Norwegian Dawn debuted in 2002 as the third ship in the Norwegian fleet to accommodate the line's Freestyle Cruising concept. It maintains an atmosphere of casual flexibility, emanating in large part from the ship's much ballyhooed selection of more than 10 eateries. The "Freestyle" concept is not limited to dining, of course, but revolves around the idea that passengers should be able to choose what they want to do, when they want to do it and how they want to do it. You can dress formally on formal night -- or not. Take in the early musical performance or wait for the late show. The spa and fitness center is open until 11 p.m. most nights, and the Internet cafe is an around-the-clock operation. Even disembarkation is pretty painless -- there's no out-at-dawn boot, and you can practically walk right off the ship.
In May 2011, the ship underwent a monthlong refurbishment, which resulted in the addition of about 50 cabins and the cruise line's newest restaurant concept -- the Brazilian steakhouse -- as well as the reorganization of several public spaces. The gift shops and art gallery were moved from the atrium area to the hall that leads to the casino and the theater. The popular Spinnaker Lounge was relocated and reconstructed, and enhancements were made to the photo gallery, kids' areas and conference rooms.
Although the refurb increased the ship's capacity by about 100 passengers, public areas and hallways remain easy to traverse, and there's hardly ever a long wait to be seated during peak dinner hours. All in all, this 10-year-old ship appears almost brand-new, though we did hear complaints from a few passengers who experienced issues with air-conditioning and closet doors that wouldn't stay closed.
Ultimately, Dawn is a ship with a fun, easygoing and relaxing atmosphere, designed to please a wide variety of travelers -- including first-time cruisers wary of the traditional, more regimented vacation at sea.
The shipboard crowd ranges from toddlers to seniors, with many in the middle range. Norwegian's "Freestyle Cruising" appeals to a mostly unpretentious clientele, and the overall vibe is super-casual and fun-filled. With dozens of family-friendly cabins, including many added during the May 2011 refurb, the ship is usually full of multigenerational groups, especially in the summer months and during school vacations.
The rule of "Freestyle" is a relaxed dress code. Evenings are always resort-casual, though on one optional formal night, some passengers do choose to get decked out and take formal portraits. Swimsuits are not permitted in either of the ship's two main dining rooms or any of the specialty restaurants. However, they can be worn in the buffet, permitting that cover-ups, shorts or T-shirts are worn over them.
Norwegian Dawn has an automatic gratuity program that costs $13.50 per person, per day in all cabin categories up to and including a minisuite. Suite guests will be charged $15.50 per person, per day. An 18 percent gratuity is automatically added to bar drinks, and 18 percent is added to spa and salon services. All specialty and entertainment dining carries an 18 percent auto-gratuity. Passengers can opt to pay their own tips, however, by asking at the reception desk. The cruise line also encourages passengers who receive exemplary services from butlers and/or concierges to tip these crewmembers separately.