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Norwegian Dawn Cruise Review
4.0 / 5.0
Cruise Critic Editor Rating
2,976 Reviews

Everything You Wanted to Know About the Dawn February 18-25 Sailing

Norwegian Dawn Cruise Review by LD Silver

2 people found this helpful
Trip Details
  • Sail Date: Feb 2018
  • Destination: the Caribbean
  • Cabin Type: Inside

Background Info: My girlfriend and I were on the February 18-25 Western Caribbean 7 Day sailing of the Norwegian Dawn out of Tampa. We are in our early fifties and are seasoned cruisers with over 20 cruises between us. This was my 3rd cruise and GF’s 1st cruise on the Dawn. Other NCL ships include Escape, Sun and Pearl. We have also sailed on Carnival and Royal Caribbean.

The itinerary was Sunday to Sunday with two sea days (Monday and Saturday) and four ports of call: Cozumel, Mexico (Tuesday), Costa Maya, Mexico (Wednesday), Roatan, Honduras (Thursday) and Harvest Caye, Belize (Friday).

Pre-Cruise: We flew into Tampa Saturday afternoon arriving around 3:00 p.m. We live in Michigan so flying in a day early is a must. We stayed at the Westshore Grand and used the complimentary hotel shuttle from the airport. I called the hotel to let them know we were waiting for the shuttle and 20 minutes later we were on our way.

The Westshore Grand is located on West Kennedy Boulevard across the street from a shopping mall (Westshore Plaza). The mall has a variety of stores and restaurants including Mitchell’s Fish Market, P.F.Chang’s, Starbucks, Maggiano’s Little Italy, etc…. We opted for our favorite……..Chick-fil-A. We don’t have many in Michigan so we never pass up a chance to get our Chic-fil-A fix. There are also plenty of stores in the area to pick up any last-minute needs (sunscreen, snacks, etc.…).

The room was clean and the bed comfortable. We were near the elevator so it was a little loud as we could hear the whirring of the elevators most of the night so make sure you ask for a room further down the hall. The Westshore Grand has a Shula’s Steak House in the lobby. We didn’t eat there but had few pre-cruise cocktails at the bar. The price of the hotel worked for me ($162 on a discount website including all taxes). I would stay there again, just not near the elevator.

Embarkation: We caught a cab to the port about 9:30 am. It was a quick a 10-15 minute ride and cost $25. We arrived at the port, gave our bags to the porter and walked into the terminal. Check-in was a little slow but not too bad. Boarding started about 11:30 am. One difference was they called for all Platinum, Gold and Bronze members to board before they started calling the boarding group numbers. The speaker system in the terminal is poor so you should listen intently your group/color.

In general, the Port of Tampa seems to be more chaotic than Miami or Ft. Lauderdale and is my least favorite to sail from on a cruise.

Cabin: We stayed in cabin 9019 which is an inside forward cabin. We chose an inside for two reasons:

1)We don’t spend much time in our cabin

2)Inside cabins are sodark that we sleep very soundly.

The 9th deck met our main requirement of being sandwiched between two other decks that are exclusively cabins to help minimize any noise disruption. The bed was adequate and the bathroom functional. We brought an over the door shoe rack so the bathroom counter was free of clutter. The air conditioning worked great. Closet/drawer space was plentiful. It was cramped but more than manageable for two people.

Dining

We had the 2-night dining package which we used at Le Bistro and Los Lobos. The remaining dinners were at main dining restaurants The Venetian and Aqua. Of the two, we preferred The Venetian. Aqua was very dark and loud. It was not a relaxing dining experience. The Venetian is also open for breakfast/lunch and was our preferred venue for the quality of food and relaxing atmosphere.

Below are some of the hits and misses from our experiences at the main dining rooms:

Hits

Slider on a potato bun w/siracha cabbage slaw appetizer. I had it every dinner.

Chicken Nachos (lunch)

Popcorn shrimp (lunch)

Egg frittata (lunch)

Prime Rib (dinner)

ChickenParmesan (dinner)

Steak Diane (dinner)

Misses

Desserts in general (except the snicker doodle pound cake)

Chicken Cordon Bleu....verysalty

Broccoli soup (dinner)

Los Lobos Cantina - We used one of our dining plan meals at Los Lobos and were impressed. It’s smaller than the other specialty restaurants so it books quickly. We started with Guacamole en Moicajete, fresh guacamole made table side by the waiter. This is a very popular item as most tables ordered it. We also shared the Queso Fundido which was a cheese fondue with chorizo. Delicious! The entrees consisted of an assortment of salads, tacos, burritos and enchiladas. I had the Burrito Rojo and GF had the Veracruz Style Red Snapper. The food was delicious and the portions huge. We capped of the meal with a couple of Spanish Coffees and split a piece of chocolate cake.

