We waited 44 years to take our first cruise. After our experience on Norwegian it will be at least that long before we take another.
I am not writing this to seek any type of response or accommodation from Norwegian, nor am I naive enough to think that the CEO or company cares even a little about the opinion of one person (actually four because my husband and parents who were along for the trip completely agree with me). I am writing this simply to inform those who are considering a Norwegian cruise vacation of our experience. Details are provided below, but I will sum up for those who do not want to read the very long critique that follows: If you work for your money and/or if your vacation time is limited and precious to you, or even if you have millions and take a vacation every week, we do not recommend a cruise on the Norwegian Dawn. In fact, we would stay home if this vacation were our only option. If we won a free cruise, we would give it away to someone we dont like very much!
I know that reviews are personal opinion, and that it helps to know who is writing. My husband and I are a professional couple in our 40s with no children. We not particularly picky about food and do not care about gourmet meals, wine, or liquor. We exercise regularly and are in decent shape. We like being by water on summer vacations and love trying new activities. We like casinos. We are willing to pay extra for an all-inclusive vacation because of the convenience. We have both worked in service industries and how that tips are well-deserved and earned by the hard work necessary in the service industry. We are not demanding and do not expect to be waited on hand-and-foot, but we do expect courtesy and to be treated like people who have just paid what to them is a large amount of money for the only big vacation they take a year. I would also add that we have been to Europe eight times, most of the lower 48 states, Aruba three times, The Dominican Republic twice, the Bahamas, Cancun, and Jamaica. We also own a time-share. We have never had a bad vacation and have never before written any sort of complaint to anyone regarding a vacation. We have never even complained about our time share; that alone should tell you that we are easy-going.
Check-in and arrival on the boat:
We left from Boston on July 26, 2013 for a 7-day cruise to Bermuda on Norwegian Dawn. Literally from the minute we arrived at the dock the vacation went poorly. There was a large crowd (to be expected) trying to figure out what to do with luggage and how to board the ship. That in itself was not a problem. We found a very nice porter who agreed to put our luggage on his cart and directed us to follow him to the check-in line. We were following as directed when a female employee (blond, short hair, middle-aged for identification purposes) literally put her hand in my husbands face (without any warning) and said/yelled with a very loud and rude tone, You cant go there. Go back to the line, (and pointed somewhere behind us). My husband tried to begin to explain that we were following the man with our luggage. She cut him off and said The lines back there. You cant go here. Our porter and she then began to argue, and the porter called his supervisor to the scene. The supervisor told us and him that she has no say over what the porters do, and that we were to ignore her and follow our porter. He then told his employee to walk right past her. The woman apparently had no authority (although she was wearing an employee tag) since she didnt pursue the matter (or us) and simply turned around, (and Im not kidding), to begin screaming at another group to Stop where you are right now?
The check-in line moved quickly, but when we arrived at the desk the woman behind the counter said nothing friendly at all. The conversation went as follows:
Passports. (I presented mine.)
Ticket. We presented it.
Where do we go after here?
Where do we go after here?
Credit card. (My husband gave his.)
Do we have another line after this?
We went through security and were asked for our group number to begin boarding. Three separate people asked us and we told each that we had not been given one. The first two people said something to the effect that it was impossible and that we needed a number. Then both told us it didnt matter and to go straight on the boat. When the third person approached us, she said that without group number we had to wait in a sitting area. While waiting, my husband decided to stand next to his chair instead of sitting down. While standing he was almost immediately told by a woman who was helping to move the crowd to Sit down!. When he asked Why? the woman replied Because you are in the way. We asked if we should go back downstairs to get a number and we were ignored. We found out from another passenger that we had to wait for general boarding. We did. When we were called we were waiting to board and three times a woman said loudly Have room keys out. My husband was looking for his and the woman approached him and said again Room key! He explained that he was looking for it and she said You need a room key to board. Room key. Thankfully he produced it, thus forcing the yelling woman to leave us alone and approach someone else in the same manner. Upon stepping foot on the boat we were greeted by a woman with spray bottle of hand sanitizer repeating Happy, happy, washy, washy then proceeded to spray in the direction of our hands without permission. That same scenario happened at nearly every single meal.
