Norwegian Dawn Review R/T Miami 02/05 -- 02/15/2012
Background -- We are John and Mary, both in our mid-sixties. We are retired, but workcamp part time in the Pocono Mountains in Pennsylvania for six months and full time RV for the other six months. We love RV'ing, but also enjoy our yearly (or bi-yearly!) cruise. Our philosophy is to go with the flow, we're both low maintenance, easy to please. This is our 17th cruise, the sixth with NCL. We have also cruised with Carnival, Holland America and Princess.
Pre-Cruise - Presently we are staying a bit north of Tampa, about a six hour drive from Miami. To avoid a long drive before cruising we left a day ahead of time and stayed at the Quality Hotel. At best, I would rate this as a two star hotel. Suitable as an overnight, I wouldn't return. One reason we choose this hotel was because it advertises complimentary "on demand" shuttle service to the cruise port. Actually you are offered a choice of two times, either 9:30 or 12:30. We like to arrive around 11 or 11:30, so these times weren't right. We decided on 9:30, knowing that we would have to wait for a little while. The driver was prompt, with traffic we arrived at the port shortly before 10, dropped our bags with a porter who actually said "Would you like to leave me anything?" Yes, there are signs all over about not needing to tip, but we always give a generous tip anyway. We waited in a short line outside for about 15 minutes before we were let in. The free shuttle is only to the port, you make your own arrangements for returning. The hotel uses a transportation service that you can arrange for your return at $12.00 per person. In retrospect, we should have done that. We used a taxi, had a driver that we couldn't understand, also had an address mix up, and ended up paying $50.00 for our return to pick up our truck at the hotel.
Embarkation - Since we were almost the first to arrive we were quickly checked in and seated in the waiting area by 10:30 with our Group 1 ticket. After people needing assistance were boarded, our Latitudes Group 1 was able to get onboard at 11:45.
Onboard -- By combining our BOA rewards, TA OBC, and OBC for purchasing a future cruise, we had $500.00 In OBC. We started with a soda card ($71. and change) It was worthwhile for us, and only came across one bartender, a middle-aged man who wasn't happy about filling my glass. I saw him a few more times on Lido and he never looked happy. Aside from him, all the other staff was very pleasant. Next stop was to make reservations at two of the specialty restaurants, Moderno Churrascaria and Cagney's. More about them later. BTW, on embarkation night the specialty restaurants are $5.00 off. Not a big deal, but something. We then went on to purchase the Thermal Suite Spa package. This was a first for us, but this time we wanted to experience the calmness and sereneness of the spa. The pool is larger, big enough to do laps, the whirlpool is great, and there was another whirlpool with a massaging lounger in it. Then there is a sauna, steam room, showers, etc. While relaxing the view is all glass from the stern of the ship. Complimentary beverages are offered, but after one long steam session I did have to wait ten minutes while someone went to find more cups. When they finally returned, it was with a few plastic glasses from lido, not the regular paper cups. Only once did I have check the sign "Relaxation Area, Quiet Please", when a few men spoke in very loud voices, telling lloooonnggg stories. John's package was $149., mine was $194., which included five scrub treatments. Since we avoid the loud music and crowds by the outdoor pool we enjoyed our time in here and wondered if we're spoiled now and will look for spa packages on future cruises.
Cabin -- Two days before sailing we received a call from our TA. He had NCL on the other line and was offering us an upgrade from our balcony cabin on Deck 9 to a mini-suite on Deck 11 at no extra charge. We took it, of course. The cabin was very nice, located mid-ship, had plenty of storage, and a tub in the bathroom. I found the firm bed to be very comfortable. The firm sofa could fold out to sleep two more people, but four people in here would have been very tight. We enjoyed coffee on the balcony several mornings. We found room service coffee to be better tasting than using the coffee maker in the room. For some reason, even the tea brewed in the room didn't taste good.