Le Bistro – The food was amazing. I had the 4 Mushroom Soup and a perfectly cooked medium filet. GF had the French onion soup and Dover Sole. The ambiance.... not so much. Seems to me the interior decor could use some work... especially the lighting...it’s too bright. It felt like you were eating in someone’s basement. We have been to Cagney’s Steakhouse and it feels special when you walk in..... Le Bistro could use a little of that wow factor.

Garden Café – In general, we try to eat as few meals as possible in the Garden Cafe. Not that we don’t eat there, it’s just we prefer a more relaxing dining experience whenever possible. Finding a seat can be very challenging during peak breakfast and lunch times.

We only ate breakfast there once and it had the usual items: scrambled eggs, eggs benedict, oatmeal, meats and cheeses, cold cereal, fruit, hash brown potato cakes (my personal favorite) and more. There also are stations where you can get omelets and fried eggs cooked to order. The line can get long so be patient.

We had lunch at the Garden Cafe a couple of times and found the variety and quality somewhat disappointing. The food ranged from bad to good. Lunch included premade sandwiches, lasagna, hot dogs/burger bar, french fries, mac and cheese, salad bar, fish sticks, Asian station. Particularly bad is the pizza. It’s just not worth the calories. Salad bar and fish selections are high points.

We did not have dinner at the Garden Café.

O’Sheehan’s Bar and Grill – We ate there a few times including a late night stop at 1:00 am for wings and burgers. The food was mostly good. The wings are tasty and the Chicago Style hot dog was terrific. GF had a Caesar salad with salmon and thought it was good as well.

O’Sheehan’s also serves breakfast and is a great option. It is not crowded and the service is quick. The menu is reduced but but you can easily find something you like. So much better that standing in lines and battling the crowds in the Garden Cafe’.

Room Service – We used it one time to have coffee and pastries delivered to our stateroom. There is no charge unless you are having a hot meal delivered (i.e., eggs, sandwiches). Don’t forget to tip the delivery person.

Entertainment

Cruise Director: JC Sanchez was the CD for our sailing. I didn’t see much of him other than at the main shows in the Stardust Theatre. I can’t recall seeing him out and about at all. I’d give him a “meh”. Most of the shows in the Bliss Lounge were hosted by the Cruise Director staff and they did a good job for the most part.

Comedians: The main comedian was Alvin Williams. I liked his family friendly show better than his late-night adult show. His adult show had too much politics.......I cruise to get away from all that noise. The other issue with his late-night show was it started at 10:30 pm on the FINAL night of the cruise. Seemed like an odd time for the show.

We also enjoyed Jim Badger who played in Gatsby’s Champagne Bar. He played the piano and told jokes. He also playfully banters back and forth with the audience, the bartenders and the wait staff throughout the show. He has dry sense of humor that we found entertaining. We stumbled across his show one evening after leaving the Stardust Theatre and decided to sit down for one drink then ended up staying until his show was over.

Production Shows There were two production shows:

Soul Rockin' Nights –We absolutely loved this show. It featured a wide range of rock artists including many Motown songs as well as the British Invasion with 3 songs from The Who. The show opens and closes with Eddie Money’s “Rock and Roll the Place”. There also were songs from Queen, Kiss and more. It was not your typical cruise line production show as they really let the Dawn Show band jam. Probably the best production show I've seen on a cruise ship. Shows were at 7 PM and 9 PM.

Elements – We did not see this show. Sounded like a variety show of the various entertainers on board for the week. Shows were at 6:30 PM and 9 PM.

Miscellaneous Entertainment:

Haines Magic – A very entertaining magic show on the final night of the cruise. Variations of tricks and illusions you probably have seen before. The finale is sweet. Don't miss it. Shows were at 7 PM and 9 PM.

Duo Nika – This was an acrobat/gymnast show in the Stardust Theatre featuring a husband and wife. It was good and recommend it.

Dawn Dance Battle – This is a takeoff on "Dancing with the Stars"type show featuring ship dancers and passengers. It was a lot of fun. I laughed so hard my face hurt. It is in the Bliss Lounge.

