Number of Cruises: 7
Cruise Line: Norwegian
Ship: Norwegian Dawn
Sailing Date: 2010-09-5
I always end up falling in love with whichever ship I'm sailing on at the moment, but sometimes for various reasons, like aesthetics, layout, amenities, etc., that love takes awhile to develop. But it was love at first sight for us on the beautiful Norwegian Dawn to Bermuda Sept. 5-12.
A little background: I'm 30, my husband is 32. We're from Michigan, and I hate to fly, so we like to leave out of the East Coast, where we can drive with minimal hassle. This was our seventh cruise. We've sailed previously on Princess, Carnival and Royal Caribbean. This was our third consecutive NCL cruise; we sailed on the Gem out of New York to Florida/Bahamas in February 2009 and on the Spirit out of New Orleans to Belize, Guatemala, Costa Maya and Cozumel in February 2010. We've come to adore NCL due to the Freestyle philosophy and excellent past experiences we've had.
SHIP: Dawn is, to date, my favorite ship. She has an excellent layout, gorgeous decor and just the right amount of varied public spaces and dining venues.
The multi-story atrium has an efficient, inspired setup, with a stage area above the Java Cafe that served well for a performance by Fire & Ice (more about them later) and a Sept. 11 memorial ceremony. There's a British-style pub adorned with appropriate paraphernalia and wood accents called Pearly Kings; Gatsby's, a champagne and wine bar with a more extensive wine list than elsewhere on the ship; the main theater, Stardust; Spinnaker Lounge, a secondary show lounge with a stunning view at the bow; Dazzles, another bar/performance area; an Internet cafe (adorned with @ symbols on the carpet) and more.
The Oasis pool area included a stage where calypso/reggae bands played, two separate pools and multiple hot tubs. There's a tiered sundeck area and plenty of chairs; we rarely struggled to find empty ones. (We don't have children, but the T-Rex Kids Area at the very aft of the ship looked very fun: there was a separate kids' pool flanked by waterslides and adorned with giant dinosaur statues.)
The El Dorado Spa is gorgeous: The lobby is in an atrium with a skylight, with stairs leading up to the fitness center. There's a private room called the Exotic Thermal Suite that we paid $165 for the two of us (it's $99 per individual) for the week. They only sell 100 passes, and it was worth it. Ther's a warm, freshwater lap pool, a Jacuzzi and a thalassotherapy pool in the main area, along with rows of lounge chairs overlooking a bank of aft windows that provide a view of the ocean (or port!). There also are separate male and female relaxation areas with chairs and a TV. The gender-specific changing rooms, which were extremely clean and elegant, included lockers, showers, a steam room, a sauna and plunge baths. Every time you check in at the desk, they give you a locker key and an NCL robe to wear. There's cold water, hot water with tea bags and orange juice available (although it wasn't always restocked promptly). Only once did we struggle to find a place in a Jacuzzi or an empty chair. The relaxing, secluded atmosphere was worth the money; we often ventured in there merely to read or nap.
We were in a porthole room on Deck 4 forward. It was beautifully and efficiently laid out, much more so than the Spirit; it reminded us of the Gem. NCL has the best bathrooms, since you have a roomy shower and doors separate the toilet area and showers from the sink/mirror/vanity area.
FOOD: The main restaurants (no charge) are Venetian, with walls of windows aft, and Aqua, in the center of the ship. The service was hit or miss in both, but we've come to realize this is one of the trade-offs of Freestyle cruising; you don't get the same waiter every night, so you don't develop any rapport. One night you might get the best service of your life; another night, you may be waiting forever with nary a friendly word from your server. We preferred Aqua, just because of the more intimate ambiance. Some of the main entrees were just OK, but some of the appetizers were to die for: I had French onion soup and wild mushroom quesadilla for a starter almost every night. And the desserts â€” amazing. The key lime pie was the best I'd ever had in my life, and I ended up ordering it most nights. The tiramisu also was awesome.
The main buffet, Garden Cafe, was, as on past NCL ships, excellent. Lunch was a myriad of choices, from made-to-order pasta to multiple types of pizza to chicken, rice, casserole and vegetable dishes. One oddity: Unlike on past NCL ships, the soft-serve ice cream was not self-serve; the station was manned by a crew member. A crew member also served up three kinds of hand-dipped ice cream at Sprinkles, out by the pool deck. The last few days, they had chocolate, vanilla, etc., but some days, the flavors were downright odd. (I asked for chocolate one day, though, and she wrangled it out of the freezer for me.) If you're a sweet tooth like me, NCL has, hands down, the best cookies I've ever had; the chocolate with white chocolate chunks are particularly delectable (although the last few days of the cruise, the cookies suddenly seemed puffy and hard, it was almost as if an ingredient was left out. Bummer!)
We only ate in one specialty restaurant, Cagney's Steakhouse ($25 per person). It was amazing. We sampled several appetizers, including the crab cakes, oysters Rockefeller, portabello mushroom and shrimp cocktail. Very good. My husband had rib-eye steak for his entree and loved it; I had the excellent lamb chops, with a side of creamed spinach and potatoes gratin. He sent back his apple crisp for dessert it had a weird fondant or cotton candy-like taste to it but loved the cheesecake, and I was drooling over my espresso brownie with macademia nut ice cream.
Other specialty restaurants included Le Bistro (French, $20); Impressions (Italian, $10); Salsa (Tex-Mex, $10); Bamboo & Sushi Bar (Asian/sushi, $15); and Teppanyaki (Japanese cook-as-you-watch, $25).
