We rated each category A-F based on our experience on the NCL Dawn. Overall the ship was okay... nothing exceptionally glamorous but not terrible either. Our main issue with the Dawn was terrible communication and ... Read More
We rated each category A-F based on our experience on the NCL Dawn. Overall the ship was okay... nothing exceptionally glamorous but not terrible either. Our main issue with the Dawn was terrible communication and transparency especially when it came to logistical problems such as boarding the ship (which took over two hours and we were there at our allotted time) and two different tender ports which precluded us from getting off the ship for the first two hours. People on Cruise Critic talk about the layout being confusing and not as easy as more updated cruise ships and they are correct. We LOVED all the ports and had great excursions. If you are a loyal NCL cruiser and like smaller ships, you will love the Dawn. All the people we met that like "less crowds, smaller ships, NCL perks, etc." loved it. But, if you are more loyal to Royal Caribbean or Princess and slightly larger ships (ex. Princess Royal at 142K tons and holds 3600 people or RC Adventure of the Seas at 137K tons and holds 3100 people vs Dawn 92K tons and holds about 2300 people), you will likely be disappointed.
In comparison to RC and Princess, the food quality was subpar. We ate at four specialty restaurants (three were included in our "package" and one was free but mandatory reservations). We felt even at those places the food was okay - not great. They have two main dining rooms - we tried them both. We felt Aqua had better ambiance than Venetian, but they served the same food. The food was never impressive no matter how many options we ordered. Also, we found there to be a lack of dining options outside of 5:30-8pm. For breakfast it was only the giant buffet (for a brief time the dining room would open up, but it was the same food and it took 30 min longer to get). There was no "all the time sandwich, pizza, sushi, ice cream bar, etc" open all day and at all hours of the night which is different than what we've experienced on RC, Princess, and Carnival. The Dawn did have dining options out on the main deck, but they were closed 5 of the 7 days due to "inclement weather" which we were told was because of the temperature (which it was between 55-69 every day). There was one rainy day, but even in the 60s in the sun it was nice on the main deck so we were confused why there wasn't food being served. Also, there was NO room service without a charge! I know RC and Princess will charge during late-night hours but at least they have complimentary breakfast you can order to your room in the morning or a mid-day snack if you wanted something.
All the entertainment was lackluster at best. Our one day at sea should have been the "Super Bowl" for the cruise director and it was just as pitiful as all the other days. Typically they had four things going on every night: the main show on one end of the boat, karaoke on the other end of the boat, the cruise ship musicians in the main atrium, and a guitar player next to the Champagne Bar (which was also right next to the Cigar Bar and the Casino - so it reeked of smoke all the time). None of the shows on this ship compared to the RC or Princess.
Drink Package (B):
The plus is you can buy two drinks at a time with one card. You still have to have both people in the room with drink packages, but it is nice to pull out one card. We did get up to $15 for any drink, but NCL also has higher prices in in comparison to the other cruise lines. What I was REALLY disappointed in was their wine selection...especially in the Wine Bar. They had about 30 wines, but only about 10 were within the package. I wasn't impressed and considered them "drinkable." Also, they only had about two types of liquor in each category as part of the package. On the other ships, pretty much everything except one "top shelf" was included. The most disappointing part of the drink package is NCL does NOT include coffee or water like the other major cruise lines. Even if you pick the drink package as one of your "free" options, they are still going to charge you an additional fee (ours was $139/person) to compensate for the additional cost in comparison to the other "free" options. Please note that if you are in a U.S. port, even with a "free" beverage package, they still charge a "port tax" on every drink purchase. It isn't much, but it will appear on your bill and would be nice if NCL informed you of that.
Spa Package (C):
We ordered this in advance because we loved the one on Princess so much. We don't regret buying it ($139/person in advance, $186/person once on the ship and they only let 60 people in). But, in comparison to what Princess had, it was not nearly as impressive. This ship had a very small "lap pool" as they called it, but if you are a true swimmer, you would spend more time doing flip turns than swimming. They had a hot tub and a hydrotherapy pool. The hydrotherapy pool was half the size of what was on the Princess and it looked very industrial versus the sleek and upgraded design on Princess. Princess had four temperate and scent showers (cool mist that smells like lavender, warm mist, waterfall, etc), but there was nothing like that on the Dawn. The Dawn had sauna and steam rooms - but segregated between men and women which was disappointing for us because we could do that together on Princess. Also, the men had both a warm and cold plunge tub, but neither for the women. Both ships had the stone/tile heated chairs, but the design on the Dawn was too curvy which contorted your body versus the Princess Royal which was more ergonomic. The only plus for the Dawn was you could sit in these chairs and see out the back of the boat - but the drawback is it was always very light in there versus Princess who kept it dim lit like a spa. The Dawn did have "Reflection Rooms" which allows you to see off the back of the ship as well and just relax anytime the spa was open. One final thing - if you do the spa tour on day one, it seems like the various exfoliating scrubs are included, but actually that was just for show and then it was an "upcharge" if you want it. Again, lack of transparency.
