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Danielle Thompson

Age: 28

Occupation:Customer Service Rep

Number of Cruises: 1

Cruise Line: Norwegian

Ship: Norwegian Dawn

Sailing Date: January 12th, 2006

Itinerary: Eastern Caribbean

My review is directed towards first-time cruisers and those that don’t mind reading a lengthy, personal description of a stranger’s vacation. I’m a 28 year old female and I took my very first cruise with my (girl)friend aboard the Norwegian Dawn on an 11-day cruise through the Eastern Caribbean in January, 2006. All in all, we were pleased with our vacation. However, there were a few disappointments that made me want to run home and tell other first-time cruisers about what to expect and/or look out for.

The ship itself is beautiful. The restaurants are all uniquely decorated in a way that makes you want to look around, especially the Venetian. We expected a much older crowd (less kids that way), but there were people of all ages aboard (you can tell the hard-core cruisers are the ones that get all decked out on formal night).

One of my concerns before I boarded the ship was that of sea-sickness. I’ve been told otherwise about other ships, but the Dawn rocked back and forth the entire length of the cruise. I was bothered by nausea the first two days, but after a long nap and a healthy dose of Dramamine, I got used to the rocking motion. In conversations with other passengers, I found I wasn’t the only one who had felt sick. So pack some Dramamine just in case. Even if you’re not prone to sea-sickness, you might need it after being forced to listen to the cruise director’s daily “let’s have fun!” speech over the P.A.

We started the cruise in a porthole stateroom. The room was decorated with the birthday package we had ordered, but the crew negligently left the garbage from the decorations sitting on my bed. It was definitely tiny, but we managed to store all of our clothes away in the space provided. There were two extra beds in the room (one above and one tucked underneath another bed), but I can not imagine rooming more than 2 people in such cramped quarters. After 3 days, we were moved to a balcony room by management, who claimed “maintenance issues” were the reason for our transfer. Needless to say, we were enthusiastic about the upgrade. Surprisingly, we discovered that the balcony room offered less storage space than porthole room, although the bathrooms seemed the same size. Having stayed in both types of rooms, I will never settle for less than a balcony room again. It is absolutely worth the extra expense, especially if you’re cruising in warm weather. Other than the conventional use of a balcony, other conveniences included: being able to step outside in the morning and check the weather firsthand, taking aerial pictures of the islands, and having a place to lay out our wet bathing suits. There was also a fridge in both rooms, though we made no use of it. We had no intention of “bringing home” food from the dining rooms, and if we did, what utensils could we eat it with? Plus, there are no vending machines on the ship, so we couldn’t even keep cold soda in our room (there are no cans or bottled beverages available to purchase, either; everything comes out of a fountain or soda gun). If you’re thirsty, you have to leave your stateroom and find the nearest bar on another deck in order to get something to drink. Do yourself a favor and pack some bottles of water or iced tea to keep in your room.

Speaking of drinks, the soda package is a MUST. Spend the $50 bucks for unlimited soft drinks and sit back and laugh at all of the other suckers who are paying two and three dollars per drink (although, I must mention that the soda was flat half of the time). The package can be ordered prior to embarkation or will be available poolside after you board. You’ll be provided with a reusable mug and a sticker to put on your room card. Ditch the mug; there’s no sense in carrying it around and you need only to flash your special sticker to get a glass. And unless you plan on packing some dish soap, there’s no feasible way to wash the thing out. Drinking out of the same mug for 10 days without cleaning it did not appeal to us.

First-time cruisers beware: the bathrooms are miserably small. They’re made up of three small compartments (toilet on the left, sink area in the middle, and shower stall to the right). There was also a sliding door between the toilet and the sink, which was unnecessary and took up valuable space. The shower stall (no tub) was actually roomy, complete with a hand-held showerhead (2 speeds, decent water pressure) and a dispenser stocked with shower gel and shampoo. The hair dryer is adequate, but it’s installed on the vanity in the stateroom, not the bathroom. We figured out why when we tried to brush our teeth and keep hitting our elbows on the shower door. The bathroom is that small.

The food was amazing! My advice to first-time cruisers: don’t be afraid of the food descriptions on the menus. They pour on fancy words to make it seem sophisticated, but let’s get real: beef flambé is steak and that’s it. Don’t worry if you don’t know that Scaloppini di Pollo is just chicken with some sauce on it. If you don’t know what it is, ask! I guarantee you won’t be the only one who doesn’t know what beef consommé is (broth). If you try it and don’t like it, tell your server (they were super-nice about it). Don’t be afraid to order as much as you like; remember, you’ve paid for it! (our usual meal consisted of 2-3 appetizers, 1 entrée, and 1 dessert for each person). You won’t believe how small the portions really are (for example: I ordered the ‘conch fritters’ appetizer and was given two fried fritters, each the size of a quarter). The quality of the food at the buffet was hit-or-miss, but undoubtedly convenient. The best fare was to be found in the restaurants that required a reservation (and a cover charge), although we had some great late night munchies at the 24-hour fast food joint, The Blue Lagoon. Our absolute favorite was Salsa although Le Bistro was close runner-up. Where else can you sit next to an original Van Gogh and have your waiter set fire to your dinner?

