Mega cruise ships dot the landscape, or seascape, at the Port of Miami on a Saturday morning. A line of floating resorts extends for more than a mile waiting for anxious cruisers to board. In the middle of the line is a brand new ship that, at first glance, looks festive in comparison. NCL’s Norwegian Dawn is a stark white 91,700 ton ship that is covered in what looks like, well…graffiti! There are colorful signatures of the famous French impressionists Renoir, Van Gogh and Matisse. A rendition of the Statue of Liberty sprinkled among a few brightly colored ribbons of blue, pink and green graces the port side of the ship. If nothing else, it is different. The exterior of the ship is not the only thing different about Norwegian Dawn. She is NCL''s newest ship, designed and built to fulfill the company’s commitment to ‘Freestyle Cruising’, a concept aimed at offering guests a choice of dining, entertainment and activities.
|"We quickly became big fans of NCL''s Freestyle Cruising."|
The foundation for Freestyle Cruising was laid when NCL pioneered the concept of ‘alternative’ dining with the introduction of the ''Le Bistro'' restaurant several years ago. Before long, every major cruise line had copied the concept so that, now, just about every ship afloat offers some form of alternative dining. Most cruise lines offer a single alternative dining venue, the idea being that guests will try the alternative restaurant one evening and stick to the early or late seating arrangement for the remainder of the cruise. Freestyle Cruising goes much further; there is no assigned early or late seating. Guests can enjoy dinner in any of the 10 restaurants whenever they like and sit with whomever they wish. Even though some cruisers with whom we spoke expressed a preference for the traditional early/late assigned dining on other cruise lines, we quickly became big fans of Freestyle Cruising.
The Freestyle Cruising theme carries through to the ship’s dress code. The standard evening dress code is ‘Resort Casual’ with the one exception being an ‘optional formal’ night. As long as you are out of your shorts, t-shirts and jeans by 5:00pm, just about anything else goes. If you forget to bring a tie, no problem! You can leave the tux and evening gown at home. After all, you are on a Freestyle vacation!
|If you are thinking about bringing your own bottle of liquor to enjoy in your stateroom, forget it! We saw a security person hand check a carry-on bag after it had passed through the X-Ray machine and confiscate a bottle of Scotch from one guest trying to ‘smuggle’ one aboard. NCL will hold the contraband for you and return it to you upon disembarkation. The warm fuzzy of heightened security was diminished when I realized that ‘highly trained personnel’ were being used to enforce company policy rather than focusing 100% of their attention on finding weapons or dangerous items.|
The ship’s interior décor can best be described as ‘festive’. NCL has used just about every color in the spectrum to give the Dawn a bright, happy mood. Bright blue carpeting with splashes of orange, red and yellow can be found throughout. There are seahorses, starfish and shells woven into the carpeting of the hallways and staterooms. Furnishings are no less lively complete with colorful seating. The Spinnaker Lounge features a selection of odd-shaped chairs that look like they belong in a circus instead of on a cruise ship. This ship does not take itself too seriously; it is all about fun and frivolity.
Measuring 166 square feet, our balcony stateroom (Cat BB) is one of the smallest balcony cabins we have occupied. The small size is underscored by poor design of interior space and furnishings. For example:
- A large square table in the corner holds an ice bucket and glasses but also blocks the sliding door to the balcony.
- A smaller coffee table sits in front of a 4 foot wide sofa (which converted to a bed). The result is that there is little room between the coffee table and the corner table to get to the balcony.
- There are only three drawers, which we quickly filled. The closet space is adequate for 7-day cruises.
- There is a small vanity with a narrow mirror, but very little light. The vanity can quickly fill up with cosmetics, creams, lotions and well, whatever.
- The ship’s designers chose to put the one and only 110 AC outlet at the back of the vanity table, so to recharge a computer or digital camera, you may find yourself knocking items off the vanity when plugging in the transformer. Unless the vanity table is kept clear, you will be forced to set your laptop or camera on the small round stool underneath the vanity.
- There is a small refrigerator which, as on most cruise ships, only keeps water and soft drinks moderately cool.
- There is only room for one bedside table and it contains no drawers.
- The bathroom is short on storage with only one narrow shelf above the sink.