Manila Soul – A house band that put on several themed shows in the Bliss Lounge. One was “Decades” where they played sets from each decade beginning with the 60’s. We bailed when they got to the 90’s. They also had shows featuring: party hits, Beatles music and Bandaoke. If you show up in the Bliss around 9 PM chances are Manila Soul will be playing.

There were a couple of other musical acts that were totally forgettable. Rockaway Duo performed in the Atrium playing songs everyone knows. They had crowds......we just weren’t among them.

Another was Allen who performed in Gatsby’s. What a snoozer! His Beatles show featured the oddest collection of songs including:“The Long and Winding Road’, “Michelle”, “Let It Be” and “Yesterday” all in a row. NCL can do better.

There were lots of entertainment options so there is something for everyone. Overall, the entertainment was good but nowhere near as good as the mega ships like the Escape.

Fitness Center

The fitness center is not large but does have a good variety of equipment. In terms of cardio equipment there are treadmills, elliptical machines, stationary bikes and rowing machines. There were both free weights and machines. Most cruise ship gyms only have dumb bells but there was a Smith machine that you could use for barbell lifting. It is extremely warm in the fitness center with little air movement. A nice touch is the cold towels. 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.

Ports of Call

Cozumel, Mexico – We did the all-inclusive beach day at Nachi Cocom. The cost was $55 per person and included open bar, all you can eat, a lounger and a shady palapa. You order food off the menu rather than going through a buffet line. There is also a pool area with loungers and seating. The bathrooms were clean. We both thought the food was very good.

We have been to several beach clubs in Cozumel (Mr. Sanchos, Paradise Beach) and this was our favorite. They limit the number of passes sold so it is not crowded and service is attentive. I liked the fact there was not music blasting at ear splitting levels. It was a very relaxing day. I also got a one hour massage for $50. The masseuse was excellent. It was as good as any massage I’ve had at home.

The cab ride was $18 each way from the Punta Lagosta Pier and took about 20 minutes. The $18 cab ride was for up to 4 people so partner up if you want to save some money.

Costa Maya Mexico – Beach Day again!! We pre-booked Pez Quadro Beach Club all-inclusive package for $50 per person and got our money’s worth in tequila alone. The package included open bar, lunch, lounge chair and shade palapa/umbrella. Free wi-fi is also included...ask your server for the password. Our server was Jhonnyand he took good care of us. There were a lot of beach vendors but a simple “no thank you” and they were on their way. We’ve been to Pez Quadro many times and it seems to be more crowded every time we go. Business is good.

We took the taxi for $2 per person each way. Pez Quadro is in front of the 40 Cannons Hotel so tell the driver that is where you want to be dropped off. You must walk outside the port area to catch a taxi but it is not difficult or dangerous. Just use the map that Pez Quadro sends you. You must take the taxi as the bus does not go all the way to 40 Cannons Hotel. There is a string of beach clubs one after another in Mahahual. Pez Quadro is the last one.

Roatan, Honduras – I got a sunburn in Costa Maya the day before so we laid low in Roatan. I blame it on the tequila. We walked around the port area and picked up a couple of souvenirs. Afterwards, we stopped for a drink at Monkey La La and headed back to the ship to chill on the pool deck (in the shade).

Two other items of note:

1) We set our clocks back an hour the day we arrived so you pick up an hour of sleep.

2)We were docked at the pier from 7:00 am to 9:00 am and you could just walk off. At 9:00 am, we pulled out and the ship moved to a tendering position to allow the NCL Breakaway to dock at the pier.Tendering started at 10:00 am and was a short 10-minute ride. In over 20 cruises, I’ve never experienced a port in which you both docked and tendered into on the same day.

Harvest Caye, Belize – NCL knocked it out of the park! It has it all......a beautiful pool, large sandy beach with plenty of loungers, Zip Line activities, souvenir shops and extremely clean bathrooms as well as well-maintained public areas. Our biggest regret was that we were only in port until 1:00 pm.

We snagged a couple of loungers by the pool and decided to quench our thirst. I did hear some grumbling about the beer/soda prices. You could get a draft of Belikin (local brew.... very tasty) for $6. We tipped the barkeep every time we bought a round of beers and she poured us a freebie. A 20 oz. Bottle of Coke cost$3. Yes, it was Coke not Pepsi. We did not eat so I can’t comment on the food.

I’m looking forward to my next trip to Harvest Caye....hopefully for a longer day.

