This is a long review, so grab a coffee and put your feet up ...
About Us. We've been on 10-plus cruises, and this was our second time to Bermuda on Norwegian. We were celebrating our 38th anniversary with a Twin River Casino free cruise. Apparently, all that money we lost at the Casino finally paid off.
The ship departed on Friday and was originally scheduled to arrive in Bermuda on Sunday at 11:00 am. However, this was changed to 1:00 pm a few weeks before we sailed. On the other end of our time in Bermuda, we were scheduled to leave at 5:00 p.m. on Tuesday, but for some maintenance or mechanical issue, we spent an extra night in Bermuda, leaving Wednesday morning at 6:00 a.m. Believe me, no one complained about the Bermuda bonus! In fact, as we sailed away, we got to see both the Norwegian Breakaway and Celebrity Summit sail by on their way to take our place.
Embarkation. Living only an hour away from Boston, this port is an easy one for us. We were dropped off by a relative, making it unnecessary to park the car. A friendly porter promptly greeted us, but at first glance, it was unclear where to go next. Norwegian could do a better job of announcing which appointed time slot is currently boarding. A long line was forming to enter the building, but as it turns out, it was unnecessary to queue up unless it was your turn. So unless you have priority boarding, it really makes no sense to arrive super early ahead of your assigned boarding time. Once inside, getting through security and registration was a breeze.
First impressions. The Dawn, for the most part, is a very attractive ship. The atrium, the first thing you see when boarding, is really beautiful. It's not as grand as some of the center hot spots on some ships, but it's classy and elegant - a perfect place to gather with friends, and sounds from the piano on the main deck reaches to the restaurants and public spaces on the atrium's upper levels. Cozy window seating nooks on decks 6-8 give guests a quiet place for reading or gazing at the ocean. Tasteful artworks adorn hallways and stairways, and colors throughout the ship are tastefully muted. It's worthy to mention that this ship has a promenade deck, a classic ship feature that seems to have vanished with the new and larger ships being introduced nowadays. This one has colorful wall murals all the way around, too.
Notably, I did see a number of clogged or out-of-order toilet facilities throughout the cruise in the public areas, as well as missing stall door locks.
Fellow Passengers. Couples appeared to be in the minority, as we observed a large number of families, from infants to senior citizens, as well as many large groups. Many folks, as you can guess, were from the Boston and New England area.
Cabin-Category BA Balcony #10672.
We paid to upgrade our complimentary interior to a balcony. We found the cabin to be similar in size to most other standard ship cabins, with the benefit of a small sofa. Storage could be a lot better, though it was fine for the two of us. There are shelves in the closet, but they're a real pain to access with the hung clothing in the way. The one thing we did miss was a desk and the drawers that typically come with one. The balcony itself is tiny, barely enough room for the two chairs and pint-sized table that occupy it. In fact, the one area of the ship I saw in need of a major facelift was the balcony floor. I'm not sure what the floor covering was, but it looked dirty, worn and downright gross. It didn't stop me from spending a few afternoons out there enjoying the sea air, though.
The bathroom was clean and modern, but the layout was odd and could be a definite problem if you're a super sized person. The already small space is split into 3 sections - the sink, the shower and the toilet. A half wall with glass door divides the sink and shower to the right, and an identical one divides the sink and toilet on the left, hence three sections. The shower is great, plenty of room to move. The sink space is adequate, but the toilet section, however, is crazy tight. If you're tall, be prepared for your knees to hug the wall. If you're really wide, some creative maneuvering will be required. I get what NCL's trying to do here - allow more than one cabin occupant to use the bathroom space at the same time. Unfortunately, the space is really too small for that purpose. Bring a hanging bag for your toiletries, because there is very little storage space by the sink.