- The shower stall is very large and comfortable and has a full-size sliding glass door.
- The separate water closet for the toilet is nice, but takes up available space from the bathroom.
In spite of these shortcomings, the category BB stateroom is livable. The queen-sized bed is comfortable and the linens and bedding are nice. There are liquid soap and shampoo dispensers in the shower and near the sink, but no hair conditioner is provided. A shoe shine cloth, hand lotion and shower cap are provided. There is a powerful hair dryer located on the vanity.
|Great lockers, excellent steam, sauna and showers, a lap pool and separate Jacuzzi and Hydro pool. El Dorado Spa has it all!|
No matter what your lifestyle, you are likely to find something to interest you on Norwegian Dawn. For the active and athletic crowd, Dawn features a sports deck with basketball, jogging track and golf driving net. The El Dorado Fitness Center has a large workout room with four elliptical machines, eight treadmills, recumbent bicycles, a rowing machine and circuit machines. There is also a separate spin room with several bikes. A gym area with mats is available for stretching and is the venue where many of Dawn’s organized classes ranging from kick boxing to yoga and stretching are held. There are separate men’s and ladies’ locker rooms (with decent size lockers) each with a steam room, sauna and showers. There is no charge for using the exercise equipment, steam, or sauna on the Dawn and the exercise room is open 24 hours a day (lockers are available from 8:00am until 8:00pm). A coed spa area features a 37-foot lap pool, a Jacuzzi and a Hydro bath. El Dorado Fitness Center is arguably the nicest one we have seen on any ship to date. The El Dorado Spa and Beauty Salon is managed by the reputable Mandara Spa and offers a full-service spa and unisex beauty salon with 15 treatment rooms.
|A slot players club plus plenty of table games and a spacious casino make the Dawn Club Casino our pick for Best at Sea!|
Gamblers will love the Dawn Club Casino, one of the largest afloat (and our pick for Best Casino). There are 207 slot machines ranging from nickel slots to $25 slots with the majority of machines being quarter and dollar slots. There are 10 blackjack tables, Let It Ride, Caribbean Stud Poker, 2 full-size Craps tables and 2 Roulette tables. Here’s a cruise ship first: NCL’s Reel Players Club lets slot players accumulate points for slot play and redeem points for gifts. Another smart move on NCL’s part: they keep the slots open all night long while the ship is at sea. Obviously someone at NCL understands the gambler mentality. If they offered free drinks during play, you would swear you were in a Vegas casino.
NCL has not forgotten families. The Dawn features a well-equipped kids center complete with a kids'' cinema, a game room, computer center and bunk beds for afternoon naps. There is a large video arcade for teens, organized activities for various age groups, and a separate T-Rex kids pool complete with water slides, waterfalls, water cannons and more.
Of course there are those who just want to lie around in the sun, read a book and relax. You are in luck, too. Dawn has expansive deck space with plenty of lounge chairs. The main pool, located on Deck 12, is large and surrounded by four hot tubs. You can sit poolside and sip on the drink of the day, or sit in the hot tub and share a “Helmet of Beer” with friends (NCL’s beer bucket shaped like a football helmet). If you are seeking refuge from the crowd, there are lots of little nooks and crannies forward on Deck 13 where you can place a lounge chair in relative peace and quiet. A well-equipped library on Deck 12 offers plenty of current release books that you can check out and right across the hall is a spacious, well-lit and quiet reading room. Shuffles card room is equipped with card tables and board games.
My typical morning aboard the Dawn begins with a trip to the Java Café for a cup of decaf as I work on the review. To my taste, the free coffee served in Blue Lagoon is too strong and somewhat bitter. The coffee served in the Venetian restaurant is better, but I prefer a more peaceful place to work like Java Cafe. Even though I am more than willing to pay the $1.50 per cup for the coffee at Java, I find the policy of charging full price for a coffee refill to border on price gouging. This exceeds Starbucks'' refill price of 50 cents. Also, the $1.50 per cup is really $1.74 once the “autogratuity” of 15% is added. That makes Java Café’s 8 oz cup of coffee roughly the same price as Starbucks'' 20 oz. Venti cup!
