George and Linda, early 50's late 40's, forty plus cruises since first cruise in 1984. Multiple lines including NCL, Celebrity, RCL, Royal Viking, and Carnival. Obviously we are cruisaholics and have been since our honeymoon cruise on board The NCL Skyward. The smallest ship sailed would be the Skyward, 16,000 tons, the largest the RCL Voyager at 140,000 plus tons.
Staff friendliness and performance Ship Design and appearance Entertainment Aqua Restaurant-all Female staff Embarkation Room Service Disembark day room service
NOT SO GOOD Disembarkation Overall Cabin design-narrow Deck 11 Cabins under pool area and Buffet Bar Service hawking T-shirts
Having sailed Carnival Legend from NY in June we were not looking forward to an easy time. Through the years we sailed from NY piers to Bermuda every year for many years in October. It was always a great experience, minimal lines, easy on easy off. This past year numerous ships have started sailing from NY on varied itineraries. In New York City space is always at a premium and crowds place you into a hurry up and wait situation easily. This was the case with the Legend sailing where that embarkation took an hour and a half of line waiting.
We arrived at the pier later than we normally have on the past and found it just as busy as when we had arrived early in June. The initial line for embarkation of the Dawn was longer than it had been for the Legend previously so we took our place with a groan. That was the last grown we had to make. We were surprised that the line moved rapidly being well controlled by staff at the pier. The initial lines are to pass through metal detectors and x-ray equipment. though there appeared to be only two machines the lines through them proceeded quickly aided by staff walking the line and explaining that all cell phones, keys and such would be better placed into your carry on bag to be x-rayed. This eliminated all the pocket emptying and retrieving of small items. It was amazing how such a simple procedural change worked to speed up the process. As we proceeded in that line other staff were checking on Bahamas registration cards that we all get with our documents and the prudent complete at home in comfort at the dining table long before arriving. Of course there are always those that for whatever reason decide not to or miss the fact that there are things that are best done at home, not in line. Those people were advised to complete there cards as we progressed. I've seen that before but the key here was that between the security check point and the check in desks more staff were actually checking that the forms were complete. Where they were not the people were politely moved to the side to do so while those that had completed cards continued on. Instead of waiting in line behind the unprepared as so often happens, the unprepared were stopped and the rest of us continued without uncalled for delay.
We started sailing NCL in 1984 and left the line when it declined through the years, a combination of unhappy staff and mishandling of passenger needs in our opinion. Things like $2 mandatory room service charges caused us to seek other alternative lines. Where NCL had a happy crew in during the 80's it had been replaced with a crew that for whatever reason had been simply abused or disillusioned by management decisions or handling. Nothing is more paramount to a happy cruise than a happy crew and staff! So although we had not sailed NCL in many a year we were still Latitudes ( the cruise line past passenger club ) members. Upon reaching the check in area we found that Latitudes members were afforded a separate check in area which was heavily manned. The none Latitudes area also seemed to be well staffed. We were processed almost immediately and very efficiently, documents checked and credit card account established, even security photo taken. The desk receptionist had a small computer camera right there at desk instead of making us endure yet another line. We were then advised to proceed to another desk where our room keys / boarding passes would be awaiting, being made while we were standing at reception. So after having arrived and seen one very long line we were happily standing and getting our embarkation photo being taken.
Next through to the gangway area where our boarding pass was quickly looked at by security staff and depending on where our cabin was located directed to a forward or amidships gangway. Another plus eliminating one long line to board and quickly bringing you closer to your cabin and first drink! Walking to the forward gangway we once again had to present our boarding card which was entered into a computer. There we encountered the one glitch upon embarkation. A system glitch was apparently occurring and our boarding passes / cabin keys were not properly programmed. Again a secondary system had been thoughtfully put into place so instead of the line grinding to a halt we were simply told to go directly to registration desk where our cards would be reprogrammed. We were advised that they would not open our door if we went to the cabin directly. Off to the desk where the situation was corrected in two minutes, then off to the cabin. A quick embarkation considering the crowds and even glitch repairing well though out and planned for. I have no complaints and after the disaster that was Carnival embarkation I would have to describe Dawn's embarkation as wonderful!
