Let me start by disclosing that this is a fairly lengthy review, which I would loved to have had before we left. Bear with me please.
There were some very nice things about the Norwegian Dawn, its crew and our experiences you should know about. There are also some things to be critical of as to our destinations, the time of year we chose and the excursions we experienced as well. It is important to not just levy criticisms without pointing out bright spots.
We picked the NCL cruise ship Norwegian Dawn for a two week, Northeastern Canada and New England tour. It included Quebec City, Halifax and Sydney, Bay of St. John, Nova Scotia and Corner Brook, Newfoundland. There were stops in Boston, Portland, Maine and Newport Rhode Island also. New York City was the final destination but we did not get to see it as we just barely got in in time to get our flights home. We missed The Rhode Island stop as well due to a storm which cut our trip slightly short.
Our trip started with two quick jaunts from Virginia to New York City, then to Montreal, where we were to be bused to Quebec City. That's right, bused. It's a four-hour drive, and that's what comes with the $99 airfare package coupled with the $200 transportation package. Note this straight away, and here's why.
After customs in Canada, they begin filtering you like salmon onto a few buses waiting outside for you. Our bus came with no air conditioning, apparently, and that's a fun three and a half hours with 50 other people. In case you absolutely had to, and many did as you could imagine within four hours, there was a latrine on the bus that stunk to high heaven. It apparently had not been serviced, pretty much, ever. The stench was ghastly and I felt badly for the four people seated around it. Along with the heat and the stink, there was no water for passengers, no food, no nothing. Everyone had just come off of long flights cross country and gone through customs as well. The driver did not care and did not stop anywhere for anything or anybody. It was a frightful way to start a vacation, for sure.
Note that this is part of Norwegian Cruise Line's passenger transport package, which they are not good at, is the takeaway. It is an abominable attempt at service; they should stick to cruises and get out of this line of business. It is absolutely inexcusable.
(To note: In a case where you don't fly directly to the ship's embark destination, next time I would stay away from the cheap cruise line transport package and pay a little more, as some did, and book direct flights to the destination to and from the ship - at least in the case of a Norwegian cruise. We did not have this issue with Holland America, for example, who also provided constant supplies, food, water and rest room stops for any bus rides you might be doing).
Now, as for the ship, the Norwegian Dawn. Things got better as we found the crew and ship's staff were excellent, diligent and friendly. The ship was in excellent shape and fairly attractive if slightly drab, was exceedingly clean and neat well-kept. The crew worked round the clock to keep it that way, cleaning, wiping and sprucing continuously. Even the on-board restrooms were beautiful and pristine. Not one case of Norovirus was heard of for the entire two weeks, and that is as much a testament to the diligence of the crew of the Dawn as it is impressive.
The food in the main dining rooms, the Aqua and the Venetian, ranged from decent to just edible. Their soups were very good and they had a wonderful Caesar salad. The main entrees were repetitive and average, at best. The service and staff in the main dining rooms, however, were excellent. They often would share what to stay away from and what was pretty fair and would bring whatever you wanted. They were friendly and personable, and, like all of the ship's staff, were a joy to be around.
We did not and would not venture near the daily buffet line, but heard it was worse.
I should add that each day, our upgraded cabin came with breakfast at Moderno, a specialty restaurant, and it was very good and came with the attention of its exquisite staff. Starting every day with a cappuccino and view of the pool and bow of the ship and wherever we were docked was a very bright spot on this long trip.
We dined half of the trip for dinner in the two main dining rooms previously mentioned, and the other half was spent in the specialty restaurants. Attending the pay restaurants was part of our perk package, and there are some very good things to say about these places.
Overall, the five specialty restaurants we attended ranged from very good to outstanding. Our favorites were Moderno's, which while was the same place we attended for breakfast, had Brazilian fare in the evenings, and was really well done. The other fave was Cagney's steak house, which was Arnie Morton's and Ruth's Chris good. I've not had a better ribeye than the one they served, anywhere, ever. They had top-quality prime beef here and you could see the soux chef preparing all the cuts as you walk in.
The Mexican restaurant, the Chinese restaurant, The Japanese Benihana-style restaurant all tied for second place but were very good, if slightly different than what you might be used to at home.
Le Bistro was a failed attempt at continental cuisine, grading out at borderline fair to poor. Frozen/thawed mussels and seafood was rubbery and tasteless. It was to be avoided, for sure.
Getting to the entertainment portion, which, with the exception of two shows, average and not overwhelming. I thought Princess and Holland America both excelled with their entertainment offerings, but the Dawn's gets an overall 7 out of 10. The very first night's Soul Rockin' Nights and the very last, Elements, were both excellent. Elements, being the very last performance on board this cruise, involved representatives from every facet of service on board and it was fun to see the people who had been with you helping you for two weeks get the spotlight.
The magic act was fairly pedestrian and pandered to children, though there was seriously only one child and two teens on this entire ship. Those poor kids must have been bored out of their minds. The acrobatic duo were very adept, but the performance was long, wandering and repetitive. There were two comedians on board, one woman - who was very funny the first night and not so much the second; and an Irishman, who was more down home-ish and really very funny. The last night's Elements was a medley of all of the performances and they all were much better served up that way.
There was a husband/wife duo who sang oldies in the ship's main Atrium lounge and were quite good, but again, sort of a one-trick pony here. I will say the older folks just flocked each and every night to hear them, so I feel like I should mention that.
There was an excellent big-band and jazz style group who were as good as any of the many Hollywood studio players I knew and worked with over the years. Comprised of a couple of Ukranian guys: the pianist and a fantastic horn player (trumpet); a kid from Mexico, an excellent drummer; a young US guitarist and a Brit band leader who was a sax player and a vocalist with a lovely voice - overall a very enjoyable and a very talented group.