|Find an Internet Café in port. The Internet Café on the Dawn is too slow and too expensive except in case of emergency. I found an Internet Café in downtown St. Thomas that charged only 15 cents per minute with a lightning fast connection. There is another one at Havensight mall (where the ship docks) that charges $3 for 15 minutes. You do the math!|
After my coffee, I am off to the Internet Café on Deck 9 to check email. As with many major cruise lines, NCL has partnered with Digital Seas to provide Internet access on board its ships. Basically, Digital Seas rents space onboard each ship for its Internet operation and they, not NCL, set the pricing and policies. I should point out that the Dawn offers wireless Internet access of which I took full advantage. This service allows laptop users to access the Internet from various locations around the ship. If your laptop has WiFi 802.11b compatibility, there is no additional charge for wireless access. If your laptop does NOT have this capability, the Internet Café will rent you a wireless card for $10 per day. This is a great idea; unfortunately the reality is not so great. First of all, the wireless reception only works in certain public areas such as the lobby, the Internet Café and the pool area. So you can forget working wirelessly from your stateroom. The next problem is power. You will not find any 110 volt AC outlets anywhere on the ship (except for your cabin where wireless does not reach.) Therefore, you will be limited to working within the life of your laptop’s battery. If your laptop is like mine, the battery is rated for 4 hours of life and in reality, gives you about 45 minutes before the screen goes black. Whether you work wireless on your laptop, or use one of the 23 computers in the Internet Café, you will still have to pay for Internet time, and time does not come cheap. The basic charge is 75 cents per minute. There are two packages available where you can purchase a block of 100 minutes for $55 (55 cents per minute) or 250 minutes for $100 (40 cents per minute). I chose the 100 minute plan since all I was going to do was check email each day, plus they offered Latitudes members an extra 15 minutes for signing up for this package. What I did not know at the time was that the Internet connection was comparable to a 14,400 modem (I actually did an online test to check the speed.) As a result, I ran through my 115 minutes in 5 days and found myself having to shell out another $25 for 33 more minutes (75 cents per minute). I should point out that the slow speeds were not the fault of the wireless connection. I observed others using the computers in the Internet Café and their speeds were slow as well. All in all, I spent $80 on Internet and spent very little time on the Internet. Compare that to the $99 I pay for a full year of unlimited Internet access with NetZero!
|If you are using a laptop computer and have a power transformer capable of running on 220 current, invest in a 220 (male) to 110 (female) plug adapter. This is a 2 round pin plug adapter that should fit any cruise ship outlets. I bought one at Boolchands Cameras in St. Thomas for $3. You should be able to get one at any Radio Shack before your cruise.|
Unlike the Internet service, feeding people is one thing that the Dawn does very well. On most days, the Dawn features a poolside barbeque that is too tempting for me to pass up. This is as close to a real cookout on a ship as you can get. There are charcoal grills set up by the pool where slabs of charred ribs, steaks, burgers, dogs, sausage and chicken breasts are cooked. I am a rib man, so they pile my plate full of meaty ribs slathered in sauce. I think it is about the sixth rib when all of the frustration of the Internet café becomes a distant memory. After rib number eight, I feel myself slipping into a pork coma. I think need a nap. It is all I can do to get through the steak! Groggy from my ribfest, I stumble onto a deck chair in a shady spot next to Rickee, close my eyes and let the fat and cholesterol work their magic.
The poolside barbeque is not the only option for lunch. There is a nice lunch buffet in the Garden Café (Deck 12) or you can have a course-by-course luncheon in the Venetian restaurant. The Bimini Bar and Grill on Deck 14 forward, overlooking the pool area, offers Caribbean snacks, hot dogs, hamburgers and cocktails in a colorful Bahamian beach atmosphere.
Afternoons aboard the Dawn are filled with the activities that have become trademarks of the cruise industry. There’s bingo, trivia, music by the pool, various games and contests, dance classes, exercise classes, etcetera, etcetera. It is impossible to be bored on the Dawn, unless you choose to. The Oasis Pool on Deck 12 is the hot spot with Latin music, frozen drink specials, hot tubs and sun-baked bodies everywhere. It is here you will find Sprinkles Ice Cream Bar, albeit hidden in the middle of the pool bar. But be prepared to pay for your ice cream here to the tune of $2 for soft serve and up to $3.95 for hand-dipped HagenDaz.
