Let me start by saying it was our first time cruising with Norwegian Cruise Lines. I received an email from them that contained rates on this cruise that were actually lower than what I had been paying on Carnival. We typically travel on a stringent budget in an effort to be able to pay off my house in three years so budget reigns supreme, however, we had not taken a vacation alone together in a couple of years, and this particular trip fell right during the week of our 11th year wedding anniversary. In addition, we have taken three Carnival cruises before, two out of Tampa and one out of Miami. As luck would have it, each of the three cruises prior we had missed a port due to either inclement weather or the Novo virus. When you miss a port of call as most of you know, you'd better have something to do on your ship otherwise it can be rather boring. Although Carnival did try to make an effort to make up for the lack of the Port of call, the entertainment provided was lackluster at best. For these reasons I jumped at the chance for us to try another cruise line.
This cruise started from the port of Tampa Florida. We don't live far from the cruise port which makes it incredibly convenient as we can have friends or relatives drop us off and pick us up, which means we do not have to pay for parking or deal with the hassle of trying to negotiate our luggage after we park. Unfortunately though, the ships that cruise out of Tampa have to be a certain size in order to fit underneath the Sunshine Skyway Bridge. All three ships that do sale out of Tampa, are very close to touching the bottom of the bridge as they sail out. Because they are smaller ships, they often lack in the grandeur of the large ships that sail out of Miami. They contain fewer restaurants, fewer bars, smaller pools, etc. so our expectations although hopeful, were set lower than they would be if the ship was leaving from Port Canaveral or Miami.
There are several items that Norwegian does that differentiates itself from Carnival. Although they are both located in the same, small cruise Port of Tampa, the boarding process is different. The Norwegian boarding process seemed to move at a much quicker pace. The staff seem friendlier, even though they are the same personnel that take care of the Carnival line as well, since they are all employed by the Port of Tampa and not the cruise lines. The customs/security process for Norwegian was friendlier and quicker than that of Carnival, and it just seemed more organized. In addition, when we reached the boat we were greeted by a group of 6 to 8 staff members and a couple of officers who were pleasant, friendly and genuinely welcoming. There were balloon decorations and signs put out welcoming us on board. It was fun!
Let's talk a bit about the ship layout. Organizational wise, all three of the Carnival ships I was on are actually laid out better than the Norwegian Dawn. On the Dawn in order to get from the front of the ship where we were on deck 12, to the main dining room, the Venetian restaurant, on deck seven, you actually have to go to the midship elevators and take it down to deck seven. Several of the locations require you to change floors and then back again in order to reach them. It's just odd and a bit confusing. Even after being on the ship for a week we still found ourselves in the wrong spot several times. There is a jogging track on deck 13 that circles the entire ship which is nice, however if you want to walk all the way around the ship instead of jog, at the back of the ship you must be on the track and as such are in the way of the joggers. Unfortunately, this is truly inevitable as there is not enough space in that section with the design of the small children's for there to be a separate lane. In the back of the ship we did find a nice "secret" door which actually led into the videogame arcade. Through the arcade you could get to an elevator that would allow you easy access to the main dining areas.