Free-style dining is the only way to go, in my opinion. I can’t imagine being on vacation and having a set dining time. What if you’re in the middle of a swim, or what if you’re just not hungry at six o’clock? On this ship, you can eat whenever you want, as long as you follow the rules. Blue Lagoon and the buffet are come-and-go-as-you-please, while the main dining rooms are only open at certain times (breakfast is served only at one of the three dining rooms and they stop serving at 9:30am! Sleeping late apparently was not an option on this ship and we weren’t happy about that. However, we got even with the cruise director by taking a nap during two o’clock bingo). Reservations are required at the better restaurants, and they can be a pain. On our final night, our minds were set on dining at Salsa, so that morning we inquired about a reservation. We were told that it was booked for the entire night, much to our disappointment. We took a chance anyway and showed up, hoping there might be a chance of getting in. When we got there at 9pm, the restaurant was next to empty. Even so, when the maitre d’ found out we didn’t have a reservation, she gave us a major attitude and made us wait 10 minutes before begrudgingly seating us (do I need to mention that the place was still half-empty when we left? Booked for the entire night, my foot).

With that incident aside, the staff was superb. Every uniform was impeccable, the women always have their hair tied back neatly, and most everyone had a smile for you, even the housekeeping guy. Even after he caught me stealing an extra mint out of his cart.

Remember to pack some nice clothing for dinner. I must admit that I didn’t see anyone turned away in the main dining rooms for wearing jeans or shorts, but those that do stick out like a sore thumb. Plus, it irritates the other diners who took the time out to look presentable at dinner.

We were very happy with our shore excursions, even though you have to wake up early and manage to time yourself to eat breakfast and be at the rendezvous point on time. I was surprised to find out that there were no clocks in the staterooms, which means no alarm clocks. Bring your own, if you must. There is a wake-up call service, but the phone rings so softly, you’re bound to sleep right through it. We did. No breakfast for us that day.

At St. Thomas, we took the Magen’s Bay excursion, which was gorgeous, but crowded. On Tortola, we went to the dolphin encounter (awesome!) and were then dropped off in town to do some shopping. It was a mistake, because there were no touristy-type stores to shop at, plus we were harassed by a couple of local kids. If you’re visiting this island, I would suggest sticking to your excursion group and then heading back to the ship. In San Juan, we opted for the Bacardi excursion, which was a disappointment We were urged by a few friends to go and see the Bacardi factory because they give you a free mini-bottle and a tour through the facility where you can actually see the rum being made. Well, things have changed. Now you are given two small drink samples and the “tour” consists of a large room containing a replica of the old factory. Had I known better, I would’ve bought a bottle at the local store and gone back on the ship to work on my tan in a drunken haze. At St. Maarten, we tried the Divi Little Bay Beach Experience. The weather was phenomenal, the beach was gorgeous, and the package included chaise lounges, lunch, and two drinks. We never actually made it to Great Stirrup Cay, due to a storm washing away the beach, so we were re-routed to Nassau, Bahamas. We only got a few hours to wander around, but the shopping was excellent.

The pool was somewhat small for a ship that can hold three thousand people. I was surprised to find out that it was actually filled with seawater from the Atlantic. It’s a magnet for kids, even though there’s a separate kids’ pool on another deck. There’s four hot tubs, with a hidden fifth on the forward side. Take the elevator to Deck 13 and climb the stairs. There you’ll find a huge hot tub filled with all of the other people who read my review.

Some words about the entertainment. The ship’s theatre is beautiful and unbelievably big. We enjoyed the large-scale production shows, but the first night’s ‘Welcome Aboard’ show was a waste of time. After listening to the cruise director drone on for more than 20 minutes, I decided it would be more amusing to hang myself, but my friend insisted that we stay. If you happen to miss a show, don’t worry. They’ll be broadcasted on your stateroom TV later on that night. There are a few bands on board which were tolerable, plus the cruise ship’s requisite lounge act, but…three Asian guys singing the Beatles? No thanks.

Debarkation was simple and easy. If you provided a credit card to be charged on your account, and there are no issues, there’s no need to line up at the purser’s office to settle up or sign anything. You’re provided with color coded luggage tags, which are called out over the P.A. system. When your group is called, off you go.

Gripes aside, we had a fantastic time. The food was great, the islands were beautiful, and we got to meet some interesting people on board. Oh yeah, and we played shuffle-board.

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