Review of Norwegian Dawn two-week round trip cruise from Boston to Quebec,
October 5-19, 2012
This was an extremely disappointing cruise, given the many beautiful ports-of-call offered. I take partial responsibility for the poor experience: I booked this cruise for my wife and me as a relative bargain through an agency I had used successfully before. They failed me this time.
First, the highlights of this mixed experience: The autumn colors were spectacular. New Brunswick, New Foundland, and Bar Harbor sights, in particular, offered a wonderful display of mountains and turning leaves. Quebec City is quaint and historic, and worth a trip by itself. We only had a day there, however.
Canadians everywhere greeted us warmly, provided helpful directions, and made us feel welcome. We experienced no problems with money exchanges, credit card acceptance, or red tape.
Entertainment aboard the ship was usually very good. Ship entertainers Jose and Patti and Ariel Jacobe delivered a wide range of music favorites from the sixties to the nineties, and performed equally well in different venues from an intimate bar area to the large Stardust Theater. The ship imported excellent outside entertainment groups, especially the Second City comedy troupe, who nailed every rehearsed and spontaneous performance.
The much-hyped Freestyle Cruising means you sit wherever you want at dinner, and you needn't gussy up in suits and ties and dresses for a table in the dining rooms. That's a plus. The ability to make dining reservations creates an added benefit.
Several guest relations officials actually tried to help us find an acceptable room. (No luck, but we appreciated their efforts.)
I won $100 playing roulette at the casino.
Now, the reasons we will never, ever again, sail with Norwegian:
1) We were crammed into a small, crowded, noisy cabin with a porthole--not the window room we expected from our communication with EO or Norwegian. Compounding our misery, the room sat far forward, so we caught every bump along the way, and there were many. The first night, a telephone in the next room rang eight times every four minutes, from 11 pm to 3 am. As we learned later, that room was used for storage. Sleeping late was also out of the question. When the ship docked, front end motors kicked in, or the anchor chain went down, and the noise jolted us awake. I remember thinking, "So THIS is hell!" We tried desperately to buy an upgrade to a decent room, but none was available. The guest relations staff offered us virtually the same crowded, forward room one floor up. We declined, as we didn't want to repack and unpack to live in the same conditions.
2) The name Norwegian signifies a brand; it has nothing to do with the nationality of the ship, as a vast majority of the supervisors, servers and guest relations personnel are Filipino. We estimated that at best, 60 percent of them spoke understandable English. That two-out-of-five crew members spoke minimal English led to many communication problems. We often stopped a conversation by saying: "I do not understand what you are saying." This happened even at the Guest Relations Desk.
3) Communication throughout the Norwegian Dawn remained inconsistent. Guests couldn't depend on the "Freestyle Daily," the ship's newsletter, for accuracy. The newsletter incorrectly printed times, venues, and other basic information in every issue. For example, the Casino seldom opened when the newsletter said it would. The newsletter hyped a free liquor-tasting in the gift shop at six pm; the gift shop opened at eight. As for the room television information, that, too sent mixed messages. And finding the outside temperature posed a challenge. On one channel, the temperature streamed quickly across the top of the screen every five minutes. Why wasn't it posted constantly on the home page? Overall, mixed, poor, communication in an organization constitutes a management problem, and the Norwegian Dawn has a serious management problem, in my opinion.
4) This ship didn't merely nickel-and-dime its guests--it twenty-and fifty-dollared them. An egregious example was the ballyhooed indoor hot tub, lap pool, sauna, and steam room.
On other cruises we've taken, these are expected free benefits. Not on the Dawn, which socked us with a $110 spa fee to use these amenities. I reluctantly forked over the cruise card, figuring the cost amortized to about $10 bucks a day over the two-week cruise. But after a week, the Dawn spa wanted another $110. I declined with a few choice words about value.
5) The food was good, but not great, as we've enjoyed on other cruises. Wait service varied from very efficient to lax. We found the best meals and service in the large Venetian Dining Room, where reservations are accepted. However, we constantly fought to be seated at a table that wasn't next to a coffee stand or kitchen entrance. The worst food and service is in the Blue Lagoon, a 24 hour restaurant serving sandwiches, soups, snacks and beverages. At times, a waiter leaned against a post, ignoring all customers, while two other busy waiters scurried about serving an impatient crowd of diners. Both times we went there the waiters brought the wrong orders, and the hot sandwiches were served lukewarm.
6) A typical cruise ploy was the surcharge to dine in the Dawn's signature restaurants. Only Cagney's steakhouse was worth the extra cost, which was $50 for two. The others we sampled-- Bamboo Chinese, La Cucina Italian, and Le Bistro, French--were mediocre and not worth the surcharge. They were quieter than the very noisy Garden Cafe cafeteria and the other dining rooms, however.
7) Most cruise-sponsored tours were overpriced disappointments. We enjoyed our own planned excursions around Portland, Quebec and Bar Harbor much more than the Dawn's relatively expensive tours. Example: the Dawn's sponsored bus tour of Prince Edward Island took us through miles of ordinary rural areas and back-and-forth across a long bridge. The tour guide noted a new Wal Mart. The bus stopped for a half hour at a cheesy gift shop with a statue of Anne of Green Gables for a photo op.
8) We dreaded disembarking from the Dawn for tours. It felt as if the crew searched for the most inconvenient ways for the mobs to line up, and mis-communicated those. For example, we'd be told to go to deck five, but the exit was on deck four; the crew lined up the passengers on five for the crew's convenience. When the ship anchored in a port, the passengers were packed into the Dawn's tender boats, which are ironically named. Getting onto and off of these rocking craft became an adventure, notably for the elderly.
9) We also dreaded the preludes to the large entertainment programs in the Stardust Theater. To find a seat, audience members needed to arrive a half an hour early. During the wait, we were subjected to the constant pitches of the cruise director to buy ship lottery tickets. Just $20 for five of them, or whatever. The winner would receive a five-day cruise on the Dawn. After a week of this harassment, we joked that the runner-up would win a ten-day cruise. And we quickly tired of the pseudo-gaiety of the Cruise Director's staff who badgered everyone "to make noise and put your hands together for the band one more time" at least six times after a performance. Frankly, with everything amped above comfort levels, we needed less, not more, noise.
All of the above may sound like carping of a first-time cruiser, but my wife and I have been on seven cruises between us, and we rank this one number seven--the worst. We heard the same rating during an elevator encounter. The poor guy's cabin air conditioning had quit, and, not receiving any relief from Guest Relations, he took a blanket to a common area to sleep. Security harassed him all night. And on our final day, in the line to disembark in Boston, we met a third dissatisfied passenger who said this was his 9th Norwegian cruise, the worst, and his last one. He had our total empathy. Misery loves company.