Crew & Service. Our cabin steward, Roy, provided excellent service, kept our ice bucket filled and our cabin clean and orderly, all with a smile and some great towel animals. In fact, we found the crew, in general, to be friendly and eager to please. “Washy-Washy”, as the crewmember with the spray bottle of antiseptic is called, greeted us every single time we walked through the buffet, even though squirt dispensers are available everywhere. Whether this was antibacterial overkill or a friendly reminder to keep hands clean, I’m not sure. But “washy-washy” got really old fast.
Pool. There is one main pool on this ship. It's not very big and gets really mobbed on sea days. Arriving early in the morning is key to getting a lounger. If you snooze, you lose. Plus, if you come early, you'll have the pool to yourself. In fact, on our final sea day, after moving the clocks and gaining an extra hour, we noticed many chairs were saved by 7:00 a.m. By noon, every chair was filled or claimed. I do give credit to the crew, as we spotted them bagging a number of items from long-vacant chairs. Due to 4-10 foot sea swells, the pool was closed on the first sea day - but not before we had a chance to ride the pool's "waves" that were crashing over the side of the pool. What a thrill it was, being tossed to and fro, akin to being in the ocean. It wasn't long, though, before the pool police came and kicked everyone out for fear of someone getting hurt. A word about the poolside hot tubs: we tried one out after we boarded, and it felt like heaven. The next day they were scalding hot. A few comments by guests to the crew resulted in the hot tub water being reduced to the proper temp for the remainder of the cruise. In addition to the main pool, there is a kids "T-Rex" pool, slide and splash area. We had no little ones with us, but the kids looked like they were having a blast when I walked by.
Side note about the pool area and one pet peeve of mine: Spray sunscreen. It should be banned. Maybe 25% of it actually sticks to your skin; the rest vanishes in the ocean breeze or into the eyes or lungs of your fellow pool or chair occupants. Especially amusing were the folks who both sprayed and then hand-spread the stuff, defeating the whole purpose of spray sunscreen in the first place. Do everyone a favor and reach for the tube or bottled lotion instead.
Dining. We didn't eat in every venue and did not purchase a dining package, beyond one night in LeBistro. Here's our take on dining choices that we experienced:
The Venetian: Since we liked the classy European look of the Venetian, we chose this complimentary venue for dining on most evenings. Food and service were both good and met or exceeded our expectations most nights. Of particular note was a roasted turkey dinner my husband had one night that he couldn't stop raving about for the rest of the cruise.
Buffet fare: The Garden Cafe served standard buffet fare. My husband enjoyed the fresh, hot omelettes at breakfast and we both thought the coffee was good. The rest of the breakfast and lunch entrees were standard fare, and we found it was hit or miss whether the food would be appropriately hot or lukewarm. The pizza, hot dogs and make-your-own sandwich station were all good. NCL went the extra mile to please their little guests, with a buffet section just for the kids, with pint-sized tables, chairs and even a buffet counter just their height. Very cool, indeed!
Bamboo: This complimentary Asian restaurant was a nice addition to the dining options on board, and we thought the food was good. Unfortunately, the service was slow the night we dined there.
Le Bistro: We celebrated our anniversary at this specialty restaurant. My husband had the beef tenderloin, and I had the pork tenderloin. His was excellent, and mine was good, but nothing special. The room itself was darkly lit, so much so that our neighbors at the table next to us pulled out their cell phone in order to read the menu. Service was on the slow side, but the waiters redeemed themselves when they brought out a cake for us and sang - in tune, I might add. The anniversary cake was delicious, with a raspberry filling, and the best and biggest of any of the dessert celebration cakes I've had on any other cruise line.
Blue Lagoon: We came here for a quieter place to eat on several occasions, both for dinner and breakfast. The menu is limited, but it was a good place for a meal or snack when we felt like getting away from the noise and bedlam at the buffet. Plus, it's conveniently open 24/7 with a convenient self-serve coffee station.
