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06.23.11
The Breakaway balcony design

Norwegian's Project Breakaway
Norwegian Cruise Line just previewed its new "Project Breakaway" ships scheduled to debut in April 2013 and April 2014. Both will be built in Papenburg, Germany, after the line had a falling out with the STX shipyard in Nantes, France, during the previous "F3" project.

CEO Kevin Sheehan said the working name "Project Breakaway" was inspired by his getaway home in North Carolina, but listening to the conference I sensed the real reason is a deep desire by NCL to break away from its own past.

During the first millennial decade NCL was dominated by the sagacious spirit of former CEO Colin Veitch hired in 2000. He was considered a visionary who could bring NCL into the modern era. Veitch ushered in "Free-style cruising," starting with conversions of the line's existing ships and followed by the construction of new "F2" Free-style ships such as Norwegian Dawn and Pearl. Veitch ultimately started the F3 project, touted at the time as the first fully Free-style ship, but he was replaced in 2008 by Kevin Sheehan.

It now appears that current CEO Kevin Sheehan, Senior VP Andy Stuart and their underlings want to leave that past behind completely. NCL is striving to completely remake its image, and the words "Free-style" were conspicuously absent in this recent conference. This is akin to dropping the word "generation" from a Pepsi commercial. Another rumor says the company now wants to be referred to as "Norwegian" for short, not "NCL" -- which has been its handle for decades.


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Each NCL ship design was considered a success, until Epic. From the stateroom bath facilities to overcrowded public areas, its design flaws were well documented. Veitch's 2008 departure coincided with a dispute with the shipyard where NCL tried to cancel the project, which only went forward when the shipyard could find no other buyers for the hull. During the Epic construction there were several mishaps, including three fires, but NCL never publicly flagged in its optimism for Norwegian Epic.

But with this last conference call the words Norwegian Epic and Free-style were conspicuously absent from the dialog - almost as if they want to erase the past.

Without specifically describing the Norwegian Epic design flaws some of the biggest news delivered by CEO Sheehan in the "Project Breakaway" reveal sounded like this "The bathrooms in the new cabins will be in a separate room - yay!" Another Sheehan line was, "The sinks will have a normal faucet."


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Epic's overly-ambitious but flawed stateroom décor makes the Project Breakaway staterooms seem functional albeit a little plain. There are 1,024 verandah staterooms and 238 mini-suites. The separate bathroom is next to the entrance. To save on space, these cabins also have a staggered wall that gets narrower in the seating area - similar to Norwegian Epic, just squared off rather than wavy. The room width shrinks in the seating area.

Still, the new stateroom design appears to be a nice improvement over the Epic cabins. There is a nice-sized 26-inch flat panel TV that can be seen from the couch and the bed. Opposite the couch is a long counter with easy access to AC plugs for computers and hair curlers. Each cabin has a vanity stool and large mirror, as well as drawers under the couch and along the wall. The colors are blue and beige - quite the opposite of the greens and purples of the New Wave cabins of Epic.

But there were plenty of other design problems with Epic which also need to be addressed, and it still remains to be seen if "Breakaway" will be any better. Based on the size and capacity of Breakaway I have concerns - and this time they won't have Colin Veitch to blame.

These two new ships alone will represent a 30-percent increase in the NCL fleet's capacity. They will have 4,000 lower berths, but each outside stateroom can sleep one or two extra people and the 238 minisuites can accommodate two extra people.


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At 144,017 gross tons this makes for a very crowded ship - more crowded per ton that Epic. Norwegian Epic's public areas, especially the entertainment venues, are very small. Making show reservations is mandatory as well as queueing up almost an hour in advance to guarantee the better seats. It looks like Breakaway's public areas could be even more crowded than Epic's based on size and capacity alone - but we won't know until they reveal these details. Let's just say I am watching this space carefully.

Since his departure, Veitch has been virtually invisible - never making a single comment on what happened at NCL. Privately, I have been told that Veitch was "too driven" and that most of the concepts on Epic that didn't work out were his ideas. However, I have never gotten both sides of that story.

At least Breakaway does not have Epic's chunky suite complex at the front of the ship, nor does it have the same extensive children's water park on the top deck where there should have been adult deck chairs.

In any case, the design plans for shipboard entertainment on Breakaway are as critical and require just as much attention as the stateroom design. We hope Project Breakaway turns out much better for NCL than the "F3" project, but we won't know until we see the next reveal on July 20.

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