I tried to get a soda at the bar and was told that we were supposed to have been given a beverage sticker at the check-in desk. We were not. I was told that without the sticker we would be charged for each drink, even though we had already paid for the beverage package. I found a table selling beverage packages and explained the situation. The employee called over two others to ask what to do. He received no answer and then told me he was leaving and that the next person would handle it. A woman arrived. I explained the situation again and she gave me a sticker, which I found out on the last day was incorrect. We had to show our room key each time ordered a soda and were charged. When I questioned it, an employee told me that this is policy and that after a few days the charges would be removed because we had the beverage plan. Not so.
Money, money, money
Skip the 7-day cruise ordeal and go to a 3-hour time share presentation to understand the attitude toward money on the ship. You will receive the same hard-sell-youreally-want-to-need-to-give-us-more attitude as the cruise ship for a lot less investment of time.
Precious few of the restaurants are included in the purchase price. Aside from the snack bar, there are nine sit down restaurants for dinner. Two are included. Seven charge additional fees. Also included is the very crowded and not well serviced buffet. All of the specialty restaurants are additional fees.
There are shopping representatives in the atrium every day. The shopping consultant makes several announcements during the day encouraging all to purchase the special item of the day. Of particular note was the television program about Ammorite (or Ammonite, some kind o f blue-green stone) and how a passenger could become an Ammorite VIP if a certain dollar amount was purchased.
Spa representatives walk the pool deck while in port and stand at the entrance to the fitness center to solicit passengers and drum up business.
The ships photographers are at port with various creatures (pirates, parrots) asking people to pose. They are also in the atrium all day, and walk the restaurants during dinner asking people for photo shoots. Each 5 x 7 picture is $12.95. If there are three or more people the photo is $19.95. Apparently it costs more to aim for three people.
There are multiple announcements each day to book your next cruise now for super bargain deals and to become a member of cruise rewards.
There are multiple announcements throughout the day for the various paid activities. Many activities have extra charges, like the murder mystery lunch in which I was interested. A large number of the free activities, like the posture seminar, are actually sales pitches for products and services available for purchase. Even the free shows begin with a sale of instant lottery cards and raffle tickets. The free entertainment can be summed up as follows: these are not Vegas or Broadway quality performances; in fact they are far from that. They are free for a reason; without being overly critical, quality of the shows is mediocre at best. The grand finale of the last nights show includes two employees with the hand sanitizer performing a dance of sorts with their spray bottles and singing happy-happy-washy-washy.
Tips & Service
Tips must be prepaid. On our cruise it was $12 a day per person. Perhaps that is why service is not particularly good or fast. Of course, there is a list of people who do not share in the group tip, so you are asked to tip on board in addition to paying tips in advance. Spa and specialty restaurants add another 18% to the bill automatically, so tips there are also an additional and mandatory fee.
The service was very unfriendly. When I returned the beach towels I was apparently unaware of the proper procedure. I placed the towels on the counter (which was evidently for clean towels only). The employee simply looked at me and pointed. I turned to see the pile of dirty towels and placed mine there. I handed him my receipt and was expecting a confirmation that I had returned the towels so that I would not be charged the $25 deposit. He took my receipt, said nothing, and ignored me even though there was no other passenger there. I asked, Am I all set? He said simply Yeah and continued with what he was doing.
Service in the main dining room was slow and not once did the server come back after placing the food on the table to ask if we needed anything. We had to fight for someones attention to ask for more water or for condiments.
I walked behind an employee too closely at the buffet and was told Watch out! I watched a very elderly man place a coffee stirrer in the wrong receptacle and be yelled at by an employee. The employee was very rude. To his credit, that man replied, What are you going to do, throw me off the ship? Good for him.
Saturday of the cruise was my mothers birthday. At lunch we asked for a piece of cake to be brought with a candle on it. The employee responded, Do you want to do that now? Why dont you wait until dinner? After we explained that in fact we did want it now, the waitress did bring the cake and candle. It was a bit unnerving to be questioned when making a request that didnt seem particularly labor intensive.
