I took my first cruise almost five years ago, and instantly fell in love with the experience. I'm 36, single, gay, and have been on Royal Caribbean, Norwegian, Celebrity and Carnival (just once). I met CruisinMaterial -- a fellow cruise enthusiast -- on a cruise about three years ago, and we've remained friends. CruisinMaterial had planned this 11-night voyage on the Norwegian Dawn with his mom; but when she had to cancel only a few weeks before the trip, he asked me if I could take her spot. I reluctantly said yes. (Just kidding! I jumped at the chance!)
This would be my fifth cruise on Norwegian (and 17th overall); previously I've sailed the Pearl twice, the Spirit and most recently the Epic in the Mediterranean. I've always thought that Norwegian has the friendliest staff and crew in the industry, and I was confident that an 11-night cruise on a mid-sized ship would offer a lot of interaction with them.
Day 1 -- Embarkation
CruisinMaterial and I used SAS Transportation to pick us up from our airport hotel in Fort Lauderdale at 11 a.m. After a couple stops to pick up other passengers, we arrived at the Port of Miami. Besides the Dawn, only one other ship was turning around this day -- a Crystal Cruises ship -- so the port seemed unusually quiet. We handed over our luggage to a porter, then stood in a line for about 15 minutes until we made it through the terminal's security (metal detector and x-ray machine). Once through, the embarkation staff swiftly moved us through the check-in process. Before we knew it, we were across the gangway and onto the ship!
We arrived before the cabins were open to the passengers, so we grabbed a quick lunch. Around 1:45, an announcement was made that the cabins were ready (15 minutes before the advertised 2:00 time). We went to our balcony cabin on Deck 10 starboard -- having sailed on the Pearl and Spirit, I found the cabin to be similar in size and appointment, with some newer items installed during Dawn's recent rehab which added several dozen suites and two large villas into the former Spinnaker Lounge space on Deck 11. The Spinnaker was moved to the aft section of Deck 7, which forced the relocation of some shops. The new Spinnaker is a somewhat cramped space when busy, with a rather small dance floor. Yet hi-tech lights hang over the dance floor, mere inches above the dancers' heads. In fact, CruisinMaterial at 6'4" needed to keep an eye on some of the larger lights in fear of hitting them.
The rehab did not seem to add any additional cabin storage space which seemed a bit limited for the amount of clothes we needed to bring for an 11-night cruise, but we did manage to make it work. In addition to the sofa in the cabin (which could fold out to accommodate a third passenger) and a small coffee table, there was a square table and a chair. The chair did not fit very flush under the table, so it remained out on the balcony for the duration of the cruise. The balcony contained one patio chair and one reclining-type chair with an adjustable back, as well as a small patio table.
A couple more notes about the cabin -- the bathroom was similar to the Pearl's with the sink in the middle and separate, enclosed sections for the toilet and the shower on either side. Storage space was rather limited in the bathroom, and the shower contained only one small wire shelf for toiletries. (Shampoo and body wash are provided in dispensers, but many people -- myself included -- prefer to bring their own favorite brands.) PET PEEVE #1: There is a plentiful supply of hangers, yet they are the "do not steal" type where you have to thread the post of the hanger into the ring that is permanently installed on the rack. I hate these. (NCL, I have no intention of stealing your hangers -- these are not necessary!) My bed was comfortable, yet I found the pillow to be rather firm and flat for my taste.
We met Paul, our stateroom attendant, who seemed a bit paranoid during the entire cruise that he wasn't working to our satisfaction, despite our assurances that he was doing a great job. About halfway during the cruise, I somehow forgot his name and thought it was Peter, which I called him a couple times. He didn't correct me. (CruisinMaterial made me realize my mistake and I immediately apologized to Paul...)
We noticed the CDC was on board doing an unannounced inspection, which we learned takes place about twice a year on every cruise ship. The Dawn passed with a score of 97, which is excellent. (85 and above is satisfactory.)
The muster drill was the typical necessary chore but it didn't last long. We departed about a half-hour late (likely due to the inspection) and began our cruise!