A MAJOR thought on this cabin and others on the 11th floor is what is above you. Many of the 11th deck cabins are located under the pool and buffet areas. This means during day you clearly can hear tables and chairs sliding across the upper deck. At night and well up to midnight the band played on. The bass rocked the cabin until end of deck parties held during the cruise. I could live with it but anyone looking for peace and quiet will not be a happy camper and should think a lower deck or spending some real time examining a deck plan to see what is above you.
We were in Cabin 11570, AF Mini-suite on Deck 11. It is a misnomer that most cruise lines are guilty of now, calling Deluxe Outside Cabins SUITES, whether mini or otherwise. In this case I already knew exactly what I was booking having toured the ship and taken cabin photos including the one we happened to book. Don't get me wrong, the cabin is more than adequate, I just get perturbed at lines calling CABINS, SUITES, when they are far from any exceptional accommodation. This is also more annoying considering that they come with very limited additional service or amenity that mike justify calling an accommodation a suite. On this ship most cabin square footage is obtained via length from hall to hull, in other words many cabins are narrow and long instead of being squared. So although you may have the square footage noted it doesn't necessarily make for a roomy feeling cabin space. This cabin is more than suitable for two people, couple of kids too if you are ready to stumble around a lot. Storage space is more than sufficient though more open shelve is provided versus drawer space. There is a good sized closet with five open shelves on the side and twenty hangars. There also two drawers, actually half drawers in the entranceway. A safe is provided where you assign your own four digit code for locking and unlocking. There is additional space in the safe are for storage. A refrigerator is also in the cabin. It appears that this was initially to be used as a minibar but instead was an empty refrigerator which was nice to have to keep bottle of wine we brought cold. We also received a bottle of white wine from NCL, a suite amenity. Fresh fruit was also provided a couple of times during the cruise.. You will also find a basket of goodies like mm's Dorito's, peanuts, and such. Before you start munching take note, they are NOT complimentary. The tiny kids lunch type bag of Dorito's will cost you $1.50, the fruit and oatmeal bar $2.00. If you are traveling with kids you may want to grab that quick and out it out of sight, maybe bring similar snacks for the cabin with you. The little basket of odds and ends would cost you about $30 if the kids were allowed to munch away. You could provide the same stuff for under $10. Bottled water is also in the room, no, not complimentary. Both Evian and Pellegrino are available at $3 a bottle.
The bathroom is roomy and contains a bathtub/shower combo, another suite amenity. In the hall entrance there is a long table that serves as a cosmetic area and a hairdryer is provided. Although it is a handheld it is the first hairdryer I have seen a ship that is comparable and powerful enough to really be used by most woman. I even included a diffuser attachment. Shower gel and shampoo is provided in mounted dispensers within the shower area. Liquid soap is also provide by the sink in another dispenser. We prefer our own bar soap but had forgotten them this trip. We were surprised to find that no soap was sold in the shops onboard. Robes were provided for use during the cruise, I believe in all cabins with a slightly more plush robe in suites. They are, of course, for sale if you like them.
The balcony was good sized and entered via a sliding door which is preferable to the regular door type on many of the ships. There were two comfortable chairs and a plastic table for furniture. The chairs recline but are not full lounges. On a recent sailing of the Carnival Legend the chairs were plastic and you needed a towel just to sit on them. A phone and small TV were also in the room. Dawn is a very hi-tech ship so it was surprising to see that the TV did not offer one of those computer systems that allows for room service ordering or account checking, it was merely a TV. Frankly I kind of liked that fact. You also have a hot water pot and instant coffee and tea on dining table. A small couch ( which I presume opens to provide a bed for the kids ) is located by the balcony doors.
I presume since mini-suite category, complimentary bottle of white wine was in room, fresh flowers and fruit were placed in room a couple of times during cruise.
The bed was very comfortable and two large sided suitcases fit under them without a problem. Four very good pillows were also provided. Nightstands were located on either side but do not have drawers, merely a four sided open space under the table top. All in all the cabin was very nice, albeit not what I would call a suite. So whether it is worth selecting is really based upon how much more it costs versus a normal outside cabin.
