Thursday, May 23, 2013

The Direct Line Cruises Staff Reviews the Norwegian Breakaway

On May 10th the staff of Direct Line Cruises boarded the Norwegian Breakaway for a 2-night cruise to nowhere in order to get acquainted with the cruise line’s newest build. So, how would we rate the Norwegian Breakaway?  Unequivocally and unanimously astounding!

The Norwegian Breakaway is the largest cruise ship ever to homeport year-round in New York City, and it has been dubbed “New York’s cruise ship”. We certainly felt a NYC vibe. It can be found everywhere… in the décor, the Broadway shows, and the ice sculpture of the Statue of Liberty in the Ice Bar. There are even real Sabrett hot dogs stands – the very same carts you see on New York City street corners – handing out free hot dogs on board!

678 Ocean Place is awesome!  We loved the way the spaces flowed inside and out, and the way the levels (decks 6, 7 & 8, hence the name) interconnected; yet each area offered a different experience in dining and entertainment.  The casino is there, shopping, and all the different restaurants and bars to suit every personality. The Ice Bar is as authentic as they come!  Ice tables, ice chairs, ice sculpture and iced vodka! Thank goodness they gave us parkas and gloves before entering! We headed to Shaker’s Cocktail Bar for martinis and Maltings Beer & Whisky for an imported brew. However, The Vibe Beach Club was a favorite spot for many of us! This adult-only area has an oversized hot tub, big, comfy cabana-like chairs and of course a full service bar.

The Waterfront is brilliant! It’s more than a promenade.  It’s a quarter-mile oceanfront boardwalk!  Stroll a while or stop like we did, and order a dish of crispy calamari to be washed down with a cold glass of chardonnay.  There’s plenty of seating so you can gaze out into the ocean or people watch while you savor a cup of creamy gelato.  Take our word for it – it was delicious!  Or dine al fresco in on of the many restaurants that offer outdoor seating. And speaking of dining…it can only be described as a gastro experience! There are 27 dining options including French, Italian, Japanese, a Brazilian steakhouse, and sushi. Then, there are the exciting new venues by Geoffrey Zakarian: Ocean Blue, Ocean Blue on the Waterfront, and The Raw Bar! Our only regret was that we couldn’t try them all!

 No other ship compares to the Norwegian Breakaway’s variety of onboard entertainment and we can’t stop raving about it!  We saw “Rock of Ages” and have to say the performance was as good as any Broadway production! We marveled at the energy and grace of the dancers from “Burn the Floor”. We took in an interactive comedy show by Second City and are pleased to report it was really funny! Some of us went to Fat Cats Jazz Club while others got comfortable singing along with the dueling pianos of “Howl with the Moon”.  Still others danced the night way at Bliss.  This is a ship for night owls and for people that want to party late into the night!
 Of course we checked out all the children’s area (Splash Academy) and the teen facilities (Entourage). After all, we’re parents or grandparents too! Bright, colorful, experienced counselors and great programming!  The Aqua Park is a little person’s paradise.  And in case you weren’t aware, Sponge Bob and friends are on every sailing!

We toured a wide variety of cabin accommodations. With so many options, from studios to family accommodations, to the luxurious Haven, there is something for everyone.  All the cabins we toured were nicely appointed.  Of course, The Haven is the pinnacle of cruise ship accommodations, elegant and private with very special amenities. A suite in The Haven would be perfect for that special anniversary celebration, or as one of our agents said, “It’s a must at least once.”

We have so much more to share, but we’re out of space! The Norwegian Breakaway is so much more than a cruise vacation.  It’s a resort vacation at sea!  But don’t take our word for it. There’s no better way to experience the Norwegian Breakaway than to book the Norwegian Breakaway for yourself!"

Wednesday, May 08, 2013

It’s “54 Below” on the Celebrity Summit!

54 Below” is the place to go for an unforgettable New York nightlife experience. Featuring exclusive performances by the best of the “Great White Way”, it has become the home away from home for Broadway professionals.  It’s permanent location is in a cool, cozy cellar space beneath the legendary, disco-era ""Studio 54, however, for a limited time, those same stars will light up the stage of Celebrity Summit!