The Dawn has two main dining rooms, Aqua and Venetian. Although both have the same daily menu, the Venetian is more traditional and elegant in its design -- accordingly, passengers are asked not to wear shorts here. CruisinMaterial and I agreed that we would dine in the Venetian any night where we chose to dine in a main dining room. Across my NCL cruises, I've found their menu selection to be ample in the main dining rooms, and it seemed that there were even more choices than before -- in addition to the daily menus, NCL retains a static menu of customer favorites available for every dinner, such as NY strip steak, pasta with various sauces, salmon, chicken, etc. And every night offers a "Chef's Regional Specialty," tailored around the itinerary of the cruise -- for ours, the offering was often seafood. (Although one night it was "Mexican meatballs" -- I didn't understand this, nor did I think they were anything special when I tasted them...)
After dinner, we went up to the Star Bar for the nightly GLBT Informal Gathering, a regular and very much-appreciated offering that NCL does on all their ships. We met several other gay and lesbian passengers and became quick friends. We opted to stay longer in the Star Bar and chat rather than attend that evening's main entertainment, the Welcome Aboard variety show which introduces the key staff and offers an overview of the trip's entertainment. (We already knew we'd be taking advantage of much of the nightly entertainment during the trip.)
A benefit of traveling with a frequent NCL cruiser (this is CruisinMaterial's 15th NCL cruise) is that he knows so many staff and crew from his other trips. Throughout the day, we kept running into people he knew from previous cruises across the fleet, especially from the Jewel, Epic, and most recently, Spirit. In fact, the photo manager (Liga) whom CruisinMaterial met on the Spirit recognized him while printing our embarkation photo, and made sure to find us that night to surprise CruisinMaterial! Another friendly face for CruisinMaterial was Patrick on the cruise entertainment staff, who was among many Dawn staff and crew who greeted us by name throughout the cruise, always striking up friendly conversations with us. I've always known that NCL has the friendliest staff and crew in the industry, but this cruise has far exceeded my expectations! And the benefit of an 11-night cruise is that you have more time to meet and chat with officers and staff, and really get to know them and their history with NCL.
Later in the evening, we made our way to the Spinnaker for some music and nightlife. The Dawn offered two DJ's for this cruise -- DJ Keith is the in-house DJ, and a "Celebrity DJ" named Sami Automatic (heh...get it?) from Raleigh, North Carolina. Earlier in the day we spotted DJ Keith setting up for another event, and noticed the Ministry of Sound logo sticker on his laptop -- a well-known label for the house music genre, which CruisinMaterial and I both enjoy. So we had high hopes that we would be in for some fun nightlife. But on this first night in the Spinnaker, the "celebrity" DJ was spinning, and his music seemed to alternate between hip-hop and line dances. Sami Automatic turned out to be a major disappointment for us. I also question how NCL defines "celebrity" -- I doubt any of the over 2,000 passengers saw his name in the Freestyle Daily and recognized it...
Day 2 -- At Sea
Our first day at sea was full of activity! After a delicious breakfast, we headed up to the Star Bar for the Cruise Critic Meet & Greet (CruisinMaterial was the organizer) and we met Kat Quiestas, Dawn's group event coordinator. She and her staff had already set up refreshments for us. Passengers filed in, and it was great to finally meet some folks with whom we've been chatting online for months. (Well, just a few weeks for me, as I signed on to this trip only three weeks prior!) Captain Staffan and many of the ship's officers were on hand to introduce themselves and answer questions.
After lunch it was time for the Latitudes "Welcome Back" reception. With about 1,000 Latitudes members on this sailing, the event was held in the Stardust Theater. Waiters circulated with complimentary drinks and the entire staff of senior officers was introduced. The Captain spent several minutes talking about sailing the waters of our cruise, including a description of the Sargasso Sea (the only sea in the world that has no coast; rather, it is defined by the ocean currents which surround it).
We relaxed the remainder of the afternoon, then returned to the Venetian for dinner. Tonight's entertainment was Band on the Run, one of the two full-scale production shows for this cruise. (CruisinMaterial tells me that there used to be three production shows, but one was cut. The remaining one would be Bollywood on the last night.) Band on the Run was a very high-energy 1970s-themed show with what seems to be the typical makeup of a cruise production cast: two male singers, two female singers, a bunch of dancers who never talk, and two acrobatic performers. The show was a fun performance that was further enhanced by the excellent house orchestra! We ended the night in the Spinnaker, where the "celebrity" DJ was playing the exact same poorly-mixed songs we heard the night before...
