Norwegian Breakaway is no longer in her infancy but rather is a firmly established ship. Her Hotel Director Prem Kainikkara explained how the ship achieved this in the relatively short space of time since her entry into service in 2013.
“To offer the best vacation, the dream vacation of a life time is our basic philosophy and goal. Any guest coming aboard needs to have the best vacation ever. They need to have the best experience ever. It does not matter to us whether they are repeat, first time cruisers or first time cruisers with Norwegian. We try and ensure that all 4,900 leave as happy as they can be so they keep coming back.”
Executing this philosophy is not merely a question of having one of the world's largest cruise ships with an array of features and facilities. “It is the people who make the difference. The facilities can be the fanciest of the lot but the people are the biggest asset that we have, the team that we have. To drive [this philosophy] with passion and to run it through from there. That is what we do and what we specialize in. That is why we are as full as we are.”
Breakaway is not uni-dimensional. Within her are several parallel universes, each providing a distinct cruise experience.
“Breakaway, especially in the high season, is very family oriented in a lot of ways in that there are so many facilities for all ages and there are so many opportunities for kids to participate on their own or with their families.” commented Cruise Director Julie Valeriote. “The outdoor facilities are going to appeal to kids and kids at heart. We've got the Nickelodeon programs for families to participate together. We also have the Guppies program for kids under three to play with their families. We give the moms and dads a break with the Splash Academy program and the Entourage teen club. Aside from the programs that they offer, we do strategic programming in between the hours that the kids programs are open. For example, pizza making, cup cake making, meet and greets with the characters. That way, [families] have an opportunity to play together when they want and to get a break when they want.”
At the same time, Breakaway also caters to people who are traveling by themselves. Not only does it have cabins designed and priced for single occupancy but it has the Solo Travelers Program designed to enhance these travelers cruise experience. (See separate article).
“It is not necessarily just singles, it is a diverse demographic. The solos can be people who are different ages and there are different reasons why they are by themselves. And [the program is about] is bringing them together, giving them a common time and place to meet and letting them have fun and to have other people to interact with.”
“The program has evolved. We put people who are passionate about it, who understand the purpose of it, in the role [of Solo Traveler Hostess]. We basically are able to build on that from season to season as each person who takes over that role looks at what has been done before and adds their input as well. We get feedback from the guests of course too.”
Yet, a third universe is the ultra luxury section of the ship called “The Haven.”. In addition to spacious suites, the Haven has its own exclusive restaurant, lounge, pool and recreational area.. “Every guest that we have spoken to, once they have experienced the Haven, they do not want to go back to doing anything else.” Mr. Kainikkara said. “Its a separate niche. If you want to be out there with the masses you can and if you don't want to leave the Haven, you don't need to leave the Haven for the entire length of your cruise.”
Above: Cruise Director Julie Valeriote.
Ms. Valeriote is one of those cruise directors who seem to be everywhere. However, what the public sees is only a small part of what she does: "The guests' perception is that you are hosting, socializing and all of that but that in reality is just a very small part of the job. It is running a business at the same time. It is finding a happy medium between being out there with the guests, having fun interacting with them but also managing a staff of 175 people and all the ever changing behind the scenes that are happening - - dealing with a couple of hundred e-mails in a day, inspections, meetings, fielding phone calls."
Being a cruise director also means "finding your own style. Often times people will say this cruise director did this and that cruise director did that. That is great but you have to have your own style, what works for you. It wouldn't be genuine if I was going out there doing one thing versus what I do do."
Above: Hotel Director Prem Kainikkara is in charge of the accommodations, entertainment, dining and almost everything else utilized by passengers on Breakaway. He has been with Norwegian since 2007 and his past credentials include managing the line's other New York ship Norwegian Gem.
Keeping Breakaway fresh
Since she entered service, Breakaway has been based in New York sailing from the historic ocean liner piers on the west side of Manhattan. Ships that are based regionally rather than in one of the cruise capitals such as Miami or Fort Lauderdale, tend to attract a high number of repeat passengers. People who live nearby are attracted to return just because of the convenience. However, if a local ship just offers the same cruise experience over and over, guests will become bored and look elsewhere even if they enjoyed that ship's cruise experience the first time.
Ms. Valeriote pointed out three reasons why repeat passengers find Breakaway a fresh experience each time they come aboard.
The first reason has to do with the size of the ship and the variety of features it offers. “There is so much choice when it comes to entertainment, when it comes to dining when it comes to accommodations and the type of experience that you are going to get when you are here. more entertainment and shows than there are nights of the week. Better quality than ever before. We do get a lot of repeat cruisers and one of the comments [we hear from them] is that there are so many things happening [aboard]. They say they have been here before yet they had a completely different experience this time because the things that they didn't get to see the first time, they get to see now.”
“The next thing for the repeat passengers out of New York is that the ship offers four different itineraries in the year. [Therefore, the guests] can have a different experience with the ports and with the length of the cruise from seven days to twelve days to two nights. The way you run a two night cruise versus the way you run a 12 night cruise is very different.”
“Also, in the winter, you are using the outdoor facilities less whereas in the summer, that is where the majority of your time is spent. On a seven day cruise in the summer, you have a lot of families cruising so you are programming geared towards the families. In September, everyone is back in school so you tailor your program that way to go with the age change.”
In addition, Breakaway is not static, new ideas and new concepts are added over time. For example, in October 2014, the concept of the Uptown Bar and Grill was radically changed.
“It is fresh burgers made to order and a huge selection of salads with 22 or 23 different ingredients.” explained Mr. Kainikkara. “Basically, you place your order for a burger, pick up a salads and the burger is delivered to you. It is a nice burger, the best burger you can get. I'm sure that shoreside you would pay $14, $15, if not $20 for a burger of that nature. It is not just a run of the mill burger.”
“Burgers are a new trend going on in the hospitality industry in general, not just the cruise industry. The concept of create your own burger is extremely popular compared to what we had there before which was more of meatballs, sandwiches and paninis.”
Along the same lines, Norwegian has changed the way Internet service is provided on Breakaway. “We are still testing it out before we roll it to the rest of the fleet. [Service] is not by the minute; instead, it is by the megabyte. For someone who wants to keep connected while cruising, it is a very conducive process. I know members of the crew as well as guests who take a basic package and it lasts forever. If you are doing basic e-mail it is fine. Unlike the minutes program, you paid by the minute whether you used it or not.” The only downside is if you are uploading photos or accessing websites that require a lot of bandwidth, you will use up your plan more quickly.
Beyond such conceptual changes, operational changes are an ongoing process. “It is just minor tweaks here and there, not something that you would notice but that this or that is definitely running more efficiently. You learn from experience.” Ms. Valeriote explained.
Mr. Kainikkara added that even though management now has experience with all of Breakaway's itineraries, “that does not mean that we just cut and paste. We review the whole process, minute by minute, schedule by schedule, to see what we can do slightly better. We continue the tweaking as often and as diligently as possible.”
Cruise ship interview - Norwegian Cruise Line - Norwegian Breakaway - Hotel Director and Cruise Director