Background Info: My wife and I were on the February 15 Southern Caribbean 11 Day sailing of the Norwegian Dawn. It was our 13th cruise overall and 3rd with NCL. This is our 2nd cruise on the Dawn and we have also been on the Pearl. Other cruises include 9 Carnival & 1 Royal Caribbean.
Pre-Cruise: We flew into Miami a day early arriving around 4:00 p.m. Living in Michigan; we always fly in the day before we cruise (even though this is the year without a winter in Michigan and most of North America). The cab ride to the Miami Marriott Biscayne Bay cost $30 including tip and took about 25 minutes.
The Miami Marriott Biscayne Bay is a nice hotel in a bad location. When I say "bad" -- I mean there are very few options to pick up last minute needs (i.e. soda, sunscreen, etc...) or have dinner. There is not a Walgreens, Rite Aid or grocery store within 1.5 miles of the hotel. Right next door is a Double Tree hotel that has an underground mall with a few shops and restaurants but no place to buy cases of pop (we don't call it soda in Michigan). We ate dinner at a little deli and picked up a couple of bottles of liquor. The good news is a Publix grocery store will be opening soon that is an easy 10 minute walk from this hotel so this problem will be remedied in the near future.
The room was spacious and modern with an excellent view of Biscayne Bay. Wi-Fi is NOT free in the room but can be purchased for $14.95 per day. I'm thinking it was free in the lobby as an inordinate number of people with their laptops and tablets could be found there. Not positive about that though. The workout facility was very good and free to use. There were plenty of treadmills and elliptical machines as well as weights. The price of the hotel worked for me ($150 on a discount website including all taxes). The next morning we caught a cab to the port. It was only about a 10 minute ride and cost $15 including tip.
Embarkation: Extremely smooth! We arrived at the port around 10:45, checked in by 11:00, onboard by 11:50. Easy Cheesy!
We boarded the ship and immediately spotted a couple from our Cruise Critic Roll call and struck up a conversation. After 10 minutes we all headed off to the Venetian for lunch. In all or our previous cruises this was the 1st time we did not go to the buffet for embarkation lunch. What a difference! No fighting for a seat, no dodging people pulling 4 suitcases and no screaming kids. This will be standard operating procedure on embarkation day for all future cruises.
The muster drill was quick and easy (no life preserver required). I was a little surprised how many of the passengers were talking and not paying attention to the crew especially in light of recent events.
Then it was off to the Unofficial, Unsanctioned, and Unauthorized Cruise Critic Meet N' Greet at Topsiders Bar. What a blast! We had a great turnout and immediately established new friendships (and renewed old ones) with the most wonderfully diverse group of delightful, interesting, and comical folks we have ever had the pleasure of cruising with. I knew right then we were in for a great cruise.
We returned to our cabin to find a note indicating I had been summoned to the infamous "Naughty Room". The luggage in question was a cooler bag filled with a case of Diet Coke and Coke Zero (which is allowed by NCL so I was not breaking any rules.) I had to stand in line for 45 minutes to retrieve a perfectly legal cooler bag. They could have easily opened the bag and determined it was nothing but pop and saved us both the time. Not only that but I had to haul it up to the 9th deck from the 4th deck by myself. No offer of assistance at all. I was not happy.
So I decided to stop at the Guest Services desk and asked to speak to the Hotel Director. The clerk asked what the problem was and I relayed the above to her. She asked what could be done to resolve the situation. I told that I felt dinner was in order. She told me it could be anywhere but Teppanyaki. No problem - I'll take Le Bistro. I was satisfied with NCL's response.
Ship: The ship's decor can be described as subdued and relaxing. The atrium had an outdoor/natural feel to it with faux trees, wicker chairs and a waterfall. In the middle was Java Bar in which you could get coffee drinks as well as the hard stuff. Behind the Java Bar, was a riser that served as a stage for some of the musical acts.
The Dawn has been refurbished since our last cruise on her in January 2011. The Spinnaker lounge has been moved and no longer has large window to look out but it is still a good place to watch a show and have a drink. It is nicely decorated in tans and browns. Also, the shops have been moved and as well as the photo gallery. No problems with the changes.
Cabin: We had a balcony cabin on deck 9 forward port side (#9566). The bed was comfortable and had many pillows. The bathroom was functional. The shower was big enough and had a door instead of a curtain which kept the floor dry. The toilet was sectioned off in an area that could be made more private by closing the sliding frosted door. It was snug with the door closed but not impossible. One opportunity for improvement was the sofa sleeper. It looked a little worn out and should be replaced. The TV was a nice flat screen (last year it was an old school picture tube TV).
