We just got back from our 9 night cruise on the Norwegian Dawn to the Southern Caribbean. Hopefully my review will cover most aspects of our trip.
Embarkation in Miami was easy and painless. As soon as you enter the terminal, you immediately go through the x-ray process, and then on to check-in. Since we were Suite guests, there is a separate line for check-in, as well as a small office for this process to occur in a quiet, more relaxed setting. As a Suite guest, you can make dinner reservations for the entire cruise at check-in time via the concierge, who greeted us during our check-in. Another perk of being in a Suite is supposedly being taken right to your cabin by NCL personnel. One of the Butlers escorted us and another couple to the ship, but then left us to escort the other couple to their cabin. Perhaps this was due to the fact that we had sailed the Dawn before, and they just assumed we could find our own way. However, in our last 3 cruises on NCL, all in Suites, we have yet to be escorted to our cabin. Not a big deal, but it is a promised perk for Suite guests.
Our cabin was on Deck 10 aft, cabin 10228. This is a category AD stateroom, which is known as a Romance Suite. The cabin size is great at approximately 290 square feet and with about a 100 square foot balcony. The bathroom was very nice, and is the same as what you would expect in Categories AC, AE, AF and AG. It was broken down into 3 'compartments'. There was the toilet on the right, the sink in the middle, and a bathtub with a very nice shower head on the left. The bathroom is probably about 54 square feet alone. The toilet and the shower both have nice sliding doors, but since they are clear glass, there really is no privacy if 2 people want to use the bathroom at the same time. High quality soaps, shampoo and conditioner are provided and refilled as necessary. Someone at NCL clearly has a sense of humor, as there was a scale in the bathroom. No good can come from getting on a bathroom scale during a cruise. The bedding and pillows in the cabin were super comfy, and the cabin was extremely quite. This made for some great sleeping. The balcony for the AD Suite is the largest of the AFT Suites, but you generally pay a hefty premium for this category over the AFT AE Suites. Some of the nice perks of this category stateroom were having a Butler (Ravi), and a Concierge (Anshuman). We had Ravi last year on the Dawn as well, and loved having him again this year. Ravi brought an afternoon snack to the room every evening around 5pm. The other notable things Ravi did for us was deliver breakfast to our room on several mornings, including debarkation day, as well as dinner on several evenings. Since we were in a Suite, the room service breakfast menu was expanded compared to the lower category staterooms. For example, you could order almost anything that is available at the buffet. Ravi also brought MANY plates of food for us from the Blue Lagoon all week during our sail away happy hours. Anshuman, the concierge, is available to help with tender tickets and priority reservations for dinner. NCL generally allows you to only make dinner reservations for the same day or the following day. With the concierge, you could actually make all of your reservations on the first day, if you knew where you wanted to eat that far in advance. Anshuman actually was able to make a reservation for us for 10 people at the Italian restaurant (Impressions) only hours before dinner, so that was a great help to us. Anshuman seems to be everywhere on the ship, and really makes you feel like you are his only guests. Our cabin Stewards were Daya and Eleser, and they were great. Our room was always perfect, and they made us several towel animals during the week. The always had a smile on their faces and took time to say hello to us every time we saw them.
Other Suite perks include... - You can order room service from any menu on the ship, rather than the normal room service only menu, as long as the restaurant is actually open. In other words, you can't order dinner from a restaurant at 1am, if the restaurant closed at 10:30pm. The only exceptions to this are Tappenyaki and Sushi, which you cannot order at any time in your cabin, for obvious reasons. You still have to pay the same fee for the specialty restaurants even if have it delivered to your cabin. - Upgraded towels and robes. The Terry robes were nice, but too heavy for the Caribbean. We actually asked Ravi to bring us the Waffle Robes that they have in the Mini-Suites, as they breathe much better. He obliged with no problem. The towels are huge and very plush. - Cagney's restaurant is open for breakfast and lunch for Suite guests only, so it is not extremely crowded, and a nice quiet alternative to the buffet. It is free of charge for breakfast and lunch, and the meals here were excellent. - A larger TV in the room with a selection of DVDs that can be obtained from the Butler. There is a list in the room of about 80 available movies. - A coffee/cappuccino machine in the room. Making coffee was a piece of cake, but we did not get creative enough to make cappuccino. Saturday morning, our first day at sea, we had our Cruise Critic Meet & Mingle. We had a great turn out of approximately 80 people. NCL's Meet & Mingles are done very well, as we had about 8 officers plus the Cruise Director introduce themselves and make themselves available for questions. The Dawn also has a random drawing to allow guests to dine with an officer, which makes for a special dinner.
