This will be sort of a quick and dirty of our experience on the Norwegian Dawn.
About us: we were first time cruisers who were gifted a trip to Bermuda by my mother-in-law. In total, we were 9 family members spread out over three cabins. My MIL and FIL had a balcony. My husband, 2 kids (aged 3 and 1) and I had one oceanview obstructed cabin, as did my sister-in-law, her husband and her youngest daughter (aged 9).
All of my inlaws have cruised with NCL before, and they were disappointed by some elements of the cruise. My brother-in-law described it as sailing with the B-team. We were none the wiser. They still enjoy NCL for the price point and the Freestyle dining.
Because it was a gift and we have a pretty tight budget, we didn't splurge on a lot of extras such as beverage packages or expeditions. We ended up getting a 3 day transit pass for Bermuda and doing a lot of our own exploration which worked out fine.
We ended up driving from our hometown to Boston, and ended up stopping frequently because of the kids. My ILs found a last minute flight deal from Buffalo to Boston. We stayed at the Holiday Inn Express in Boston which had a great Park and Cruise option, and caught the very efficient Airport/Cruise shuttle to the cruiseport.
Highlights for us:
- Splash Academy and Guppies: I wasn't planning on putting my kids in these activities because I thought they would detract from family time. On the contrary: some of my favourite moments were chatting with the staff there and participating in the Guppies activities with my son. My daughter absolutely loved going to play "with [her] friends" at Splash Academy, and the parades and circus shows that she participated in were enjoyed by our entire group. I also can't say enough about the staff. I have to say I was a bit concerned about leaving my kids there (as we usually do a lot of homework for potential babysitters/daycare providers) but the staff quickly put me at ease.
- The shows: I can't say there was a show that disliked but we were also very selective about the shows we chose to see because we were travelling with very young children. We saw the Band on the Run show, the Second City show and the Elements show. We also caught parts of the Billy Joel/Elton John tribute and hubs saw the Neil Diamond tribute with his mom. And of course, the Splash Academy Circus show was adorable!
- The Kids Zone swimming pools: very underpopulated, we often had the place to ourselves!
- We both really enjoyed the three course meals in the restaurants. We stuck with the basic dining and were never bored with our options. Because we were eating early (both due to the kids and to the ILs, haha) we never really had to wait for seating. My husband loved that he got to try kipper at one point during the week! I loved the Warm Chocolate Lava so much that I had to have it twice. The Sirloin Prime Rib I had was fantastic and the wings I had at the Blue Lagoon really hit the spot! Aqua was my favourite restaurant of them all, as I enjoyed the cozy atmosphere and the service there. We did the Venetian a few times but we found the service was slow. It was fine for breakfast and lunch.
- We really appreciated the Freestyle dining and I don't know how we would adapt to a company with set dining hours/seatings.
- I really did enjoy our stateroom. I liked the decor with the turquoise doors and colourful carpet. We had more than enough storage for all of our crap and although it was cozy to have all 4 of us in there it was really nice. I think my son was actually upset to be put in his own room upon our return. I also really liked our location on the 8th deck. Obviously it is not our bed at home but for the most part I had no problems falling asleep.
- I liked that the ship was really big but it didn't feel like it was overwhelming. Once we got a basic understanding of the layout, it was super easy to navigate and everything felt like it was right next door.
- The staff was super friendly with us because of our kids. So many of them remembered their names and made them feel like rockstars (and by association, us too).
- I got super excited when I heard some of the announcements in French (being francophone).
- I liked the self-assist option for disembarkation, so that once the ship was cleared (which took a while due to a medical emergency and a few idjits who tried to hide out on the ship) we were able to get right off (despite a long lineup) and make our way straight down to our shuttle. We got back to the hotel around 10:30 and were on the road by 11AM.
- We had to wait a long time to embark on the ship. We got there at 11 and were second in line to board the escalator to the ship when all of a sudden they would not allow anyone else to proceed upstairs. We ended up waiting 1½ hours to get up to the deck, and another hour or so to get to board the ship. Apparently the previous disembark took longer than expected which filled up the gangway and the cruise port. We rushed to our rooms in order to get some lunch but by that time, everybody else was starving and had the same idea as us. As the only available dining option was the Garden Café it had insane lines while everybody tried to make up for the lunch that was missed waiting at the bottom of the cruiseport. My ILs indicated that they'd never had an issue with embarkation before this, and that this was not typical.
- During the first few nights, the waiters kept apologizing for slow service because the Dawn was implementing a new menu. I didn't really notice it, but after a few nights I had hoped that they would have figured it out. There were also a few food items that I had looked forward to and ordered that had been inadvertently placed in the new menus but were not actually being offered; that was a disappointment.
- When we visited the library, the crew member was sleeping behind the desk. (!!!!)
- The Oasis pool was not a fun place to hang out. I really love to swim but it was was so awkward to do so, I stayed there maybe 5 minutes. There were two ledges on either side with an inch of water on top, with a sudden drop in the middle where I could not even touch the bottom. I also didn't enjoy the blaring music. The kids pool was a lot quieter, so I was able to take a dip when I took my daughter but I wasn't able to do my own thing as a result. And I refused to pay extra to use the pool in the spa!
- We had to hound our steward a bit on the first night for the Pack and Play for our son, and we ended up setting up the fold down bunk bed ourselves for our daughter, which was a little disappointing (and had been told not to do...). After the wonky embarkation and the long trip the day before, the kids were zonked, so it was not fun trying to get things organized and keeping the kids calm when we were promised that it would all be ready to go for bedtime.
- Disembarkation also took a while. The whole gathering Non-US Citizens in the Aqua Restaurant without options for them to go pee was not very well-thought out. Once the doors opened, however, people were being processed relatively quickly, although we were in danger of missing out on our final meal on the ship. I later found out that there were a number of arrests and there were half a dozen stowaways that held things up a bit.
- There was a medical emergency two doors down from us on one of the nights. I was under the impression that the gentleman had died, which kind of put a damper on the trip. It wasn't until the end of the trip that we discovered that he hadn't died but just gotten disoriented and banged up a bit. Details were murky. I suppose it would have been nice to have the acknowledgement that the person was ok, although I get that they didn't do anything because of privacy concerns for the patient.
Things we'd do differently next time:
- maybe try to pre-plan our excursions a little more, although we don't really feel like we missed out on seeing anything. We were really there just to spend time with our family and we did plenty of that.
Overall, we are still very pleased with our experience on the Norwegian Dawn, so much so that my husband joked that he was going to pack the car for our next cruise this morning. A big shout out to all of the staff that made this experience possible!