Java Coffee Bar: I was in the mood for a cafe mocha one afternoon and tried this specialty coffee bar. I sat a while listening to the piano player and waited for quite a while for a server to come by, but then gave up and went up to the bar. It took a while to get my coffee, but it was delicious and worth the extra cost.
Bar Service: We didn't have a beverage package. Even though we drank more on this cruise than most other port intensive cruises we've done recently, we still didn't come close to what we would have paid for NCL's beverage package. Except for the lack of attention by staff in the coffee bar, we had no trouble getting a drink at any other venue, and waiter service was especially good at the pool.
Entertainment and More...
"Elements". This was by far our favorite show. We loved the choreography, with interpretations of earth, wind, water and fire very well done. Seating in the Stardust Theater, where the big shows take place, is pretty tight, but fine for an average-sized adult. For more roomy comfort, arrive early and grab one of the balcony upholstered bench seats.
Second City Comedy. We missed the adult version, but did catch the family show. We had mixed feelings about Second City. Because most of their improv depended on ideas from the audience, some material was funny, and some fell flat. Honestly, we've laughed harder at other comedy shows. Maybe the adult version was better.
Wii Bowling Tournament. We used to bowl in a league in our younger days, so this was a fun way to spend an hour and reminisce. I'm happy to say I beat my husband 3 out of 4 games, too. On the downside, I'm not sure how this could be called a tournament when the crewmember that ran it didn't really organize anything, nor did she stick around for the entire thing. It wound up just being free play.
A word about karaoke, Wii and other video activity: Unlike some ships where these activities sometimes take place in large-capacity venues where large numbers of people gather, here on the Dawn the electronics and hardware are set up in a tiny corner of a small pub. It takes the thrill out of winning when no one is there to witness it.
Name That Broadway Tune Trivia. This was a fun way to pass 40 minutes, and served to remind us that we didn't know as many Broadway show tunes as we thought we did.
Martini Tasting. We arrived early to the tasting but apparently missed the official "sign up" for this extra-fee event, and no announcements were made as to how to join in. While the martini expert was giving her talk, and others around us were enjoying their martinis, a waiter came around and asked us if we wanted a drink, to which we answered, no, we would like to join the martini tasting. They kindly made a batch for us and a few other latecomers. It was definitely worth the wait - they were delicious and made up for the lackluster welcome.
Casino. We did throw a good amount of cash down the giant money pit, but did make sure to have a voucher left to cash in on the last day so it would at least feel like we won something.
Musicians: Overall, the music was good. Of particular note, the jazz band was excellent with a dynamite piano player. The band at the pool provided the right island and pop blend. The duo was pleasant, and the piano man did a fine job. The party band we heard in Spinnaker's one night had potential, but we didn't stick around because they were too loud.
Disembarkation. Norwegian's Freestyle plan of exiting the ship looked good on paper, but in all actuality, it was more like a free-for-all, resulting in one long line from the gangway that snaked almost completely around deck 7 of the ship. Picking up your own tags and choosing the time you want to leave sounds good, but either not enough time was called between groups, or everyone just disembarked whenever they felt like it, resulting in the crazy long line. The smart people were the ones relaxing in chairs waiting for the line to come to an end when they would just get up and walk off. I'll remember that strategy for my next NCL cruise. On the positive side, we spotted our luggage right away from the escalator in an area pointed out by helpful agents, so at least that part was a breeze.
Royal Navy Dockyard. Having previously been to many of the tourist sites, such as Crystal Caves, Botanical Gardens, the Zoo, etc., we decided to stick around the Dockyard on the first day, visiting the Maritime Museum and walking the perimeter around the grounds of the old military fort. It's a great place for a bird's eye view of the cruise ships docked at the Royal Navy Dockyard as well as the folks swimming, snorkeling and sunning at nearby Snorkel Beach. We stopped and rested at the Dolphin show located in the Museum grounds and watched some excited guests in the water with them. In all actuality, it was a hot, sweltering afternoon, and we were looking for any piece of shade we could find. Having enough sun and heat, we stopped at the Frog and Onion for a break. It's a touristy and pricey restaurant, but it was convenient, the atmosphere and food were good, and the drinks refreshing on a hot Bermuda day.
