My wife, 15 year old son and I just got back from a wonderful cruise upon the Norwegian Dawn. It was my 10th cruise (7th NCL) and my wife's 7th cruise (4th NCL). We've also been on Royal Caribbean, Celebrity and Princess. Generally, we look for the adventure cruise. We like to climb, dive, snorkel and go horseback riding. As for the ship, good entertainment is a must as is an enjoyable dining experience.
Travel To Port of Embarkation
We drove to the Port of Manhattan on Sunday morning, not expecting any traffic. We arrived at the terminal at 11:30, in exactly the amount of time predicted by Google Maps. Directed to park on the roof, security cleared us, asked us to unload our luggage and park. By the time I got from the car to where my wife and son were waiting with the luggage, the luggage that had already been taken by the porters. Very efficient. We then went downstairs to the check-in lines. There were plenty of people to direct us very quickly through the entire process. We practically ran the whole way from the parking lot to the ship. I've never gone through this process as fluidly. Amazing. The only downside was that parking was $210 for the week. However, considering that we did not have to fly, it was a bargain.
As an added bonus, our luggage was in our stateroom in about an hour and a half.
Thank you to all of the folks that worked so hard to make this experience great!
We had a room with a window. It wasn't the biggest room, but it wasn't the smallest I've been in. There were 6 drawers and a number of well laid-out shelves. The room was excellently maintained. It was clean and definitely didn't look warn. The only issue was that the draw slides squeaked...loudly. I can't complain at all about this. However, my wife and son can since they were the ones that were woken up at 6 AM when I went into the drawer the first day for my gym clothes. After that, I made sure to set the clothes out the night before.
This was a fantastic ship. It was so obvious that the maintenance crew worked above and beyond to keep the ship crisp and stunning. We were on the very similar Norwegian Spirit a couple of years back and found the two ships to be very similar. The Spirit was decorated in a classier manner, but the layouts on both were similar and mostly easy. The Dawn's ornamentation had a very fun feel to it, punctuated with Andy Warhol prints and Caribbean blues. It was however severely missing well placed floor maps near the elevators and stairwells. Instead the ship used a list of locations with arrows. Another thing that seemed to be missing from the Dawn was a symbol system that easily identified which side of the ship you were on. Some ships have patterns in the carpeting or wall coverings that point to the front of the ship. Between the symbols and good signage, you never have a problem turning the wrong way. The Dawn lacked both but was still fairly easy to figure out.
The food really was good...very good. As (almost) always, NCL did a great job on the presentation and the flavor of the food. I did have one piece of steak that was overcooked. But I was tired and did not feel the need to send it back.
The breakfast menu was a standard cruise breakfast menu. We tried to start out our day in the dining room so we could do at least one thing as a family.
We were not particularly impressed with the lunch menu. In fact, there really wasn't anything on it that was any good. The first day, I was severely disappointed by the cheese-steak. I am sure the chef has never been to South Philly. And, if he ever goes there, he should hang his head in shame. The rest of the menu wasn't much better. I was shocked at how bad the cheesecake was until someone pointed out that it was the no-sugar-added cheesecake. It wasn't bad for a no-sugar-added cheesecake...but still nowhere near worth it.
As for dinner, I had Surf and Turf almost every night. Not because I wanted to, but because it was about the only thing on the menu that I would eat. NCL was experimenting with a new concept: one menu in each of the two main dining rooms that doesn't change all week. Yes, the Venetian and Aqua had different menus, but not all that different. Once you take out the pork, fish and lamb dishes (I eat none of them), there were only 4 entrees to choose from on each menu...and one of those was macaroni and cheese. They did have a chef's special that changed, but it was one item, the same for both dining rooms and almost always fish. I don't generally eat fish. I found two things on each menu that kind of excited me for a total of four dishes. But, what was I supposed to do on day 5? Get bored. Yes, bored with ship food. That has NEVER happened to me in the past. I know, there was an easy solution. But we don't like going to the specialty restaurants. We like going to the main dining rooms. We usually get to know the waiters pretty quickly and like the formal atmosphere. We also delight in opening the menu each night and knowing that it will be unique and different. I can get better Tex-Mex or sushi here at home for less money. For example, their French Restaurant (Le Bistro) is an extra 15 a person...unless you want steak or lobster. If so, add another 15 a person. Yes, 30 bucks. I've done the specialty restaurants before and thought that the experience wasn't the traditional cruise experience that I liked (but without time constraints thanks to the Freestyle concept).
I know I am not the only person who is hoping (praying, wishing, begging) for this experiment to fail. Most of the people with whom I spoke (and I spoke with a LOT of people) agreed with me.
Wow, have these come a long way. My wife and I usually do the wine tasting and on Celebrity ships, we always go to the lectures. But, now the lectures are on NCL...but BETTER!!! The Second City comedy group was running the lectures. They were fantastic. Too bad that was their last week on the ship. I hope they are bringing on a replacement group. As for the alcohol classes, they had martini tasting, beer tasting and so many more. In addition, the ship's magician also ran an "improve your memory" seminar (which I forgot to go to). The sports activities were also great. They were plentiful and varied. They even had adult dodge ball. Don't ask how this went down. It wasn't pretty. And, they held a pub crawl where they encouraged people to get absolutely blitzed, but provided chaperones so they were funny to watch, but left the other passengers alone. Maybe I should have included "watching the pub crawl" under entertainment? Either way, NCL really did a great job here.