The shore excursions were flat disappointing and overpriced. If one ever goes to New England or Northeast Canada, book your own tours with the locals. Don't mess with the Norwegian offerings, as with the exception of the Corner Brook, Newfoundland nature hike, they all failed badly and we way overpriced.
We had a horrid experience in Sydney, Nova Scotia, which placed the lives of 42 mostly elderly, (some handicapped), people at risk. The issues: a.) Elderly people being made to stand in a torrential downpour outside the disembark terminal waiting for the bus to arrive. No cover whatever. b.) The bus wouldn't defog in the rain and the tour guide was forced to wipe the windshield with paper towels while standing - in a moving bus, weaving in and out of the oncoming lane with moderate traffic - next to the driver, OMG - just so he could see through a small hole in the fog (!!!)
and c.) the inexperienced driver who did not know how to fix the defog issue or how the basic heater function worked.
This driver, who apparently just got his license, (I heard him say after the trip, "Boy I didn't know much about this but I sure learned a lot today!"), was barely able to see to the point that passengers were frightened and screaming for him to stop. I mean, holy Lord, you have got to be kidding with this. Amateur hour on a bus with 42 lives at stake? Really?
It was positively horrifying and should never have happened in a torrential downpour to this ridiculous museum. On a nicer day, the scenery to and from the museum would have been exquisite, as the foliage there was absolutely popping. During the few moments when you weren't fearing for your life, you could wipe a small hole with your sleeve on the window and peer out at the gorgeous color. My wife said I should say something positive. There it is.
Five hours of hell, money out and time you can't get back and no recompense from Norwegian, not even an apology. "The show must go on," was basically the company line. "We go rain or shine," was what they told me. I told the excursion director of the ship, Miguel, the story and he said he had not heard any other complaints about it. Odd, seeing as how the concierge we used to book the trip heard plenty. Anyway, they gave us $30 back, like that would help. This trip could have ended in disaster for forty-two families and for Norwegian, and at the very least was a lawsuit waiting to happen. Thing is, you have to look at this as an overall part of how they care more about getting paid for excursions rather than the safety and satisfaction of their passengers. HUGE FAIL here.
Our cruise got cut short by a storm and so instead of getting to Newport, RI and New York City in time to see them, we sat in the Gulf of Maine, Cape Cod Bay, basically, just off Boston, and waited almost two days for the seas to become navigational. It's part of what happens when you book a cruise in the North Atlantic in October. It comes with weather.
It rains a lot up in Northeast Canada in the summer also and tends to be very cool. We met people at LaGuardia who had been on a Princess cruise that followed us which got pretty drastically truncated due to the weather.
Lastly, the disembark process was no picnic either. This is never fun, on any cruise, as there are 2,000 people with luggage waiting to get off the ship. There were also 3,000 people from a Princess cruise also getting off of their cruise, too. They attempt to organize groups and times, but our concierge grabbed us and said, "Just go now," which I guess was considerate, but once you get down the gangway you see you are a collective throng trying to get to buses with all of your luggage. The buses are random, and nobody knows which is theirs as they all have various destinations out of New York, Newark, JFK and LaGuardia. People are just standing in a clump waiting for direction, and the bus drivers wind up being your last tour guides. They really did as well as they could, and one guy loads 50 people at a time's multi-bags underneath the bus. My wife and I got on first and so helped the older folks with their bags and gave them to the driver to stow them. There are so many fragile people on these cruises, and you really wind up looking out for one another out there.
So, a long review, but all of it is important - for me - to note. If someone had shared this with me beforehand, we probably would have just driven up to New England from Virginia and gone to our usual fave places: Vermont, New Hampshire, Maine, and Boston and maybe Niagara Falls and Toronto.
OVERALL SHIP APPEARANCE, PRESENTATION AND CREW: A+
OVERALL FOOD AND BEVERAGE: B
ONBOARD ENTERTAINMENT: B-
OVERALL TOUR AND EXCURSION EXPERIENCE: D
OVERALL TRANSPORT PACKAGE TO AND FROM SHIP: D-
Our stateroom was exquisite - we had the Amber family suite type C # 11650, for two of us. We were very grateful to have been upgraded for a very low cost, and could not otherwise have survived for two weeks on this boat with an ordinary cabin. It had three front doors: the main entrance/foyer, another private door to an additional bedroom and bathroom, and the front door to the main suite. Along with the additional quarters it had a living room, dry bar with cappuccino machine, mini bar, water and soda and there was always fresh fruit in the room. We'd come back from our afternoon events and find sandwiches, fruit, hors d'ouevres and desert truffles, as though we needed to eat more than we already were! There was also a ladies' vanity area, dual sink bath counters with various lighting, Jacuzzi bath with window view outside, large walk in shower with window view outside, and a private bedroom area.
There were 3 flat-screen TVs in the suite: a 50” in the living room and a 25” in each of the bedrooms, (a non-HD feed, and you’d think for $7500 large it would include HD, if not WiFi). But here’s something: On Mondays, Thursdays and. Sundays on their Euro-soccer channel they’d pipe in NFL Football - 3 games on Sunday - either in-room or you could go up to O’Sheehan’s Pub and listen to music from the Atrium below, get a burger and a salad, drink and watch the games. My wife and I loved it.
We were doted on by our butler, Chris and room steward, Gonzalo. They were outstanding, generous, friendly and knowledgeable and should be recognized for service over and above the call of normal duty. They went out of their way to help and please to the point of our embarrassment. We left them with hugs and our gratitude in words and a generous tip.