I attended a salsa dance class, but again the attitude of the staff was unwelcoming. I was wearing flip-flops. I had only brought flip-flops and high heels with me. I did not want to try a new dance in stilettos. The cruise director surveyed the crowd and announced that flip-flops are the worst shoes to wear to a dance class. He added that, although those of us in flip-flops were welcome to stay, we would not be able to keep up or participate well. His tone indicated that he was fatigued at the flip-flop wearers lack of preparation. I stayed for a few minutes and then left.
Despite purchasing the beverage package, when the final billed arrived on our day of departure, we were charged for every single drink. My husband took the bill to the front desk to ask for clarification. We were told that we were given the wrong sticker on our key card, the UB ultimate beverage package we had did not include soft drinks. My husband told the woman working the front desk, Jesse J., that since we dont drink alcohol and did not purchase an alcohol package, we had purchased the soft drink package. Every one of the drinks charged was either a diet Pepsi or Ginger Ale, which was surely included in the soft drink package. Ms. J. started looking up each of the charges then stopped and answered the phone and proceeded to help another guest and then someone else at the desk. My husband had to ask for someone else to help him with the billing issue. Dijana P. began to help him with the issue, but she quickly handed it off to the food and beverage manager who had to print the receipts for every single drink and then void them out one by one. That process took almost 45 minutes. Neither one of the women nor the food and beverage manager was friendly or apologized for the error. He was presented the revised billed as the employee promptly said Next.
Prices at the spa are what one would expect at a resort, pricey but not extravagant. However, be prepared to listen to a sales pitch for products after your treatment. You will be walked through the shop and shown what you need to buy. The questionnaire that must be completed prior to any treatment asks if you have certain conditions (so that the employee can offer you the correct package of products to buy). You can avoid that by checking off nothing on the questionnaire. You will not avoid the general sales pitch for works-for-all-problems products.
I booked a massage, but after waiting 40 minutes completely by myself in the waiting room with no acknowledgement of any kind, I informed the receptionist that I was leaving. I was asked if I wanted to reschedule. Obviously I did not. The therapist called and apologized. There was some mistake in her schedule and no one knew I was there because the receptionist didnt inform anyone. Again I was asked if I wanted to reschedule. I did not. To the spas credit, the manager called with apologies and offered me a free massage. I accepted and tipped the therapist well.
Main dining room: The food in main dining room is mediocre at best. The main dining room is packed every night, probably because most of the restaurant space is specialty restaurants. It cannot accommodate the number of people on board. If you do not make a reservation, at certain times there can be an hour wait. Apparently people make reservations for the entire week since we tried to make reservations a day ahead of time and were told that he only times available were 5:00 pm or 8:15. That happened on two different days. The service is slow, again because it cannot accommodate the numbers of people. We ate at 6:30 the first night. We waited 45minutes for a table and dinner took 2 hours. We waited 35 minutes for a salad. We chose to eat at 5:00pm for the rest of the week in order to avoid the chaos. Although it was different from our normal dinner time, it was worth avoiding the prime hours. The crowds were forming as we exited every night. The menu is essentially the same every night. There was a specialty each night, but the main section was exactly the same. The portions were tiny. We are not big eaters, but these portions were really small. The last evening my husband received strip steak the size of the palm of his hand, an ice cream scoop size of mashed potatoes and eight (yes, we counted) green beans as his dinner.
Buffet: On one day at breakfast there were no clean glasses for at least 20 minutes. At certain times there were no tables available. There are long lines everywhere and a very narrow path to walk from the line to the tables, in which you not only have other passengers, but workers with carts and trays. After 9:30 am the only place for breakfast is the buffet. Although the hours state that it serves until 11:30, long before then employees begin clearing to prepare for lunch, and breakfast items are not replenished. I was there one day at 10:50 and breakfast items were being replaced already with lunch. Despite the large number of passengers, the only times that I saw both sides of the buffet open were the mornings of departure and arrival. The rest of the time only one side was open, creating even longer lines.