Among the talent scheduled to appear on Celebrity Summit through “54 Below” are Faith Prince, Tony Award winner for best actress in a musical for ‘Guys & Dolls’; Tony Award winner for best actress in a musical in ‘A Chorus Line,’ Donna McKechnie; Anthony Rapp, best known for originating the role of Mark Cohen in ‘Rent’; Jarrod Spector, who starred as Frankie Valli in ‘Jersey Boys,’ and Alice Ripley, who won a Tony for best actress in a musical for ‘Next to Normal’ and also has appeared in ‘Les Miserables’ and ‘Sunset Boulevard.’ Numerous other stars are booked, too, with credits from hit television show ‘Glee’ to ‘The Full Monty’ and ‘Billy Elliot.’

54 Below” will perform on Celebrity Summit on its Bermuda cruises from Cape Liberty in Bayonne, N.J., from May through October."

Monday, May 06, 2013

Azamara “Club” Cruises…The Name Says it All

The name Azamara rolls off my tongue with the fluidity commonly found in a romance language.  The name is a composite word derived from “Aza” meaning blue and “Mar” meaning sea. In addition, the star, Acamar, inspired it. In classical times, the star Acamar was the most southerly bright star that could be seen form the latitude of Greece. But how does the “Club Cruise” belong in the name in? Actually, it is quite apropos!

“Club” implies a sense of belonging, or being a part of something. An association dedicated to a particular interest or activity.  In the case of Azamara, it’s an implied membership; an affinity to take the road less traveled, explore the world, and immerse oneself in diverse cultures. I must say, after my recent cruise on the Azamara Quest, I definitely buy into that philosophy! There’s a feeling of camaraderie on an Azamara voyage between guests and staff and guests and other guests. Nobody is a stranger for long.  Whenever we returned from a day in port, the staff greeted us with a  ""Welcome Home,"" and it actually did feel like we were returning to a real home away from home! 

Inviting, intimate social spaces throughout the ship emphasize the cordial club-like atmosphere, and can’t help but foster friendly conservation with fellow global travelers. Discoveries Lounge, located just outside the main restaurant, is a congenial bar that’s a favorite gathering place for pre- and post-dinner conversation and drinks. I found it to be the perfect spot to meet friends before heading into the dining room.  If any one of us were running late the rest of us would sit here and enjoy a glass of wine in the comfortable surroundings. Fellow guests would congregate and everyone would share the details of their day in port.

My favorite spot onboard was the Mosaic Café, which I felt was the heart of the ship. It’s a great spot to pick up a quick bite to eat or dream away the time with a cappuccino and good book. More importantly, both spaces made me feel like I was sitting in someone’s living room, as there were always other guests there ready to chat about what they were reading, or their thoughts on the amazing places we were traveling to. Within days of embarkation I knew many of my fellow cruisers by name, and many more at least by sight.

Don’t think of missing Azamara’s poolside buffet and party, held at least once on every cruise. Colorful décor, linen-draped tables, and a fabulous buffet feast make this an event like no other…I felt like I was at a dinner party on someone’s private yacht! The evening commences with soft background music that transitions to a live band to dance the night away!  I’ve never experienced anything like it on any other cruise line and it was a highlight of our trip!

Dinner was never a cattle call.  We strolled down to the dining room a different time each evening and were usually seated without a wait. The menus were varied and inspiring and everything I ordered was beautifully presented and absolutely delicious. The dress code onboard is resort casual which I found to be an easy and comfortable way to both pack and dress.

The fact that there are so many amenities that are included at no additional charge makes you feel more like a guest and less like a consumer!  It was so nice not to have to sign for every drink, smoothie or gelato!  Bottled water was always available, including in the gym and in a big cooler readily available to grab as you exit the ship for a day in port. In addition, the gratuities for housekeeping, dining and the bar staff were included so there is no need to calculate tips and pass out envelopes. And may I mention what a treat it was to have freshly squeezed orange juice each morning for no additional charge!

The Azamara Journey and Azamara Quest, are beautifully designed midsize vessels carrying only 694 passengers, so you will never feel lost in the crowd. A voyage with Azamara Club Cruises is much more than just a cruise. Like the name suggests, the ambiance onboard is much like that of a country club. You truly feel a part of an elite group, traveling in a way that many will never experience."