The cabin that we were given as part of the guaranteed rate was situated inside, forward on deck 12 room number 12513. It is situated where the Stardust Theatre was before the remodel. It is a family style cabin, which worked to our advantage because it was always quiet around us except in the morning when the kids would pitter patter down the hallways. This wasn't much of a bother for us though because we were up early every morning anyway in order to make our excursion times. When we first checked out the room, the bathroom smelled (to me anyway) like soiled diapers. Our steward quickly washed it all down again for us. The smell only returned one other time mid-way through the week in the evening but didn't linger. Personally I'd say these cabins are extremely small especially as they are designed for a family of four. There is a center walkway where the beds are stacked like a bunk-bed on either side. For the two of us, they pushed the lower beds together to the middle to form one bed, but the size of this cabin is so small that the upper bunk beds that are mounted to the wall are actually in the way of you using or exiting the bed from the side in this configuration. You must slide in and out of the bed from the foot as a result, this isn't a deal breaker, but it is kind of a pain in the butt. On a positive note, we sleep with of a lot of pillows at home and I was delighted to find stashed away in the upper bunks two pillows in each so we each had a total of four pillows for each of us. The linens used on the bed, were quite nice as well. The comforter was soft and thick and the mattress did not feel at all awkward or lumpy which was a surprise, given the circumstance. There is a large mirror that would be in the center of the room on the far wall, however for our set up ended up being over the bed which could prove interesting for some couples. On a scale of 1 to 10 with ten being pitch dark, this room sits at about a seven with plenty of light bleeding through the crack of the door by the hinges. There is also a big six-inch glow sticker used to identify the door I assume in some sort of panic situation. Light also seeps around by the latches as well, however both of these things can be eliminated by leaving the bathroom door open when you sleep, which we did for the entire cruise. The bathroom itself is quite nice with the toilet situated at an angle allowing my 6'2" frame to fit without bumping my knees into the walls. The adjustable, and removable shower head as well as the decent water pressure, were both lovely. There was plenty of hot water whenever we took a shower. The lighting is a bit odd for the bathroom, because it's controlled on the outside and there is no lighting in the shower. Although having glass shower doors was nice, once they get fogged up the light does diminish. Overall the bathroom does not feel cramped and I could shower while my wife put on makeup, which is nice. Opposite the bathroom was built-in furniture with a safe occupying the top area directly behind the door. There are several drawers and a decent sized closet as well as a corner mirror and desk type area. We were able to fit our heavily packed four suitcase contents with no problem! The TV was adequate but it was quite limited in the stations available, and as such we were unable to watch the Oscars on NBC. Another thing regarding the TV, on Carnival cruises you are able to check your account status directly on the TV, nothing of the sort exists on Norwegian Dawn. The remote that was left in this room was extremely odd as well, with about a dozen buttons on it and none of them labeled. I discovered that only five of them actually worked on our TV. They were channel up and down, volume up and down, and power. I did attempt to hook my Kindle up to the HDMI port and discovered via my room steward that the port has been disabled with a code which they would not give out. This was kind of a bummer because I find it nice to be able to connect either the camera or the Kindle up to the TV to watch shows and or view our pictures/videos from the day's adventure. Another disappointment was found in the ship's communication system. There is a speaker located in the room but we never heard any announcements over that speaker until we were docked in Tampa on the last day. In fact, due to our sleeping schedule, we repeatedly missed out on messages regarding events, as the announcements that were made were only in common areas and not echoed on the TV or on the speaker in the cabin. Improvements could be made to utilize one of the shipboard channels on the TV to broadcast the schedule of upcoming events in addition to the verbal announcements. They might also consider placing a volume control on the speaker that is there, enabling you to regulate your consumption of messages. Another point referring to the shipboard TV channels. They had a dining station that showed a beautifully thought out time matrix for each of the specialty restaurants and the main dining rooms, however, nowhere other than the restaurants themselves can you find out information on what they're serving in each of the restaurants. It would've been really nice to be able to view the daily menu for the Venetian and the Aqua in the cabin before heading out. Lastly, I want to make mention of the fact that we finally tried room service after several of our friends urged us to do so. We opted for breakfast in bed, on our first sea day. What a disappointment! All they offer is a continental breakfast. It would've been nice to have standard eggs, bacon and toast instead of having to settle on yogurt, fruit and a Danish.
Continuing with food, overall I must admit I was rather disappointed with the food on board. On the first night they serve surf and turf in the main dining areas. We opted to eat in Aqua instead of the Venetian so we could just eat dinner in the casual clothes we boarded the ship with. My wife had read some reviews that suggested immediately ordering an additional lobster tail which we did. For our appetizers we tried the crab cake and the French onion soup. The crab cake presentation was quite nice although it was a little strange to have a half a piece of toast served with it. As for the soup, wow! This is got to be the worst excuse for French onion soup I've ever seen in a restaurant ever. There were no croutons, very little cheese, and the broth although it did taste like onions barely contained any of them. I suggest that you avoid this if you've ever had French onion soup anywhere else. When the meal arrived, I must say I was rather taken aback. I know that I am a little spoiled since I live in Florida and seafood is readily available in pretty much every restaurant but we found that these lobster tails were not only small which is why most people I assume, recommend ordering the additional tail, but they were also incredibly bland to the taste. It's almost as if they boiled them so long they removed all flavoring whatsoever. Or they are all farmed and served really bland fish food. The steak was approximately 3 ounces at best. It was also somewhat circular in shape. It felt like it was one of those really cheap steaks you see in the freezer section, in a dollar store grocer, in order to say that you have had steak for dinner, but really, not. The side items consisted of three steak fries and one broccoli floret. This was definitely not a good first impression.
