Embarkation - We took NCL bus 3 to the pier. The bus leaves Harrisburg PA and picks up passengers in Allentown along the way. It was a comfortable 54 passenger bus that was completely full. There were passengers on the bus for the Dawn cruise and the Norwegian Crown Bermuda cruise. The bus arrived at the Crown pier at 12:05, dropped off the Crown passengers and luggage and arrived at the Dawn pier at 12:15.
We claimed our luggage, left it with a porter, and got into queues that looked endlessly long. However, they moved moderately well. We boarded the ship at 1:05. There was juice and water while waiting. Overall, I would rate it as a B.
The NYC cruise terminal is vastly inferior to the terminals in Miami and Port Canaveral. However, I understand that it will have a much needed upgrade.
Cabins - Deciding to go for space over a view, we booked two inside guarantee cabins. We were assigned to two cabins on deck 5 midship. The cabins were identical. They were small, but very functional and nicely laid out. The cabin was adequate for 2, but accommodating 4 would have been overwhelmingly cramped.
Each cabin had two lower beds that could be pushed together for two. There was a small TV, small refrigerator, hot pot with instant coffee and tea, a hair dryer and a small safe. The bathroom was a good size for a cruise ship, especially the shower, which was larger than usual. The sink faucet was like a kitchen sink faucet, which was nice. WARNING: The hot water is very HOT. Be careful. Closet space was adequate, but drawer space was a little lacking. There were shelves in the closet for shorts, polo shirts, etc.
Our cabin steward was a young woman from the Philippines. She was quiet, but very nice and quite courteous. We only saw her a few times, but she did a good job.
Public Areas - The Dawn is a beautiful ship, clean, and well maintained. The atrium is impressive and the public rooms are very nice, not overdone. There was a very nice library, card room, and game room on deck 12. There is also a cinema for movies. It is far better than watching a movie on the small cabin TV. The lounges were also very nice. The Stardust Theatre was the best that I have seen on a cruise ship, despite the fact that I do not like the color purple. The theatre is on decks 5 through 7 front and has over a thousand seats. All have good sight lines. The only improvement that I could think of is cup holders in the seats for drinks.
The pool areas were the only place on the ship where I felt crowded for me. However, we are not sun worshipers, so this is not a problem. We prefer to lounge in shady areas. Sun worshipers can find more relaxed areas on decks 13 and 14 front. The kid's pool is very good.
The fitness center was excellent. It had very nice equipment and enough of it so there was never a wait to get on a piece of cardio equipment. There were plenty of towels and a water fountain with cups. There was a room for spinning classes and a room for other exercise classes. The fitness center staff ranked with the best that I have seen on land. The classes could challenge all levels and were very well done.
Kid's Program - We registered the girls upon embarkation, but they showed no interest in the program. They spent almost the entire week with us, so I can't comment. We did purchase a "teen passport" with 20 coupons for non alcoholic drinks ($34.50). It's the best deal on the ship. The smoothies, etc. are about $4.50 each. We bought another for our younger daughter.
Shore excursions - We went into all ports on our own.
Ports of Call
Weather was great all week except for wind and clouds when leaving NYC and a brief (5 minute) shower on GSC. Seas were fine. I did not see any problems with motion sickness.
Port Canaveral - Rented a car from Hertz and drove to Kennedy Space Center and had a great time. There's too much to do. Don't pay extra for the maximum access pass because you won't have time to do the extra stuff in a single day. It will take 2 days to see everything. The maximum access pass can be used on two consecutive days. We also went to Ron Jon surf shop in Cocoa Beach.
Miami - Took a taxi ($16.50 fare) to South Beach (10th street). Nice beach but we did not go into the water because of Sea Lice and Jellyfish warnings. If you have kids please note that there are topless sunbathers. We then walked around the South Beach area to look at the architecture and stores. We then took a bus to Bayside Marketplace. It's an interesting mall on the bay, but the stores can be found at your local mega mall, except for a few touristy stores. We had lunch and took a taxi ($5.50) back to the ship. Personally, I would rather see the Dawn skip Miami in favor of Key West.
Great Stirrup Cay - Took the first tender to the island. Ride was a little rough then, but the waves subsided later. We rented floats ($5 each). They are fun and relaxing. I highly recommend them. Warning: A number of people thought they were free and kept trying to take them from us when we were not using them. One actually succeeded, but the rental hut replaced it. We also did some snorkeling. It's a very friendly place for beginners like my children.
The beach may be a bit small for a ship as large as the Dawn. More on that later.
Nassau - A short stop. We took a taxi to Atlantis ($4 pp). The taxi was an old stretch limo. The girls got a kick out of that. We arrived at Atlantis early, before the guards were in position. Therefore, we got to see a lot of the resort and the dig. We then returned to Nassau for some shopping on Bay Street.
Entertainment - Paul Baya was the CD. Paul and his sidekick had a good rapport with the passengers and seemed to be everywhere.
Shows - The Jean Ann Ryan shows were fantastic. They are an extremely talented group of singers and dancers. They put on 3 shows, an Andrew Lloyd Webber show, South Beach Rave (a salsa show), and a show called Bollywood. All of the shows are great. Personal preferences will determine your favorite.
The house band (Modal Magic) was good. The orchestra was also good. There was a fellow named Fabio who was a great Flamenco guitarist.
There were 4 comedians on the cruise. The best was Thien Fu, a Vietnamese juggler/comedian. There was a magician/comedian (don't remember his name) who was a cross between Woody Allen and Elvis Costello. He interacted very well with the audience, but the magic was basic. Dave Heenan was not very good. There was also a pair of rap comedians. I did not see them, but my 14 year old enjoyed them (we were at Le Bistro).
