In addition to its two main dining rooms, Norwegian Dawn has 10 distinct restaurants from which to choose. I suppose you could try them all on a seven-night cruise, but it would be pretty hard (and a bit costly for budget travelers and families). Themes range from Benihana-style Teppanyaki to steaks and classic French bistro fare. Overall, food was fresh, flavorful, and, in some cases, even inventive. Service was excellent throughout, though you can expect a bit of a wait to receive your entree during the busiest dinner hours (between 6:30 and 8:30). Meals are cooked to order in small batches, so the food you receive will likely be hot and fresh.
It's also important to mention that evening dining hours are from 5:30 to 11 p.m., but passengers must be seated by 10:30 p.m. Reservations for specialty restaurants can only be made 24 hours in advance, so if you're dying to try one of the ship's more popular spots -- such as Le Bistro (French), Moderno Churrascaria (a Brazilian-style steakhouse and the ship's newest dining venue) or Cagney's (a classic American steakhouse) -- you should book it as early as possible once reservations open up. Tip: The specialty restaurants are much less busy the first couple days of the cruise when most passengers are still orienting themselves. The reservations desk in the main lobby is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Most days, there is also a reservations table set up in the Garden Cafe buffet during lunch hours. Otherwise, you can call the restaurant directly after 5:30 p.m.
Here's a rundown of the dining options onboard Norwegian Dawn. Unless otherwise noted, breakfast and lunch are only offered in the ship's main dining rooms, buffet, at Blue Lagoon or via room service.
Traditionally speaking, the ship's two "main" restaurants, both on Deck 6, differ mostly in terms of atmosphere. The 472-seat Venetian is the more cruiselike of the two, though smaller than most main dining rooms on mainstream cruise ships. It's decorated tastefully in rich emerald greens and golds, with huge murals depicting scenes of Venice. Though not hasty, service is generally prompt. Because the Venetian is situated on the stern, it boasts floor-to-ceiling windows that stretch across the entire back wall and offer incredible views. However, its location is also one of the most motion-sensitive of the entire ship, so if you're having a rocky sea day, you may want to dine in one of the midship eateries like the Garden Cafe or Blue Lagoon. There are plenty of tables for two, though they may be in short supply during peak periods. The 344-seat Aqua features more contemporary decor with lots of vibrantly colored glass and colorful ceramic murals. Aqua is also more dimly lit, which can make for a romantic dinner, despite being in close quarters with a few hundred other passengers. Both of these dining rooms are open for dinner daily, and they're open for breakfast and lunch on alternating days. In addition to nightly specials (they vary slightly by venue), each offers a standard menu of chicken, steak, fish and vegetarian options that does not change from day to day.
One of the benefits of the freestyle dining setup is that -- because the main venues are not feeding 1,000 people who all sit down at the same time -- there's no "convention center banquet" feeling. And because fewer people eat in the main dining rooms, the spaces feel more intimate than other big-ship dining rooms.
Le Bistro (for a $19.95 surcharge) features heavy French options like mushroom soup, escargot, and fish and beef dishes covered in cream sauces. The fare there is top-notch and served similarly to what you would expect at a high-end land restaurant. Meats are cooked to perfection, and portions are plentiful. Desserts are also a real standout, particularly the perfectly creamy Tahitian Vanilla Creme Brulee. Due to its intimate size, Le Bistro is probably the ship's most booked-up restaurant. It's also the only specialty restaurant that shares a dress code with the main dining rooms -- men are required to wear long pants and shirts with buttons, while ladies are asked to wear long pants, dresses or skirts and tops. Jeans are permitted. Also, note that lobster and some steak dishes incur an additional fee on top of the surcharge.
Cagney's Steakhouse ($29.95) is a Morton's-like establishment, featuring Angus beef, lamb and seafood with sides like rice, mashed potatoes and creamed spinach. While the meat is cooked and seasoned well, the sides and appetizers are outstanding. The shrimp cocktail is a great size and features a tasty olive oil and herb marinade and cocktail sauce with a nice horseradish kick. Weeks later, I can't stop thinking about the white truffle fries. They only come with one entree, but the restaurant is happy to serve you up a batch as an appetizer or an additional side. You just have to ask. Cagney's also serves breakfast and lunch for select past-passengers and those booked in suites.
Moderno Churrascaria ($19.95) is a Brazilian-style steakhouse that offers 10 different meats, including lamb chops, filet mignon, sausage and two different types of chicken drumsticks. In addition, diners can choose from options that include international cheeses and dried meats, olives, and pickled and marinated veggies from the restaurant's all-you-can-eat salad bar. They will be served a standard four sides of mashed potatoes, fried bananas, rice and beans. Not all of the meat offerings are great, but the lamb and chicken drumsticks, along with the salad bar and desserts, are well worth the added fee. (Try the coconut flan; it may be the best sweet treat on the entire ship.)
Bamboo offers three different types of Asian cuisine -- Thai, Japanese and Chinese -- free of charge. It's a favorite of many of the crew and officers, who are allowed to eat at the alternative restaurants. The venue also houses a sake bar, a Teppanyaki room (a la Benihana, $25 surcharge) and an a la carte sushi bar.
La Cucina ($14.95) is an Italian eatery where the staples are pasta (with seven different sauces to choose from), pizza and salads. Authentic Italian desserts and aromatic espressos are offered for dessert.
The 24-hour Blue Lagoon (a fee-free option), tucked just above the Atrium, is a fast-food joint that's frequently packed. Offerings include traditional comfort foods like burgers, fish-n-chips, salads, fries and stellar buffalo wings. Though not advertised, you can also run down to Blue Lagoon any time of day and place an order to take back to your room; this is a great alternative to after-hours room service, which incurs a fee of $3.95. This place was a hit with many of our fellow passengers, especially the late-night crowd, who made a habit of frequenting it for snacks, desserts and even second dinners.
The poolside cookouts, which are usually held at lunchtime in conjunction with performances by the ship's reggae band, are a popular alfresco option. The BBQ's -- everything was cooked on huge grills -- feature all of the usual fare, from burgers to ribs and corn on the cob. Just keep in mind that if it's rainy or too windy, the festive BBQ will be taken off the menu. For lunch on a sunny day, be sure to try Bimini Grill, an outdoor bar and burger joint that offers a bird's-eye view of the poolside activities, alongside juicy burgers, crispy grilled hot dogs and fresh fries. Both of these options are subject to cancellation and/or closure in the event of inclement weather.
The Garden Cafe is the buffet area, featuring the usual no-surprise breakfast choices (omelets made to order, eggs, bacon, etc.). At lunchtime, you'll find lots of international options, from vegetarian Indian cuisine and Italian pastas and pizzas to Chinese fare and French crepes with a selection of fillings. During dinner, there are carving stations, more pastas and even served-to-order Caesar salads.
And don't forget to make a stop at Sprinkles. Tucked between two ends of the Topsiders' Bar (poolside), it offers complimentary hard ice cream. (You can get soft-serve in the buffet.)
Kids' menus are available in the main dining rooms and the Garden Cafe. The latter has a totally charming kids' dining area with child-size buffet stations, tables and chairs.
There's 24-hour room service that carries a $7.95 convenience fee per order placed (excluding morning coffee and Continental breakfast items).