After 5:00pm, Norwegian Dawn transforms into a lively entertainment and dining resort like no other ship afloat. The multiple themed restaurant concept is unique to NCL’s new Freestyle Cruising ships (Dawn, Star and Sky) and really sets NCL apart from the rest of the industry. There are several lounges and bars where pre-dinner or after dinner drinks and entertainment can be enjoyed; in fact, there are 12 in all. If you are looking for a quiet and classy place for drinks, check out the Star Bar on Deck 13. The leather seating, low lighting and piano music make this a romantic spot for drinks before dining at Cagney''s Steakhouse. For a high-tech, funky lounge and nightclub with live music and dancing, visit Dazzles on Deck 7. Dazzles is also host to what might be the most professional Karaoke setup at sea. Gatsby''s is Dawn''s Champagne bar featuring nightly piano entertainment and is conveniently located outside Le Bistro and Impressions restaurants on Deck 6. Pearly King''s Pub is an English pub/sports bar located on the port side of the ship just behind the Reception desk on Deck 7. Here you can get a variety of beers served in pint and 1/2 pints, and complimentary Fish and Chips, chips, salsa and popcorn from 5:00pm until 9:00pm each night. The Dawn Club Casino Bar can keep you well-oiled while you play video poker. Dawn''s panorama lounge is The Spinnaker Lounge, located on Deck 12 forward. Spinnaker holds more than 500 people and is a venue used for dance music, comedy shows, bingo, etc. Cigar aficionados will certainly want to visit Havana Club on Deck 6 offering hand-rolled premium cigars, ports, cognacs and malt whiskeys. For a late night espresso, cappuccino, or frozen coffee drink, there''s always the Java Cafe on Deck 7. Some evenings there is music and dancing poolside before dinner where you can enjoy a drink from Topsiders Bar.
Bamboo is Dawn’s Asian Fusion restaurant and this one was right on the mark. The cover charge was only $10 per person and even that was discounted before 6:30pm to $5 per person. I had the Three Flavors Pork and Rickee ordered the Beef with rice. Both dishes were very good as was the Tempura Soba. I ordered a Spicy Tuna Roll ($2) from the Sushi bar and it was excellent. If you choose to eat Sushi, you can order ala carte from a menu, or have ‘all you can eat’ Sushi for $10. That is a bargain for Sushi lovers. There is a Teppanyaki room where you can enjoy Japanese Hibachi for an additional charge (in addition to the cover charge.)
For a taste of Tex-Mex, we headed to Salsa one evening. Rickee’s quesadillas and my beef fajitas were tasty. Another plus, there is no cover charge for Salsa, but reservations are required. The food here is comparable to what you might expect to get at your local Chilis or TGI Fridays. The food may not knock your socks off, but who doesn’t like to go to Fridays or Chilis every now and then just to change things up?
The crown jewel in Dawn’s restaurant lineup would have to be Le Bistro, an upscale French restaurant with a decor featuring original works of art by Van Gogh, Matisse, Monet and Renoir. The standard cover charge for Le Bistro is $12.50 but there are some optional specialty menu items that require a cover charge ranging from $18.00 to $20.00. A Surf & Turf combination rounds out the menu at $20. The Caesar salad was near perfect and the mushroom soup served in a sourdough bread bowl was hot and delicious. The Surf & Turf combined two medium size tails with a huge filet mignon that must have been two inches thick. The lobster was firm but not overcooked or chewy. The steak was cooked perfectly to order and was above average for a cruise ship steak. My special request for creamed spinach in place of rice was fulfilled. The bananas foster flambé dessert was served hot and fresh with a large scoop of vanilla ice cream.
|"We twice opted for lunch in Venetian and really liked the 16th century Italian grand villa style décor and the polished service."|
There are three ‘traditional’ multi-course style restaurants on Dawn where the menu changes every evening. These dining rooms each have a different theme and décor. The Venetian is the largest and is located on Deck 6 aft. Impressions and Aqua are mid ship on Deck 6. We twice opted for lunch in Venetian and really liked the 16th century Italian grand villa style décor and the polished service. In Aqua, where the trendy decor was created by the famous English designer Conrad, we were served by a female waiter and her female assistant. This was perhaps the best service we received in any of the restaurants. Impressions is decorated in the style of a 1900s grand French dining room with representations of famous art from French Impressionist painters. On our visit, the service seemed a little hurried. I was not offered mint jelly with my rack of lamb. I am sure I could have asked and it would have been delivered, but it is fairly common for a waiter to offer this accompaniment.