Dining on the Dawn is FREESTYLE, a slogan coined by NCL I believe. Basically meaning that you are not assigned either a dining room or a dining time during the cruise. I will admit that I did not believe that I would be at all happy about freestyle cruising as I enjoy meeting and getting to know my tablemates for the week. I will say that I did come to feel that there are definite pluses to freestyle cruising and does present an interesting alternative to what has been the norm of cruise dining. The most obvious plus is in the area of scheduling, and feeling un-pressed to be ready and at a certain table. Another plus is that each restaurant provides a varied atmosphere. Decor is varied between dining rooms but in our favorite, the Aqua, all wait staff are female as were the Matri-d's. The evening menu is the same in each. In addition there are several other restaurants to choose from that require reservations for most part and have ADDITIONAL cover charges or ala-carte pricing. We did not try any of those simply because it goes against my grain to pay additional for any dining on a cruise.
Food was generally very good in dining room, selection was okay although it seemed to me that little was offered in the steak category. Being that Cagneys additional charge steakhouse restaurant is highly touted I am suspicious that they are quietly trying to force steak lovers to go there for a real steak dinner. Never the less I had no problem finding something to enjoy on the menu most evenings.
There are three main restaurants that all serve the same menu and very simply in location and style of decor. We initially went to Aqua and then tried the Venetian one evening. The Venetian appears to be the largest and we found that the Aqua's smaller venue and atmosphere was more to our liking. The Impressions generally had a 25 minute wait and we simply never bothered waiting for it since we were more than happy with Aqua. We did take a look at Impressions one afternoon and other than it being based on art type decor found that we didn't think there was anything worth waiting for. The Aqua features and entirely female staff and they were simply wonderful. The Venetian felt like a normal large dining room found on most ships so again the Aqua seemed more suited to freestyle dining to us. There was also seldom a wait although they did a brisk business it also seated quite a few diners. It was also less noisy than the Venetian. The one evening we did have to wait 20 minutes the Aqua staff came out and served us champagne while we were waiting. This was the night that they have staff appear at the show, waiters, stewards and so forth, hence a portion of staff were there instead of working which is what I believed caused the lines at dinner. For the most part though we were always seated quickly no matter what time we decided to dine. A big plus for me is that you can order cappuchino with dessert at no additional charge !
The Garden Buffet area was adequate for the most part and food was varied and plentiful and seating available enough under most circumstances. Drink stations were also provided offering iced tea, water, coffee, tea, and even hot chocolate. There is a vegetarian section, regular section, and deli section. Food is also available in a little nook downstairs called the Blue Lagoon located on deck 7. This is a small 24 hour a day food are that features hamburgers, chili, fast wok type dishes. It's small and has table service, food is cooked when ordered. The Bimini Bar and Grill is located on Deck 14 and also offers hamburgers and assorted items like steak kabobs and such. A bit of a climb from the pool deck but worth it if you are looking for a spot to have a beer and some snack food.
Saved the best for last, the poolside barbecue! At lunchtime you will find several very large charcoal grills going by the pool and heaped with ribs, burgers, sausages and the like. The ribs are great and plentiful and barbecue sauce nice and tasty. Couple that with a helmet of beer ( think it is $16 for a plastic helmet with 5 or 6 beers and ice ) and many of us will feel we have found Heaven. Pizza is also found at the Garden Cafe and is very good for ship pizza. Food is not a problem on this ship.
The added charge restaurants appeared to be doing a decent business each night but as I stated we never went to one. It's not that I am cheap, it's just that I am against added charge restaurants on ship so won't use them. My concern is that if supported they will eventually become the norm rather than the exception and cruising will continue to take one more step towards being little more than a land vacation that floats.
The excellent Cruise Director, Greg Cleson, stated early in the voyage that the Dawn had been awarded some such award for best entertainment at sea or some such. Yeah okay I said to myself, ain't they all. Well I must say that the Dawn did have the best and most varied entertainment that I have seen onboard ship. They had a comedian, magician, and the standard singer and dancers that were anything but standard. I often don't bother going to the shows that feature just the dance company since to me it becomes just the same act in different costumes after a while. Well not these shows since the dance company also features acrobatic stars and some unusual effects. The shows were definitely of higher quality than most of the show companies. The poolside and lounge band the Ironics were very good although it takes a little getting used to seeing three tiny Asian young ladies singing everything from rock and roll to country western. But as I said, they were very good. There are various lounges operating in the evening featuring varied entertainment from karaoke to piano bar. You will not lack for something to do. The ship board standards like Liars Club and Newly Wed game type shows are also scheduled throughout. The Cruise Director is a very funny and personable guy who tells you that he worked for Citi Bank until he was 30 when he suddenly found himself on an operating table having open heart surgery. When he recovered he decided that life was short and he intended to enjoy what is left of it and he does. He is leaving for the NCL Star and Hawaii soon and hopefully the next CD will be as good.