I had high hopes for vast improvement after the first night's meal as I had pre-booked online reservations for both sea days, for us to eat in a couple of the specialty restaurants. For the first sea day, I chose Morderno. Morderno is listed as a Brazilian steakhouse. In Florida, at least around where I live, I have the luxury of both high-end Brazilian steakhouses ($50-$75 a plate) and the ones that I can afford ($14.75 to $18.75). There is one located in my city that's in a strip mall that serves better selections of side items and meat than the food we found at Morderno. At one point we were visited by the head chef of this restaurant. I expressed my concern with the overcooked meats and he said he would personally take care of it. The next meat we were served was the lamb, which came out medium rare as we requested. After that several pieces that were served were again overcooked or bland. When I was asked for suggestions I mentioned that a nice sausage would be good, served with Brazilian spicy mustard. It's one of my favorite meats at the restaurant we dine at, at home. I was given an excuse regarding the obvious issues surrounding cooking sausages with skewers and having them lose all of their juices. I tried to tell him that they make a basket of sorts that I've seen in other restaurants for serving sausages that allows you to have a string of sausages cooked over the rotisserie fire without breaking the skin of the sausage and thus allowing you to have a nice juicy sausage when you cut into it, but it seemed to fall on deaf ears. We were not however, disappointed in the level of service we received. The young lady who was the manager of this restaurant, when we dined, was very apologetic and quite helpful when we decided to try out one of the specialty drinks listed and found it to be nothing more than flavored tonic water. She quickly replaced them with a free round of mojitos instead. A final note of oddity about this restaurant is that it is located in a space that doesn't "feel" like a cohesive restaurant since the space is shared with a bar and "The Blue Lagoon" which is a 24/7 eatery. Overall, we left with this thought; since Norwegian charges an additional fee to dine at these specialty restaurants, one would expect that the level of food would be superior to the main dining rooms.
On Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday we dined in The Venetian main restaurant. We found it to be quite delightful. Unlike the gaudy over-the-top decorating found in the Carnival Cruise Line, the Venetian is appropriately decorated to fit the theme of the restaurant and maintain a semblance of upscale decorum. Murals line the walls depicting scenes from Venice Italy. The lighting is appropriate however I was a bit disappointed that later on in the evening when dining the lighting does not taper or dim which means that when it's pitch dark outside this room can be rather bright. On two occasions we were lucky enough to get seated by the rear windows of the ship which afforded us a nice view of the sunset while we dined. Service was exemplary and provided by our server whose name was Lincoln. He was from St. Lucia and had a friendly, polite, and well mannered repertoire for service. We ended up asking for him every time we dined at this restaurant. As a side note we seem to meet quite a few people scattered throughout the staff, that were incredibly friendly and from St. Lucia. The Venetian is a standard dining experience for cruising, your able to order as many appetizers, entrées, and desserts that you wish off the menu. On the left-hand side of the menu "Classic Selections" are the dishes that are served all week and on the right-hand side is the daily menu which features a chefs selection. We did order the chefs selection to share on one occasion as we love Indian food and they were serving chicken tiki masala. It was incredible. When we cruised the Classic selections included; for starters, Mexican mushroom and cheese tortilla crisp, pork and vegetable spring roll, smoked salmon tartare, garden fresh salad, Norwegian signatures Caesar salad, classic onion soup, cream of broccoli soup. For the entrées they list; grilled New York strip steak, Rosemary roasted chicken, braised lamb shank, broiled Norwegian salmon filet, and penne pasta. With the exception of the onion soup we found everything on this side of the menu to be good. Standouts include the smoked salmon tartare and the rosemary chicken.
