Monday, March 28, 2016

Norwegian Breakaway Cruise Part 2: FOOD

"I'm hunnnngry Mommy....."

We didn't eat lunch before we got in line to embark, so our first stop after going to our room was to go in search of food.  Like most cruises, "basic" buffet food and some specialty restaurants are included in the price of your cruise, with some of the nicer restaurants incurring an upcharge.  With Big One's egg allergy still a factor for less cooked eggs (i.e. no mayonaise or other egg-containing sauces, egg pastas, and no little egg bits in fried rice), we opted to spend most of our time at buffets, so my info about the specialty restaurants is limited.  But hey, this is also Sue the Bargain Hunter, so why would I spend extra on food anyway, right?

So Day 1, after briefly wandering aimlessly, we found one of the restaurants that is buffet during the day and nice restaurant at night (Moderno, Deck 8 Aft if I remember right).  The buffet was "meh", but was enough to tide us over until we wandered the ship more and found additional options.  We discovered the Uptown Bar & Grill (Deck 15 Forward) - Think nice, big Five Guys type burgers, but with different options.  Here's a photo of my burger from the last afternoon of the cruise - same burger I got the first day.  Turkey burger with mozzarella cheese on the Italian roll.  Mmmm.... burger...

Just beyond Uptown Grill is the Garden Cafe, a.k.a. the mega buffet.  Honestly, we ate most of our meals there just because there was something for everyone and convenient - just five floors up from our room.  Little One pretty much lived on cantaloupe and soft-serve ice cream for the week.  Big One tried just about one of everything protein or carb (other than eggs and things containing mayo or custard of course).  Hubby hit the omelette station nearly every morning.  

 The beauty of the buffet is that if you don't like something, just grab a new plate and try something else. The buffet is a giant square with the central kitchen in the center.  Some stations are repeated on multiple sides like the "grill" section (where you can pretty much always find burger, hot dogs, and fries at any lunch or dinner), but there are more specialized sections where there was one corner where the food tended to be more Indian/Middle Eastern vs. the Asian section and of course the carving station at dinner time.  Alas, I only discovered the last day that if I didn't want to stand in the omelette station line, that there was a separate spot that had pre-made omelettes (e.g. I got a Denver omelette that morning).

And yes, as noted, Little One was hooked on the soft serve ice cream machines.  They are both located at the end of the buffet closest to the mid-ship exit that heads toward the pools.  Yes, there's a real ice cream section to the buffet as well, but the kids LOVE getting to make their own soft serve cones.

So we didn't eat EVERY meal at the buffet.  Other places we tried:

  • O'Sheehan's is the "pub" - Their bar overlooks the Atrium area where a lot of activities take place so you can drink/eat and be entertained.  Since we ate two meals the afternoon of the first day, we thought we'd just get appetizers at O'Sheehan's as "dinner".  Keep in mind the appetizers you order are single person size, not table size, so the "nachos" were a one person supply.  They also came with the sour cream already poured on them (*Yuck* IMO).  We did go back for lunch later in the week and tried the burgers and fried fish though, and were happier with our choices for lunch.  The fried fish was a thicker cut of proper fish (like you could see the layers separated vs. minced fish of Gorton's).  If you want a view of the activities in the Atrium, plan to come at least 15-30 minutes before the event to grab a chair that directly overlooks if it's a busy cruise week.  We also thought we'd try eating breakfast there one morning, but the fixed breakfast menu was pretty much all egg, no pancakes/waffles.  (Uptown Grill had a small breakfast menu as well that was also very egg-heavy)

  • Taste, Savor, and The Manhattan Room are the complementary (no upcharge) nicer restaurants, and all have the same menu.  We ended up in The Manhattan Room the one night, which differs from Taste and Savor because it has a giant window for an ocean view, and they have a band with dancing after 7:30.  The kids opted to try "grown up" food rather than eat off the kids menu.  Big One has developed a fondness for red meat, and enjoyed his NY strip (although he did snap at me to stop trying to cut his meat for him after he was complaining about grizzle).  Little One tried the rotisserie chicken, but was frustrated that it came slathered in gravy.  For those seeking healthy kid options, they do give the kids the option of a fruit plate as their appetizer or dessert.  For myself, I forget my appetizer but I got the shrimp fried rice which was good.  Yeah, we didn't go back for "fancy" food though because it just wasn't fun with my kids.