We did not have a lounger on our balcony. It was 2 chairs and a table. Other balconies had 1 lounger and a chair (along with a table.) I imagine you can have a lounger if you ask the room steward. It was not a problem for us. The air conditioning worked great. Closet/drawer space was not an issue as there were only two of us and we pack lightly.
As I mentioned earlier, we brought a cooler bag loaded with a case of Diet Coke and Coke Zero each. Every evening I left the room steward (Bago) a note requesting he fill it with ice every day (along with a couple of bucks for his extra effort). He exceeded our expectations throughout the cruise.
We dined at the following Specialty Restaurants:
Le Bistro -- Both DW and I had the filet mignon. The steaks were cooked perfectly. For appetizers, I had the 4 Mushroom soup and grilled asparagus. Both were delicious especially the mushroom soup. I could have eaten an entire bucket of it. DW had French onion soup and the spring salad with duck for her appetizers and enjoyed both. Dessert was crÃ¨me brulee and it was sinful. Also, the coffee is served in a French press and is fantastic. There is a $20 cover charge. Le Bistro continues to be our favorite.
La Cucina -- We dined with new friends we met from our roll call and had a great time. This is the Italian cuisine restaurant and has carries a $10 cover charge. We each had the chicken parmesan along with Caesar salads and they were very good. For desert, DW had a Panna Cotta sampler (amaretto, chocolate and lemon) and I had a scoop of ice cream. DW liked the amaretto and chocolate but did not care for the lemon. We both thought it was worth the cover charge.
Cagney's Steakhouse -- We celebrated my 39th birthday here. Well maybe it was 8th time I celebrated my 39th birthday.....but who's counting? For appetizers I had the shrimp cocktail and lobster bisque. There are only 3 shrimp in the shrimp cocktail so feel free to order a double. DW also had the lobster bisque and a Caesar salad for her apps. We both loved the lobster bisque. For dinner, I had the filet mignon and DW had the roasted half chicken. Neither disappointed. For dessert, I had the cheesecake with strawberry compote and she had the espresso brownie with ice cream. I liked my desert but DW thought the brownie was dry and left most of it. The cover charge is $25 and is definitely worth the money.
Dining Rooms - We only had dinner in the Aqua dining room but visited the Venetian for breakfast and lunch. Based on our experience on the Dawn last year we enjoyed the ambiance of the Aqua much more as it seem more like a dining room. The Venetian felt like a loud banquet hall to us. The food quality was for the most part good. As has been the case for awhile now, the right side of the menu stays the same all week while the left side changes daily. We really like the broccoli bisque on the everyday menu. My favorite meal was the Strip Steak and New Orleans Shrimp.
I was pleased with the service. Last year, this was a source of frustration as at times as the pace of service was slow. Not the case this year. We never spent more than 50 minutes at dinner from start to finish. Bravo!
Garden Cafe -- This is an efficient buffet with good variety. There were different stations that allowed the lines to move freely. I never waited more than 5 minutes for my morning mushroom and cheese omelet or eggs over medium for DW. The variety of options for breakfast and lunch was impressive. A hit for us was the macaroni and cheese. It had a little kick to it. DW liked the chicken Caesar wraps. The fruit was awesome as usual. The pizza was thin crust and not too bad. Usually buffet food is bland but this food was hardly bland in my opinion. Finding a seat could be a chore at peak times but that's no different than any other ship I've been on.
Blue Lagoon -- You can go there 24/7 and get a sit down meal (carry-outs were not a problem either -- just walk up to the counter.) I really liked the wings and burgers. A few members of our roll call enjoyed breakfast there several times and raved about it. We did not have breakfast there this cruise but have in the past and could not agree more. No lines, no looking for a seat. Just sit down and enjoy.
Room Service -- A nice varied menu and the food was pretty good. We only ordered once and it took about 25 minutes. Note: there is a $3.95 service charge for orders after Midnight.
Cruise Director: Paul Scally was our CD and was an absolute dud. Now, a CD isn't a really big factor in our cruise experience but he was nearly invisible. I guess after being fortunate enough to have sailed with Matt Baker last year all CDs will forever be a distant 2nd.