SERVICE: As mentioned previously, service on NCL always seems hit or miss. We never formally met our room steward, unlike on other ships, though he did a fine job and left us a ton of towel animals. You don't bond with the waiters/waitresses like on formal dining-style ships, so sometimes we had excellent service in the dining rooms, sometimes abysmal. The service in Cagney's was superb.
But I would be remiss if I didn't specifically mention Chris Ugay of the Philippines, who worked at Gatsby's. He learned our names during our first hour on the ship and treated us like special guests the entire week. He made us want to hang out in Gatsby's and the adjacent Havana Club, the cigar room, every night. He truly went above and beyond and really made our cruise. I overheard him talking to other guests, too, and I could tell he was making them feel equally special. The other Gatsby staffers Emerson, Edmund and Erwin also were very friendly and we always enjoyed seeing them. I wrote a two-page letter to NCL when I got home extolling the virtues of Chris, since I thought he did such an excellent job.
PORT: Bermuda was very nice, though I prefer some of the other tropical ports. In the Royal Naval Dockyard, where the ship docks, there are a few stores (including a glassblowing and rum cake shop, where crafters make glass products right in front of you), restaurants, and a snorkel park ($5 per person for all-day entry). If you want to go to the capital, Hamilton, or the historic former capital, St. George's, you'll need to take a bus or ferry. As cabs are pricey, buying a public transportation pass is the way to go. It was $28 per person for three days, and that covers buses and ferries.
The weather was very fickle, raining frequently. We spent a little time walking around Hamilton (25-minute ferry ride) one day and St. George's (40-minute ferry ride) another, though a storm drove us out of St. George's before we could see much of anything. We also went to the snorkel park, and it seemed beautiful, but unfortunately, the rain stirred up the water and we were unable to see anything in the water (other passengers told us they saw an abundance of beautiful fish on other days when the weather was better). We took a bus to Horseshoe Bay (45 minutes), and it was gorgeous: The subtle pink sand characteristic of Bermuda, surrounded by cliffs, aqua water. We rented two beach chairs and an umbrella for $30. It rained there, too, though, so we didn't get to stay as long as we liked!
We didn't do any shore excursions, and it sounded like many were cancelled due to the weather.
ENTERTAINMENT: Production shows tend not to be our cup of tea, so we didn't really have any intentions of going to them, but we met a guitarist in the NCL band who told us we HAD to see the Bollywood show on the last night. We went on his recommendation, and it was amazing. Do yourself a favor and check it out. It combines Cirque du Soleil-style bending and twisting and acrobatics with belly dancing, good music and elaborate sets is pretty neat.
The first night's show gave a sampler of everything that was to come. The singing and the dancers from the Jean Ann Ryan Company were pretty impressive, but like I said, we don't do most production shows, so we didn't end up seeing any more of their work besides the Bollywood show (there also was a Beatles show, a South Beach Latin-inspired show, etc.) We loved Fire & Ice, a keyboard/vocalist duo, and ended up checking them out at multiple points throughout the cruise. Their Michael Jackson and 80s shows in Dazzles Lounge were amazing, and drew huge crowds (so get there early!) We also heard the Tina Turner show in Spinnaker was good, and they did a Motown show in the atrium one night. The main singer has boundless energy, strutting around in three-inch heels as she belts out the tunes perfectly.
We werenâ€™t impressed by the comedian on the first night, so we didn't check out any of his performances, though we heard mixed reviews from those who did. We went to one of the Second City comedy shows the last night adults' only show and it was hilarious; we've learned from past NCL sailings that it's hit or miss, since they rely on topics the audience supplies to improv their jokes. We also went to the obligatory newlywed show and crew talent show, and they were just so-so this time around, in our opinion.
CONS: As always, there were a handful of things that occurred during the cruise that could have been better. This never ruins our trip or tarnishes our view of the ship, but there's always room for improvement. First off, as a gym rat, I was disappointed that there seemed to be something wrong with practically every machine in the gym, and it appeared it had been that way for awhile and never addressed. Five of six ellipticals had the book bars broken off. Many of the TVs on the machines didn't work. Some of the controls on the bikes didn't work, so you couldn't see what resistance level it was on or how much time you had left. There's so much empty space in the fitness center that seems poorly utilized. More ellipticals, perhaps? More bikes? Also, NCL claims on its website that its gyms are open 24/7, fleetwide. Not true, as I already knew from the Spirit; except on the Gem, the gyms have been open 6 a.m.-11 p.m., in our experience. I called on the last evening to see if the gym was open Sunday morning, prior to disembarkation; the purser's desk told me absolutely not. Well, it was, and I missed out on a morning workout because they had told me it wasn't going to be open. Just a minor gripe, but irksome for someone like me who likes to schedule workouts and likes to eat on the ship! :)
This was the first time we had a notable problem communicating with some staff members. Obviously, there's occasionally an issue, seeing as the majority of the crew comes from other countries, but this is the first time I've ever been trying to talk to a crew member and been completely unable to understand them, and them me, where we've just been looking at each other blankly, at a loss of how to proceed. When the ice cream staffer can't answer questions about ice cream and the Java Cafe worker can't answer questions about coffee and, worst of all, when the waitress can't understand what we're ordering for dinner, that's a little bit of a problem. Again, not a huge deal, but just something we noticed.
OVERALL: The ship was gorgeous, the itinerary was fine, the food and entertainment was excellent so we wouldn't hesitate to go on NCL again. In fact, we already booked our next NCL cruise on the Jewel next year, our fourth NCL cruise in a row!
If you have any questions about the Dawn, or would like to see pictures, feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.