January 31, 2009 thru February 7, 2009
We booked Dawn as a low cost cruise we could take our 11 year old grandson on. We had sailed the NCL Dream before and had a very nice time. We had cruised many other ships and companies prior to the Dream, but we found the Dream to be more than adequate. This caused us to rebook on NCL. The Dawn has changed our mind about NCL and Norwegian Cruise lines completely and forever.
First The Dawn is a beautiful ship. It is very pretty and has a lot of visual amenities that make it nice. However, it is not a functional ship at all. I guess if you were very wealthy and could afford to personally own the Dawn, you would like this particular ship as your personal home. It is very hard to navigate around the interior. Really though, as a non balcony/suite passenger you only get deck 12 and deck 7.
In summation, I am not sure after 7 days if the crew 1) Does not care, 2) Does not know enough to care, or 3) Does not know that they do not know enough to care. As the Kingston Trio sang, "This is the worst ship I've ever been on." By the crew, I really mean the management. The bar servers are very good at their jobs, the room stewards are ok, the restaurant staff is adequate, but the service personnel, like the reception and other lower management people really suck. With the exception of the bar area, they have a poor attitude, are not well versed in customer service and just plain should not be in the jobs they are in. Especially the woman from Ukraine in reception at 4am.
Embarkation was fairly easy. However, there is no separate line for Latitudes members. (Those who have cruised with NCL before) as they state on the website. You need a major credit card when you register, I do not know what they would do to you if you did not have one. The one thing that miffed us, is that you need to show your ID (passport, Drivers License, Tickets, etc) several times (like 7 or 8) during the embarkation process.
They will not let you go to your room until after 2 pm. This is because the ship gets in at 6 am, needs to be cleared by Customs, departure starts at 7:45. Everyone is off the ship by 10 or 10:30, and the next people start coming on by 11. The crew really does not have a lot of time to get everything ready for the next group of 2800 folks. The safe in the room did not work. I informed the stewards and they told me that reception was responsible for handling that issue. I have always tipped the room stewards on the first day and that has always seemed to obtain great results. This time it made little difference. We saw a marked decline in service from our prior cruises.
We had an outside (obstructed view) cabin that was ok. We did not like the third bed that was a bunk bed that folded down. This caused the lower bed to be unusable for sitting and you could not see the TV when the upper bed was lowered. There is enough hand soap, shower gel and shampoo in the bathroom that you do not need to supply you own. My wife really liked the shampoo. When you unpack, make sure that you hang something on each hanger in the closet. If you don't, the empty hangers will clatter and clang all night long. It took us a little while to figure this out. (4am)
We had a wonderful departure and bought a lot of Cervesa from John Fernandes. John is from India, speaks very good English and is a very nice man. Not only does he serve very cold beer, he will make sure you always have very cold beer. You will know John because he usually wears a white ball cap and the hat size straps always form an "X" in the back. Be sure to tip him well, he will make your cruise most enjoyable. The second in command (White uniform) is Sandy. He is also very nice and friendly. Then there are two other servers (Joe and Jerome) who are also nice and friendly. We only purchased from John, and Joe and Jerome were still nice to us and our grandson.
There was a wedding group from THE Ohio State University that got very inebriated and obnoxious on the departure evening. They really outshined themselves the next night and were almost removed from the ship when we ported in Samana by security after a quite a few complaints about their language and behavior. They cooled down later in the week.
They had a departure BBQ until the seas became 4-7.5 feet and started flooding deck 12 with pool water. I was not discouraged but all others seemed to be. There was another small BBQ on Day two and now another on Day 5. Not every day like the website states. Later that evening after a short nap, I was exploring the ship. I went to reception and inquired about the ships navigational chart that all ships maintain for the guests that indicate where you are at any given time. The gal looked in a two drawer cabinet and came back with a photocopy of a hand drawn thing that showed a bunch of circles and what looked like Florida, with two lines down and back. When I told her that was not what I was looking for, she responded that "There is a map over there, go look at that!" I had already seen that and that was just a chart that was for sale. Later in the Blue Lagoon (which is the only place you can get something to eat after 11 pm other than room service) I found a TV screen with everything I wanted to know. It is also on Channel 2 in your room. I would have thought that reception personnel would be aware of that fact. Apparently not, but I would find many other what I consider simple customer relation items that they are not adept at handling.
I again had a sleepless middle of the night on Day 5. I again went to reception to get the form to opt out of the automated tipping scheme. The woman at the desk seemed confused like she didn't know what I was talking about. I told her that I was told to come back on Friday, and that it was Friday. She scolded me that I could not accomplish the task at 5 am. (Even though is was 3:30) It is obvious that the people who run this ship after midnight do not have a clue about anything. Remember this when you do your lifeboat drill. If you have need for lifeboats between Midnight and 8 am you are SCREWED.