Dave Heenan -- Very funny man that did not have to resort gutter humor or dropping f-bombs to be funny. Did not see him as much this year but did enjoy the times we saw him. He also sings and has a pretty good voice. It's not ground breaking humor but he was entertaining.
Jeri Saeger-- What a voice! Her show was mostly Broadway show tunes as she has starred in many productions and was well attended (even the 9:30 show). A great show that I would recommend.
Jose' and Patti -- This husband and wife duo performed primarily in the Grand Atrium but also in the Spinnaker Lounge. You name the genre and they played it. They played music from the 30's all the way to contemporary hits. Their shows generally had had themes. One night it was country music in the "Grand Ole Atrium", another night it was "Music through the Decades" yet another it was "Flashback to the 60's". Our favorite continues to be the Neil Diamond Show which was performed with the entire show band in the Spinnaker Lounge. Plan to get there at least 45 minutes before the show to get a good seat. It is a little late (10:30 pm) but worth it. Jose' sounds just like the Neil including the New York accent. They opened the show "America" which got the entire crowded pumped up and it took off from there. They are extremely fan friendly - even encouraging folks to stop up and say hello during their short breaks. Jose' also does a spot on Johnny Cash. I loved their version of "Folsom Prison Blues". Still the best musical act we have ever seen/heard on a cruise ship.
Production Shows -- There were two production shows in the Stardust. We did not see either. They were "Band on the Run" and "Bollywood". We saw BOTR last year and enjoyed it but decided to do something else this year. Some friends saw "Bollywood" and liked it. Their words were "do not judge it by the first 10 minutes as it starts a little slow".
Second City Comedy -- We went to the improv show and thought it was funny. They do a nice job getting the audience involved in the show. We would have liked to have attended more of their shows but the timing just never worked with our plans.
Radim Zenki -- Mandolin and Flute music. He is talented for sure but it was just not our style.
Jump Band -- A typical cruise party band. They played music that everyone knew and were enjoyable but not memorable.
Benjy -- He played piano and sang easy listening type music in Gatsby's Lounge (at least that is where we saw him perform.) A nice way to enjoy a late night cocktail with the one you love.
New Season -- This was the pool band and they filled the bill nicely. They played a blend of familiar pop songs and added in the mandatory Caribbean touch. The best part was they played at a sound level that still allowed you to have a conversation with the person next to you without shouting.
The shows were at 7:00 pm and 9:00 pm with the 1st show definitely being the more attended of the two. The 9:00 pm shows were barely half full and good seats could be had right up to show time.
Overall, the entertainment on this cruise exceeded our expectation. I was a little hard on Paul Scally earlier in my review but I realize that arranging the onboard entertainment is a big part of the CD's job so I have to give credit to him for putting it all together.
The equipment was varied and in good shape. I'm a runner and enjoy the treadmills with the TV that you could just plug your headphones into watch movie, news, etc.... There is no charge to use the fitness center. However, if you want to use the sauna/steam room/showers you must purchase the spa pass.
One thing I did not care for was that the T-Rex Kiddie Pool and Play area was located just in front of the fitness center with a connecting door. Consequently, parents and "little darlings" were wandering in and out. Sometimes the kids would jump on the equipment or leave a trail of water and ear piercing shrieks despite the fact there was a sign clearly stating "No One Under16 Allowed". NCL needs to address issue and enforce their policies.
Ports of Call
Samana, Dominican Republic -- NCL is offering free trips to Cayo Levantado so we took advantage. The beach is nice, the water is clear and the drinks are good. The food, well, not so much. Save your appetite for the ship and drink your lunch on the island. We enjoyed pina coladas served in a dug out pineapple for $5 each. They were tasty but not very strong. I mentioned it to the barkeep before my 2nd and he made sure to pour it accordingly. It is a nice beach, especially now that it is free (NCL used to charge $49 pp for the excursion)
For those booking a private excursion in Samana you should be aware that the order of tenders is as follows:
1. Those on NCL Excursions in Samana
2. Those going to Cayo Levantado
3. Those going to Samana for private excursions
NCL was upfront saying that the tenders to Samana would not begin until most of the folks going to Cayo Levantado had been tendered. They stated this would be approximately 1 hour after the tenders commenced. Not sure if this was reality but I did not hear of anyone missing their private excursion in Samana.