Day 3 -- Samana, Dominican Republic
We pulled up to Samana, Dominican Republic, this morning. Samana is an interesting port for cruises, and I've been here twice before. This area of the DR is still relatively undeveloped, and you won't find Diamonds International or Carlos'n Charlies here. What you will find is some authentic culture and genuine eco-tourism. While many cruisers may find a place like Samana disappointing, I appreciate the opportunity to experience the way of life of others on my planet, even if the amount of poverty may be upsetting to witness. But for me, traveling is more than just relaxing while surrounded by beautiful scenery in warm temperatures -- it's also a chance to educate myself more about the world I live in.
Just offshore from Samana is a private island of Cayo Levantado, half of which consists of a large beach with a plentiful number of loungers, watersports options, a few shops selling local crafts and a beach bar/restaurant. NCL used to sell excursions for $49 to spend the day at the island, but as of a month ago, NCL was offering tenders to Cayo Levantado for free. (If you happened to book an excursion here online prior to your trip, the value of the Cayo Levantado portion was refunded as an on board credit.) I've done Cayo Levantado on a previous visit, so instead we booked Rustic Samana and Las Terrenas (a town on the north side of the peninsula across from Samana). We boarded a very nice motor coach bus (reclining seats, restroom) and set out for the tour. Our first stop was an old church in downtown Samana, followed by a brief visit to a small whale museum. (Many whales spend their winter in the bay near Samana -- whale-watching is a popular excursion in the winter months, but not for those who get sea-sick! I found that out the hard way on my second visit to Samana...) The tour continued to an open-air market along a dirt road. (The tour description warns of a bumpy off-road portion, but it's very short and not bumpy at all -- don't be concerned about this.) Finally, the tour brings you to the seaside town of Las Terrenas and drops you off for about 90 minutes -- enough time to get lunch or drinks in one of several beachside restaurants, and do some shopping in quaint stores.
Tonight was our first specialty restaurant experience for the cruise, Moderno Churrascaria. This is a Brazilian-style steakhouse first introduced on the Epic, then rolled out to other ships in the fleet. After enjoying an impressive salad bar, servers began to come to our table with selections of skewered meats: sausages, chicken, lamb, garlic beef, filet, ribs. We each had a card that was red on one side, and green on the other: green means "Please continue serving" while red means "OMG I can't eat another bite!" The food was as delicious as I remember from the Epic, and it was a fantastic meal -- especially for CruisinMaterial who could probably eat an entire cow in one sitting. My card was turned red long before CruisinMaterial's was.
After dinner, I opted to stay in the Star Bar with my fellow GLBT passengers rather than attend tonight's show -- the comedy of Dave Heenan. I've given up on cruise ship stand-up comedians a long time ago... I have high standards when it comes to comedy, I suppose.
Day 4 -- Tortola, British Virgin Islands
We awoke in Tortola, British Virgin Islands. Our excursion today was to Virgin Gorda and the Baths Park. We boarded a large and fast ferry boat to take us across the channel to Virgin Gorda (about a 25 minute ride). Once there, we boarded one of several open-air buses for the 15-minute ride to the park. The Baths contains two beaches, with scenic trails leading to each one. The guides invited us to visit the main beach first -- after 30 minutes, they would lead those who wanted to traverse through the narrow passages of boulders and caves to the second beach. The main beach had a bar and restroom facilities. We then set out for the adventurous trek through the boulders -- some portions required squatting/crawling through narrow passages, and steep but short climbs. But the effort was well worth it -- we found ourselves on an absolutely gorgeous and pristine Caribbean beach, and spent about an hour there before beginning the return trip.
Also on this excursion was a group of 29 college students from central Texas, participating in a course on tourism management, under the leadership of their professor. The group became a recognizable sight during the cruise, as few other passengers were within the same age group. They had some classroom sessions during the trip as well as group outings and meals, but otherwise got to enjoy the entertainment and nightlife offered on board.