ITINERARY and EXCURSIONS
This cruise is extremely unusual in that the main ports of call are U.S. mainland ports in Florida, Port Canaveral, and Miami. That was fine with us since we cruise a lot and have seen enough over crowded Caribbean ports filled with T-shirt shops. Although we don't usually book ship excursions because we find them more expensive than simply doing it yourself we decided that due to the distance of the ports from activities it might be prudent to do so this trip. We selected the Universal Tour in Orlando as one and the Everglades tour in Miami.
The Universal Studios Tour was $85 pp and included transportation and entrance to either of the two Universal parks which are side by side. One park is more roller coaster type rides and the other more studio ride oriented. We choose the regular park. Frankly I was not impressed with Universal. The ship offers EXPRESS entry to rides for a considerable additional charge which we did not take as the lines were not a big problem this time of year. Most had waits in the area of 15 to 20 minutes with exception of Shrek which was 45 minutes. JAWS was closed for maintenance which I am sure was a disappointment for many. Tour was scheduled to meet on shore at 9 am but disembark didn't actually even start until about 9:45 and there was a long line to get off the ship by then. The bus ride to the park is about an hour so we didn't get to park until about 11 am. The buses are scheduled to start loading for return at 5:30 and leave at 6 pm be on them or miss the ship. We were ready to go at 4:30 having seen enough. With the exception of 5 or 6 " rides " the entire park was mostly places to eat or shop. The rides were mostly 5 or 10 minutes in duration and less than awesome in my opinion. The only one I truly enjoyed and thought was darn good was EarthQuake. Having to do it again I think I would choose the shuttle to Disney or Epcot, or possibly the Space Center.
In Miami we took the everglades tour, again about an hour drive but this tour we enjoyed, it was something like $45 pp. Here you are put onboard a large 40 or so passenger airboat and taken out into the glades by an informative guide. You hopefully get to see some alligators which we did and learn than the glades are actually a very slow moving river which supplies much of Florida's water. After the boat ride there is a show/talk featuring some alligators and birds and even a panther, extremely interesting and believe me I am not usually all that interested in such things but this was worth it. Finally you get some time at the gift shop ( nothing that apparently interested any of us ) and snack bar where you can get gator nuggets. Like chicken McNuggets made from alligator meat. Yes we had some, I mean you just have to try them don't you. A small basket of them and a bottle of water were $9 but hey, when you going to get a chance to eat alligator again?
For the ladies! When you get to Universal Studios there are nice large enough restrooms near where you exit the buses. When you get to the everglades, ladies, be first off the bus and move fast!!! We arrived in four large buses after an hour's ride, about 160 people at least half of which were ladies. There are THREE stalls for women in the only ladies room there. Enough said!!!
There is only one formal evening on this 7 day cruise, a departure from the normal two on most 7 day cruises. The formal night was the second evening, in this case Monday. Formal night is described as " optional " and the Garden cafe turns into La Trattoria restaurant in the evening to serve those that do not wish to dress formal. Here the term " formal " varies. Knowing in advance that the level of dress was less formal than on standard cruises I didn't even bring a suit, instead a sports jacket and tie. This was more than okay for regular restaurants on formal night. The rest of the evenings were casual dress, nice slacks and shirts were all that were needed. The group that sailed this week, contrary to the group that sailed our Carnival cruise in June, were nicely, albeit casually, dressed all week. There were no tank tops or shorts like we saw on the Legend cruise.