This was one of the better programs I have seen on a ship. I was particularly impressed with two counselors who were nick-named Popsicle and Crocodile. Yes, they went by those names regardless of the age group with which they worked. I asked why they didn't change names when working with the older kids. Apparently, NCL switches their assignments with some regularity. This is great for the counselors since it gives them a wide range of experiences. It is so difficult to get good people for this role. Crocodile had just graduated with a teaching degree. I know the cruise lines don't pay well. However, a varied experience is so much more valuable when creating that resume. Kudos to NCL for treating their counselors well and to the counselors who did such a great job with the kids. And, I'd like to thank the fantastic counselors who led the littlest of tykes around the ship singing. I know it wasn't intended as entertainment for us adults, but it really was nice to see.
Impeccable. I guess that is not enough of a review of the service...but it is as accurate as you can get. I don't gauge service by the proximity to a perfect experience. I like to see mistakes. It is how the crew fixes their errors that shows the quality of the service. The crew of the Dawn rose to every "occasion" that was tossed our way. Questions: easily answered. Missing buffet silverware: immediately brought right to us. Lack of towels: resolved (with two phone calls, but still resolved).
We did have a few issues. I had to talk to the head of housekeeping (or whatever it is called on a ship) about the towel animals. We really appreciated them when left on the bed, but wish they would have used clean, DRY towels. Once spoken to, we did not have another issue. We also didn't get another towel animal.
NCL always delivers in this category. The song and dance numbers were impressive; even more so when you consider that the ship was constantly moving. You have to consider that then stage is limited in size and that there is not much room to store and swap sets. But, with that in mind, the acrobats out-did themselves and the dancers always delighted the crowds with their prowess and costumes.
The comedian (Dave Heenan) could not have been better. He controlled the stage, interacted flawlessly with the audience, was personable and interactive with the guests (outside the show) and was even immensely funny. We had been on another cruise with him in the past, were overjoyed to see he was on the Dawn and were most definitely not let down.
Port & Shore Excursions
We always book excursions while in port. We like knowing that the ship will wait if an NCL sponsored trip is late. The extra expense is well worth it if you consider it as insurance. However, being that we were on Bermuda for several days and did not have to worry about the ship sailing into the sunset (while we watched from the shore), we primarily scheduled our own activities.
I went Scuba Diving with Blue Water Divers and had a fantastic time. The divemasters were phenomenal. While diving, my wife and son went to Snorkel Park (in walking distance of the pier) and had a wonderful time. It wasn't the best snorkeling, but it was just right for them.
We also got bus/ferry passes and visited the Aquarium and Crystal Caves. These were very nice and are well worth seeing. One thing to note is that you don't need to do both caves. The Crystal Cave is the best of the two. Fantasy Cave is not really necessary for your trip...unless you are a geologist and want a more unique, humid cave exhibiting less common formations. It is just not as much of a "typical" cave.
My wife and son did book the Rising Son Catamaran excursion through NCL and were most happy that they did. The excursion provided snorkel gear and even kayaks. The boat was clean and well maintained. The crew made their experience memorable.
As usual, I was awake and out of the room by 6:30 AM...even though we set the clocks ahead the night before. I spent my morning on the deck of the Dawn, watching the ship glide effortlessly past the New York City skyline. If you've never returned to the US in this manner, you absolutely have to change your plans to do so. Watching the buildings slowly rise and the Statue of Liberty pass on the port side is awe inspiring. This is intensified if your ancestors came into this country via Ellis Island. It was all there.
Getting off the ship was perfect. I really am impressed with the Manhattan facilities. Our luggage was easy to find and the Customs line wasn't even all that bad. Getting to our car and subsequently out of the city was also very easy. However, about an hour after getting on the road (we had a 3 hour trip), we were already hungry...and there was no buffet in site.
This was one of the BEST cruises I've ever been on...or at least it would have been if the evening menu was not so boring, bland and distasteful. As of right now, this menu is only on the Dawn. However, they want to roll it out to the rest of the fleet. Unfortunately, we are already booked on the Spirit out of New Orleans early next year. If not, I would not book it until I knew that the experimental menu was not going to be used.
If you've never been on a cruise before, I am sure the new menu (the most popular items, but same items every night) would be interesting and maybe even exciting. After all, you can get surf and turf every night. However, for those of us that cruise regularly, it will not be so desirable. Think of it this way: I was just on a cruise and now, in 6 months I have to spend a week eating the same things? I know what I didn't like. I know what I'm going to be forced to eat. If they varied the menu and I didn't like what was on the menu that night (it has happened before), then there is always tomorrow. This time, tomorrow was today. I've never before wanted to go to the buffet for dinner.
NCL, if you are reading this, please abandon the menu experiment. I had recently made the decision that we were going to stay with NCL for most future cruises (we still want to try Disney). But, if the menus will be that boring in the future...well, there is always Celebrity.