Back on board, we returned to the Venetian for dinner. Following, we enjoyed what may have been the best guest entertainer I've ever seen on a non-chartered cruise: Siobhan Phillips, a UK-based singer. She has a larger-than-life personality and alternated her songs with some sharp-witted comedy. And her voice was flawlessly smooth and rich, best compared to Cher (as she did sing Cher's "Believe"). Siobhan sang a range of styles, ending her show with an amazing operatic aria. The audience jumped to their feet for an ovation.
Tonight was a Caribbean dance party on the pool deck, with music provided by one of the two show bands, New Season, whose style focused on Caribbean and soul. The other show band is called JUMP, which seemed to do almost every other genre, sometimes with mixed results. (But while JUMP's vocals might be shaky at times, the musicians were great!) And since the "celebrity" DJ was going to spin on deck after the Caribbean party, we went to the Spinnaker to finally enjoy DJ Keith spinning a night party. He had a great selection of music with a lot of fun mash-ups, and was very friendly and receptive to our requests. I don't understand why NCL would stifle the talent of DJ Keith by bringing in the untalented "celebrity" DJ Sami Automatic and assigning him the better events. (On the cruise, I described him as a bad wedding DJ. At home afterwards, I Googled him -- he's actually available for hire for Raleigh-area weddings...)
Day 5 -- St. Maarten
Today we visited St. Maarten, a very common port of call for Eastern Caribbean itineraries. As such, I've been here several times. But as an air travel enthusiast (in addition to my cruise enthusiasm), there was no question about what I would be doing today: spending the afternoon at Maho Beach, just behind the start of the runway for Princess Juliana International Airport. This is one of the best planespotting locations in the world. And the secret is out, as I had never seen the beach so crowded! But everyone was there for the same reason. We were fortunate that it was a Sunday, when air travel is increased to/from the island -- we got to see two Boeing 747s, one Airbus A340 and several A330s, in addition to a bunch of narrow-body jets and prop planes. As Maho Beach is a popular destination, taxis are always on hand ready to bring people back to the ships.
We returned, got cleaned up and then enjoyed dinner at the Venetian. Tonight's entertainment was a magician named Greg Gleason. It was a typical Vegas-style magic show with some predictable tricks, but still an entertaining show to pass an hour of one's evening. His finale was to make a helicopter appear in a seemingly empty gigantic box. (More on that later...)
Afterwards, we went to Dancing with the Dawn Stars, inspired by the popular ABC show which I've actually never watched. It turned out to be surprisingly entertaining! Eight passengers (four men and four women) were paired up with a selection of cruise staff, and each round was a different music genre. Three judges consisted of a Second City cast member (who took on the requisite role of the "mean judge"), the shopping consultant, and Calvin Lodge, the Hotel Director for the Dawn. After each round, one pair was eliminated. They would later appear on screen from the "Loser's Lounge" with Assistant Cruise Director Mike Shulz interviewing them in a scripted comedic bit. The show was a lot of fun!
Day 6 -- Antigua
Since we're at the half-way point of the cruise, I sent a few clothes out for laundering. PET PEEVE #2: the laundry prices. $4.95 to wash a T-shirt? Some of my shirts didn't even cost $4.95... (But two days during the cruise, there were laundry specials: $25 for a full bag. Unfortunately, today was not one of those days...)
Today's stop was Antigua, and instead of a ship excursion, we opted to do an independent trip to Nelson's Dockyard on the southern side of the island. I had been to Antigua once before but only stayed in St. John where we docked, so I was interested in seeing some of the rest of the island. We decided to join several other of our "Friends of Dorothy" to share a cab. We found a driver on the pier and off we went -- the driver gave us a nice overview of the island along the way. We hugged the west coast on the way down, passing scenic villages and coves. We arrived at Nelson's Dockyard and spent an hour there -- this spot used to be a vital British dockyard during the 18th and 19th centuries, but still remains an active dockyard today. Many luxury yachts and sailboats were anchored here. Several historical buildings offered a glimpse at the stories behind the port. Admission was $8 USD. After an hour, we found our driver and returned to the port via the center of the island, and he provided more information about the culture and day-to-day life of his fellow Antiguans.
After a quick lunch, CruisinMaterial and I got off the ship again to walk around St. John. We went as far as the large church that overlooks the town, but found it closed for renovations.