The Dawn has a nice Internet Cafe with numerous terminals. The also offer a wireless connection to your laptop if so equipped. Block minutes can be purchased, 100 minutes for $55 or 250 minutes for $100. I used my own laptop with wireless and found that it was the same system used on Carnival Legend. It seemed to operate much slower on the Dawn however. The Cafe Manager assured me that they were almost T1 speed, something I know it is not, more DSL speed. This was something like between dialup and DSL, adequate but annoying since the same system on Legend had been so much faster. They will rent you a lap top and wireless card but it is much too costly in my opinion, in area of $33 a day with insurance.
The nice thing about using your own laptop is the ability to download your email, read and reply offline, and then upload your outgoing mail when using outlook express and other mail programs. This is a big saver on minutes used. The other advantage I found on this cruise was that the Internet Cafe is located above the Java Cafe area which is open to it. The wireless connection works fine in the Java Cafe which allows you to have your Espresso and so forth while catching up on your mail. You can even smoke there on the port side if you are an evil smoker like myself. This was a big plus for me. They have great coffee and lattes etc and even some fancy desserts in Java Cafe located on reception atrium deck area. Yes you pay for the coffee and so forth but it is a great place to relax and watch the world go by. A good cup of coffee on a ship is something I am willing to pay for since the free coffee ( with exception of free cappuccino in dining room ) on board ships is generally pretty terrible instant from syrup. So a cup of REAL coffee is more than worth the price to me.
ODDS & ENDS
Passenger Mix - Nice mix of ages, seniors to families with infants. Was actually surprised that were there quite a few with kids on this cruise. I would guess that Florida Itinerary has a lot to do with that, a day in Orlando with kids and no driving or fuss. Also surprised that there were quite a few Europeans, mostly from Germany and Spain I would gather since announcements were being made in those languages as well as English. I noted quite a few Germans and I presume that NCL is marketing heavily in Europe for this cruise since it makes sense as a US itinerary is offered. Overall it was a very pleasant group of people.
Room Service - Excellent although always a 1/2 hour early.
Main Show Theatre ( Stardust ) - Unique is the word for design. The seats span three decks without separation of levels. Rather the rows start at top and simply continue all the way down with side entrances on each deck. This makes it one big theatre they describe as ( Traditional european opera house ambiance, reaching up three decks. ) The oddity is that the rows cannot be entered on the sides only from the middle walkways and seats are close so it makes for a lot of standing up to let people into and out of rows. Also makes drink passing a necessity when someone orders at start of show. Seats were comfortable although not a lot of space between or in front. At 6' 2" I found leg room almost intolerable in most rows. Another unique feature is that the air conditioning comes out of a vent in the seat in front of you. I noted tat most of the ladies took to bringing shawls and sweaters to the shows as it was pretty chilly before theatre filled up and show began, and being so close to the air flow can also make many uncomfortable without a coverup.
Cinema - Although FREE movies are show on the cabin TV and various times this ship also features a Movie Theatre like the older ships all used to have. I can not say enough about how much I enjoy being able to take in a movie in the theatre environment while lounging around at sea. It makes for a nice break in the day for me. I found the cinema did a nice attendance as well.
Nickle/Diming - As I refer to add on charges on ships now. MODERATE and less than I expected. No pay for movies on TV, as I mentioned low tech TV system no online gambling either, this is a PLUS.....Pictures, to be honest I couldn't find our embarkation photo which was the only one I wanted so I didn't even check photo cost. I did note a sign that said unlimited photo's $199 but honestly don't now if that referred to developing, ship photographer shots or what.
Ice cream was free on deck at middle of bar area. I saw cart with Haagen Daus ice cream bars also which I presume were an extra charge.
Most was typical, book of " bargain " coupons in your cabin most of which required purchases to get anything, FREE spin on special money wheel in Casino. I WON an NCL T-shirt, ALL I HAD TO DO WAS SPEND $50 in the gift shop for my FREE shirt. Sorry stuff like that only annoys me rather than make me feel like a winner.
The only thing I saw that I really considered a little tacky was when the deck bar servers suddenly appeared selling T-shirts passenger to passenger. For a minute I thought I was in some bar on a tacky strip somewhere with people running around with t-shirts draped over their arms making strong suggestions that I really needed one.