Debarkation

Chaotic! All non-U.S. citizens we supposed to present themselves in the Bliss Lounge at 7:00 AM on the morning of debarkation. There were a couple of folks did not comply so there was about a 1.5-hour delay in the debarkation process. NCL was making several announcements looking for these folks so they were doing what they could on that front. We did self walk off and got in line at 8:00 AM. We were off the ship and though Customs by 9:45 a.m. so were delayed about an 90 minutes. Other folks on our sailing said it took them 3.5 hours to self walk off. Stuff happens so we just rolled with it. Of course, we were spending an extra day in Florida after the cruise so we did not have to worry about catching a flight.

Post Cruise

After the delayed debarkation we called for our car and met the driver across the street in the breezeway of the parking deck. This is where all of the Ubers, Lyfts and private cars would pick you up. We were off to the Dolphin Resort on St. Pete Beach. It was a about a 30 minute ride to the hotel. We spent a great day on the beach putting the finishing touch on our tans.

Cruise Critic Meet & Greet

We had about 30-40 people attend the Meet and Greet. It was held in Le Bistro on the 1st sea day (Monday). NCL takes the Cruise Critic Meet and Greet very seriously. It was hosted by the Hotel Director Alain and attended by the all the department heads and CD JC Sanchez. It was probably one of the most informative M&G I’ve attended. The cruisers asked some interesting questions and the Officers were insightful with their responses. NCL served coffee,water, juice and an assortment of pastries.

Random Thoughts

· The best loungers are available in the front of the ship just behind the Bimini Bar (deck 13). It was very quiet and a great place to get some sun and chill out. It was not windy. Never had a problem getting loungers up there.

· There were very few kids on the cruise despite being President’s Week.

· The deserts in general are meh at best, regardless of dining venue. They are great on the eyes and disappointing in the mouth.

· You should get late night snacks from O’Sheehan’s Bar & Grill at least once.... go ahead ....you’re on vacation.

· Mandatory lifeboat drill was quick and painless.

· We enjoyed Gatsby’s Champagne Bar. A great place for after show cocktails and conversation. Most nights there is a music performer (some better than others).

· Elevator wait times were short. We try to take the stairs as much as possible but we never waited more 30 seconds for an elevator.

· Book your specialty dinner reservations early (pre-cruise if possible). The prime dining times book early.... unless you like dining at 9:30 pm.

· The Unlimited Beverage Package is a game changer. Any drink $15 and under is covered. Anything over $15,you pay the difference.

· I don’t understand the colorful streaks of paint across the portraits in the Venetian Restaurant.

· NCL should just stop serving pizza if it is going to be that bad.

· NCL may want to improve the signage for the restrooms in the public spaces. On two separate occasions a woman walked into the men’s room while I was in there. Both women commented the symbols used to distinguish men and women on the bathroom’s doors were confusing.

· The Officers were very visible and friendly. I saw them engaging passengers several times though out the cruise.

· It seems like the photography intrusions were more frequent on this cruise. Being interrupted at dinner is a pet peeve of mine.

· Premium coffee is served in the Atrium for those needing a caffeine fix.

· Casino……. who knows? We only walked through it on our way to someplace else.

· I purchased a couple of Cruise Next certificates. Cost was $250 each and I received a $250 OBC. Got my eye on a 10-day cruise on the Pearl next February.

Summary

As usual, the crew was outstanding. The level of service was top notch. We did not come across a single member that was less than helpful. NCL’s customer service is outstanding.

Two of the most important criteria we judge a cruise by is level of service and entertainment. We found the Dawn exceeded expectations in both areas. We are loyal to NCL and is our cruise line of choice. No cruise is perfect......but overall it was another great cruise on NCL.

I’d be happy to answer any questions or elaborate on any of the above comments here or feel free to send me an e-mail at LD_Silver_Cruiser@Yahoo.com.


LD Silver's Full Rating Summary
Cabin
Onboard Experience
Enrichment Activities
Value For Money
Embarkation
Dining
Public Rooms
Entertainment
Fitness & Recreation
Shore Excursions
Service
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Cabin Review

Inside
Cabin IF 9019

We stayed in cabin 9019 which is an inside forward cabin. We chose an inside for two reasons:

1)We don’t spend much time in our cabin

2)Inside cabins are sodark that we sleep very soundly.

The 9th deck met our main requirement of being sandwiched between two other decks that are exclusively cabins to help minimize any noise disruption. The bed was adequate and the bathroom functional. We brought an over the door shoe rack so the bathroom counter was free of clutter. The air conditioning worked great. Closet/drawer space was plentiful. It was cramped but more than manageable for two people.


