My husband and I just completed a 7day cruise onboard the norwegian dawn. We booked an aft-facing penthouse suite and it was definitely worth the upgrade. Because it was a suite category, we qualified for a priority check-in line at embarkation. This was nice, but we arrived at the terminal half an hour before ship boarding started so the lines weren't too bad at all yet anyway. The better perk was the priority wait area and we had our butler show up to walk us onboard to show us our room (how cool does that sound?). We were allowed access to our room because the suites were cleaned first and it was ready so we were able to drop off our hand luggage and enjoy the ship right away. A very nice bonus; Although I've hauled my hand luggage around a ship before on embarkation day; It's not awful if you plan for it and pack light.
Once we saw the room however, there wasn't much need to leave it. It was a very nice size with a balcony roomy enough for two loungers and it enjoyed full sun for most of the cruise (on days with sun) so no need to go out to the pool deck and fight for a lounger, unless you wanted to. This balcony provided another option for us.
The room also had an espresso maker. A lovely start to the day and with the concierge service, we had a bottle of champagne waiting us upon boarding with chocolate covered strawberries. We were spoiled rotten in the first five minutes. There were also canapés served every afternoon. Tea or coffee time again!
Embarkation process went very smoothly despite my concerns, having read horror stories about embarkation and disembarkation from cruisers a month ago. Maybe it was the priority status that the suite category provided, or maybe the snags were worked out since then, I don't know, but we did not have any issue getting on the ship.
Disembarkation was a bit more glitchy. We are Canadian and NCL has a policy that every non-US resident has to pre-clear customs prior to leaving the ship, which was fine. I assume having our customs declaration form and passport pre-stamped helped keep the line moving inside the terminal and that made sense to me, but they also had a rule that no non-US resident may leave the ship until all non-US residents had cleared customs onboard. I'm not sure if this is NCL or US customs that makes this rule. We've never encountered it before.
We wanted to use the early walk off with our own luggage and were left waiting and waiting for someone to announce that we were cleared to leave. Firstly, why do we have to wait for total strangers to present themselves to customs before we can leave? What do my travel plans have to do with theirs? What if they aren't in any hurry because their plans are more relaxed, but I have a deadline? I cannot figure out how it makes any sense to tie us and our plans to the plans of otherwise complete strangers with the only common thread being we are not Americans. It's a bit offensive really and it would be nice if they could explain the reason to people onboard. We weren't the only ones who were both confused and mildly offended by this rule.
Secondly, and this may have been the one downfall to the priority perks that came with having a suite category, there were no announcements in the priority lounge telling us we were cleared to leave. I think we may have sat there for at least 45mins longer than we needed to because no one announced that we were free to go; That's a best guess because we never did hear an announcement, it was only when we found a staff member and asked, that we were told that everyone was already free to leave. We heard other announcements so I have my doubts it was ever announced at all and I wonder what would have happened if we'd just walked off after being cleared by customs onboard and skipped waiting to be told we could go. We might have figured it out sooner too, if we weren't sitting in semi-isolation in the priority lounge and been able to hear the general chatter in the halls. A bit of frustration there, but people through the terminal moved well and with our documents already in order, we just sailed right through. We were a bit trepidatious about the length of the line waiting to get of the ship and thought "here we go, nightmare line-up" but through the terminal, it moved continuously and there were staff members to wish us farewell (nice touch) and ensure the line kept moving at several intervals through the trek to the terminal. I mean, if the process didn't work, it wasn't because they weren't trying, and from what we experienced, they had a plan, followed their plan and the only snag being the lack of announcements, but overall it didn't have that much impact on the outcome.
We probably disembarked about half an hour later than I was initially expecting (and an hour later than I initially hoped), but that extra wait was spent sitting in a lounge with juice, coffee and pastries, So it was far from uncomfortable. No big deal at all.
The shows onboard were good I thought the singers and dancers were terrific and the dance choreography was very good. It seemed updated and modern. I have found lots of these variety shows use the same dance moves and this seemed fresher to me. The Bollywood show was interesting and I had the feeling it was a bit new for the dancers too. I enjoyed it.
The couple of the lounge acts were dicey. The guitarist was a busker style performer and she was very, very good, always had a crowd. The two piano players were less than impressive for different reasons and much less enjoyable. One was too loud and threw all these extra chords in to the point where you couldn't identify a song until it was halfway through, that is if you guessed it at all. The other played well, but tried to sing too and his voice didn't carry, plus the songs he chose didn't seem to match his vocal range. The dance club band was good, as was the duo playing the grand atrium so, on average, the entertainment was a win.
Weather on this cruise was kinda awful with lots of rain and cooler temperatures. We used the spa pool and hot tubs (extra fee) and it was well worth it. If it had been gloriously sunny every day, we may not have spent as much time in there, but in our case, we made good use of the spa facilities and barely even noticed the ugly weather which would have otherwise ruined our vacation.
We also bought the specialty dining package that prepaid the specialty restaurant cover charges as a flat fee. This was our first time trying freestyle cruising and we wanted to try all the different specialty restaurants so it made sense for us. The food was all fantastic and have no complaints about any of the food. Another perk of the suite level guests is the ability to dine at Cagney's for breakfast and lunch every day. We didn't make use of this every day, but the days we did, we thoroughly enjoyed it. It's very hard not to overindulge on this ship and you will only partially succeed, if at all. The decor in Cagney's was fantastic. Old newspapers pages with prohibition headlines, the Lindbergh kidnapping... You could spend all night reading the walls, and why not? It's your vacation, do what you want, so long as it doesn't interfere with anyone else's good time, there's no harm at all.
The Gatsby lounge is located just outside the casino and I think they must have an air exchanger running full blast to keep the cigarette smoke limited to the casino. We didn't find this lounge smoky, but it is very drafty and several degrees cooler than other areas of the ship. I'm happy to wear a shawl, sleeves or a sweater if it means I don't have to smell cigarette smoke all evening if I want to sit in this lounge, so no complaint here.
We did a wine tasting during our cruise and it was very interesting and informative. I've been to other wine tastings where they lecture about different grapes, different growing areas and wine producing countries and it's always interesting, but this time the speaker focused on wine and food pairings and how the taste of the wine can change with the food it's paired with. It's something any wine drinker kinda knows, but she was able to demonstrate it precisely with the fruit and cheese platter on the table and was it was pretty cool. Probably the first wine tasting I've attended that provided very practical information I could take and use myself later. Very enjoyable.
We don't typically like the monster mega ships but one size larger than this one might have provided a larger selection of amenities without feeling like Noah's ark, but this size was just fine for us. The thing we found weirdest was that no deck had straight through access. Even by the end of the cruise we were still getting confused about whether we were forward, aft or mid-ship and it definitely mattered, since you couldn't get to many areas unless you were forward or aft or mid. Called for lots of backtracking, but it's nothing to complain about. It was a challenge. The guest relations desk has a mini-map of the ship which is very handy and each elevator area has a deck plan posted on the wall that helps too.
All-in-all we thoroughly enjoyed this cruise. It was our first time with NCL and I'm sure it won't be our last.