On Wednesday we braved another specialty restaurant, this time it was Italian. La Cucina is described by Norwegian as "feast on deliciously prepared Italian favorites. Enjoy generous portions of irresistible pasta, pizza, herbs, olive oil and cheese. And, don't forget to add your favorite Chianti." I would agree with the Italian part well sort of. This is truly nothing but a giant disappointment. The service was flat. Our server had zero personality. The atmosphere is decent with good lighting and nice warm tones. We started off with calamari one of our favorites. It was served stone cold and with some sort of weird mayonnaise sauce instead of a marinara as is typically "traditional". We did get a replacement but it was just slightly warmer so we chose not to eat it. I ordered the minestrone soup and my wife had the salad. Much to my shock, the minestrone soup was not cooked all day and instead was served "deconstructed". Mind you they don't list the soup is served this way, but it is and it is absolutely horrible. They bring out a bowl of lentils beans and vegetables all Al Dente. They proceed to pour a bland tomato broth over the top of it. It's probably the worst soup I've ever had next to the "French onion soup" they serve on board. Being part of Italian myself it is well-known that soup should be cooked all day in order for the flavors to simmer together. It seemed pretty basic and I am not sure how you could mess this up when considering "traditional" Italian. For the entrées my wife ordered the shrimp risotto and I ordered the creamy lobster pasta. My wife's risotto was okay if you can get past the fact that they left the tails on the shrimp, which required her to dig around in the dish in order to remove them before she could eat it. My lobster pasta was not "creamy" in the least. In fact it's actually a red sauce, I assumed they were going for more like a vodka sauce although it was so greasy it was hard to tell. I ate it out of necessity as we were starving and it was extremely late but if it was served to me in a regular restaurant I would have refused the dish entirely. Frankly I would avoid this specialty restaurant as well.
On our anniversary I had made reservations for us to dine in the French restaurant called Le Bistro. It is described as a "romantic, intimate restaurant which offers a menu that reflects a delicious mix of French and Mediterranean cuisine. Choose from a tempting variety of both traditional and inventive signature dishes." While my wife was taking a nap, I snuck down to the restaurant and informed the hostess when I would be arriving and that it was my anniversary. I asked if I could possibly get a table that was a little bit more secluded. I was shown a deuce that was set up in the corner of the restaurant immediately to the right of the hostess stand, perfect! I was even able to leave my anniversary card there on the table for an added surprise. When we arrived together for dinner however the hostess had forgotten and was leading us into the restaurant when I didn't immediately follow and she turned around I glared at her and sort of pointed and she then remembered whom I was, apologized and let us to the table I picked out. This section of the restaurant is poised so that you can still hear the piano bar around the corner which made for a nice romantic feel. There are doors on this little area however they are not solid. About halfway through the meal two other couples were seated in the same section. But I would still recommend trying to get this area if at all possible. For our appetizer we ordered escargot and every meal is served with toasted French bread and a basket of the regular bread they serve throughout the ship which is not warm. The toasted French bread was wonderful and the butter they serve was rich and creamy. The escargot was beautifully prepared. The dish serves a portion of six. My wife ordered the mussels, and I ordered the four mushroom soup. Like the minestrone served in La Cucina, it is also somewhat deconstructed. The big difference is that the mushroom soup still maintained its overall flavor with the raw mushrooms added to the hot mushroom base. In fact I found that the mushrooms that were served and the ball were just larger than the ones found in the broth. This is probably the best soup that I had on the ship. Although it did require a little pepper. For entrées my wife ordered the Lamb and I had the peppercorn steak both meats were wonderfully prepared to the correct temperatures. My steak was a fairly decent cut although it was quite a small portion. I was thankful that we ordered several appetizers. The potatoes served with my meal seemed like just stacked scalloped potatoes. The first portion I was served was quite cold but was replaced with a portion that was a decent temperature. They required salt and pepper but were cooked throughout. For dessert we were brought out and anniversary cake by several servers singing a horribly bad tuned "love song" it was cute however. We had already ordered tiramisu, crème brûlée, and chocolate fondue for two. Of the three, only the chocolate fondue did not live up to the high quality of the rest of the meal. Unfortunately, they had run out of bananas and seemed to be skimpy on the strawberries so it was mostly cantaloupe and melon both of which worked really ripe and some pineapple. The chocolate itself was pretty decent served hot in a fondue pot with two forks. The tiramisu and crème brûlée were both perfect. We didn't eat the anniversary cake until we got home, storing it in an our fridge in the cabin. It was actually quite a nice cake when we did dive into it. Overall I would definitely recommend this specialty restaurant as part of your cruise.