Tonight's dinner was Le Bistro -- despite my four other NCL cruises, I had never eaten at Le Bistro before (French cuisine isn't among my favorite types). My meal started with a very creative appetizer which consisted of four small waffle cones, each filled with a different type of salad. My entrÃ©e was the duck, which was very tender and delicious!
Tonight's show was a ventriloquist named Kenny Byrd. I don't recall seeing a ventriloquist on any of my other cruises, so I gave it a shot. While the pace of his show was a bit slow, he did have some very funny bits and the audience loved him. It was a nice addition to the entertainment roster of the cruise.
Day 7 -- Dominica
Another day, another beautiful island! We found ourselves in Dominica today, and we had pre-booked an afternoon excursion called "River Tubing Adventure" -- and quite the "adventure" it was! Sixteen of us piled into a minibus and drove along the coast, then up into the dense rainforest to our starting point. A team of about eight guides greeted us with large yellow inner tubes, and outfitted everyone with a lifejacket and a helmet. One by one we plopped onto our rafts into the water, and away we went! The guides had floated out ahead of us and positioned themselves strategically along the river, there to give us an extra push if we found ourselves running out of current or if we got our tube stuck on an underwater rock. The experience was exhilarating, as we bobbed across the sometimes turbulent waters and gazed up at the gorgeous rainforest hugging each river bank. We traversed the river in sections, stopping for a few minutes in between each one so the guides could reposition themselves for the next segment. About 40 minutes later, we reached the end of the trip and climbed a short but steep trail back to the road.
And this is where the real adventure began. Apparently, after the bus had dropped us off, its transmission blew and it was unable to take us back to the ship. (It was, however, able to meet us at the pick up point, so we were able to be reunited with our belongings.) A replacement bus was summoned, but we still had to wait a half-hour for it to arrive. Once it did, we climbed in and continued along the road uphill. But five minutes later, this bus sputtered to a halt and a thick smoke poured out from the engine -- a water hose feeding the engine had burst! We were stopped on an incline and several passengers scrambled off, afraid that the bus might start rolling downhill! (It didn't.) So this driver made a call and ordered yet another bus for us. The driver told us it would be about 25 minutes, but I sensed he was lying -- and he was, as it took a full hour for bus #3 to arrive. Several passengers got antsy about the bus problems and for feeling trapped in the middle of nowhere, as a stray dog kept a watchful eye on us. Once we were again on our way, the driver offered to take us to our next planned stop -- a mid-island restaurant where we would be served a drink. We unanimously told him no, just take us back to the ship. (We were already going to be returning 90 minutes late, just in time for the "all aboard" before the sail out.)
While a mechanical problem can happen anytime, it did seem inexcusable for TWO buses to break down on the same tour. NCL contracts with local tour operators for their excursions, so it does remain their responsibility to properly vet the capability and the safety of each company they use. We did later hear that several passengers complained to the Shore Excursions staff about the trip and that the corporate offices were contacted, and at least one pair who complained was refunded their cost. (CruisinMaterial and I felt that since we still got to enjoy the river tubing in full, we got what we paid for.)
Back on the ship, we got cleaned up in time to make our dinner reservation at Teppanyaki, NCL's hibachi-style Japanese restaurant. I've done Teppanyaki on every NCL cruise, and it remains one of my favorite things to do -- not only is it an entertaining show, but the food is freshly prepared and delicious! Teppanyaki on the Dawn is rather small -- only two grills, each with 12 seats. It's important to plan ahead and book early, as the electronic charts showing the availability of each restaurant often showed Teppanyaki to be full. Tonight's dinner didn't disappoint -- our chef put on a great show (probably the best I've seen yet) and the food was yummy!
I skipped tonight's entertainment -- a hypnotist. Or as I prefer to think of it, "forced improv." If anyone actually thinks this is hypnotism, they are kidding themselves. Later, we went to the Spinnaker where our favorite DJ (Keith) was spinning some great vocal house music -- I think we stayed there past 1:30 a.m.!