Ok, let's talk food, shall we? The Garden Cafe is a decent buffet style restaurant with many choices. The Dawn does not have the 'action stations' of the newer NCL ships, but the layout is still very good. The food in the Garden Cafe was very good for the most part, and there are a large number of choices. If you can't find something good to eat here, you have not tried very hard. Breakfast is served here until about 11:30am, which is great for late sleepers. You can also get breakfast items at the Blue Lagoon, although since we never tried it, I can't comment on the menu or quality.
Dinner on this ship is full of choices. There are about 11 different choices when you count room service. We did not eat in all of them during this cruise, but here are the details of the ones we did get to experience. We ate at 1 of the 'Specialty' Restaurants that have a cover charge.
We also ate at Impressions, which serves Italian food. This is also one of the 'specialty' restaurants on the Dawn, and has a $10 per person cover charge. The menu has quite a few choices for food, and while we don't think the Bolognese sauce was as good as on previous NCL cruises, the meal was still very good. The scenery and atmosphere of this restaurant were first rate. You would never even think you were on a cruise ship, but rather, a fine restaurant anywhere in the world. All in all, a meal like this would probably run you about $50-$60 for 2 in any fine restaurant, so at $20, it was still a good deal.
Aqua is one of the 2 main dining rooms. It is not like a traditional dining room on a cruise. Most ships main dining rooms are large, brightly lit rooms. This restaurant had nice subdued lighting, and was broken up into sections more like a traditional land restaurant. Our meal here was very good, although the chef obviously has an issue with cooking steaks. I ordered mine medium rare, and it came out well done. The next night we had dinner delivered to our room from this restaurant, and I ordered the steak rare, hoping it would be closer to medium rare, which it was. Ahmed, the Maitre D' in Aqua was very friendly and a lot of fun.
Venetian is the other of the 2 main dining rooms. It is more of the traditional cruise ship restaurant, very large and brightly lit. Our meal here was also very good.
Other nights for dinner were spent at the Garden Cafe and the Blue Lagoon. The Blue Lagoon is open 24 hours a day. There is a limited menu here, but you can order as much as you want, and there is no charge. Chicken wings, Hot Dogs, Fish & Chips, Chicken Strips were all very good, as well as an extremely delicious Panini. The menu includes a few other items including burgers, but I never tried anything else other than the items listed above. This is the only restaurant that is open very late, so if you are hungry after midnight, you have 3 choices, the Blue Lagoon, the Casino for light snacks, or room service.
We did try the regular room service menu on this trip on 2 occasions. I am not sure if the room service menu is different for suites, but the BLT's were very good on the one night we ordered them. The Personal Pizzas we ordered on a different night were nothing special. The pizza in the Garden Cafe was MUCH better. We also took advantage of the expanded Suite breakfast menu. This was great on those mornings when you will be doing excursions off the ship, and do not want to spend time going to the restaurants. You hang the card on your door at night with the choice of items you want, the time you want them delivered, and you are done. It is very nice to sit on your balcony first thing in the morning enjoying breakfast.
