As someone who hasnt cruised in 20 years, my first reaction when my hubby told me that hed booked a cruise, was panic. You see, wed been on a ship previously that ran into a tropical depression. Since I suffer from motion sickness just being a passenger in a car, it wasnt the best experience in the world. Thankfully, I found cruise critic and the many cruisers, so willing to share information. Within a few short days, my mind was at ease and I was on a mission to have a great time.
We arrived at the pier early on the morning of our embarkation. The porter promptly tagged our luggage (and a case of water) at the curb and we were on our way. There were a relatively small number of people inside the terminal, and we were immediately given seats. The women working in the terminal, assisting passengers, were just wonderful helpful, pleasant, knowledgeable and just firm enough to keep things organized as the check in stations had not yet opened. Shortly, I spotted several fellow cc flashers and their blinking lights. It was really very nice to meet people so early on (thanks Suzann for the flashers!). It was also a great experience, to run into some friendly faces during the week onboard.
In the terminal, the check in areas opened shortly. NCL provided coffee and munchies, which was a very welcoming gesture. The ship had arrived to port a bit late, however, we moved along very quickly and smoothly. We were very happy that we had arrived early, as the many hundreds that came after us had to stand in a long line for some time. Before we knew it, we were on the ship.
As new cruisers, we were a bit unsure of what to do (we couldnt get into our room until 2:00pm), so we took a tour of the ship and decided to grab some lunch at the garden cafe. This lunch is probably what gives the food on this ship a bad name. It was overcooked, steam-warmed banquet food with very little taste. Frankly, I wish we had skipped it.
Do not allow this first impression to skew your ideas of the food on the Dawn!! Our meals at Le Bistro (more on this later) were some of the best dining experiences we've ever had.
Following lunch, we went to the atrium and asked a few questions that were answered with a smile. We happen to be a family of individuals with food allergies, so we addressed the topic. Much to our surprise and delight, the front desk phoned Marlon Bryan, maitred (I believe) and his attention was outstanding. He took the time to review meal choices and ingredients. At one point, he even brought us a package of pasta, so that we would be comfortable with the ingredients. During the course of the week, Roosdin Muhammad, assistant maitred in training, became our contact with regard to food issues. His attention was extraordinary. He has a lovely demeanor and always gave the impression that our needs were paramount. He is truly a great asset to NCL.
This personalized service from the food service personnel will certainly weigh heavily when we choose our next cruise. As a parent with a child with food allergies, it was such a great comfort to know that the staff was well equipped and willing to accommodate our needs. Many in the food industry are not always willing to go the extra mile. The staff of the Dawn certainly was. Whenever we mentioned the food allergy, the wait staff always offered to double check ingredient lists. We didnt have a single incident all week, with regard to allergies.
After this, we went to check out our cabin and met our lovely room steward, Romeo. He was a friendly man and treated us like royalty. Our teen was delighted to see the famed towel animals arrive at night. One in particular gave us perhaps, the greatest laugh of our cruise, as we walked into our cabin late one evening to our cute, unexpected visitor. Romeo, really went the extra mile. There were the standard niceties such as the chocolate mint on our pillow and our cabin always had fresh towels, which we truly appreciated. He even replenished the refrigerator with the bottles of water we had brought. Romeo truly made our stay delightful, which wasnt always easy in our room, which was on the small side (we booked to late and there werent any larger cabins available).
Once settled in our cabin, we realized that we would need a real meal for dinner, so we took a walk to the restaurant Bamboo, and booked a 5:30pm reservation for Teppanyaki (based on some cc suggestions). The ship departed late and we got caught up in the beautiful view of the NY harbor and the Statue of Liberty, and we missed our reservation. We truly felt awful and hurried to the restaurant to extend our apologies. Fortunately, the hostess offered us a table in Bamboo, which we accepted.
This was the beginning of what became a week of wonderful meals. I feel the need to go into detail here, since I have read and heard that the food on ships is not very good, and we experienced, quite the contrary. At Bamboo, we were seated in a banquette table facing a window, and there we were delighted with several Asian influenced items from the menu. We had several dishes between us: Chinese chicken salad with wonton skins (my favorite - would love this recipe), stir fried chicken with bamboo shoots (even our teenager enjoyed this, order the plain white rice), stir fried beef and the teriyaki salmon. For dessert, we enjoyed an outstanding gingered crème brulee (I would have licked the dish if I could, lol!), a mediocre Thai pancake with coconut ice cream and green tea ice cream. After this meal, we truly looked forward to visiting the other restaurants onboard as it was clear that the kitchen and staff could truly cook!