There were movies in the cinema every day. They were also shown 24 hours a day on the cabin TV.
Karaoke was held every night in Dazzles lounge that always filled the place.
We did not go to any of the late night parties in the Spinnaker lounge or pool area.
Restaurants - We tried 8 of the 10 restaurants, plus the pool barbecue and Bimini lounge grill.
Blue Lagoon - Fast food, generally good. Chicken wings were decent, but the spicy wings were not very hot. Good potato wedges with cheese and bacon. However, I recommend the oriental noodles. They are very good. My wife enjoyed the fried rice.
Garden Buffet - Very good buffet food. It was always clean and had good variety. I had breakfast there every day and some lunches there. There were always good breads and rolls there and the salad ingredients were fresh. I did not have dinner there, but it looked good. There were omelet/waffle action stations at breakfast, various action stations at lunch and dinner. I saw prime rib one night, turkey another night, and a roast pig one night. Small children will like the kid's buffet area.
There were several lines in the Garden Cafe. The lines in the rear were always short and less frantic. If you head back there, you will avoid the line jumpers and buffet busters.
Deli - You could get a good sandwich made there, but it was not a "New York" deli, as advertised. I expected some good corned beef and rye breads. There was neither. However, I did have a nice Italian sandwich on a good roll.
Poolside barbecue - I usually avoided this because of the crowds. Once, it was not crowded and I tried the ribs. The ribs were good and well done but the sauce could be better.
Bimini Bar - A good outdoor alternative to the poolside mob scene. They grilled burgers and chicken with French fries and some salads. I had a burger and fries there. Both were good.
Salsa - Very good Mexican food in a good atmosphere. The tables overlook the atrium or are at windows overlooking the ocean. The service was excellent. We were there on Sunday night.
Italian Restaurant - Food was good, but nothing special. The menu was limited. It could use some veal dishes and more creative sauces. Part of the Garden Cafe is converted in the evening to this restaurant. They do a good job, but it doesn't have the same restaurant feel as the other rooms. We were there on the last night. Ironically, this is Italian night in the dining rooms.
Dining Rooms - Aqua and Impressions have identical dinner menus. The menu at Venetian had some differences. The food in all of them was very good.
Impressions is a very nice dining room. We dined there on formal night after the show. The food and service was very good. The waiters were very attentive.
Venetian - We dined there on Lobster night. This is the most formal of the dining rooms. We had a table next to the windows overlooking the ship's wake. We enjoyed the meal but the servers seemed a bit rushed and less attentive. The bananas foster dessert was a highlight.
Aqua was (surprisingly) my favorite. It had a more modern dEcor. The all female staff was attentive, yet relaxed. They seemed to be the most willing to have conversations. We were there on President's night and Caribbean night. The President's menu was the best dining room dinner of the week. Caribbean night had some unique dishes. The jerk pork was very good pork tenderloin, but not what I expected. It was still very good.
Le Bistro - Exquisite dEcor, paintings, food, and service. It was the best dinner that I had on any cruise. It is definitely worth the surcharge.
We did not go to Cagney's or Bamboo. Bamboo always appeared to be pretty empty.
Room service - We ordered room service twice for snacks and also while waiting to debark. Except for breakfast, the food was only so-so. It was usually efficient, but once we never received our food. We ordered a snack at 10:45 PM. At 11:30, we called and were told that the food was on the way to our cabin. A half hour later, I was falling asleep and called back. They told me the same thing. I told them to cancel the order. I don't mind mistakes, but the dishonesty on the 11:30 call did bother me.
Not so good - The biggest problem on the cruise was the rude behavior of some of the other passengers. Contrary to what some may believe, it was not children. It was adult behavior. My wife and daughter made one trip to the Oasis pool. They ate and then went to the pool bar for smoothies. They returned 3 minutes later and someone had taken their table. When my wife told them they were sitting there, the response was "I was wondering whose stuff this is, please take it away from here." My wife was dumbfounded and left. If it were me, I would not have reacted so kindly. It doesn't matter, these idiots don't care. We didn't go near the Oasis pool the rest of the week.
We went to GSC on the first tender and got a good spot on the beach. As the island filled up, people came off the later tenders and just shoved themselves anywhere. A woman shoved herself under our beach umbrella and told me that I had to share it with her. When I objected, she went off cursing me to eternal damnation. Several people tried to take our rented floats. Some clearly did not know that they were rentals, but some were angry when I politely told them. One of us had to stay on the beach at all times. Who knows what they would have taken. It is the only that I did not feel secure on any cruise.
There were also the standard line jumpers, very late show interrupters, etc. Overall, this was the worst passenger behavior on any cruise that I have taken. I didn't know that common courtesy and cruise etiquette had changed since our last cruise. I sincerely hope that this is the exception and not common.
These people were a very small minority of the passengers, but even 2% (50 of 2500) rude passengers can make things very unpleasant for the other 2450. This is not NCL's fault, but if it were to happen on a second cruise, I would have to consider not sailing that ship again because of the clientele. It didn't spoil our vacation, but it still bothers me. We did meet many nice people.
Debarkation - Freestyle debarkation is the best. We went up on deck early as the ship sailed into NYC on a magnificent Sunday morning. We then had room service in our cabin until our color was called. We left the ship, claimed our baggage, breezed through customs and took the NCL bus home. It was very relaxed.
Overall it was an excellent cruise on a wonderful ship. I would definitely sail the Dawn again.