My boyfriend and I went on the 7-day southern Caribbean cruise out of San Juan in March of 2019. Went down a day early and stayed in San Juan overnight. We were able to check out Old San Juan with the few hours we had that evening. We are ... Read More
My boyfriend and I went on the 7-day southern Caribbean cruise out of San Juan in March of 2019. Went down a day early and stayed in San Juan overnight. We were able to check out Old San Juan with the few hours we had that evening. We are in our early thirties and had a really fun time on this cruise. We weren't sure what to expect based on previous reviews, but this cruise did not disappoint for a smaller ship. We have been on the Escape twice (once for Eastern Caribbean and once for Western Caribbean). I have also been on two other cruise from another cruise line. This was my favorite cruise so far.
Embarkation: We were scheduled to embark at 11:00 and got to the terminal around 10:30. Getting through security was quick and overall efficient, but we did have to wait in line once we were all checked in for about 40 minutes in a very small building with poor air conditioning with a few hundred other people while waiting to board the ship. The building was much smaller than those in Ft. Lauderdale and Miami. I understand that the crew had to quickly turn over the ship before new passengers could be let on, but I noticed there weren't many places to sit while waiting and some of the older passengers and children were complaining about standing for that long. We were just happy to be out of the cold weather and excited to explore the ship. Once we were on board, we were able to grab drinks and hang out by the pool. It wasn't very busy out on the sundeck until later in the day. They had a band playing and music until the ship set sail at 9pm.
The ship itself was smaller than others I've been on but has everything you need. As mentioned in many other reviews, the layout can be a bit confusing. We found ourselves in a "you can't get there from here" situation several times. The hallways to the staterooms were quite narrow. We noticed some people having difficulty navigating them with motorized scooters. We opted to take the stairs and avoid elevators mostly but when we did use the elevators there was never a long wait. Plenty of bars and restaurants to keep us satisfied. There is a small casino compared to the one on the Escape but has a lot of slot machines, quarter games and a few table games. We threw a $20 in the penny slots and won some money so no complaints. The theater was surprisingly quite large for a small ship. Some of the seats seemed to be broken/uncomfortable but overall was fine. The pool on the sundeck is a saltwater pool and there were 4 hot tubs that were the same as the ones on the Escape. There was always a lifeguard on duty which I have never seen on a cruise ship before. He seemed to take his job very seriously. Pool area was crowded on our one sea day. I would recommend getting seats/loungers early on those days. There were plenty of lounge chairs, high top tables with chairs and some more comfortable couches and chairs on the sundeck and on other days we didn't have to spent too much time finding a spot when we got back on the ship in the afternoon. Our bartender, Deny kept the drinks coming and always made a point to check on us if he saw us. I'm pretty sure he was on the Escape last time I was. We did not use the spa or gym this time, but did take a look at the gym. There was plenty of cardio equipment and a room with spin bikes from what I remember. Public restrooms were much smaller than on the Escape but very clean and no waiting in line, at least not for more than a minute or two.
Our cabin was 8525. Close to O'Sheehans and easy access to the stairwell. Overall, minimal noise complaints. There was one night where we could hear some music, but it stopped by 10 pm. It was an inside room, so it was small and dark, as we expected. I always bring an over-the-door shoe organizer to keep our sunscreen/bathing suits/extra items out of the way and hang it on the outside of the bathroom door. We really only use our room to sleep and shower so it was fine for our needs. The bed is essentially 2 twins pushed together. I always have an issue with the "crack" between the two beds, but we survived. We asked our room steward via post-it note to remove all alcohol from the minibar so we didn't get charged and so we could use the fridge space and he did so on the first evening. The bathroom, again small but has everything you need. Shower had a door and worked just fine. Sink and toilet were similar to other ships. Not a lot of bathroom storage space. Sam, our steward was great and made our room up several times a day while we were out. Always left us fresh towels and even made us some fun towel animals. (Something I look forward to on cruises). We found our cabin to be a bit damp on the last day for some reason.
Dining: Buffet as mentioned in a lot of other reviews was subpar compared to the Escape. Not much variety and food was quite bland. It also had limited hours. Every time we wanted to grab a late night snack it was closed. Food was mostly American fare at the buffet: burgers, hotdogs, pizza and pasta items. Some sandwiches and baked dishes as well. Having read other reviews, we kind of expected this and only ate at the buffet for afternoon snacks. It's close to the pool, but the pool bar had similar food items as well. Having learned from previous cruises that the buffet is CRAZY at breakfast time, we decided to eat at O'Sheehans every morning for a sit-down breakfast and we really enjoyed it much more without feeling rushed. It probably took us about the same time it would in the buffet. The breakfast menu was the same every day, but we got different things each day and it was all very good. We ate at O'Sheehans a lot over the course of the week, but the service was good and so was the food. We were familiar with it because there is one on the Escape as well. The food was consistent. The bbq wings and spinach dip were our favorite snacks from there. I believe it stayed open 24 hours. We ate at the main dining rooms for dinner every night as the food tends to be quite good and again, less crazy than the buffet. We tried Aqua the first night. It had a more dark, romantic (and in my opinion, sleepy) atmosphere. The service was slow and the food was only ok. We decided to try the Venetian the next night, and although they serve the same food as Aqua, it seemed to be much better. The service and atmosphere at the Venetian was better as well so we decided to go there for dinner the rest of the week. We had some meals we really liked and some that were just ok, but were able to eat and get on our way in about an hour. Best part is freestyle dining with Norwegian! No need to dress up or reserve dinner times, just show up. My boyfriend and I agreed that we were only going to dress up one night on this cruise as we dress up for work every day and we didn't want to on vacation. I didn't see anyone that was super dressed up on this ship on any night. We have on others. We never waited more than a few minutes to be seated at any restaurant on the ship. We did not pay extra for any of the specialty dining spots and based on reviews I read before, it wasn't worth it so we didn't really bother looking into it.