Meet and Greet -- This was held on the first sea day at 10:30 in the morning. It looked like about 40 or so people attended. It's always nice meeting the people who have been posting on these boards for months. As usual, a nice spread of beverages, muffins and danish was provided. We met many of the senior officers. The Captain was very friendly, informative and accessible. I had fun speaking my few Turkish sentences with the Food and Bar manager, who is from Turkey. We had a gift exchange, I felt bad when a diabetic picked my gift. Since we are originally from outside Philadelphia and spend six months near there and Philly is known for its Tastycakes, we gave Butterscotch Krimpets along with Key Lime coconut candy. My gift, on the other hand was perfect. It was from Jojob from Maryland, the state known for its blue claw crabs. I received a crab restaurant tee shirt, in my size and favorite color! And she didn't even know me. Everyone at the gathering had the opportunity to sign up for a tour. Previously, on the Jewel, we had a bridge tour. This time, on the second sea day, it was a galley tour. It was quite impressive, and Christain, the restaurant manager was very candid and informative.
I've enjoyed previous Latitude Parties much more than this one. (Except for the one where John won a door prize of ONE island tour in Bermuda, and I had to buy one for almost $100!) Anyway, when the doors opened, we were instructed to go to the front rows and fill in every seat. Being obedient children we did as instructed but wondered why many people were ignoring the staff and scrambling for the front row and aisle seats. We soon discovered that if you were seated past the second row or didn't have an aisle seat you were never going to get a second drink or hor doerve. We sat (thirsty) watching the servers working hard but being monopolized by the people who knew where to sit. Bottle after bottle of wine and tray and tray of rum punch flew from the serving area but nothing could even come close to where we instructed to sit. The front of the Stardust Lounge is definitely not conducive to being served. This is an observation, not a complaint, because I know where to find food! If it's a concern to you to get a little "free" wine, know where to sit!
This was another party for Gold, Silver and Platinum Latitude Members. It was held later in the week in the Spinnaker Lounge. This lounge is a much better place to host a gathering. When you entered here a table was set up loaded with cheese, crackers and fruit for you to help yourself. Then you passed the servers carrying trays of champagne and wine. I couldn't count how many times a fresh glass of wine or a re-fill was offered. All were refused because we were on our way to Cagney's for a birthday dinner. I was looking forward to a cocktail and lobster, couldn't fill up on wine and cheese!
As we've been to all of these ports before, and done many of the tours, this time we mostly did relaxing walk arounds.
Samana - We stayed on the ship, as did many people. It was prime whale watching time in these waters, but we've been on several and have seen incredible sights. Cayo Levantado was not offered. We were told that a business had reserved the NCL Pearl along with Cayo Levantdo privately. We were a little disappointed as we had read so many good things about going there and were looking forward to it.
Tortola -- After gleaning information from these boards, we decided to go on an island tour. Last time here we spent a bit of time in Pussers and didn't see much of the island. The tour included some of the highlights we had read about including Callwood Distillery, the oldest continuously operating pot distillery in the Caribbean. They make rum from pure cane juice. We did buy a bottle, haven't tried it yet. The man at the distillery suggested it would be best in rum punch. We'll most likely wait tile summer to try it. The man hawking the tour told us we would have 45 minutes at Cane Garden Beach, another place we wanted to see. Since we're not sun worshippers, this time would have been perfect for us. In reality, we had less than 20 minutes to get a drink, have a bathroom break, and enjoy the beach. After getting a drink, we vainly stood by a chair for several minutes looking for a sign or someone to check with about a chair fee for a few minutes. Finding no one, I placed my bag on a chair and got in the water while John stood there. Immediately a woman ran up to him demanding $8.00 for the chair. Being the obedient one once again, he gave her a $20.00 bill and waited for change. We had to go find her as she didn't appear to have any interest in returning to us. When I questioned her as to the fee for a bag on a chair for two minutes this miserable woman had the audacity to blame John for paying her. And then tried to blame me for not buying a drink. I did buy a drink! This is such a beautiful place, with lovely people; it's too bad that there are still people with this greedy attitude towards tourists that bring so much to their economy. In these times of the web and people interested in giving good customer service this woman's behavior amazed me. OK, I'm over it...on to more good times.