The buffet food is served cafeteria style (grab a plate and slide it down the line) and is luke warm to the point that butter does not melt on anything you want it to. (Even if it were hot, it would have been cold by the time we found a table.) The coffee machine on one side was broken twice and the ice cream machine was unavailable for two days. Temporary receptacles were brought out, but the coffee was cold and the ice cream melted.
Apparently a nice meal can be purchased at the other dining venues, but if you expect good food for the initial price of the cruise, be prepared to be disappointed.
Beverages (and money)
Soft drinks and (of course) alcohol are not included in the price. Passengers can buy a beverage package, but even with that coffees that are considered specialty (like cappuccino or flavored syrups) and bottled water is not included and charged separately. You can purchase a bottle water package independently of your other drink package that includes six1 liter bottles for only $21. The Java Cafe is not included and all coffee there is also charged separately. (The employee there told me that it was special Italian coffee.)
Even if you purchase a beverage package, you will have to show your key, be charged, and sign a receipt for every drink you have.
On Sunday morning I made coffee in the room. I forgot about it. On Wednesday morning I went to make another pot. The coffee and filter were still there.
I noticed a piece of pineapple on the floor near the entrance to the 24 hour restaurant on Monday. I noticed it every morning thereafter. On Thursday, the morning of departure, it was still there.
On the morning of arrival room checkout was 9 am. At 7:30 my husband and I went to onboard credit to deal with the problem with our bill. The room steward asked us if he could enter the room to make the bed. We agreed and when we returned the bed was set up with the welcome sign for the new arrivals. We had access to that bed for the rest of the morning (about two hours). We sat on it and had our luggage on it. The point is, we could have slept in it and the new guests would not have known.
Ships can no longer dock in Hamilton, leaving the Royal Naval Dockyard as the home for cruise ships. The dockyard is at least a 20 minute drive to a nice beach. There is a man-made beach in walking distance of the ship, but it is tiny and so near the ships that the water has a film floating on it. Whether it is oil or suntan lotion I could not tell. There are no waves at that beach and there is a $5.00 per person fee to use this area.
The ship is about 25 minutes by car from Horseshoe Bay Beach. Transportation options are a crowded bus, a scooter rental at $85 a day, or a cab for about $40 one-way. Tourists can pay to rent chairs and umbrellas at the beach; there are none available free to the public. The beach is gorgeous and the water is crystal clear.
There are fun water sports to do in the dockyard, but of course they are a separate fee. (That is to be expected since they are not part of the cruise. Im not complaining at all about that.) Jet-skis are great, but again, they are expensive ($155 for 75 minutes). There are other activities as well, but the cheapest option I saw was a half-hour banana boat for about $38.
Almost all of Hamilton closes at 6pm. Restaurants are open but there is almost no need; they were essentially empty. I was told that most of Bermudas shops and tourist activities close early. That leaves the ship for nighttime entertainment, even while docked in Bermuda.
Capacity on the Dawn is 2200 passengers. There is only one main pool that is filled with sea water (and a kiddie pool). The main pool is smaller than some backyard pools. There are not enough lounge chairs so people wake up early to stake out their territory. They leave towels on chairs and some remain unoccupied almost all day. I arrived at 9:00am one morning and there was nothing available, but there were probably only 100 people on the deck. The towels had been laid out much earlier. I heard at least two arguments between passengers and employees about the situation at the pool. Without a pool, one is left to walk the ship, gamble, or sit in an indoor area without much to do.
On a positive note:
Our cabin was large enough and away from the noise on the active decks. We paid for an aft-facing balcony. It was a good location and on the return trip the deck had sun, so I didnt have to even attempt to navigate the awful crowds at the pool.
Room service and the in-room breakfast service were timely and efficient.
The 24 hour snack restaurant was not bad, and we always found a seat.
The casino was decent, but the room is hot and full of smoke. That is to be expected in a casino, but if smoke bothers you, you will have a hard time there.
Our luggage was not lost. We received our luggage about three hours after entering our room, but with the large numbers of suitcases employees must deliver, we have no complaints.
The other passengers were gracious and polite.
The ship did not sink or have any major mechanical problems like other cruise lines have experienced recently. We also made it back to our Boston port as scheduled.
Would we do it again? Absolutely not.