A note to NCL: Either train your personnel or get rid of them. Your company does not need the lowest level of customer service in the entire tourism industry. It does not surprise me that the numbers are down.
The first day, it seemed that every where I went somebody was trying to sneak up on me and spray me with the antibacterial spray. I got tired of this very fast. I noticed that all the handrails and elevator buttons are very sticky. This did not change thorough out the cruise, morning or night, sticky sticky sticky. I would think that they would anti-bacterial wipe down their ship rather than chase people around.
There is no longer the ability to do laundry. They do have a special on the 4th day. $25.00 for about ½ load. The humidity in the Caribbean is very high. Should you try and rinse anything out or get it wet it will take many days to dry if it dry's at all. The room stewards always leave the room at the highest temperature setting which we would find too warm for our pleasure. We would re-set it to cool when we returned to the cabin.
There is only a single 110 volt outlet in your cabin, and none around the ship. If you want to charge your electronics, bring a small power strip. If you have AT&T or Verizon, your phone will work in St. Thomas. If you have other services, it will still work but you will be paying roaming charges. AT&T will work on the ship, however be aware of the charges billed direct to your normal at home bill.
If you bring your own laptop, you can buy the Wi-Fi package and use your laptop in the internet cafe or on Deck 12. There are no 110 outlets on Deck 12 so have your battery charged. The connection obviously is satellite, so it behaves like a dial-up. I bought the 250 minutes for $100 plus $3.95 activation fee. I have only used about half and have two days left. When you get on the ship, go to Deck 12 and turn on your laptop, it should automatically connect to the Wi-Fi. At that point, a NCL screen will appear and if you simply read the instructions, you will be able to purchase your package online without doing anything else.
I went to the casino the first night. I like to play the slots and I usually spend $50 each time. I tried to get $50 cash put on my room card and was informed that ship policy required $100 minimum. I left and did not play. I returned to the casino on night 5 to again try and get $50. I again got rebuffed with the $100 policy. It was obvious to me that NCL and their casino contractor did not want me to play in their casino. I would have spent $50/day for 7 days, they actually got $0.00. It seems to me that their policy is simply defeating the point of having fun.
The majority (6 of 9 or 67%) of eating facilities are pay for play (USA politicians love this) I am not inclined to frequent any so I will not comment further other than during Super Bowl, the grandson wanted Chips and salsa from Salsa restaurant, and I had to buy a drink in order for him to get what we know and love as round Tostitos, and Pace Mild. Salsa. The cost in the restaurants is between $10 and $25 per person to eat. Seems like a lot to me. The poor customer service and the requirement of paying for everything on board will cause me to never book NCL again. Freestyle is only valid if 1) the restaurant is open and 2) if it is included. There is only one restaurant that is continually open and it is a cafe. On other ships, there is usually a large buffet style restaurant open 24 hours. Not on Dawn. This has been a source of irritation for me. But not as much as the poor customer service.
I wished to have a sit down breakfast on day 3. I went to Aqua and when I got to the front of the line, they asked me my cabin #, when I told them, they looked on a list and after about three minutes (It seemed like that long) they stated very politely and politically correct that I did not purchase accommodations at a rate high enough to eat breakfast in a free restaurant. I was just a little peeved as I looked around at the 50-60 empty tables. I guess they just don't want my business.
I went to Venetian this morning (Day 5) for breakfast and found the same menu as all the other sit down restaurants. The Venetian is a much nicer restaurant than Aqua as you are able to look out as the ship moves through the water. The best food, in my opinion, served quickly and hot, is in the Blue Lagoon. On Day 3, I had eggs and omelets made to order, served with all the amenities served HOT. The hamburgers and Hot dogs are grilled to perfection and the Buns are fresh, not hard like at the BBQ's. One word of caution, I you want the fish & chips, have it early for lunch. As it sits during the day is becomes a little nasty.
If you order the Biscuit and sausage gravy, be sure to order the gravy on the side in a cup. Otherwise you will be scraping your biscuit in the small dab of gravy they put on the plate. The sausage is 2 links placed in the middle of the gravy.
There is a nice grill on Deck 13 FWD named Bimini. I have never found it to be open when I am hungry. Maybe today. (Footnote -Not Today) They need to go to SAM'S Club and buy an illuminated "OPEN" sign.
Samana, Dominican Republic
This is the only port that you take a tender. If you do not book a shore excursion you will not be off the ship until noon.
