Firstly, in the weeks leading up to our Cruise Date we were reading the Ship Reviews on the Cruise Critic ( CC ) Web Site. Several very negative reviews ( 10 Worst Things ...; Don't Waste your Money ...; 7 Days I'll never get Back ...; amoung others had my wife & I worried that we had made a Big Mistake booking this vacation !!
After waiting a week to reflect on our experience in this review I can categorically say that the people who wrote those articles are Petty / Vindictive Individuals who used the CC Forum to Slander the NCL Cruise line for their personal reasons.
It is no secret that the Cruise Line Business Model is to get you on board and have you spend as much money as possible. In that light the CC Web Site was most helpful preparing us for what we could expect, what to avoid and what we could do to maximize our trip.
It is also understood, that while the new "Super Ships" are set up as 5 Star Hotels, that in essence this type of Vacation is sort of an Adventure Vacation. As evidenced in the Mandatory Life Boat Safety Drill and reminded of every time you feel the movement of the ship as it progresses through the water. I did like the little bit excitement associated with the thought that something could happen and I did feel a little better when we tied up in port almost akin to Landing when taking an Airplane flight.
What follows is an Honest review of our Cruise on the NCL Dawn to Bermuda and of the Cruise Industry as I now understand it :
First the Negatives :
BINGO - NCL has devised a scheme where by you can Purchase a Wireless Electronic Score Card which can Play 100+ Bingo Score Cards per Game. The cost for this gizmo is as much as $149 per four game session. You can still buy Standard Manual Bingo Scorecards, 6 per game, but eveyone knew that no one had won a Jack Pot using these Manual Cards all Season. This is due to the Number Crunching ability of these Electronic Marvels. I wont even speculate that the game was/is fixed. So in essence, if you want a Chance to win at Bingo be ready to plunk down up to $100+ per Bingo Session.
I suggest that NCL and any other Cruise Line using this scheme Offer High Stakes and Low Stakes Bingo, so that any one wishing to Play in this Previously "Fun" Pastime can do so with out having to budget $500 for the week in order to participate. Note : Bingo is no fun when it costs you $100.
SERVICE FEE - I understand that in the past certain Cruise Passengers literally walked of off the ship with out leaving any tips at all for the staff. Tipping whether on Land or Sea is controversial at Best. Most people dont mind leaving a decent tip, when the experience is positive. Some even " Over Tip ' when the experience was Memorable. Setting up your Business Model to have the Employee requiring a Tip in order make a living is wrong. The restaurant business has been getting away with this for years.
NCL has instituted a "Mandatory" $12 Per Day Per Passenger Service Charge. OK, This should be included in the Ticket Price not as a charge to your on board account. Also, my two children each were charged $12 per day. The NCL Web site had listed the Service Charge for Children at the Beginning of the Year as 1/2 the Adult Charge and then changed it to the Full Price for this years Sailings. I went to the Service Desk and requested that the children be charged the 1/2 price ($6 per Day) cost . Based on the Fact that non of the Service Charge was directed to the staff who operated the Kids Program I had little reservation doing this. In addition to the service charge I did Tip my Room Steward Team and the Kids Program staff extra for their outstanding performance. In addition I did tip the Dining Room staff extra when we felt it was deserved.
NCL did in fact reduce the Children's Service Charge as requested with no hassle, and my the charge to my Charge Account at the end of the Cruise did reflect this.
Lastly, adding an 18% service charge to every drink you order, no matter if you go to the Bar and get it yourself is wrong and is usury. We have already paid the $12 per day Charge. Adding on top of that is wrong. Get Smart NCL and any other Cruise Line using the same format. Give the cruisers the benefit of the doubt, for the most part we will give those staff members cash tips when they deserve it.
Mixed Drinks - I will have some Positive Comments later on in the review regarding drinks in General, But we had been warned ahead of time regarding the mixed drinks.
Firstly, a Family member had taken the same Cruise earlier in the year. This person is not a "Drinker". He reported that one late night he had ordered 8 !!! Kamikazes and at the end of the night he did not feel anything. For Shame NCL !!!!!!!!! We were forewarned !!!
During the Sunday Sail Off Party my wife ordered a Rum "Something", it came in the Plastic NCL Pilsner Type Souvenir Glass. It was the worst tasting thing you can imagine and had absolutely no Rum it it.At $10 we felt ripped off. For Shame NCL, you got your $10, it should have been the best drink I ever tasted.
OK two can play that game, for the rest of the cruise we stuck with Wine & Bottled Beer.
Now for the Positive :
Soda / Wine / Beer - The Soda Card for the adults was $50 dollars for the week and $28 for Kids. For a family of 4 this Equates to $156. Our Kids are 6 & 3 and we brought two boxes of Juice Pouches in our luggage. There is no restriction on this, we kept the pouches cold in the Refrigerator. The kids loved it. We did buy soda as needed at dinner or lunch and this was priced at $2.25 each. A little expensive but certainly what you would expect to pay at a land based restaurant. Trying to get your $156 worth of soda if we had brought the soda cards would not have been healthy. I am sure this strategy will change as the kids get older.
I drink imported German Beer. The cost was $6 and change for each beer. Totally Reasonable.
The wine averaged $35 to $50 a bottle. We ordered a 6 bottle Wine Package first day on the Boat. 3 bottles of Champagne, 2 California Pinot Grigios and an Italian Chianti. We enjoyed every bottle. In addition we ordered several glasses of wine and champagne at various venues during the week, all were priced between $6 and $9 dollars, Totally Reasonable.