We've been here three or four times previously and as I have a cousin who spends time here in the winter, we were fortunate in having a personal tour guide. This year we were on our own, and found it to be a relaxing change of pace. We leisurely walked several streets, having time to make many stops. One place I was in search of was "The Candy Store". I saw a picture of it on-line while doing research and it looked very attractive. It is a really cute, colorful little store. We had a nice chat with the owner
"Candy Man". He has been here for 11 years, came here first on a cruise and came back to open his store and stay. We purchased a small bag of home-made peanut brittle which had an extra kick to it with the addition of ginger. Yum! Candy Man offers free wifi and has benches set up outside in front of his store. He said it's okay to give out the passcode "skittles" and to tell all no purchase necessary. There are benches only, lap top needs to be on your lap. Originally we had planned on going to The Greenhouse, a restaurant we had been to last year, for Wi-Fi, but it was early and they weren't open yet, and you do need to purchase a meal. We walked some more and were pleased to come across a church. We enjoy looking at the different architecture and stained glass. For Wi-Fi we ended up in a cyber Wi-Fi place, paid $5.00 for an hour. Ship's Wi-Fi is outrageous. We were glad we did this as both John and I have elderly relatives dealing with health issues and we were able to keep up. John found a hat pin he liked "SMX" and I, liking glittery things and an occasional well- made martini, found a tee shirt with a rhinestone martini glass saying "ST. MARTINI". Cute!
We went to Fort James in search of a geocache. We've read that some cachers have walked to it, but it is a fairly long walk. We used a taxi, their rates are set by the government, from 1-4 passengers it is $12 per cab each way, $24 R/T. So if you're planning on visiting any of the 365 beaches on Antigua, find a couple to share the ride with you. Our cab driver was Norman, a very nice older gentleman. When we arrived at the fort Norman insisted on waiting for us as it is in a deserted area. We told him we would only be about 10 minutes or so. The cache was an easy find, with help from a very good clue. John needed to hold on to my hand once on an incline so I wouldn't slip and fall into the sea. Lol. We brought the cache to Norman and explained it to him. Any cachers out there ask for Norman, from where he parks, you'll be about 75' from the cache. Norman then took us to the Fort James Beach; we spent a little time here in the water while Norman waited for us again. We all agreed that it would be better if he waited rather than leaving and coming back for us.
We were the last ship in; the cruise terminal was a 15 minute walk or a 3 minute free shuttle ride. After arriving at the terminal we walked another Â½ mile for a geocache. After locating it we continued towards another cache, went another Â½ mile, and still had another Â½ mile to go. The sun and heat was starting to get to me so we decided to turn back. On the return walk we stopped at a place called Sylvester's in the Craft Market for a cold drink and Wi-Fi. Barbados has free Wi-Fi Island wide to make the island tourist friendly. For some reason we couldn't connect while in Sylvester's, they wanted a fee. After finishing our drinks we returned to the cruise terminal and joined the throngs of crew on their laptops, some of them skyping with family they spend months separated from.
Another walk around stop, a little shopping, a cold drink, a little sightseeing. The place we stopped at was Sweet Lime, which had a big sign at the entrance "Free Wi-Fi" The young woman bartender didn't know much about it and wasn't interested in finding out anything about it anyway. Now, if I gave lessons in customer service........................lol.
We enjoyed the food in all the different venues. As many other reviewers have noted, yes, the Aqua can be noisy. Oh well, people talk. And some of the tables are ridicuously close together. The Venetian is beautiful. My only complaint about the MDR's is what I complain about in every review. Vegetables....three string beans is not a serving, one tablespoon of sauteed garlic spinach is not a serving.... I want a full cup of these things! Solved, all I have to do is ask! And it is brought with a smile! We had the wings in the Blue Lagoon that people rave over, they were okay. Moderno Churrascaria was wonderful; the salad bar in there is exquisite! The sides (potatoes, rice, beans, and something else) come in small covered metal dishes. These could have been hotter. By the time the first meat was brought out they weren't even a little hot. It is well worth the additional charge of $20.00 pp. ($15.00 on embarkation night) Cagney's was also wonderful. We both had steaks, John the prime rib, I the filet. Lobster is an add on at $8.00 for a six ounce tail. I could definitely tell the difference in food quality between the specialty restaurants and the MDR. The most obvious difference I noticed was in the crab cakes. My appetizer in Cagney's was delicious and had lots of crab. The crab cake appetizer in the MDR tasted and looked like a fish cake. It was good, but I couldn't tell that it was crab. We both liked the pizza, the deli, the crepe station. I could go on and on, it's all good. As simple as it is, one of our favorite things for breakfast is the muesli in the garden cafe. Topped with a few pecans and berries, delicious! Oh, the coffee...not good. MDR is okay, sometimes the buffet coffee was okay if you drank it while it was really hot. As I mentioned earlier the room brewed coffee is nasty, but room service coffee was okay. A few mornings we resorted to buying Cafe Americano in the Java Cafe. The "free" coffee set up on a side table in the Java Cafe is okay, but not always hot enough. The omelet guys were great and the washy, washy girls fun.