Tortola, BVI -- We went to Jost Van Dyke on an excursion we booked through NCL for $89 pp. It was supposed to be a high power speed boat that would get us there in 25 minutes but we received a letter from NCL stating that due to "local logistical reasons" we would be transported via catamaran instead. Consequently, the trip took about an hour. This cut our time on JVD by about an hour. Bummer. The catamaran ride was nice, but not nearly as nice as another hour on JVD would have been.
We anchored about 30 yards from shore, hopped off the boat and swam in. It was only about 15 yards of swimming as I was able to stand up at that point and walk in (I'm 5' 10"). The deck hand packed up our personal items and brought them to shore in a dry container. Once ashore, we grabbed a couple of chairs in front of the world famous Soggy Dollar Bar and imbibed several of their signature drink - The Painkiller (A Sunny Drink for Shady People). Several members of our roll call were there which only added to the fun! It was day that I will always remember.
Pictures do not do this place justice. You have to see it for yourself. We are fortunate to have visited many beaches in our travels but this is #1 for sure.
On the ride back to Tortola, the crew served rum punch. But then they broke out the hard stuff. They stuck a bottle of tequila in one end of a floatie noodle then handed you the other end and poured the tequila in. Kind of like a "beer bong" for those of you familiar with those. I tried one.........or maybe two. I forget. After the tequila ran out -- they switched to whiskey. Dancing and revelry ensued.
St. Maarten -- After much research we decided to visit the Karakter Beach Lounge and Restaurant on Simpson Bay Beach (pronounced care-actor). We were not disappointed. Not only was the beach nice but the food, drinks and service were outstanding. It is the only beach bar where food was served on china at my beach chair. They also had these bags that they would fill with ice to keep your wine bottle cold while you lounged on the beach. It is located right next to the runway of the airport. The planes do not take off and land over your head but rather to your side. The views were still magnificent. They were more than happy to call us a taxi for the return trip to the port.
The only issue we had was getting there. Our taxi/van driver drove around aimlessly for 15 minutes until we saw a sign and pointed him in the right direction. What was most frustrating was he would not look at the map I had printed off of Karakter's website with directions. So make sure your driver knows where he is going BEFORE you get in the taxi.
Antigua - We spent a glorious day at Valley Church Beach enjoying sand, sun, food and drinks with another couple from our Roll Call. The Bar/Restaurant was called The Nest. I also got an hour massage for $40. We had food from the beach grill. Nothing fancy...just burgers and chicken. Drinks were in the $5-$6 range. Beers were 6 for $20. I did not try it but was told the rum punch was tasty (and strong).
The interesting part of the trip was we took the bus to and from the beach. Having done this last year, we were confident it would be easy. The cost is $1.50 pp each way. We saved money and got there fast. We were the 1st cruisers on the beach that morning....even beat the taxis there. I'd be happy to share the details on how to take the bus. Just send me an e-mail to the address at the end of this review.
Dominica -- We did an excursion touring the Emerald Pool and Trafalgar Falls with Beno Nature tours. He did a nice job showing us the sights and giving us a flavor for life on Dominica. It would definitely recommend this tour. Cost was $50 pp plus two $5 site passes for a total of $60 pp.
We were lucky enough to be in Dominica on Fat Tuesday which coincided with the final day of their Carnivale Celebration. There was a parade through the streets of Rouseau with people dressed in colorful costumes, loud music and drinking. The locals really seemed to enjoy all of the requests for pictures. The partying went on all day and was still going on when we pulled out of port at 6:00PM. In fact, we could still hear the music almost a mile at sea.
Barbados - We were in port from 7:00 am - 5:00 pm so we decided to make a trip to Crane Beach. I pre-arranged transportation through Johnson Tours. Round trip cost was $76. Our driver picked us up at 8:00 and dropped us off at the public entrance by 8:50.
We navigated the stairs/rocks fairly easily but we are both in good shape. Those with shorter legs will have a more difficult time as there are times where one has to really stretch. The key is to TAKE YOUR TIME and you will be fine. Once on the beach, we rented 2 chairs and an umbrella for $20. The water was warm and the sun was hot. It was very windy the day we were there and sand was everywhere. One big negative was there were no public restrooms. For lunch, I walked up the road to Cutters Deli (10 minute walk at the most) and bought a couple of roast beef sandwiches and cokes for lunch (and use the bathroom). Our driver picked us up at 3:00 sharp as requested and we were on board by 4:00.
Overall, we enjoyed our trip to Crane Beach but would probably try another beach next time as there are so many great beaches on Barbados.