The pool area was very nice, but unfortunately very crowded. There is only 1 pool here, and there was WAY too many little kids in the pool jumping in on top of people. NCL is trying to cut down on the chair hogs by charging $25 for lost towels. I guess they figure that people will not be as likely to leave an unattended towel if it might disappear and end up costing them $25. I'm not sure it solves this purpose, as I saw more chairs with towels on them than people. The pool has a nice wading area around it, so you can sit in 6 inches of water if you just want to get wet without going into the pool. Oddly enough, the crew starts taking the deck chairs off the deck at about 6pm, so the pool deck all but closes down early. There is some very good food served at 'The Bimini Bar & Grill' above the pool deck. The pool deck band was excellent, but they did not seem to play long enough during the day, and the breaks lasted too long. This seems to be the same on all NCL ships. I don't understand how the pool band plays for only about 2.5 total hours (if that) during sea days. In addition, I wish they would have played at night, perhaps in the Spinnaker Lounge, since they were quite good.
The casino is nicely colored, and a decent size, but WAY too smoky. There are light snacks offered in here late in the evenings, for those who are hungry and don't want to leave the casino.
The other places on the ship to comment about were the galleria on the ship, and some of the other bars and lounges. The galleria was very large, but out of the way in the aft part of Deck 7. Most ships force you through the shopping area every which way you go, but this ship is laid out differently. As far as the bars go, there are several on this ship, but there seems to be almost a non-existent night life on this ship, unless you were 20 and like hip hop music. The Star Bar piano player ended by 10pm each night and the performer in Gatsby's lounge also ended well before midnight. The Spinnaker lounge hosted a few shows during the week as well as the 'white-hot' party and 'Quest', but was underutilized during the evenings on most nights. I'm not sure why they did not have a disco here later in the evenings, but they continued to use the much smaller (and more wide open) Dazzles lounge. Unfortunately, Dazzles lounge is directly underneath several cabins on Deck 8, so they had to turn the volume down in the evenings so as not to disturb those guests. They could have solved this by using Spinnaker more. Perhaps the 20 year olds liked the music being played, but in my opinion, the DJ's on the NCL ships are horrible. It would have been nice for the Dawn to use the Spinnaker lounge for a DJ that would cater to the 35-55 crowd and leave Dazzles to the 18-25 crowd. Unfortunately, they do not do this on any of the NCL cruises we have been on. The Dawn is definitely not the ship for you if you are a late night person looking for activity. The pool deck closes very early, except for the night of the deck party, which was a HUGE disappointment. The specialty bars all seemed to be closed by midnight, and if you stayed up past midnight, there was very little to do on this ship. This was very disappointing, but par for the course for NCL.
One last part of the ship to talk about is the Stardust Theater, which I have commented on in past reviews of the Jewel Class Ships, but my comments very much pertain to the Dawn class ships as well. This is the main theater for shows and is fairly large. However, there are several problems with this theater. First, this is the worst design of a theater I have ever seen on a cruise ship. The seats are like an old movie theater, not a cruise ship or Vegas style lounge. The seats are very narrow and have no leg room. It is very difficult to get into a row without stepping on other people. There are no drink holders, or room for anything for that matter. The 'wings' on the outside of the theater have no aisle along the walls, so you have to climb over everyone to sit in the outer sections of the theater. The seats along the outside edge of the theater are useless anyway due to obstructed views, so they would be better off removing those seats in favor of another access point for these outer sections. In addition, don't dare sit up in the balcony sections, as the views are absolutely horrible. Whoever designed this theater should find themselves out of work, as this is absolutely the worst flaw of an otherwise well laid out ship. I would not be surprised to see NCL totally redo this theater one day when the ship is in for refurbishment. The other complaint I have with the theater is that on most nights, the show times were at 7:30pm and 9:30pm. In my opinion, this is just way too early, with very few activities to do after the shows are over. There needed to be more 10:30pm shows for people who wanted to eat between 8 and 10. Otherwise, you cannot make either show. And one last point here. NCL should prevent people from entering the theater once the show begins. Nothing is worse than people climbing over me in the dark and interrupting me even though I managed to make it on time.