  • Alas, we never made it to Shanghai's Noodle Bar - While also complementary, it's was only open for dinner and had an hour wait the night we tried to go.  We promised the kids we'd try to find something similar near home.

  • While we didn't go because, well, we were being frugal, my sister-in-law and her husband who previously traveled on the Breakaway thought it was worth it to do the upcharge for Cagney's Steakhouse, which they described as being Ruth Chris-esque.

  • We did decide to take the kids to the Cirque Dreams & Jungle Fantasy dinner show.  I'll comment on the entertainment portion separately, but the food, while limited menu, was good.  The only entree choice except for asking for the kids' menu was a beef tenderloin (filet mignon) with shrimp billed as "surf and turf" with a mozzerella / tomato / prosciutto plate as an appetizer and selection of mini desserts.  Big One was happy but Little One again wanted to head up to the buffet for a snack after dinner (She again didn't want to eat off the "kids" menu, so I give her credit for trying it!)
Outside of the Breakaway, one meal we ate on our excursion was lunch at the Blue Lagoon Island Beach.  Our excursion price included our lunch:

While not the burger from Uptown Grill, not a bad burger.  You had your choice of beef or chicken burger or I think a veggie burger, fried plantain, French fries, beans & rice, plus grabbing fruit / salad and a single cup of drink.  Plenty to eat and it hit the spot after some beach frolicking, but I'll spend more time talking about Blue Lagoon later.

So in summary, we all came back a little rounder, even with all the stair climbing we did all day on the cruise, because of all the tasty options!

Norwegian Breakaway Cruise Part 1: Cruise Purchase, Packing, Embarkment

Since there are plenty of friends out that that might be considering cruising on the Norwegian Breakaway, I thought I'd just put the gory details into a blog post for easy reference rather than answering, "So how was the cruise? Any suggestion if we want to go too?" whenever it comes up.

Sooo...  Why did we go on a cruise?
Our kids have been asking ever since their cousins came back from their trip on the Norwegian Breakaway a few years ago, and my response had always been that such a travel opportunity would be challenging with Big One's egg allergy.  So I always said it was off the table until Big One was cleared for "baked eggs" (muffins, cookies, pancakes, rolls, etc.).  Well, just before Christmas, the allergist cleared him, so their big Christmas present was finding out that we were going on the cruise!

Cruise Purchase

You'd think that Sue the Bargain Hunter would be oh-so-frugal about cruise purchasing, but no - In hindsight, purchasing a cruise Christmas Eve night was a bad move.  We definitely could have paid less about two weeks later.  I went through BJ's Wholesale Club's travel website, which seemed to be the better deal at the time.  So my suggestion is to stalk the Norwegian site for a good deal, or perhaps work with a human being travel agent to help navigate you through finding the better deal.

Oh, an in terms of "what room should I pick" since for most reservations you are picking your exact room, I think our room choice (room #10266) worked out pretty well for us, but some criteria to consider:

  • Balcony or Interior:  We opted for the balcony, which was nice for opening to check temperatures, and sitting when the kids had their "we just want to rest and watch TV" moments (will discuss the minimal TV options later).
  • Forward (front of boat) or Aft (back of boat):  Aft puts you closer to the primary buffet restaurant (Deck 15 Aft) as well as the Breakaway Theater if you are a bingo nut.  With a bottomless stomached tween boy, proximity to the buffet was good!  Forward puts you closer to the waterslides/pool/ropes course/ping pong table (Deck 15 and 16 forward), and the kids club (Deck 12 Forward).
  • Size-wise, we opted for the cheaper balcony room rated for 3-4 people.  I was nervous when we first walked in that I got the wrong room, because all I saw was the "king" sized bed (technically two twins strapped together) and the little couch.  But fear not, your room steward will come each night and pull out a magic top bunk bed for your 4th person to sleep on (see photo below)

Did some research ahead of the cruise and read a few "insider" packing suggestions.  Here are a mix of the ones that helped us the most and ones I'm adding as FYIs from our lessons learned last week:

(1)  Having now spent a week using one of these over the door shoe organizers for sorting toiletries, I will never travel for an extended period with my kids without it.  It's awesome for keeping all the toiletries sorted without taking over the counter space.