Throughout the week, we visited several restaurants, all of which were very good (even to a very finicky, self admitted, foodie). It took a little while to figure out which restaurants we wanted to eat at and the process of going about getting a table there, having never sailed on the ship. We didnt book right away and as such, we found it a bit difficult to get reservations which we didnt expect on a cruise ship. Although you can always be seated in one of the main dining rooms, we preferred the specialty ones. It was frustrating for us to sit in a restaurant while having dinner, watching people being turned away when there were clearly tables available (this was observed at the specialty restaurants only). We do understand that tables are held for certain customers(mini-suites etc.), however it should be noted and perhaps reviewed by NCL that a current inside cabin customer, has the potential to be a future occupant of a larger suite in the future. We heard many people remark that they were disappointed to find that they were turned away from certain restaurants, yet there were clearly spaces available throughout the course of an evening.
Luckily, we were very fortunate (not only once, but twice) to reserve a table at Le Bistro which was truly something special. We ended up in the outer wine cellar area of the restaurant on our 1st full day at sea, for a late dinner. We were treated to wonderful meal, great service and lovely music courtesy of the fantastic piano man nearby. It made for a magical evening of people watching (it was the 1st formal night and passersby looked divine) and amazing food. We enjoyed the asparagus with hollandaise, escargots (buttery and garlicky) , the wonderful French onion soup, the almost soufflE-like cream of mushroom soup, the seared tuna, spinach salad, chicken with tiger prawn mousse, sea bass and the filet with foie gras (not all on the 1st night!). The main selections were delicious but most of the vegetables that served as accompaniment on the plates werent worth taking up valuable room in ones stomach. Save the precious room for dessert! We somehow managed to fit in the fabulous chocolate fondue with fresh fruit, which seemed a bit richer and more flavorful the first night we were there, although still worth having on the second night we dined. We also enjoyed a very sweet but nevertheless delicious, buttery, rich crepe suzette. Crème Brulee was yummy. The chocolate nougat cake was good but tasted like it was mass produced and less like a specialty of the restaurant.
As part of the Cruise Critic group, we enjoyed a very special meal that we will not forget in La Trattoria. The food and service were absolutely outstanding and the company was even better. We dined with some very special people (our fellow cc members) and considered ourselves very fortunate to be among them. Thanks to Hugo and Tony for sharing their time, stories and wonderful food.
Another evening, we had dinner at Teppanyaki with a generous and genuine cc member who, along with her husband, exudes all things good about life. She is already in such great demand that we will not reveal her identity but she knows who she is, and we are so fortunate to have crossed paths with her. The dinner at Teppanyaki was a delightful show, and we were truly impressed by the chefs attentiveness to our food allergy issue especially since he had to prepare meals for many people. This chef (I wish I could give his name) changed his utensils several times to avoid cross contamination with regard to foods being prepared. We so appreciated his effort. It was truly impressive! If you enjoy sushi, the sushi bar is worth a trip and the $10.00 all you can eat is a bargain. We found it to be less crowded than some of the other restaurants and the food is very fresh. The sushi chefs were also very willing to please and made several special items.
We enjoyed a dinner at Aqua, with its beautiful dEcor and ceiling of twinkling lights and were surprised by the tastiness of the several Cooking Light selections available. Again, as with the other restaurants, service was terrific and we didn't have any wait for a table.
As people that need our morning coffee fix, most of our days began with a pot of coffee and some fruit from room service. Service was prompt and we appreciated the call that came, about 5 minutes prior to arrival. It served as a great wakeup call, as delivery came at the exact time we requested. We ordered dry cereal on 3 days but only received a bowl on 1 - not a big deal for us but you might want to give a gentle reminder. We did request a large pot of coffee and received one each day, which was wonderful! On several mornings, we stopped by the garden cafe (we gave it another chance) for breakfast. Much to our surprise, there were many items that were very good for breakfast. We especially liked the very sweet muesli and dried fruits, the fresh fruit (which was lovely), the made to order omelets and waffles with whipped cream, and the warm croissants (which were fresh and warm, unlike those wed had in the Venetian), macerated strawberries and chocolate sauce (although this was always empty). There was a nice selection of dry cereals too&for both children and adults.
We are late risers and wed have breakfast quite late (only made it to the Venetian once), so wed just grab something easy for lunch -- usually a hot dog/hamburger at the Bimini bar or a plate of fruit, which wed take to the pool area. The Blue Lagoon was also available for some interesting items like shepherds pie and chili.
Speaking of pool area -- the worst of this ship was witnessed there. It was nearly impossible to get a lounge chair at the pool (although there was room for a dip in the pretty pool) and some people were vultures when it came to possessing chairs! Everyday, people were arguing about chairs be prepared.