Day 8 -- Barbados
Today we found ourselves in Barbados. Because we had a non-water excursion booked for our last stop tomorrow in St. Kitts, we opted to do a beach excursion here this afternoon. A large bus took us a few miles south to Brownes Beach, part of a large arc of beautiful powdery sand. We were guests of a beach bar/nightclub called Harbour Lights, and our admission included a lounger, shared umbrella and a drink. We spent three hours here enjoying the beautiful beach and warm water.
Back on board, we enjoyed yet another dinner in the Venetian, then went to tonight's entertainment, The V(ariety) Show. This hour-long show started with a musical number by the Dawn production cast, then a 20-minute set by Kenny Byrd, the ventriloquist. Clearly, he put his best stuff into his earlier full-length show -- tonight's bit dragged. But the remainder of the show was salvaged by the very talented Greg London, an impressionist singer who emulated the styles of several rock personalities. Greg was also backed by Dawn's amazing show band. But this was just a preview of his full show to come in a couple days.
Following this, we headed over to the Spinnaker for the Quest, billed as an "adult game show." It's best described as a scavenger hunt, and participants group themselves into teams of six to eight players. Each team is assigned a number, and the host (Mike Shulz the Assistant Cruise Director) asked to be shown or brought different items. The items started out innocently -- a business card, an emptied lady's purse -- but then moved to the more risquÃ© -- someone's tattoo, a piercing that was not in the ear, etc. Unfortunately, the event was marred by the host's homophobic ignorance: after he requested each team to present two women kissing, he then threatened to ask the teams for two men kissing, but abruptly canceled it, saying something like, "Don't worry, I'm not going to make you do that." It played into the homophobic stereotype that two women showing affection was okay, yet two men doing the same thing was somehow disgusting. I and the gay passengers I was sitting with immediately felt offended and uncomfortable with Mike's action. He should have either gone through with both challenges or done neither. (On a previous cruise on the Pearl, the Quest host did make both challenges, and both were done by the passengers with no one feeling uncomfortable. The participants were perfectly okay with it.)
After Quest ended, the Spinnaker turned over to the "celebrity" DJ Sami Automatic, who started his set with what seemed like the 100th time he's played the Cupid Shuffle. Or was it the other line dance that he overplays? Following this were the same poorly-mixed songs we kept hearing from him over and over again. Ugh.
Day 9 -- St. Kitts
Is it really our last port of call already? Boarding the ship in Miami felt like ages ago, but at the same time the cruise has flown by! Our last stop was in St. Kitts, a beautiful island I first visited a year ago. But this was CruisinMaterial's first visit to St. Kitts, and I knew that the St. Kitts Scenic Railway excursion (which I did before) was the best way for him to see a lot of the island. We booked the later offering of the day. After walking around Basseterre for an hour, we went to our designated meeting place. We learned that the previous trip had a maintenance delay and that we would be departing 20 minutes late. (Passengers were offered the opportunity to cancel their excursions for a full refund, but I don't think anyone actually opted to.) We loaded into comfortable minibuses for the road portion of the tour -- due to the delay, we had an extended tour which included a part of the island that I didn't get to see the last time, which was a nice plus for me. We drove north along the west coast of the island, and the driver gave a thorough background of the culture of the people of St. Kitts as we drove from village to village. We then reached the northern station where the train dropped off the previous passengers so they could embark on their road portion. The train cars are double-decker -- air-conditioned downstairs (and each with a restroom), and open-air upstairs. Everyone seemed to opt for the upstairs level, and by design there was enough seating for all. We set out on the hour-long ride, passing through former sugar cane plantations and enjoying sweeping views of the Atlantic Ocean coastline. Attendants in each car served complimentary drinks, including pina coladas and rum punch. At the end of the line, the buses were there to take us the short distance back to the ship.
We had dinner in the Venetian, as usual. (The only time we saw the Aqua restaurant was during the safety drill, as it was our muster spot.) Tonight's menu included a delicious prime rib, and our server had no problem accommodating carnivore CruisinMaterial's request for extra meat! For tonight's entertainment, we had two options: the Second City sketch/improv show (a staple on NCL) or the 55 to Stay Alive game show, based on the television show Minute to Win It. Since we were both familiar with Second City's shtick from previous cruises, we opted for the game show. Participants were individually given a challenge that they needed to complete within 55 seconds, such as pulling every tissue one-by-one from an entire box, or tossing ping pong balls into a set of drinking glasses. The Dawn's excellent entertainment staff kept the game fun and entertaining.