Gosling Sunset Rum Cruise. We booked this independently, and it was a lot of fun. The rum expert from Gosling gave us an informative overview and sample of a variety of different rums, and by the end of the cruise, we were all feeling pretty fine! Great rum, gorgeous sunset, and a happy crowd of other rum lovers made it an enjoyable evening!
Ferries/Bus. We bought a one-day pass for the busses and ferries, and began Day 3 by taking the ferry from the Dockyard to St. George. The last time we visited St. George was in 2008, when the Norwegian Dream docked there. We walked around this quaint, historical town for a while, noticing how much quieter it is now that the cruise ships no longer come here.
Next, we grabbed a bus to the famous Swizzle Inn, a Bermuda must-do every time we come here. We grabbed a table on the upper deck, dined on what my husband described as the "best fish sandwich he's ever had", drank a pitcher of rum swizzle, and watched the people come and go. It was a great way to spend an hour or two away from the scorching heat.
We followed up lunch with a bus ride to a beautiful nature reserve called Spittal Pond. Due to the intense mid-day heat, some health and knee arthritis issues, neither one of us were in any shape to navigate the entire area. Therefore, while my husband took a nap in the shade, I grabbed my camera and a monopod to help me down the hilly path and was rewarded with the most beautiful scenic rocky cove. I sat and watched the sea waves crash for a while and then walked the path along the pond a bit enjoying the flowers, birds and serenity, before making my way back up the hill. Spittal Pond is a bit off the beaten path and doesn't draw many tourists, so if you are a nature lover or bird watcher, I highly recommend a visit to this beautiful haven. With the exception of a couple of other wanderers, I had the place to myself. We left Spittal Pond, waited for a bus, and made our way back to Hamilton. Tired and hot after a long day, we didn't spend any time in Hamilton, but hopped the next ferry back to the ship.
Horseshoe Bay. A gorgeous beach, fine pink sand, crashing waves, rock formations, colorful birds, and the clearest aqua blue water to be found anywhere; it's no wonder it's the most popular beach in Bermuda. We arrived by taxi around 10:30 a.m., found a partially shaded spot by the rocks to lay down our towels, played in the waves, dried off and left by 12:30, as the crowds arrived. We've been to other less-crowded beaches on previous visits, but this was our first time at Horseshoe Bay. In fact, if it weren't for the extra time given to us in port, we probably would have skipped it again. I'm so glad we didn't because it was one of the highlights of our cruise.
Shopping. We aren't big shoppers, but I do like to bring something home for the kids and grandson. I found the Dockyard Clocktower Mall sufficient for want I needed. So while the hubby relaxed on board, I hopped on the free trolley and made my way around the Dockyard. It's not the quickest way to get around, but on a hot day, it's nice to be shaded and perspiration-free. The Mall carries a mix of touristy stuff as well as Made-in-Bermuda items. Plus, I paid a quick visit to the Rum Cake and Hand-Blown Crystal factories, so I was happy to help the local economy.
Final Thoughts: There are relatively few options for cruises from Boston, and this one is an easy one, which is why it’s so popular with families – a cruise to a warm destination with no expensive flights and an easy drive for most folks. As with our three previous visits to Bermuda, we lucked out with some gorgeous, tropical weather with hardly a passing sprinkle. This was a relaxing cruise, as all Bermuda cruises are. It's a pleasure to dock for multiple nights in one port with the ability to come and go with no deadlines. While not the best cruise or ship we’ve had the privilege to experience, the Dawn was much nicer than I expected it would be, and we enjoyed the cruise, food and service. In fact, another certificate for a free Norwegian cruise appeared in our mailbox upon arrival home, practically guaranteeing our future return to Norwegian! Read Less