One very rude woman actually took someones belongings (bags and all) off her chairs (I witnessed this) as the woman was standing right there drying off. Ive really never seen anything like it, truly. This woman also pulled my husbands towel off of his chair, just as he got up to get a drink from the bar. I was still sitting there. It was amazing. I know that NCL cant possibly police the behavior of its guests, however, I think they should consider implementing a system similar to the one that they use in the spa (they charge for admittance and it is a beautiful atmosphere). A small charge should be added if youd like to reserve a lounge chair available on 1st come, 1st served basis. This would alleviate the chair hogs and would prevent those entitled from removing personal belongings. From what I witnessed, I was honestly surprised that no one got physical.
Having said this, the pool was a great place, complete with Jacuzzis and usually live music. There was a selection of food, drinks, and ice cream available. The music really added to the island atmosphere and by late afternoon, you could sit and relax with pleasure - and see people just enjoying themselves. Toward the front of the ship, there is also a less frequented hot tub and the view is amazing.
For additional relaxation, the spa is wonderful, albeit pricey. The staff is lovely and very helpful. Complete with juice bar, there is also a terrific gym for workouts and a schedule of interesting classes available. There is also a special teen menu of services.
The day spent in Bermuda was fantastic. We intended to take a ferry to Hamilton but missed it, so we decided to purchase a bus pass ($10.00 pp for the day) and take the local. We met a lovely woman who shared all sorts of info with us and enjoyed her conversation. As we passed by some of the most spectacular beaches, we decided to forget about shopping and sightseeing in Hamilton, and instead spent the day at the beach in Horseshoe Bay. We had an incredible time, lounging on chairs under a rental umbrella (both available for a fee), enjoying the gorgeous turquoise water and pink tinged sand (we wore our bathing suits, but there are changing facilities available - there were refreshments too). Our day was spectacular! The water was warm and calm and there is a cove which served as a natural kiddie pool for the young children. Unfortunately, there was a bus strike in the afternoon and we never made it to Hamilton but we were aided by a transportation worker who hailed us a cab and we were back to the ship in no time. The cab driver was so gracious to us and as a credit to the integrity of Bermuda and its fantastic people; they refunded our bus fare at the window at the pier. We feel you have to enjoy the best of what the local area has to offer. In Bermuda, it was the beach and the people!
Great Stirrup Cay is what you might imagine a huge beach party/bbq would look like - very crowded, music, food, hair braiding, hammocks, snorkeling etc. The tenders (boats from the ship) are just a short ride (maybe 10 minutes) and it was a pretty calm ride. Although there were many people, everything was very well organized. If we hadnt spent time on the beach in Bermuda, we might be disappointed that there was so little room on the beach, but really, it was fine and we had a great day. Parasailing looked fantastic.
Nassau wasnt much of a destination (arriving at 8pm and departing noon the next day) and we decided to stay on the ship and enjoy the pool area since it was less crowed. We didnt find the itinerary to Nassau much of a draw, having been there several times before. Perhaps if you wanted to gamble at the Atlantis or do one of the planned excursions, you might venture there.
We found the casino on the ship to be very agreeable, although I personally would like to see that smoking is limited since it is a small venue. I would have liked to spend a bit more time there but could only take the smoke for short periods. We managed to be a bit lucky early in the week and had great fun with the tournaments toward the end of the week. We liked the very easy going atmosphere as most people were there merely to have some fun.
We took advantage of the many entertainment opportunities onboard including bingo, the art auctions, illusionist show, the Bollywood show, and the famous Quest (adults only), which was a real hoot. We witnessed many people using the gaming rooms and the library. We didnt utilize the cinema. The little ones in the kids club were having such a great time and their parents couldnt say enough good things about the program. It was a delight to see them parading occasionally around the ship, singing and waving. The video arcade was a bit too small and the options for teens were pretty limited. Although there is a teen club for them, most of the teens I spoke with said that they really werent interested in the activities (mine included). Luckily, there were others on board and they formed friendships and had fun.
As you can probably tell, our vacation on the Dawn was superb. The service from the staff was as good as weve experienced anywhere - outstanding on all levels. The food was nothing like we expected, far better. The ship was very clean and the decor was Asian influenced and very attractive. We really wanted a relaxing vacation and chose not to do any of the excursions, but many looked interesting. Disembarkation was a breeze and we appreciated the fact that we could do it as we wished...either by express (taking our own bags) or in a more leisurely way. This was a wonderful experience for our family and the most relaxing vacation weve ever taken. Hopefully, you will also have the fantastic experience of sailing out of New York on this great ship! Read Less