The days in port were very good. The only negative was that the Dawn had to tender in to Samana. This means that you cannot just walk off the ship and be at the port, you have to take a small boat (usually the ships lifeboats) to the destination. Of course, this takes time. There is time spent waiting for the tenders, and time spent on the boat ride in to the dock. If you have a tour excursion that you purchased through the ship, you get priority so that you won't miss your tour. If you do not have a tour with the ship, you have to wait for the others to disembark first. You also need to get a tender ticket so that you can disembark when your ticket is called. Luckily as a Suite guest, you get VIP tendering via the Concierge, so it eliminates this issue. We did excursions in Tortola and Antigua. In Tortola, we went to Jost Van Dyke and absorbed our share of 'Painkillers' This place should be renamed 'Caribbean Bliss' as I don't think there is a more laid back place to soak up sun and adult beverages. In Antigua we did a great Catamaran tour which lasts about 5 1/2 hours. There is a snorkel stop, lots of sailing, and about 75 minutes of beach time. In between this was an open bar and a great lunch onboard the cat.
Disembarkation day on NCL is done very well. Breakfast was being served in the main dining room, as well as the buffet. This is a far cry from Royal Caribbean or Carnival, which throw you off the ship early in the morning with very few food choices. NCL is first rate here, and guests were not completely off of the ship until after 10am. Since they do the disembarking in stages, there is not too much waiting around. As Suite guests, we had VIP disembarking privileges, should we choose to use them to get off the ship early if we wanted to. We chose not to, but our luggage was easily found in the VIP area. A few last points about our trip on the Dawn...
- The crew, especially Hugo (The Hotel Director), Anshuman, and Ravi were fantastic. If you are lucky enough to have dinner with Hugo one evening during your cruise, you will be sure to enjoy it. Hugo and his crew are one of the biggest draws for the Dawn and one of the main reasons we sailed it 2 years in a row. Shona (The Cruise Director) and Ray-Ray (Assistant Cruise Director) are part of a very friendly activities staff.
- The elevators were pretty quick, compared to other ships we have been on, especially the larger RCCL ships.
- There are cameras EVERYWHERE on this ship. We always joke that they were keeping track of all the food we ate so they could bill us a food surcharge at the end of the cruise.
- There are none of the cool LCDs around the ship to tell you the status of any restaurant on the ship as there are on the Jewel Class ships. They would show which of the restaurants were open, and how full they were. This was pretty informative. Hopefully when they put the Dawn in dry dock next year, these will be added.
- There is no interactive TV in the guest staterooms. On other lines, you could check your onboard account balance, as well as order excursions, etc. I hope they add this to NCL's ships in the near future. It would be nice if they tied this in to the system that shows the currently available restaurant seating like on the Jewel Class ships.
- The Dawn is definitely starting to show its age, although the ship is extremely well maintained, and the crew was constantly cleaning the common areas all week long. They do a great job keeping the ship looking good. We sailed this ship last year, and while it has aged, it has done so gracefully. 99% of the crew we interacted with was extremely friendly and pleasant. Kudos to Daya and Eleser, our cabin stewards. We never had to ask for anything.
- The Bollywood show was excellent. It is similar to a Cirque Du Soleil show, and should not be missed. It is as good as any show you will ever see on a ship. Dave Heenan, the comedian was good in the welcome show and had a very good late night show in the Spinnaker. The Magician Greg Gleason, had a great magic show, but his second show based on ESP was bland and lacking in my opinion.
- The Dazzles lounge supposedly has a curfew at midnight for anyone under 18, yet every night, we saw kids we knew were under 18 in the lounge after midnight. NCL did not enforce this very well, and to make matters worse, the DJ played music to cater to this age group, rather than the average age of the majority of the people in the lounge. Needless to say, the adults did not stay out in this lounge very late each night. NCL needs to choose an older DJ and cater more to the adults on this ship, which are actually paying for most of the fares.
