What happens when you rediscover your fear of heights while standing on a six-inch-wide beam jutting 180 feet over the open ocean?
You walk the six or so paces to the end and smile, wind-whipped and terrified, for the camera. And then, of course, you boast about walking “The Plank” on Norwegian Cruise Line’s latest ship to anyone who will listen.
To be sure, the Miami-based cruise operator designed Norwegian Breakaway with thrills — and bragging rights — in mind.
The first of a new class from Norwegian, Breakaway was created to honor its home port of New York City, just as sister ship Getaway will pay homage to Miami when it starts sailing there after launching next January.
Although the pace of new ships entering the marketplace has slowed across the industry, cruise lines are stocking their vessels full of whiz-bang, would-you-look-at-that features. Disney Dream introduced the first “water coaster” at sea in 2011, and next month Princess Cruises will unveil its glass-bottom SeaWalk, which extends 28 feet out from the side of the ship high above the water, on Royal Princess.
Royal Caribbean International recently announced that its ship debuting in November of 2014, Quantum of the Seas, will include a simulated skydiving experience and a Ferris wheel-like capsule that carries passengers hundreds of feet in the air.
Norwegian Breakaway earns its gee-whiz bonus points with The Plank and waterslides that start with a freefall — but also with its sheer abundance of onboard options. A Miami Herald reporter sailed with about 3,500 passengers during an inaugural two-night cruise for media, travel agents and VIPs.
With room for 4,028 passengers at double occupancy, the New York-based ship is smaller than the 4,100-passenger Norwegian Epic, which launched in 2010. But it has more dining options, more slides, nine miniature golf holes, a ropes course, fireworks, and three shows with Broadway cred.
It also features a more sleek, traditional design than Epic, which got no love for its boxy look and awkward split bathrooms.
While the bathrooms are more standard, they are also raised, so passengers need to pay close attention to the “watch your step” sign or risk tripping into the main cabin area. The mini suite was spacious, with ample closet space, a very comfortable bed, foldout couch and long trough-like sink in the bathroom. The shower was roomy, though it took a few tries to figure out the multi-jet system. All rooms have an energy-efficient, key card-based system for lighting.
Based on early chatter, the ship’s small balconies are getting the kind of negative attention that Epic earned from the split bathrooms. Even attached to a mini suite, the balcony was miniscule, fitting only two chairs and a tiny table.
Basic balcony staterooms start at about 207 square feet, including the balcony. A spokeswoman for Norwegian said she could not break out the balcony size alone, but a rough measurement of the mini suite balcony showed that it was less than 30 square feet. On Carnival Breeze, a standard oceanview room is 185 square feet with a 35-square-foot balcony.
The smallest balcony option on Royal Caribbean’s Oasis or Allure of the Seas, overlooking the boardwalk, is 182 square feet with a 47-square-foot balcony.
Kevin Sheehan, the cruise line’s president and CEO, said the company considered how much time passengers were likely to spend on balconies instead of other parts of the ship and decided it was more important to put more space in the cabins. While Sheehan has said the addition of Breakaway positions the line to be a leader in the premium category — a set that includes Celebrity Cruises and Holland America Line — the size of standard cabins and uneven food quality are two elements that fit in more with the mainstream class.