As a first time cruiser, I had several unfounded reservations about cruising, but after a 10 day trip on the Norwegian Dawn in the Garden Villa, I've turned over a new leaf.
I feel like I could dedicate an entire review to Gian our butler, and those of you who have had that profound pleasure know what Im talking about. There were 7 people in our room and 3 of them were under four years of age. Whether Gian was cutting up pancakes for my discerning two year old, or showing up in the nick of time with a clean bottle for my loud son, or more frequently tending to our absurd food requests while half in the bag, Gian was the absolute consummate and able gentleman. Although our group rarely ate at the same time or ordered from the same restaurant and exhibited a distinct inability to keep track of a key-card for any more than a few hours, Gian took care of everything with a reassuring smile.
My primary issue with cruising, was the idea of being in a small room. Problem solved... The Dawn has a magnificent Garden Villa with countless ammenties and plenty of space. You can see the layout and pictures online, but it really exceeded my expectations. Its a short walk out through the back of the garden to the Kids pool area and basketball court.
The other perceived issue I had about cruising was adhering to an aggressive schedule and not being able to spend extra time at places that I like. This fear held true in some respects, but I can live with it. It was quite entertaining to open your eyes in the morning, slide the curtain to the side and find a totally new island to buy a tee-shirt on. My normal routine in the morning was to gingerly descend the half-flight of stairs for some crab-cake benedict at Cagney's, and marvel at how much work the crew had done before I managed to stumble out of bed. These cruise ships are quite large of course, and I never got to see what giants from the Jurassic period they must keep chained up below to tie these ships up to the pier in the morning.
In any case, picking your excursions carefully seems very important. We did a third-party ATV excursion on Sumana with Terry where at some point we tasted the local coffee, coconut, cocoa and fruit. If I took anything away from that experience, its that the fruit I get in New York should be called something else.
If you like golf, play at the Sandy Lane country club on Barbados. Great course, gorgeous area and great bloody mary's. The port area of Barbados is terrible, so get to the far west of the island as soon as you can.
We Zip-Lined on beautiful St Kitts, which I would certainly recommend. Its not as death-defying as it sounds, but the views are incredible.
I though the food on the ship was pretty good. I didn't eat at any of the buffets, but the restaurants were solid. The Bistro and Bamboo were my favorites while La Cucina and Teppanyaki were serviceable. I did not make it to Moderna, but heard good reports from our group.
As for the entertainment, late nights in the Spinaker Lounge were a lot of fun, and there was usually a cash texas-holdem game at night. The magic show (prestidigitator), was so good that I didn't speak for a long time afterwards. I didn't see most of the other shows, but our group liked second city and the kids loved Bollywood. By all accounts however, the comedian needs to retire.
The service overall was without parallel and apparently dominated by Filipinos. Id like to ship a Philippine Island up to the metropolitan area and glue it to Manhattan. The whole crew was cordial, professional and always willing to go out of their way to solve your silly issue.
Piano in the room. ( on tippy-toes, my one year old thinks he's Glenn Gould, so that was a plus)
Caribbean sunsets on the private deck.
Steam room and rain shower in the garden.
Finger sandwiches and hot wings served in the room, post excursion.
Cell phones on the ship for the suites.
Port wine with a cigar in the havana club.
Internet access not included in the garden villa. I think this is just an oversight but it can't cost me an extra $100 USD if I forget to hit the "Logout" button and my time expires.
Being on the starboard side of the ship, it would have been nice if the sun set in the east while we were traveling north.
Gian's name should be added parenthetically on the side of the ship... Norwegian Dawn (with Gian!) or something similar.
Overall, this was a great vacation, and we will be booking another one soon. Since this was our first cruise, I have nothing to compare it to, so this review may not be terribly insightful, but perhaps it would be of interest to a skeptical would-be cruiser.
I would be interested in finding other ships with similar accomodations and service.
Incidentally, what the hell does freestyle cruising mean?