- Keep in mind that NCL handles tips differently than other lines. They automatically add a $12 per person gratuity to your onboard account to cover tips for your stateroom attendants and waiters. Also keep in mind that if you are in a Suite, these automatic gratuities DO NOT cover the services of the Butler or Concierge, so you need to tip them separately according to the services they provide.
- I am not sure why NCL allows small kids in the 'White Hot' Party or shows like the Liars Club. These clearly should be adult only events/shows. I mean who wants to go to a nightclub and be surrounded by kids. There should be more adult only types of activities. And then there are the parents (haha) of these kids that need to take parenting classes. Why you would have your 8 year old kids in a show that is clearly geared toward adults with adult language is beyond me. Shame on all of you for subjecting your kids to that and us to your kids. Taking this further, in my opinion there should be a curfew for anyone under 18 on any cruise ship. Again, I am not sure how parents leave their 14-17 year old kids completely unsupervised until 2am or later.
- Cost Cuts. Latitudes pins are gone, although there was a nice Latitudes happy hour party on one of the last days of the cruise. I realize it's not a big thing for some, but I happen to like my Latitudes pins that I have received during our past NCL cruises. How much can these really cost NCL? Also, as seems to be consistent with other lines today, no more chocolates on the pillow at night. Not a big deal really...I'd rather have my Latitudes pin. I hear NCL is going to be changing the Latitudes program soon. I sure hope it does not get the same treatment as the NCL MasterCard did about a year ago. Remember how bad that change was? I wish NCL would give credits based on cabin category the way RCCL does. On RCCL if you sail in a suite, you get 2 cruise credits rather than just 1. On NCL, you get one cruise credit regardless if you are in a $499 inside cabin or a $4500 Owners Suite. Gone too are the welcome aboard glass of champagne. Unusually absent this year on the Dawn were comment cards. Perhaps eliminating these is a cost saving measure, but I'm not sure this is a smart move by NCL. I, for one, filled out my comment card on every cruise. I think these are invaluable in allowing the cruise line to figure out where it's doing well and where it needs to improve. In addition, NCL seems to make it extra difficult to send comments to them. I don't believe they provide an email address anywhere on their website to allow for feedback, but rather they provide a mailing address, which to me is FAR more inconvenient.
- And then there are the Photos. In my opinion, NCL's photo prices are too high, especially given the fact that they are not shooting film, but rather digital photos. And the prices are also too high given the crappy quality of the pictures their amateur photographers shoot. They do not know how to properly crop or properly frame a subject for an 8x10, so often peoples heads are at the very top edge of the photo, making it almost impossible to frame the picture. Whatever they pay these people is too much, as the quality of the photos does not deserve these high prices. In addition, perhaps it was the lack of quality or the high prices that resulted in thousands of pictures going unsold and thrown away. I saw this firsthand on the very last night of the cruise before the photo shop closed. Maybe if the prices were more reasonable, and the quality was better, they would sell more photos. In addition, this was such a waste of so much paper, that you would think NCL would come up with a way for people to view their photos on a monitor before they printed them out. Disneyworld does this by giving you a plastic card that contains references to all of your pictures, and then you can view them before deciding to buy. No paper is wasted this way, and the benefits of doing business this way saves lots of money on paper and chemicals. I hope NCL adopts this type of system in the near future. It would be more economical as well as more environmentally friendly.
Overall, we enjoyed our cruise very much. Our room was incredible with a fantastic view from the balcony. The ship is laid out well, and is easy to navigate. The food was excellent and never left you looking for anything with all the choices there were. However, the lack of evening entertainment and night life was disappointing, as it has been on our past Norwegian cruises. We had a great time on this trip, due in part to the crew and the itinerary, but mainly due to the great people that we sailed with and met during our cruise. And in the end, that's what makes a vacation special to me.
Good Luck and Bon Voyage!!!
A special thanks to....Marnie & Hunter, Dave & Sandy, Ray & Heather, Ray & Jackie, Brenda & Curtis, the Slot Pull crew, and of course, my Foof. You guys made this trip unforgettable!!! Read Less