(2)  I didn't know ahead of time, but from what I know now:  Just a heads up that they DO have 2-in-1 shampoo/conditioner and a separate liquid body soap in dispensers in the shower.  So if you're happy with standard hotel toiletries, it's a few less things to pack.

(3) While talking about the shower area, we grabbed a few big suction hooks that attached perfectly to the glass shower enclosure or the mirror near the sink.  Why would you want suction hooks?  They were perfect for drying bathing suits in limited space!  Another cruise item that is good for use for dry land vacations as well!

(4) Yes, there is a fridge in your room, but it's 80% full from the mini bar.  Enough room for a few mini bottles of Coke or bottled water from home though.  Note: We drank plenty of tap water from the buffet/bars, so personally, other than excursion days, the cases of bottled water that folks bring on board seems silly to me!  We did skip any of the drink "packages" in order to encourage ourselves to drink primarily water.  If we needed non-alcoholic and non-water, there was always lemonade, fruit-flavored waters, iced tea, coffee, and select juices in certain locations that were "free" (built into the cost of the cruise).

(5)  Don't be afraid to use a massive wheeled suitcase - There was a ton of space for storing bags under the one bed.

(6)  They have an deal where if you fill your laundry bag before Thursday morning they will return it Friday with your clothes cleaned.  We actually couldn't find the laundry bag in our room, so we didn't take advantage, but definitely helpful if you didn't pack enough clothes or had an "oops".  They were charging only $19.99 on Norwegian Breakaway, but searching the internet, Norwegian charges $24.95 on some of the other ships.

(7) So one suggestion was strong magnetic hooks like these.  Yes, it's true - The room walls are metal and the magnets can be attached to the wall easy-peasy!   We found that weight-wise though, the hooks we had were just good for lightweight bags and kids' lighter jackets.  We did not get a lot of use out of them, but others might.

(8) I saw a friend had towel clips on a previous vacation, so I looked around on Amazon and ordered a lower fills set of clips as well.  If you haven't seen them, they are like giant clothes pins for keeping your big beach towel on your chair while you're in the pool.  They do come in handy and help for identifying "your" chair, but I must admit the the set we got, multiple clips didn't survive the trip just do to things like kids wanting to use the beach bag as a chair (so they sat on the contents).


So Day 1 of the cruise finally arrived!  My father-in-law has a pickup truck that seats 5, so he generously offered to be our limo driver to/from the cruise terminal.  Driving from NJ, it's maybe 15 blocks total driving from the Lincoln Tunnel.  I am quite far from being a "city" girl, but I think even I could have handled driving the small amount required.  Some mental notes I made:
  • The "scheduled arrival time window" they ask you to register for is not checked as far as I could tell.
  • I think higher class cabins have the option of pre-printing luggage tags.  I saw no such option for our cabin.  So we got tags to write our name/room number on from the baggage guy at the baggage drop off before you enter the terminal.  We even checked an open reusable shopping bag that had about 8 mini-Coke bottles and 6 water bottles in it without a problem.  The bags you checked are brought to your room later that night.  I'd suggest keeping the bag with any medications with you.  If you are cruising out of a port where the temperature is warm enough to swim, you might as well keep the swim suits handy as well.  There will be beach towels available in your room when you get there, so no need to bring your own.
  • Pack a pen, as you are expected to fill out a pre-boarding health questionnaire.  Thankfully Big One's random stomach bug was outside the 48 hour pre-boarding window, or he would have been quarantined the first few days :-(
  • If one of your checked bags does not make it to your room, fear not!  It happened to us.  Just walk down to the guest services desk (Deck 6 Mid, across from the Atrium) and they'll take you to the secret room where the bags that lost their tags go.  I quickly found ours and headed back up to the room.
Will share more about the trip in separate posts, so stay tuned!
Referral Disclaimer:  Nope, no kickback from Norwegian for this.  However, I did include some Amazon links above that will give me a tiny kickback if you purchase through my links.