Port & Shore Excursion Reviews

Harvest Caye

NCL knocked it out of the park! It has it all......a beautiful pool, large sandy beach with plenty of loungers, Zip Line activities, souvenir shops and extremely clean bathrooms as well as well-maintained public areas. Our biggest regret was that we were only in port until 1:00 pm.

We snagged a couple of loungers by the pool and decided to quench our thirst. I did hear some grumbling about the beer/soda prices. You could get a draft of Belikin (local brew.... very tasty) for $6. We tipped the barkeep every time we bought a round of beers and she poured us a freebie. A 20 oz. Bottle of Coke cost$3. Yes, it was Coke not Pepsi. We did not eat so I can’t comment on the food.

I’m looking forward to my next trip to Harvest Caye....hopefully for a longer day.

Roatan

I got a sunburn in Costa Maya the day before so we laid low in Roatan. I blame it on the tequila. We walked around the port area and picked up a couple of souvenirs. Afterwards, we stopped for a drink at Monkey La La and headed back to the ship to chill on the pool deck (in the shade).

Two other items of note:

1) We set our clocks back an hour the day we arrived so you pick up an hour of sleep.

2)We were docked at the pier from 7:00 am to 9:00 am and you could just walk off. At 9:00 am, we pulled out and the ship moved to a tendering position to allow the NCL Breakaway to dock at the pier.Tendering started at 10:00 am and was a short 10-minute ride. In over 20 cruises, I’ve never experienced a port in which you both docked and tendered into on the same day.

Costa Maya

Beach Day again!! We pre-booked Pez Quadro Beach Club all-inclusive package for $50 per person and got our money’s worth in tequila alone. The package included open bar, lunch, lounge chair and shade palapa/umbrella. Free wi-fi is also included...ask your server for the password. Our server was Jhonnyand he took good care of us. There were a lot of beach vendors but a simple “no thank you” and they were on their way. We’ve been to Pez Quadro many times and it seems to be more crowded every time we go. Business is good.

We took the taxi for $2 per person each way. Pez Quadro is in front of the 40 Cannons Hotel so tell the driver that is where you want to be dropped off. You must walk outside the port area to catch a taxi but it is not difficult or dangerous. Just use the map that Pez Quadro sends you. You must take the taxi as the bus does not go all the way to 40 Cannons Hotel. There is a string of beach clubs one after another in Mahahual. Pez Quadro is the last one.

Cozumel

We did the all-inclusive beach day at Nachi Cocom. The cost was $55 per person and included open bar, all you can eat, a lounger and a shady palapa. You order food off the menu rather than going through a buffet line. There is also a pool area with loungers and seating. The bathrooms were clean. We both thought the food was very good.

We have been to several beach clubs in Cozumel (Mr. Sanchos, Paradise Beach) and this was our favorite. They limit the number of passes sold so it is not crowded and service is attentive. I liked the fact there was not music blasting at ear splitting levels. It was a very relaxing day. I also got a one hour massage for $50. The masseuse was excellent. It was as good as any massage I’ve had at home.

The cab ride was $18 each way from the Punta Lagosta Pier and took about 20 minutes. The $18 cab ride was for up to 4 people so partner up if you want to save some money.

Tampa

We flew into Tampa Saturday afternoon arriving around 3:00 p.m. We live in Michigan so flying in a day early is a must. We stayed at the Westshore Grand and used the complimentary hotel shuttle from the airport. I called the hotel to let them know we were waiting for the shuttle and 20 minutes later we were on our way.

The Westshore Grand is located on West Kennedy Boulevard across the street from a shopping mall (Westshore Plaza). The mall has a variety of stores and restaurants including Mitchell’s Fish Market, P.F.Chang’s, Starbucks, Maggiano’s Little Italy, etc…. We opted for our favorite……..Chick-fil-A. We don’t have many in Michigan so we never pass up a chance to get our Chic-fil-A fix. There are also plenty of stores in the area to pick up any last-minute needs (sunscreen, snacks, etc.…).

The room was clean and the bed comfortable. We were near the elevator so it was a little loud as we could hear the whirring of the elevators most of the night so make sure you ask for a room further down the hall. The Westshore Grand has a Shula’s Steak House in the lobby. We didn’t eat there but had few pre-cruise cocktails at the bar. The price of the hotel worked for me ($162 on a discount website including all taxes). I would stay there again, just not near the elevator.


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