Our CD was Paul Scally, he does a nice job. Most of the entertainment was very good. Some of the things we enjoyed most were Second City Improv, (both their regular and adult shows) TerenceB the hypnotist, New Season Band has a great vocalist (that black man sings white boy songs better than most of us white boys) Jump Band, their Salute to the Sixties was great, Claire Maidin is a gifted vocalist and pianist, Radim Zenki, the champion mandolin player was outstanding (can't understand why a previous reviewer didn't like it, did you see everything he can do?) And of course, Bollywood. The acrobatics are amazing. Our least favorite was Extreme Vegas. We couldn't find much Vegas about it. The woman (Daniela) was great with her athletics, the man (justino) spent too much time trying to balance on big rolling cans. And what does an opera skit have to do with Extreme Vegas? I think it would make more sense with some magic or illusion acts. Or change the name to Variety Something. Oh, can't forget Jose and Patti. They seemed to have SRO no matter where they played. We listened to Eric Lilley in the Star Bar with his more relaxing piano tunes and enjoyed the wit of Magdelena who was bartending that night.
We're not big gamblers, but won't pass up a bargain either. In John's research he found Slot Play certificates, you pay $25, you get $50 in slot play. Together we came out a little ahead. Didn't stay there too long at night, it gets way too smoky. Early in the morning it's not too bad. Yikes! Bingo is expensive, especially with the amount given to the winners. I played twice, once for $69.00 on buy one, get one day, and once for $39. I shared the cover-all with one other person, we each got $137.00
There was no little basket of welcome toiletries in the bathroom, I guess another cutback. Same with the champagne that used to be served as you boarded.
It really bothers me when I see anyone getting reprimanded in public. If an issue needs to be addressed, please do it in private. I've seen it happen many times. This time a superior scolded a couple of the servers in Cagney's. It was something about "$10.00 is $10.00!" These servers were working very hard, what possible infraction could they have committed? Perhaps they weren't pushing sparkling water versus tap hard enough? To make this matter worse, I saw this same person in the Garden Cafe the next morning. It was very quiet where we were, we always go to the back away from the crowds. There was no one else at this section of the buffet. The person who had scolded servers was spending an unusually long period of time at the fresh fruit bowl stirring and stirring. Curious, I watched. She was meticulously picking out every single piece of pineapple. It took her almost five minutes, but she did find every single piece!
Elevator etiquette, especially on the mid-ship glass elevators. Picture a light bulb, narrow at the neck then widening. Many people don't move to the rear and block the entrance making others squeeze by. Or when trying to exit from the rear they refuse to move. Some of our way northern friends don't understand "Excuse me, getting out". One time laid back, mild mannered John saying "Pardon" didn't work either. And then there was the time I heard john's voice coming from the back saying "coming out" Not realizing he was assisting someone else in trying to get out past the people who don't understand English I immediately got out and watched the door close leaving me to walk the remaining flight.
And some boorish behavior- we saw a man clipping his toenails out on the promenade deck and leave the clippings. Disgusting. And a woman using two chairs (one for her feet) getting annoyed when a man needed to sit and asked to use one of "her" chairs. As Paul Skally always ends his chatter "People, look out for each other, take care of each other".
We love cruising, we like NCL and have purchased our future cruise certificate. We will be back! Not exclusively, but we will be back. We're looking for Panama Canal in November, you don't go there. Sob.