip report for the transatlantic. Instead, I’m going to take advantage of the time — and Carnival Horizon‘s better-than-expected internet speeds — to bring you a whole slew of reviews of the options available on this ship. We’ll also be running our 10-part series, Everything Carnival Horizon, which will give you even more insights into this amazing ship.

So whether you’re booked to sail on the Horizon, trying to decide if she’s right for you or someone who — like me — basically loves reading anything and everything about cruise ships, we’ll have you covered.

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Hi, this may be of interest to you: Norwegian Breakaway Trip Report: Day 1. This is the link: https://cruiseradio.net/norwegian-breakaway-trip-report-day-1/