The Casino was nice but saw no big winners, there were some winners of course but appeared few and far between. There were quarter and nickel machines, many dollar machines, and more $5 machines than are usually seen on a ship. There was even a $25 machine which I have never seen in a ship casino. Table games and craps were also in the casino. The slots use the new coupon pay out system which means you can put money in and when you cash out the machine prints you a coupon. That in turn can be cashed at window or used in any other machine just like putting in money.
FREE Bingo game card in cabin, it is for one game, third game of course so you must sit there through regular games to play FREE game. Talking BINGO something new I never saw before, electronic bingo card boxes. Interesting concept for those that like to multiple cards. This consists of a black box that is electronically loaded with desired number of cards. You then enter each number as called into the box for that game and the box tells you if you BINGO by flashing BINGO and making a sound. For final Bingo I think you can get something like 150 cards loaded into the box. You can also, purchase the regular paper cards instead. It was also interesting that when a Bingo is called they punch up the number of the paper card and it appears on a screen up front verifying if it is a winner. Very Hi-tech for Bingo.
What a mess, but NY Piers fault not NCL's. Simply, NY Piers are not truly capable of handling all the traffic that occurs with 4 ships in. Couple that with an immigration problem with a passenger on the Dawn which necessitated us not being cleared until around 11:30 am. This meant that disembarkation had to deal with people arriving for early embarkation as well. Total chaos to say the least. Although we got off the ship fairly fast and were able to get our luggage and a porter almost immediately the hard part was getting the car from long term and into the line of traffic queing for drop off and pick ups. Figure with four large ships in, say 8000 people off and 8000 people on all lining up for the one two lane access area. Then if you know the pier area, the West Side Hwy starts backing up which just starts a domino effect all around the terminal streets. We didn't actually get to street level and on the Hwy until after 1 pm. Many people that had come to pick up passengers gave up and parked on the surrounding streets and walked over to the pier and started carrying luggage back to their cars. not a fun way to end a cruise for many I would think. ( Then of course there were two cars that broke down in the car line in front of terminal just to add to the mess. )
The good part of NCL disembarkation was that like Carnival, NCL continues room service on the disembarkation morning and also allows you to remain in your cabin until the ship clears and starts disembarkation. So we may have been delayed getting cleared and off but at least we were comfortable.
We sailed NCL again after so many years not really expecting to have great voyage and were pleasantly surprised that it goes down in our books as one of the best we've had in recent times. We were also not in the gang that favors FREESTYLE concept but decided to at least try it. Again we were surprised to find that it operated pretty well. The ability to set your own dinner time each evening is very convenient. My concern would be that when traveling with other couples that we would have to get into the where and what time discussions that I hate to have. I also miss meeting and getting to know regular tablemates, yet doing Freestyle is not a bad change at all. It certainly did not hurt service at all.
The key to a cruise line for me is that they have a happy staff and so far NCL's staff appear to love their jobs. It was a great friendly and helpful crew on board. I have no complaints and automatic tipping hasn't hurt the service on this ship as yet.
NCL today is a far different product from NCL of past years since it is really and Asian accent. With maybe an exception of an actual ship Officer here and there you would be hard pressed to find anything Norwegian to indicate that this is Norwegian Cruise Lines. It is owned by Asian Star lines so that is not surprising.
I also enjoyed the US itinerary, nice for a change instead of visiting this and that t-shirt shop, over crowded island.
The week we sailed the private island was a bust for most. The weather and sea's were perfect but people that went over to the island started returning very early the complaint being bugs and insects. Most said it was really miserable and we noted that NCL was selling bug repellant on the gangway to the tenders. Having been there before we elected to stay onboard and enjoy the pool area while it was quiet but it filled up by noon with returning passengers.
Since the Dawn is staying in NY year round, the only ship to do so, and also doing some 9 and 10 day Caribbean sailings, there is no doubt that we will be onboard her again in the coming months.
ACTUALLY SAILING END of NOVEMBER again!
I tried to cover as much as possible. If you have any specific questions feel free to email me. Please put dawn review or some such in subject area since I get so much junk mail nowadays I have a tendency to throw half of it away without opening it if I don't know the sender. I also have lot's of pictures if you want a photo of something I may or may not have it. I was lucky enough to tour the ship in December when she was in for her inaugural visit so most of my photo's are from then.