As an added benefit, if you order a bottle of wine at dinner, or a 2nd bottle and don't finish it the waiter will re-cork your bottle, send it back to the wine cellar and give you a receipt. You can recall this bottle any time during the cruise, at any restaurant or bar, simply by handing the waiter the receipt.
I consider this right up there with Fire, the Wheel and Antibiotics.
DINING : We ate at Teppenyaki and Salsa's. We Planned on Eating at Bistro's on Saturday but were shut out. I even showed up in a Tie and Jacket and Begged. No Good, much to my disappointment.
We ate at the Venetian twice and Aqua twice. I Loved the Venetian, so Beautiful. My Wife loved Aqua, Very Modern. We did not try Cagneys Steak House for I felt that $100 with the shell Fish Appetizer and drinks was only slightly less than I would pay at a premium steak house in NY.
A friend has since told me I made a mistake, that the steaks were that good. Maybe next time.
Teppanyaki was not worth it, it was OK. No better than our local Japanese Steam Table. If you dont have a Japanese restaurant locally than I would consider it, if you do like us, take a pass.
Salsa, Just OK. I ordered the Shrimp and Tilapia Entree and received a small skewer with 2 shrimps and two pieces of fish. More an appetizer than an entree. This was the the only disappointing dish I was served during the whole cruise. Should have said something to the waiter or should have ordered more food, but since this was Monday I was still getting used to the Cruise Experience.
I ate breakfast at the Venetian every morning. I would get up early, take a good walk around the Promenade Deck and then go for Breakfast while my family still slept. It was wonderful !!! A cup of Capuchino awaited me every morning. A great Omelet, Cranberry Juice. Piano Music and a Window Seat. Wonderful !!
We had read complaints regarding the menus not changing through out the week at the Aqua and Venetian. Each day they have a Daily Special with several appys, several entrees and several deserts. These in addition to the Menu Standards Which included a Beef, Chicken, Lamp, Pork and Salmon choice. I have never been to a Restaurant on Land that served a different Menu for each day of the week, so being new to the Cruise Experience this was fine with me. I guess if you are going to be on the same ship for more than two weeks it could become old, but for less than two weeks no problem.
We got stuck eating at the buffet the first night due to the fact that we did not immediately make reservations and we had the kids with us and they were hungry. The buffet was OK, the Kids liked it. I vowed that I would not get shut out of the restaurants for the rest of the week, and with a little planning everything worked fine except on Saturday when we could not get into Bistro. Instead we ate at Aqua, It was fine.
All in all the Food was Great, Service was Great.
We missed the Chocolate Buffet on Thursday due to the fact that it began at 10:00pm and the Kids were already falling asleep, Even though they are Chocolate Fanatics. I also had read in the Cruise Critic Reviews and in conversation on Friday that this Buffet is attended by the Rudest / Pushiest People and I did not need to forage with the Hogs who needed to " Get Their Moneys Worth ".
Entertainment : We attended the Sunday Night Variety Show, which had a sampling of what was in store for the rest of the week. The only act which did not perform was the Magician, and due to scheduling we did not get to see him at all. Jean Ann Ryan Troupe was Great. I had heard so much about the Bollywood Show ( Friday ), It was good. Band on the Run (Monday) was my Favorite. 70s Music Rock & Disco we all knew the songs, they closed with Queen (We are the Champions) and 3 en core's, Very, Very Electric. South Beach Rave (Tuesday) had the Latin Thing going on. It was OK. For my Money I would have switched Friday and Monday, as I said Champions was Great.
We caught Fire & Ice at the Sunday Variety Show and saw a little of her performance on Tuesday at Dazzles. She is an exceptional performer and I am sorry we missed her Wed Night Tina T Tribute. We also missed the Beatles Tribute and the White Hot Party. All took place after 10pm and the kids were in bed sleeping. Oh Well, next time.
The Second City act on Wednesday was OK. I do not like that sought of Comedy and the Improve Part was a dud. The Skits were a Little Funny and the Blow Up Doll Skit was hilarious. By coincidence or not, Every day at around 12 pm the Captain would give the ship a briefing on the weather, our position in the Atlantic and anything else he could think of. I am sure he is the Consummate Professional but is not the Greatest Orator. I commented after Mondays speech that he sounded a little drunk and on Tuesday stated that I was waiting for him to hick up during the speech. Well, Second City was reading my mind because one of the skits was the Captain on the Bridge doing a Beer from a Beer Funnel.
Bermuda : This review has gone on to long already and I have tried to concentrate on the Cruise Ship and Cruising in General. We had Great Weather for the 3 Days we were in Bermuda. 3 Days isnt enough to see everything even though most Cruise itineraries only stay in Ports 8 to 12 Hours, 3 Days is exceptional. Read about Bermuda on the Internet. I will say this, my Family flew to Bermuda during the week we were there and we met up for a Day at their resort. They got a good deal on the Flight and Rooms but Food and Drinks were very expensive. Example : 4 People / 2 rounds of Cokes $60. This was by far a great way to see Bermuda and I highly recommend the Norwegian Dawn for this Purpose.
PS : The best Part of the Cruise was the Towel Animals, my kids loved them. I will never forget the Squeals of Delight during the three nights we entered our room and found the surprise. I was very happy with the Room Service and am only disappointed when I read after returning that other CCs received Towel Animals every Night. I have not told my Kids, but I did hand the Stewart $20 when I met him and gave them $50 more on the last day. We should have got more Towel Animals. Oh Well / Maybe Next Time.