Bars/Drinks: We did have the beverage package included and if you plan on drinking more than 1-2 alcoholic drinks a day, it is a must. We had met people who racked up a $500 bar bill after only a few days because they didn't know about the beverage package. Only includes alcoholic drinks under $15, but we didn't have any issues. Unless you want top shelf drinks, most things are included in the beverage package. It does not include soda or bottled water. Buffet has lemonade/iced tea/juices/water fountain drinks. Mostly got drinks from the Topsider's Bar near the pool and some drinks at the casino while waiting for shows in the nearby Theater. They were always consistent no matter what bar you got them at and also the same as on the Escape. I did wait in line for a beer at the Bimini (smoker's) Bar on the upper deck overlooking the pool. There was one bartender that took FOREVER to make drinks. I asked for 2 beers and he made me 2 mixed drinks that I didn't order. I decided to just get our next drink at Topsider's as it took much less time even though it was further away from our seats. I read reviews that said smoke from the Bimini bar was annoying to people by the pool, but I never really noticed it at all. As mentioned, Deny our personal bartender kept the drinks coming out by the pool without us needing to leave the hot tub/pool which was great. We avoided the Atrium bar as it was usually close to bands playing and where crowds gathered, but they were kind enough to fill our water bottles in the morning before we left for the day. O'Sheehans did the same. Not enough plain water anywhere unless you wanted to overpay for bottles. The ship water is gross if you get it from your room by the way. We had tried the Sugarcane mojito bar on the Escape and didn't really have time to explore it on the Dawn. We avoided the Champagne Bar, which I actually wanted to go to because of the cigarette smoke coming from the cigar bar next door. I didn't really see anyone smoking cigars in there, only cigarettes. We went to several shows at the Bliss lounge. They had some different cocktails there that were good. They had servers during the shows and the bar line was never very long.
Entertainment: We went to several shows at the Bliss Lounge and they seemed to always have something going on day and night. We went to dance one night when the DJ was playing, the Karaoke championship, some dance competitions and other shows that we stumbled in on that turned out to be much better than I expected. It seemed to be that in the evening if you wanted a show you either had the option of whatever was going on in Bliss or the Stardust Theater. We caught the end of the Not So Newlywed game which they usually have on the Norweigian ships and it was quite funny. We watched the rest on TV while we were getting ready one morning as they broadcast it on their channel. We went to the magician/illusionist (PJ or DJ) he was really good. We went to Elements which was really cool. It was kind of ballet/acrobatics/magic all mixed together. We missed the comedian's main show (Andrew Kennedy), but the adult's only show on the last day was really funny. They must have changed some of the entertainment because recent reviews weren't great for some of the entertainment and we thought everything was pretty good for cruise ship shows. There were some bands and singers in the Atrium every evening, we didn't really listen to them for long but all seemed very good. More oldies type stuff. They had a Johnny Cash tribute one evening. The DJ and band by the pool (Sabor Latino) was good on the first day but throughout the week, we realized their set never changed and we kept hearing the same songs over and over. Good mix of English and Spanish songs. Not as much Jimmy Buffet style music, but more of a latin style overall compared to other ships. We went to the White Hot party and it was much more fun than we expected based on the one we went to on the Escape. People seemed to really be having a good time. I know we did.
Service: Overall very good. No bad experiences. Cabin steward was very good. Bar staff overall very good. Dining room staff were ok. We found some of them to be inexperienced or have some difficulty with speaking English, but it didn't cause any issues for us.
Ports: We chose this cruise because of the 5 stops and fewer sea days. My boyfriend has a hard time to sit still and gets bored when we have too many sea days. It kept us very busy and we didn't have a lot of down time, but we always made it back to the ship a little earlier than the all aboard time to enjoy the pool and try to get a little relaxation time in. We booked 2 excursions through the ship and 2 in port. Much cheaper at the port, but if you don't make it back in time, the ship won't wait for you. We just make sure to give ourselves plenty of extra time to get back.