Cagney’s Steak House is Dawn’s resident steak house serving Certified Angus Beef. In spite of having the highest base cover charge of $17.50, Cagney''s was somewhat of a disappointment. The service during our visit was extremely slow, not the fault of the wait staff, but the kitchen. We waited for close to an hour between our soup dish and entrée and when the food finally arrived, it was only lukewarm. Rickee ordered the T-bone and I had the lamb chops. In spite of the claims of Certified Angus Beef, I could not ascertain a significant difference in flavor or quality over what was served in the standard dining rooms. The portions, however, were much larger. The Caesar salad dressing had a sweet taste that was anything but Caesar. All in all, we did not feel that Cagney’s was worth the $17.50 per person cover charge.
Each evening, one corner of the Garden Cafe is converted into La Trattoria, an intimate Italian bistro. Reservations are required at La Trattoria but there is no cover charge. It is worth a trip to La Trattoria just for the pizza. The pies here are hand made fresh to order and they are delicious (the only other pizza we could find was served at the Garden Cafe and was not nearly as good). A large chicken parmagiana is thick, juicy and covered in melted Mozzarella and Marinara sauce. The service here was crisp and efficient, but not as polished as we found in some of the other dining venues.
The Garden Café is Dawn’s lido deck buffet located aft of the pool on Deck 12. As cruise ship buffets go, Garden Café is pretty good. Where Garden Café does its best work is at breakfast. There are multiple serving lines with bacon, sausage, scrambled eggs, pancakes, pastries, etc. There is an omelet station where you can get an omelet made fresh to order. From noon until 2pm each day, the Garden Café becomes a lunch venue serving a variety of meats, vegetables, salads and desserts. Although the selection of dishes was not vast, the choices changed every day. For me, it is pretty hard to pass up the poolside barbeque for Garden Café. Each evening, the Garden Café is open for casual dining from 5:30pm until 10:00pm. We did not have an opportunity to try dinner here, so we cannot comment. One thing worth noting about the Garden Cafe is its Kid''s Cafe. Here is a place for the kids to eat complete with kid''s size buffet and small tables and seats.
|Best Production Show|
|Great looking dancers, great vocals, great choreography and great set design combine to make Jean Ann Ryan''s shows aboard Dawn a CruiseReport.com Best!|
After dinner, most guests will head to the Stardust Theatre (Deck 6 & 7 forward) for one of three Jean Ann Ryan production shows, a magic show, or a comedy/juggler show. The shows offered by Jean Ann Ryan Productions are not to be missed. They feature incredible vocals combined with high-energy dance choreography and superb lighting and stage effects. These are some of the best shows at sea. The Stardust Theater can hold 1,037 people and has the best sightlines of any theatre at sea. There are almost no obstructed views and the slope of the theatre prevents the person sitting in front of you from blocking your view. The only negative is the seating itself. There is simply not enough legroom between rows of seats. My knees were literally pressed against the seat in front of me (I am 6'' 1"). Another oversight is the lack of tables or glass holders. There is nowhere to set a drink other than on the floor between your legs. Consequently, there were a lot of spilled drinks and glasses laying around after the show, a potential hazard for people exiting a crowded theatre.
Some evenings feature a comedy show in The Spinnaker Lounge followed by an energetic live band. You can dance the night away in Dazzles, or enjoy late-night Karaoke. Needless to say, there is always something going on all over the ship after dark.
All in all, NCL has a definite winner with Norwegian Dawn. It is nice to see a cruise line/ship that distinguishes itself from ''the pack'' of other contemporary cruise lines and ship designs. Freestyle Cruising is a winning concept and we can only hope that other cruise lines catch on and take NCL''s lead.
Freestyle Cruising – Kudos to NCL for pioneering an industry-leading concept.
