I had often seen NORWEGIAN DAWN in New York and in various ports in the Caribbean and was curious about the big white ship with the bold-colored murals on the bows. Also, a friend who I often sailed with on QUEEN ELIZABETH 2, had said she had fallen in love with the DAWN and her recommendation carried considerable weight. Accordingly, when the opportunity arose to take a short cruise on NORWEGIAN DAWN, I booked a cabin.
The Cruise: This was a two-day cruise to nowhere, round-trip New York. The cruise lines offer these trips primarily in order to fill gaps in their schedule. For example, there may be a gap of an odd number of days between the end of a ship's last full-length cruise out of its summer time homeport and the date it is to begin its new cruising season in its winter homeport. Rather than have the ship sit idle, the cruise line adds a short cruise without any ports. From a marketing perspective, such cruises give people who are new to the ship a taste of what it is like on board (which will hopefully make them wish to try a longer cruise) and it gives regular passengers a chance to spend some additional time aboard one of their favorite ships. The overall cost of the cruise is usually less than a full-length cruise but on a per day basis, the cost tends to be higher.
The Ship: NORWEGIAN DAWN is 92,250 gross tons placing her well within the large ship category. She was built in Germany in 2002 and was refurbished in 2005. Capable of 24 knots, the ship is diesel-electric powered with an azipod propulsion arrangement. Although she is a modern cruise ship (as opposed to an ocean liner like QE2), she proved her seaworthiness by weathering the sometimes difficult East Coast winter waters, cruising winters out of New York from 2003 until 2007.
Inside the ship, the public rooms are decorated in a contemporary, post-modernist style. These rooms are creatively designed, use good quality materials and make judicious use of lighting. They are also well-maintained. As a result, the overall look is elegant and sophisticated. There is no glitter, no neon, no shock and awe. Instead, there are original works by Renoir, Matisse, Van Gogh and Warhol.
The Cruise Line: Norwegian Cruise Line (NCL) is the number three cruise line in the United States, operating a fleet of 12 ships. It targets the American mass market and distinguishes itself from its competitors by taking an approach it calls "Freestyle Cruising." The aim of this approach is to give the passengers more freedom and flexibility in their cruise experience than is traditional. The company is owned by Star Cruises of Singapore but operates from Miami, Florida.
Embarkation: The NCL ships use the Manhattan Passenger Ship Terminal on the West Side of Manhattan. These are the piers once used by the great ocean liners QUEEN MARY, NORMANDIE, FRANCE and QUEEN ELIZABETH. The piers were extensively rebuilt in the 1970s and are undergoing refurbishment now. The Manhattan Terminal is easy to get to and is well-known to taxi and limousine drivers. In addition, ships leaving the terminal must sail down the Hudson (called the North River at that point) past the skyline of Manhattan and the Statue of Liberty, a most memorable experience.
On these short cruises, most people carry (or more commonly, roll) their baggage aboard. Even with this extra burden, the lines to have the tickets and documents processed went smoothly and the process of getting onto the ship was fairly quick.
Stateroom: I booked an inside cabin on Deck 11 for this voyage. It had two lower beds, which could be put together to make a queen-size bed. In similar situations on other lines when I have booked single occupancy, the beds were automatically put together but here they were not. This, however, is my only criticism of the cabin staff as otherwise the service in the cabin was efficient and non-obtrusive.
The stateroom itself was clean and utilitarian. There were some nice touches such as polished cherry wood closets and a sliding door rather than a rubber curtain on the shower. However, for the most part, the stateroom was more practical than luxurious.
In addition to a few inside cabins, Deck 11 holds Penthouses and Mini-suites. These staterooms looked sumptuous.
Dining: Flexibility in dining is a major part of Freestyle cruising. There are no assigned restaurants, assigned tables, or set dinner times. The passenger can decide when and where to eat. However, with this freedom comes responsibility. One cannot just breeze into the most popular dining venue at seven o'clock and expect to seated. Instead, if you want to dine in a particular restaurant during the most popular dinner hours you have to make a reservation. It is best to do this as early as possible as the most popular venues and times fill quickly.
I experienced three of NORWEGIAN DAWN's dining venues during the cruise.
The Venetian main dining room is a huge room at the stern of the ship. However, instead of looking cavernous, the room is light and colorful. A row of large windows along the stern account for much of the light. However, the decoration uses colors reminiscent of the paintings by Caneletto of Venice in its glory days and the feeling of that graceful city lifts the atmosphere of the room.
Despite the Italian name, the menu is international. For breakfast, there were familiar staples such as cereals, eggs, pancakes and French toast as well as the usual sides of bacon and smoked salmon. For lunch, the menu ranged from light fare such as hamburgers to multi-course meals with more complex entrees. I found the food good and the service attentive and helpful. Indeed, when I mentioned to one of the assistant restaurant managers that I had to leave for an appointment in a few minutes, he personally went and brought my dessert.
Impressions, decorated with large reproductions of French Impressionist masterpieces, was once a general dining room. However, it has become the Italian specialty restaurant. Do not expect red-checked table cloths but rather the sophistication of Milan or of an upscale Roman venue. There is pizza but it is individually prepared appetizer pizza for one. There is pasta but it is prepared at the table pasta. Then, the main dishes, such as Salmon Francesca, are complex in their flavors. Very impressive.
Le Bistro is an extra-tariff French specialty restaurant. It has been rated by other reviewers as the best dining venue on the ship. Perhaps because my expectations were so high, I found it somewhat disappointing. The food was good but no better than the Venetian and not as interesting as Impressions. It just goes to show that one should not always rely on what one reads in reviews.
Entertainment: Because there are no set seatings in the restaurants, the evening entertainment does not follow the usual pattern of early shows and late shows. Rather, the entertainment is spaced throughout the evening. As a result, if one plans ahead, one can see a variety of shows during an evening.
On the first night of the cruise, the show in the Stardust Theater, the ship's large entertainment venue, was headed by a combination juggler/comedian. His juggling work was impressive. His comedy was much more amateurish but because the quality of his personality shone through, it worked.
The second night, the ship presented a Las Vegas style production show. This was thoroughly professional and entertaining. Interestingly, although NCL is actively courting the Baby Boom generation, the music in the show (late 1970s/1980s) was actually post-Baby Boomer.
Later, I saw a show by a comedian in the Spinnaker Lounge, a large room atop the navigation bridge. It was only moderately amusing.
In various other venues around the ship, there was live music. A trio of three guitarists in the Grand Atrium was the most memorable.
Daytime activities: Because of the overcast skies and cool temperatures, few passengers ventured out on the open decks. Inside, the ship presented a schedule of typical cruise ship activities such as trivia contests and name that tune. There were lectures by the spa staff but no enrichment lectures and since there were no ports, no port lectures.
Children's Facilities: There were very few children on this voyage. However, one cannot help but notice the extensive children's play area at the stern of the ship. It includes large statues of cartoon-like dinosaurs, a man-made cave, pools and various other items. There are also indoor facilities dedicated to children and teenagers.
In summary, NORWEGIAN DAWN is a beautiful modern cruise ship providing a style of cruising that is different than that of the other major lines in many respects. Indeed, it bears a substantial similarity to a shore-side resort experience in that the guest has the flexibility and the responsibility to design much of his or her experience. My photos of the ship are posted at: http://www.beyondships.com/NCLDawn-Tour-1.html.