St. Kitts -- We went on "The Tour" with Grey's Island Excursions. The tour covered Romney Manor (which included the Batik factory and gardens) as well as the Brimstone Hill Fortress National Park (a British built fortress in the 1700's). Cost was $39 per person and worth every penny. The tour was conducted by the owner Thenford Grey and was probably the best island tour I have ever taken. He is extremely experienced and knowledgeable. No wonder he is so highly recommended on the St. Kitts message board here on cruise critic.
A breeze! We did self walk off. We were off the ship and though Customs by 7:45 a.m. Used SAS Transportation for the ride back to Fort Lauderdale. It was the same price as last year - $15 per person.
Cruise Critic Roll Call
This is our 3rd NCL cruise and the Roll Calls just keep getting better all the time! We made so many new friends on this trip through the roll call. From the meet and greets (both official and unofficial) to dinners to the Martini tastings this group enhanced our cruise experience immensely. Thanks to all of you!
Something new this cruise. When we arrived in our cabin on embarkation day there was a stack of "coupons" for each of the various onboard credits we had received (probably 5 in total). You now have to sign the back of each coupon and take them to Guest Services for the OBC to be activated. Not a big deal but something to be aware of.
Keep an eye out for whale sightings when you are leaving Samana. DW was on our balcony and saw two of them.
New favorite drink of the trip. Dirty Banana. A member of our roll call introduced the drink and it spread like wildfire. Pretty soon we were all drinking them. Rumor has it you could not get a banana anywhere on the ship on debarkation morning.
The pool was closed for three hours on the 2nd to last sea day because of, yep, you guessed it. There was a dookie in the pool. That is how long it takes to empty, sanitize and refill the main pool. To make it even better, it was during the hottest part of the day. (Not to say there would be a better part of the day for it to happen). It was a real drag for us as our pattern is to sun for 15-20 minutes then jump in the pool for a minute to cool down. We repeat this all day. Needless to say this derailed that plan for us as well as just about everyone else. Not holding NCL responsible at all. Just the selfish individual that put themselves ahead of everyone else on the ship.
The all-u-can stuff in the bag laundry special for $24.95 was offered twice on our cruise. We used it once and thought it was worth the money. You'd be surprised how much you can cram in there. They said it would take 2 day but ours came back after 1 day.
Try the Martini Tastings at least once. They are held at 4:00 pm on all sea days in Gatsby's Bar. You get 5 different martinis for $15. You can have your own or share. We shared. The tasting lasts an hour. At least the "official" tasting lasts an hour. Our Roll Call group was there for a couple more hours carrying on. We went to the tasting on the last sea day and they handed out the recipes to all of the martinis made at all of the tastings that cruise. Best bargain on the ship.
The chair saving on the pool decks was unusually bad. One guy next to us saved two lounge chairs for 3 hours as several people were looking for seats. When I called him out on it -- he called me rude. Go figure.
Weather was fabulous! We had a couple of 10-15 minute rain showers the morning we were in Antigua and 15 minutes in Dominica (we were in the rain forest after all). Other than that it was dry during the day.
Did not feel "nickel and dimed" at all. I decided what extras I was willing to pay for.
NCL takes the Cruise Critic Meet and Greets very seriously. It was attended by the Captain and all the department heads. Each one introduced themselves and described their area of responsibility. At the end of their description each and every one of them gave their direct phone # with instructions to call them if we had any issues at all. There was also a short Q & A session. Light refreshments were provided.
The crew of the Dawn is the friendliest I have ever sailed with. From the officers to the bartenders to the room stewards, they all go out of their way to be friendly. Rarely did we pass an NCL employee that did not make eye contact and say "hello".
Did not feel like drinks were being pushed on me. It's easy to say "No thank you".
It was an extremely diverse crowd as there were more French Canadians and Europeans than any of my previous cruises. The only difference I noticed was that some of the announcements were made in multiple languages. I would guess that 60% of the passengers were from the USA.
I say this all the time but it's really true. This was our favorite cruise so far. The itinerary was interesting, the crew was fantastic and the entertainment was excellent. When you combine all that with making new friends then you have the recipe for a great time. And that's exactly what this cruise was "A Great Time". I think DW summed it up best when she said that this cruise was like "Summer Camp for Adults".
If anyone has any questions, I'd be happy to answer them here or via e-mail at Patrick.Seely@wowway.com