St. Lucia: Easy walk to port shops. We booked an excursion through JJ's in the port. This turned out to be really fun as we didn't really have a plan when we got off the ship. We took a speedboat with a group of maybe 20 people to Soufriere Beach and then got a little tour of the area from the water and took pictures in front of the Pitons. The beach was at a resort and there was SCUBA equipment and a bar nearby. My boyfriend snorkeled and saw a lot of tropical fish in the cove. Beach was more volcanic dark sand. If you want a chair/umbrella you have to pay more. Cost was $55/person for the excursion and was reasonable. They gave us some local rum and rum punch to try.
Barbados: 10 minute walk from the ship to port shops. Norwegian did have a shuttle but we decided to walk and it was fine. Took a taxi to The Boatyard beach club which I heard about from a review. $25/person and this includes beach chairs, umbrella, use of the inflatable water toys and a free welcome drink. There is a bar/restaurant there. We got buckets of Carib for $20 (6 beers). Bartenders were friendly. They don't allow you to use the motorized "toys" due to insurance reasons. Water was clear blue, sand was white and the sun was hot. We had a great day just hanging out in the water and we felt very safe there. They arrange for a shuttle to get you back to the port as part of the entrance fee. Cab ride there was a reasonable price from the port. Taxi service had an area in the port, but were not very helpful and we had to ask several people questions to actually get a ride arranged. As we drove there, you could tell Barbados is a very poor island. A lot of rundown buildings.
St. Kitts: Easy walk off the ship. Booked SNUBA excursion through the ship. It was raining and cloudy most of the day. Took a long bus ride to a remote beach club in a small bay. SNUBA staff were knowledgeable but when I got nervous about doing it, they weren't very encouraging and I ended up backing out. My boyfriend is SCUBA certified and found this to be a middle ground between snorkeling and SCUBA diving. You are able to go about 10 ft under water using a regulator that is attached to a float with an oxygen tank on it. There were 4 people per SNUBA unit and I overheard people talking about how they kept kicking other people next to them. The water was kind of merky on the beach. It seemed to be more clear in the bay. My boyfriend says he saw a lot of different fish there. We got to spend another hour there, but it was poor weather and everyone was pretty much ready to go back to the ship. We stopped at Timothy Hill for photos of where the Caribbean and Atlantic meet. This was our least favorite port.
St. Maarten: Easy walk to the port. We have been here before the hurricane's hit. You can tell they are still recovering. We took a taxi to Maho Beach (the one where the planes fly over to land at the airport). This was really a cool spot and the Sunset Beach Bar is right there. We paid $20 for 2 chairs and an umbrella. Water was clear blue and we had a really great day. Saw probably 20 planes fly over while we were there. Got a pizza from the bar and it was really good. Bar service was poor and bartenders not friendly at the main bar. Cab fare was round trip and you meet at the taxi spot near the beach bar to get a ride back. They had cabs going all afternoon. Took 30 minutes or so to get back to the port. We were told there is drawbridge/turntable bridge that can cause delays on the way back so beware! We gave ourselves plenty of time to get back and did not have any issues.
St. Thomas: We have both been here several times before and it is always one of our favorite spots. Easy walk to the port. We booked a catamaran, snorkeling and beach excursion through the ship. There were about 40 people on the boat. We were on the Cruzan Breeze with captain Mike and his mates Lindy and Charles. They were all very fun,funny, knowledgeable and made the trip worthwhile! Took a 20 minute ride to Turtle Bay where we were instructed on how to use our snorkeling gear. Lindy took everyone to look for turtles and we did see 3-4. We also saw a few stingrays. We then swam over to the nearby reef and saw all kinds of fish, coral and even an octopus. After about an hour we moved on to Honeymoon Beach on Water Island where they provided us with bottomless rum punch. There were a couple beach bars there as well. We spent the time in the crystal clear water looking out at the boats in the cove .We stayed here for about an hour and then made the 30 minute boat ride back to the port. This was SO MUCH FUN.
Disembarkation: It all went well but we chose to leave at the latest time due to our late flight home. We had breakfast at O'Sheehans and spent some time on the pool deck that morning. We did have to wait an hour in the Bliss lounge after our scheduled time to get of the boat due to backup on the gangway and in the customs area. Once we got off we were able to get our bags and went through customs fairly quickly and without issue. There were shuttles waiting outside and it was a reasonable fair to the airport from there.
I promise I'm finishing up this long post, but a few more things I noticed during this trip. Minimal children and the ones we did see on our ship were very well behaved. There is a children's pool area and we didn't have any issues with kids in the adult pool/hot tubs as we have on other ships. Wide variety of ages from teenagers to older adults. We were joking that the average age was probably 52 by general survey. All the fellow passengers we met were very friendly. There's always something for everyone on the ship and they have classes/shows during the day for those who like to stay onboard. We didn't do any shopping or buy any photos from the ship.
I know this was lengthy but if it helps even one person plan their trip, I'll be happy. I know I used a lot of reviews before I planned this trip after making some mistakes in the past and it definitely made a difference in some of the choices we made. We have liked Norwegian in the past and will likely continue to cruise with them in the future. Read Less