Jean Ann Ryan Productions – We have never been disappointed in Jean Ann Ryan shows and the entertainers aboard the Dawn are no exception. These shows are high-energy, fast-paced productions with great dance routines, choreography and vocals.
Le Bistro – This is the premier dining experience on Dawn featuring great food and exceptional service in an elegant atmosphere.
Movie Cinema – This is a great cinema with first-run movies playing at various times throughout the day and night.
Pearly Kings Pub – This bar has great fish and chips and fresh popcorn available from 5:00pm until 9:00pm each evening.
El Dorado Fitness Center – This is our Editor''s Choice for Best Fitness Center at Sea!
Entertainment (overall) – This ship is brimming with good entertainment options.
Dawn Club Casino – This is one of the nicest casinos we have seen on any ship. There is plenty of room to walk and sit without feeling cramped.
Water served in restaurants – Finally, a large cruise ship has figured out how to serve clean, fresh-tasting water in the dining rooms.
Blue Lagoon – What a great concept, a 24-hour snack bar! Here you can get burgers, hot wings, fried rice, noodle stir fry, fish and chips, Won Ton soup and more.
Bar Service – The bar service was exceptional throughout the ship. Mixed drinks were small, but made perfectly and the prices were competitive. An 8 oz. Dewars and water was $3.95 (plus 15% gratuity). Frozen drinks were equally delicious.
Poolside Barbeque Lunch – A real charcoal cookout complete with burgers, dogs, steaks, sausages and great pork ribs with all the trimmings!
Java Café – Located smack dab in the middle of the lobby area on Deck 7, this ‘Starbuckesque’ venue serves a variety of coffee drinks, cookies and pastries. A cup of regular Joe here will set you back $1.50, but after you try the instant coffee served in Blue Lagoon, you will gladly pay it.
Stardust Theatre – Now this is how a ship’s theatre should be designed. There are nearly perfect sightlines with no obstructed views of the stage. Sound, lighting and stage effects were superb. The steep seating angle means that the 6’ 2” guy sitting in front of you will not block your view. On the downside, there is no place to set a drink! Legroom is also an issue if you are over 6 feet tall. My knees were pressed against the seat back in front of me.
Kids areas, pool – NCL has gone to great lengths to create an area just for kids. The T-Rex pool located aft offers water slides, waterfalls, a splash pool and other fun water games.
Bamboo Asian Fusion Restaurant – A great concept and relatively good food. The standouts here were the Sushi and Rolls. There is a $10 per person cover charge ($5 at certain times) with Sushi and Teppanyaki available for an extra charge.
Embarkation – In Miami it was slow and tedious and not necessarily fair to those who arrive early.
Disembarkation – What they lack in Embarkation, they more than make up for on disembarkation. NCL allows you to remain in your stateroom until your luggage tag color is called. No more crowded stairwells and public areas. Very nice.
Stateroom 9622 – Staterooms are small with limited storage compared to other comparable ships from other lines. Excessive creaking sounds throughout the night (even under smooth sailing conditions) give the feeling of being on an old wooden sailing vessel instead of an ultra-modern cruise ship.
Bar Service Tipping Policy - Just about every cruise line adds 15% gratuity to bar tabs, as does NCL. NCL''s goes a step further by printing an additional line on the bar tab (that you sign when paying for your drinks) for ADDITIONAL TIP and a TOTAL LINE. If you do not want to leave an additional tip, you must write a zero on the ADDITIONAL TIP line and then write in the total (the amount with the 15% already added in).
|Overall – We would recommend Norwegian Dawn for anyone looking for a great cruise vacation value. The uniqueness of Freestyle Cruising sets the Dawn apart from any other cruise ship afloat (with the exception of NCL''s other Freestyle ships.) The ship and her crew are well-suited for younger adults, or adults who are young-at-heart. Dawn is also a great ship for families with kids of all ages.|
If you have any questions about our Norwegian Dawn cruise, please feel free to email us at firstname.lastname@example.org and we will do our best to answer any questions.
|It is common in the travel industry for journalists to be provided with complimentary cruise accommodations, and in some cases, hotel accommodations, for the purpose of a review. While it has not influenced this review, CruiseReport.com adheres to a strict policy of full disclosure to all potential conflicts of interest. For more information, please refer to our Ethics Guidelines|