In April 2013, Norwegian Cruise Line took delivery of Norwegian Breakaway, an innovative ship both in its features and in the cruise experience it presents. Since then, the ship has crossed the Atlantic and completed a season of week-long cruises from New York to Bermuda. We sat down with Hotel Director Hugo Vanosmael to talk about how Breakaway has done in her first six months.
The word innovative has a positive ring to it. However, in order to be innovative, you have to take some risk because implicit in the word is the idea that what you are doing is a departure from what has been done traditionally. Since Breakaway is innovative in her accommodations, entertainment and dining, the cruise line accepted some risk in building such a ship. However, that risk appears at this point to have been well-taken.
“Everything is working great. We are full [i.e. no vacancies]. I think it is a great concept, a logical development from our Freestyle, going to these kind of ships. It has proven to work. When you walk around you say: 'Yes, yes, that is the way to go.”
Perhaps the most visible innovation on Breakaway is the Waterfront, which is an open-air promenade that has restaurants and bars opening out onto it. When the ship entered service some critics were skeptical about whether this feature could be used when the ship was at sea.
“People enjoy it no matter if we are in port or not in port. People are out there even when we are sailing. It is not windy out there because of the way they constructed it. There are wind shelters. I was out there on the way back from Bermuda to New York and then the ship is going full speed. You can sit out there and enjoy your dinner no problem.”
Breakaway is a big cruise ship, in fact she is currently the eighth largest cruise ship in the world. But she also carries more than 4,000 passengers. To prevent the ship from feeling overcrowded, Norwegian had to plan the location of the various venues and activities so that people would flow through the ship rather than bunch up in particular locations. Once again, the planning appears to have paid off. “You walk around in the evening and it is not congested.”
Some additional thought on people flow was needed, however, due to the unexpected popularity of the ship's Atrium as an entertainment venue. The Atrium extends through Decks 6 and 7. On Deck 6, there is a stage, a large screen and a collection of comfortable chairs. You can also watch from the public space on Deck 7.
“The Atrium is a beautiful location. Every evening we have an event here. Our entertainers Fire and Ice are so popular that by the end of the week [they do] two live Tina Turner shows and it is standing room only, both of them. We do other events as well. We do game shows and people love it.”
“The problem was with the flow. We did an event and it was so popular, people couldn't pass anymore. We had to solve the issue with the guest flow coming from the theater and going to the restaurant. Now, we route them around by the shore excursion desk. I have someone who stands there telling them which way to go. We move all the furniture [from there] so that it is a better walkway. All [of that] furniture is [put] theater-style around the stage. We just have another big venue.”
Above: Fire and Ice performing in the Atrium.
Below: The Atrium from Deck 7.
Another bold decision was to base Breakaway in New York year-round rather than in one of the Florida cruise capitals. New York is a difficult market, which several cruise lines have tried and failed to penetrate in the last decade. Moreover, Breakaway is the largest cruise ship to be based in New York to date.
However, as Mr. Vanosmael pointed out Norwegian has a winning record in New York. “We've been doing well with our ships out of New York since 2002 when we [first] put a ship year-round in New York. People have enjoyed our ships.”
Norwegian used the knowledge that it had learned about the New York market in designing Breakaway. “It is really geared for the New Yorkers. To me, it is made for the New York market. The ship would do well in any market but definitely New York. People who have cruised with us on the Jewel, the Dawn, the Gem, - - the ships out of New York - - they are thrilled, they love it. That is the reaction you get.”
New Yorkers are demanding and independent consumers so Norwegian gave them quality options on Breakaway. “There are more options, more things to do. It is just fun to walk around. There is always something going on. I like that. I think for New York that is really important. People feel at home here. ”
Whereas Norwegian's previous ships featured an array of dining options, Breakaway also gives passengers a variety of quality choices with regard to entertainment. Unlike the traditional cruise ship model, the evening's entertainment does not revolve around the ship's theater. “You've got Fat Cats where you go and enjoy a little bit of music. You can go see a comedy show. Whatever you want there is something going on.”
Of course, Breakaway has a main theater as well but here too Norwegian kept its sophisticated market in mind. The show is not a 40-minute revue with singers and dancers performing popular songs but a full Broadway-quality production of “Rock of Ages.” Despite its adult theme, the show has been received well by the New York market. “They get standing ovations every show. It is really high energy. It is also [set in] the [right] time period for the demographics we have right now. It is really working out great. We get super reviews.”
Another new feature on Breakaway designed with the New York market in mind is the Ocean Blue specialty restaurant. Created for Norwegian by well-known chef Geoffrey Zackarian, Ocean Blue is an upscale New York-style seafood restaurant (see our review). The fact that the cover charge for this venue is higher than most seagoing specialty restaurants has not deterred customers.
“It is not really a high price for the quality of what you get there. Probably in New York, it would be three times the price at least. The quality of the food there is just amazing. I have had dinner there a couple of times and wow, it is really great food. It is great quality fresh seafood.”
Having a ship with this quantity and variety of features resident in New York means that Breakaway does not have to be a once in a lifetime experience for people living in its primary market. “Many people say: 'We can't do everything in one week, we have to come back.' Its a good thing. You don't want to rush to see everything. You can come back and see more.”
Still, Norwegian has also realized that it cannot stand still in the New York market. Therefore, even though Breakaway has only been in service for six months, she has already seen changes. For example, a new ice cream parlor was added to O'Sheehan's bar and grill even though Breakaway already had an ice cream venue selling gelato on the Waterfront. “It is different, different ice creams. It is more of the classic [ice cream parlor]. There was a demand for it.”
More significantly, Breakaway will be premiering new menu concepts in her main dining rooms. “You can have [soup] as an appetizer or as a main course. Salads, you can have as an appetizer or as a main course. You can have a small portions or a big portion. Or you can combine it with other dishes. You can say for a main course, 'I'll take salmon but I want a salad with it rather than the other sides.' You can choose your sides, which gives you more variety and freedom. More options. People have the choice.”
Cruise ship interview - Norwegian Cruise Line - Norwegian Breakaway - Hugo Vanosmael