MUTLIPLE times they really messed up the logistics. The first day just getting on the ship was a nightmare. NCL is the first line I've ever had to "select a time" to board when I was filling out my registration. I even called customer service to ask if I got there early or late, what would happen and she said we would have to wait until everyone in the designated time had boarded and then we would get on afterwards. That was NOT true. There was no time for anything. No place you reported for your specified time. We got there 20 min early just to make sure we would be in our boarding time and it took us TWO HOURS to get on the ship! I also asked customer service prior to our boarding if we boarded at noon, would our rooms be ready (because on other lines, they normally aren't ready until between 1:30-3pm). She said yes - but the answer was no...rooms were not ready until after 1:30pm. When we hit our last stop, Newport, RI, they only had FOUR tenders. NCL was NOT transparent with us that it would take this long nor did the Captain, Cruise Director, or Transportation Direction make any announcements about why this was the case. All the Cruise Director kept saying was to be patient. We tendered at 11am and were not allowed to leave the ship until 1:15pm. We had to be back at the tender station at 4:30pm, so we only had three hours to explore this port which was very disappointing. Another fact NCL was not transparent about was that if you booked an excursion with them, you were first off. So, anyone who did an excursion with other vendors or no formal excursions were not allowed to leave for over TWO HOURS! When we went to ask about it, guest services said it was a port limit that we couldn't have more than four tenders; whereas that might be the case, communication and transparency is essential. When you disembark the ship, they let people who carry their own luggage off for the first hour and they get to the colored bag tags. We got off near the end of the "self-assist," and it took us less than 10 minutes to be out of the cruise terminal, including customs.
We had our toilet go out for about 18 hours. Not ideal, but we know accidents happen and apparently it was a whole block of rooms due to a "clog." Again, no one notified us it was more than just ours until I started asking questions. Even when we returned the maintenance people couldn't tell us how long it would be. NCL did send us a bottle of Chardonnay and some chocolate covered strawberries two nights later, but honestly, even that was not transparent. It was a simple guest services card that said, "Thanks for traveling with us." So I didn't' know if it was for the toilet issues, because we were in a balcony, because we were first time NCL travelers, or because the logistics in Newport was so terrible. Also, there was always a few coffee machines that didn't work for breakfast in the large buffet which always created a cluster.
Kid Friendly (A):
They have an area on the back of the ship that is the best I have seen so far. It is perfect for kids ~3-7 years old. All shallow, a few slides, giant dinosaurs, and other fun things. It's at the back of the boat so you are somewhat secluded. The downside for our trip was the cooler weather, so people only really used it the first and last day. But, for other locations, it would be great. We also met a lady who said her kid was 12 and was in the 8-12 group and had such a fabulous time he never wanted to leave. She said the hours are great and they do lots of fun events with them. They have classes for all ages and even the tiny babies/toddlers have a place parents can bring them and let them play with the toy in a safe environment.
Halifax - Segway Nova Scotia (only one in town) - the crew here is very friendly and the tour is beautiful. They do a very thorough job making sure you are fully trained on the Segway before they take off on the tour.
St. John, Bay of Fundy - Moosehead Brewery Tour - very informative and TONS of free samples to include one inside their vat that is 3 degrees - the freshest beer you'll ever have! We booked this through NCL and they provided transportation to and from the brewery which also included a drive by the reversing rapids.
Bar Harbor - Bar Harbor Whale Watching - location was literally right off the tender boat which was great. But, if you get sea sick at all...DO NOT TAKE THIS TOUR! Many people on the boat were sick because they go 25-33 miles off the coast to see the whales and even on a beautiful day like ours, the wind was so strong the boat was rocking very hard. If you are not typically sea/motion sick, you will be fine and have a great time. We did get to see a Fin Whale (2nd largest on earth behind the Blue Whale) - but that was the only one we saw, so they actually gave a voucher to go again in the next three years for free. That is a great thing about this company - if you don't see a whale, they will give you a 3-year return voucher. Specifically we did the Whale and Puffin Tour and the only thing I would say is don't expect to see a puffin up close unless you have binoculars (which they do rent for $5 on the boat).
Portland - Maine Food For Thought Walking Food Tour - this is a MUST to do it with this particular company (which I booked through Viator, but you can book it directly with them). It's rated #1 on TripAdvisor for Food Tours in Maine and there is a reason for that. Every place is upscale and/or unique and Brice (the owner) really knows his stuff! He's well educated and takes the "farm to table" discussion to another dimension.
Newport, RI - We did not plan a specific excursion for this city and instead took the trolley to the Breakers and walked the 3 mile (1.5 miles each way) coastline and saw the amazing mansions which brings it so much popularity. We would have done more, but this was the stop NCL really messed up the logistics and we only had a few hours. Fortunately you tender one block from the Visitor's Center which is where you can buy tickets for the trolley to take you to the coastline. Everyone was very friendly and helpful to get you the right ticket on the right trolley. Read Less