As a side note to the specially restaurants I would like to let you know that every single night of the cruise in all timeslots except 9:00 PM the Japanese steakhouse called Tepaniaki was booked solid. I'm not sure if this is because it was a good restaurant or because people don't have these types of restaurants where they come from but I thought I should note it in this review, in case someone was thinking about dining there, you'll want to book in advance in order to ensure you get a seat.
Although we are not big drinkers I do want to cover a little bit about this topic. We saw several shows/skits in the "Stardust Theatre" and a few in the "Spinnaker Lounge" while we enjoyed the shows in each, every time we ordered a cocktail or a mixed drink from these locations we were severely disappointed. In fact the only real drinks we ever received were served up in "The Pearly Kings Pub". The bartender in this area is known as "Chips Ahoy". His real name is Junifirst Ahoy he is from the Philippines. Probably one of the smartest and funniest bartenders I've ever had the pleasure to meet. We first ran into him while we were exploring the ship prior to leaving Tampa on the first day of the cruise. Not being big drinkers, we did not return again until Wednesday night and we were extremely amazed and surprised that "Chips" still remembered our names when we walked into the room calling out "Señor David and Señor Kim welcome!" Simply amazing! His laughter and jovial personality are extremely inviting. After Wednesday evening, we returned there every night before and after each show to get our cocktails as a result. On the final night of the cruise we spent the evening with him and Romeo (more on him later) enjoying the company, drinks and karaoke. It was a great way to end our cruise.
That's entertainment! The Norwegian Dawn is really a gem in the entertainment department. Led by an exciting, and talented cruise director Dan Dan there is literally something for everyone on board. Dan Dan staff is an exceptionally talented and friendly group as well. We befriended Romeo a newcomer to the group. Romeo is a young man from the Philippines with a warm and friendly personality and a good heart as well as a talented singer, dancer and performer. Romeo leads the karaoke in The Pearly Kings Pub. The Norwegian Dawn production cast, dancers, singers, and acrobats in the Stardust Theatre are amazing and talented as well. We thoroughly enjoyed every show. I was especially thankful that there were as many shows as there are for the seven-day cruise. It made relaxing in the evening after a long day on excursion very pleasant. Additionally, on our cruise we had a special guest couple from the Moscow State Ballet who performed a unique love song / act that was very moving. For a good laugh, there were two comedic acts on board. A standup comic Chris Alpine and a troupe from the second city comedy organization. Both were incredibly funny. Both acts also perform kid friendly and non-kid friendly shows. Both groups also can be found in the Spinnaker Lounge where they host a couple of game shows and improv acts.
Although you might not consider the debark process for the ports of call important I can tell you that the Norwegian Dawn improves upon this mundane process in several ways. First they have multiple exits leaving and entering the ship. Even during those port of calls that require tender, they had multiple boats running simultaneously. On the ports of call with a dock however, they really shine. On the dock they set up a couple of those tailgate tents and underneath them they have a seating area as well as iced tea, water, and lemonade. It is staffed with security, servers, and officers. In some ports they even bring some of the entertainment directors staff out to horse around and create excitement with conga lines, dancing, a DJ playing music etc. when you return from your excursion they have people handing out moist towels to clean off with. There are rarely any lines because they have two areas of entrance and the process is incredibly smooth even running through security. In addition, the photogs are not pushy like that on the Carnival line. If you don't want to get your picture you just simply say no thank you and they step away. As a result it feels a lot less stressful and I for one greatly appreciate it.
Not to be forgotten, the ships stewards are the epitome of great employees and worthy of every cent of gratuities. Our ship steward went by "Rad". He was an incredibly friendly gentleman who not only truly cared about your well-being but who was also capable of listening to any issue or concern you had and really attempted to make a difference in your stay. My wife and I several times instructed him that we did not need for him to make up the bed because we had taken a nap and he seemed generally thankful of our communication. I am a tall person and I have rather large feet and when beds are made with hospital corners I inevitably have to pull the sheets out in order to "fit". When I told Rad of this, he said that he had a fix for this and the next time I went to sleep I was amazed that I did not have to pull out the covers and I still was able to lie on my back with my toes up not jammed into the sheets, amazing! Additionally, for those of you into the towel animals, I saw two animals I had never seen before. I won't give it away but they were pretty clever.
Overall the Norwegian Dawn has quite a bit going for it and its shortcomings are overshadowed by the exceptional staff and service that you receive. I would highly recommend cruising on the ship.