Day 10 -- At Sea
Today was the first of two sea days as we made our way back to Miami. We signed up for the Behind the Scenes Tour of the Dawn, and our group met at noon for the 2.5-hour tour. Our first stop was in the main galley, situated between the Aqua and Venetian restaurants, where all the food is plated. A large display on one wall contained pictures of every dish served during the cruise, grouped by day -- the preparers use these for reference as they plate each passenger's meal. Next we visited the areas where the food is cooked, including four large vats for soups. Following this was the food preparation areas -- different rooms for different types of food: the meat room, the fish room, the vegetable room.
We moved on to the recycling and refuse areas, where all trash is sorted and prepared for offloading shoreside. The Dawn's Environmental Officer did an excellent job stressing NCL's environmental policies, which go beyond those required by law. The next area was provisioning, where all food is stored in large walk-in refrigerators and freezers for the duration of the cruise. Separate thawing refrigeration units store food for 24 hours until it is ready for preparation.
We proceeded down the main staff corridor which runs the length of the ship, dubbed "I-95." And lo, what this poking out of a large container by the cargo door? Why its magician Greg Gleason's disassembled helicopter!
Our next stop was the laundry, with about a dozen massive washer and dryer units laundering everything from bedding to tablecloths, crew uniforms, towels and passengers' laundry. The most impressive equipment in this area was the folding machines -- one by one, workers would feed sheets, tablecloths or towels into a machine, and mechanical engineering did the rest!
Next, we went backstage of the Stardust Theater and met with Troy Mitchell, the entertainment manager. He gave us some interesting information about staging the Dawn's production shows and scheduling/rehearsing the performers. Finally we went to the bridge, where our group was divided into two. Our subgroup gathered around the controls on the starboard wing, and the 1st Navigation Officer described the automatic and manual controls of the ship. As CruisinMaterial and I are both cruise nuts, we asked a lot of questions!
We decided to dine in Cagney's tonight, a Chicago-style steakhouse. The walls were filled with framed reproductions of 1920s newspaper front pages, and I could have spent hours reading the articles. The menu offered several different steaks: filet mignon, rib eye, T-bone and NY strip, as well as a couple other meat dishes. I started with the crab cake appetizer, but wasn't impressed with it (too much filler). But the New England clam chowder was excellent, as was the rib eye steak that followed.
Following dinner, we caught impressionist singer Greg London's full show, and I was thoroughly entertained by his spot-on impressions of a wide range of rock singers. Greg not only captured their voices perfectly, but also their expressions and mannerisms. Some parts were really funny, such as his hilarious impression of Ozzy Osbourne.
Finally, it was the party we eagerly anticipated the entire cruise -- the White Hot Party! This is a staple on all Norwegian cruises, and guests are encouraged to wear white. It seems that our feedback about the DJs worked -- we were pleased to see that the in-house DJ Keith was spinning the main part of the party! And what a party it was -- the production dancers opened it with a routine, and the entire entertainment staff (some of whom were donning white angel wings) circulated through the crowd to make sure everyone was having a good time. We left the party around 1:30 a.m. and it was still going strong.
Day 11 -- At Sea
It was the last full day of the cruise, and fortunately the weather continued to be beautiful and warm for most of the day. We enjoyed a very relaxed morning and early afternoon on the ship, then went to the Stardust Theater for the Crew Talent Show. Also a staple on NCL cruises, the show features the talents of several on board crew members. Cruise Director Johnny "Cash" Sanchez started off with a song, followed by four women from the Republic of Kiribati performing a local dance. Next was a singer from India who played guitar and sang a sampling of songs, then the on board printer demonstrated the art of sand painting. Another singer performed a showtune ballad. The last act before the finale was a troupe of four dancers -- including our stateroom attendant Paul -- performing hip-hop dance. Then the cruise entertainment staff appeared in togas and performed the hilarious finale called "Fountains."
I used the ship's internet today so I could check in for my flight home tomorrow, and to pull up some news articles about the Costa Concordia incident that happened overnight. PET PEEVE #3: an unnecessary $3.95 "account activation" charge when you buy internet time. I work in IT, and there's no reason for this fee. This is an automated process -- it does not cost anyone anything to create an account. Pure profiteering...