We took the 4X4 Jeep adventure. It was on the shore excursion site and then taken off. I spoke with the Shore excursion desk onboard and it was available. When we got to the Jeeps there were only 5 of 10 taken by our group. So do not worry about booking this if you want to go they have a lot more jeeps. I had previously read on Cruise Critic about the tour. They suggested bringing candy to throw to the kids along the route. We brought about 5 pounds of Halloween leftovers and it was enough. The chocolate was melting about halfway through the tour because you stop twice for ½ hour each. The tour was 3 hours not 3.5 and when you take away the hour, it is 2 of driving. It is a real challenge to get out of first gear but if you play your cards right it can be done several times. There is no driving in 4 High (much less 4L) actually; I would bet that the 4x4 does not even work. No radio No A/C not that you need it. Pretty much a third world vehicle. If you cannot drive a standard transmission DO NOT TAKE this trip. Also they do not tell you that they stop at a couple of places where you can buy various items of the tourist nature. So bring small bills and negotiate with the locals. The Island uses the Peso; you need to understand the exchange rate. There is no VISA on Samana. Do not buy the jelly as it is not allowed back into the US. The do have a drink called Mamawanna that I thought was particularly good. It is a rum liqueur. Because I had no Cash, I did not get to buy. I was also told by cigar affection ado, that the majority of the cigars on DR are counterfeit. So beware and buy wisely.
We did the Screamin' Eagle jet boat. It was fun, no different than any other jet boat. The captain was a Marine Corps F14 pilot and he shows you some F14 maneuvers. You will get hit with a big wall of fresh sea water every time he stops. They do let you leave all your stuff on the pier and it is guarded by a crewmember. Leave your shoes and socks. It is not far from the ship so you can go back and change afterward.
We then took the taxi to town, a nice blue Lincoln Town car driven by Mr. Potter. $4 per person each way. The traffic is horrible and it takes about ½ hour to go two miles. In town, there are many front men that walk the streets trying to lure you to their shop. Most look like former NYSE brokers. There are many shops in the downtown area, mostly jewelry. There is a Harley Davidson store. The lady working there did not know very much or did not wish to help in selection. She was adequate at running the cash register however. On our way out of town we stopped at the tent city and bought T shirts. If you walk around a bit you will find the shirts for various prices. The best I found was 4 for $10. I wanted a knock off Rolex watch, only 2 vendors had them, one wanted $125, and I ended up with 2 for $100. Probably still paid too much. I heard that you can get them in NYC for $20.
There is a nice little bar at the pier that has beer for $3.00. Much better than the $5.00 you pay on the ship. You need a picture ID and Cruise card to re-enter the pier area and return to the ship. The US Customs guy is there to check. If you want your passport stamped you simply go into the customs office located next to the bar.
When my wife returned to the ship, she had a problem with a shirt which was placed on the inspection belt that got caught in the moving rollers. No one seemed interested in helping and instead they stood here and giggled and sprayed her with the antibacterial stuff. Again, they showed no ability to assist their guest.
We did not book a tour and slept in till 8:45 am. When we got to the end of the pier ((not Dock) a ship Docks at a Pier) I asked an official looking man where we could rent a car. He said that it was unwise to rent and suggested a Taxi tour on a very nice Red Ford 450 open air taxi, operated by Tunjeh. For 20 dollars and a $5 tip he took us on a very nice 3.5 hour ride around the Island. Stopping at a pay toilet ($1.00) and then to a beach where you could swim, drink or buy touristy stuff (Not exactly in that order). I had the Pain Killer. It was great if you like Coconut, but I preferred the Rum punch. Both $5. We had a group of loudmouths in the back that ruined the entire trip because they would not shut up! It was hard enough to understand Tunjeh with the poor quality speaker and the dialect without the mouthy group. Additionally, they brought Fran Drescher along and her voice Became really, really annoying very quickly.
Another couple I spoke with went to the pier at 9:30 and they were told that they could not go on those tours. We were there at approx 11 am. This may have had something to do with the NCL tour policy, as I had asked in St. Thomas if the grandson could go on the parasail, and they told me if I booked it thru the ship they could do it otherwise the liability is too much for them to handle and that they are contracted by NCL for the tours. So I guess the moral to this is going ashore after the tours depart.
Great Stirrup Cay - Bahamas
We diverted to Nassau because of the rough seas (12-14 feet). The captain made the decision quickly the night before, and as a result we had an entire day in Nassau. There is a Pier in Nassau so it was easy on and off.
In my opinion, Nassau is just a big dirty city with a lot of traffic. I was not impressed. We went to Paradise Island to see if someone could give us a reason to come back, and found it confusing and the folks there were not helpful. As far as I am concerned, they are wasting their money with all the advertising they are doing.
There is a Harley store right off the pier. If you are a fat boy like me that maneuvers an Ultra Classic, you need to get there first before they run out of 2X shirts. They have no hats and the other stuff is very limited.
Debarkation was also very easy. We learned last time to walk off. We got up on deck 7 by 8 am and were off and to the airport by 9. They open the Garden cafe Buffet at 6 am, and this was one of the few times that the food was actually hot.
Understand that most of this is my opinion. We had a decent time. I think however, the problems I had with the reception personnel will cause me to book with another cruise line next time.