We decided to finish the cruise with one last specialty restaurant, Bamboo, which specializes in Asian cuisine. Bamboo is situated mid-ship on Deck 7, overlooking the Gatsby Lounge one deck below, and adjacent to Teppanyaki. Only two other tables were occupied when we arrived, and the restaurant seemed eerily empty. However, it was anything but quiet -- the banging sounds of the hibachi chefs performing in Teppanyaki mingled with the loud piano singer from the lounge below. While it wasn't the most peaceful dinner, the food was delicious, especially the lemon pepper shrimp and the Szechuan beef. For dessert, we both had the crÃ¨me brulee trio -- ginger, green tea and beet. The beet one was actually my favorite!
Then we were off to tonight's performance of Bollywood, a show developed by the Jean Ann Ryan production company that was purchased by NCL when they decided to bring the development of entertainment in-house. The show started off with a high-energy production number, then focused on many smaller acrobatic and aerial acts. The performances, costumes and sets were impressive, although I thought that the final number was somewhat weak given the big opening number. Once the show ended, the cruise director introduced a couple hundred staff and crew who paraded through the theater and sang "That's the Norwegian Way." (We heard that NCL will be replacing this traditional end-of-cruise song with a new one next month.) Following the show, we packed our bags, then went to the Spinnaker for one last drink. They had advertised a Farewell Toga party, but not too many passengers were participating.
CruisinMaterial and I had different flights to different cities, and mine was relatively early -- 11:45 a.m. from Fort Lauderdale. Before the trip, I had arranged a 9 a.m. pickup with a shared shuttle service, QLS Transportation. I planned to self-debark with all my bags. Before passengers can debark, a ship needs to be cleared by local customs and immigration officers. NCL advertised a likely 8 a.m. time for self-debarkation to start, although in my experience, these time estimates are usually conservative and a ship will open earlier. But that was not to be today -- as I learned from a staff member, an unusually high number of staff were ending their contracts today, and they had to be cleared by immigration before the ship could be cleared. So as I dragged my luggage to the mid-ship stairway, I found a long line had grown from the front of the ship (where the gangway was located) to the mid-ship stairs. In fact, the area around the stairs was so crowded that passengers arriving via elevator could not get out. Two of the four elevators stayed there with their doors open and passengers waiting inside, rendering them unusable by other passengers. And there seemed to be no staff around to help control the crowd flow and move them out of the way. (A logical choice would have been to allow the line to continue into the Aqua restaurant and to keep the center stairs and elevators clear.)
But a few minutes after 8 a.m., the ship was cleared and the line began to move. By 8:45, I was through immigration and curbside, and my shuttle arrived to pick me up. I should also note that Fort Lauderdale airport can be a zoo on weekends when lots of cruise ships are turning around, but the staff there was efficient at getting passengers through check-in and security, and onto their planes. My flight left on time, and I arrived at my home in Philadelphia by 3 p.m.
To sum up (as this is now page 11 in Microsoft Word), I had an amazing cruise on the Norwegian Dawn! Many things I already knew about NCL were upheld on this experience -- the incredible staff and crew, the lively nightlife, the excellent cuisine. And I was surprised by some things as well, especially the quality of the entertainment on board (both in-house and guest performers).
I also need to mention a few more people who gave outstanding service: Calvin Lodge, the Hotel Director, for being so receptive to my concerns about Mike Shulz's homophobic joke during the Quest game. (I had every intention of speaking with Mike directly, but I simply didn't see him again before the cruise ended.) Patrick on the cruise entertainment staff was extremely friendly and did a great job; "Scottie the Hottie" was also amazing and funny. David Contreras, the Dawn's concierge. Amin Flood from the shore excursions staff. Reyshell in the Star Bar for remembering everyone's favorite drinks every night. And I've already mentioned Johnny "Cash" and Liga and DJ Keith and a few others!
But I feel this may sum it up best: After I returned home, someone I met on my recent Norwegian Epic cruise asked me via Facebook what I thought of the Dawn. And I replied, "The Epic was a fun spectacle, but the Dawn made me feel at home." Read Less