The Norwegian Dawn cruise from New York City to the Bahamas is a good cruise to take if you're fair-skinned and don't want too much sun exposure in early spring. It's not a good cruise to take if you want to meet other singles--although at the Captain's Reception a bottle of expensive wine was given to a couple that met as widow/widower the previous year on this cruise and subsequently married.
I traveled with a girlfriend, both in our early 50's, both single. We each took advantage of the NYC departure to sightsee and visit family and friends before departure. I arrived Friday afternoon and stayed with a friend of 20 years. I budgeted $300 for this portion of the trip, which included 2 tickets for the Broadway show "Wonderful Town" ($54 each at the "day-of" ticket office); 2 tickets for Ellis Island via Circle Line ($16 each including audio tour); 2 tickets for the Empire State Building ($16 total, including 1 audio tour). In terms of meals we ate out three times: 1 brunch ($18) and 2 dinners ($37 and $105). Dinner in Tribeca at The Odeon was very enjoyable.
We met at Pier 88 at 2:30 p.m. on Sunday. After we visited our room, I went immediately to the Reservation Desk on Deck 7, where I booked my shore excursion to the Epcot Center and then made a reservation for LeBistro the following evening at 5:30 p.m. You can only sign up for the restaurants that require reservations one day in advance. After the first day, I recommend being in the reservation line at 8:00 a.m. if your room doesn't come with Concierge Services to secure a reservation for the following evening. Le Bistro was fabulous! We were seated 3 feet away from and between two Monet originals. My view included a Renoir 15 feet away and my friend's view included a Mattisse. The artwork, food and service combined for a memorable and exquisite dining experience.
Day One we ate breakfast in The Venetian. We were seated facing the wall of windows at the back of the ship. Halfway through the five-course breakfast, I spotted a dolphin jumping out of the water to the left of the ship. Then there were two, three and five diving dolphins. Wow! After that we asked and waited for seating by the windows in the back. The only time this caused a hassle was when we arrived 15 minutes before they stopped serving breakfast; we kept a line of people waiting. The options for low-carb eating aren't the greatest at The Venetian, but the view and the service are worth a few extra carbs. The men waiters at Tables 28-46 were a special treat.
We ate one dinner at Aqua, but after that we settled on Impressions for evening dining. The menu is the same for both restaurants, but Impressions is a notch up in terms of ambience and presentation. The President's Night menu presented dishes prepared by the chef for Presidents Carter, Reagan and Ford. Much to my friend's dismay, we tended to eat "Republican." Lobster Night was another meal we enjoyed very much.
My least favorite restaurant was the self-serve Garden Café, a buffet on Deck 12. Going through the food line was fine but fighting two-way traffic at the beverage station was a free-for-all. The dessert and fruit stations were usually messy. The food was never at the just-right temperature like it was at Impressions or The Venetian. The same was true of the BBQ on Deck 12: cold hotdogs, ribs and heavily marinated chicken. We probably ate at these buffets 5-6 times just because grilled food sounded appetizing and/or we wanted to eat by the pool or listen to the music.
Speaking of the pool, on this cruise it never warmed up enough to make us want to jump in. There are 4 Jacuzzi's and they were in use all the time except late at night. We sat on lounge chairs a couple times watching the sun set before we left port. The first sunburns appeared after the day at Cape Canaveral. Get help applying sunscreen if you don't want a weird burn pattern: anything not covered turns red. On Day 6 we were At Sea sailing through a strong head wind. I was watching kids swim in the pool and all of a sudden the pool water started to swell. 5-7 foot waves were carrying the kids from one end of the pool to the other. The fear was the waves would slam the kids into the walls. At first they were really excited but being tossed around by the waves started to dampen their enthusiasm. People gathered at the edge of the pool in case there was an emergency, but after about 3-5 minutes, the waves died down.
Speaking of waves, that same evening, we went walking on Deck 7 after dinner, which was our custom. As we started our 3-5 lap walk, the ship hit a wave that splashed clear up over the 7th floor deck. A lot of the force behind the water was wind-driven. It was amazing to see a splash that big. As we walked, I wondered if it would happen again, but it didn't. I was surprised that more people didn't take advantage of the walking track on Deck 7. Often we had the entire track to ourselves. Usually, we stopped at the back of the boat to watch the water churned out by three big generators. The swirling water was a sight to behold.
The Norwegian Dawn offered a wide variety of entertainment: free Bingo game, free slot pull at the casino, free cooking demonstrations, movies, shows. We went to 3 of the shows performed by the same troupe before we tired of seeing the same people in different costumes. Each show featured some combination of singing, dancing and gymnastics, and each show offered one or two outstanding acts, in particular the ballerina and the Cirque de Soleil-like rope climber/swinger. One gymnast was a former Olympian who did some pretty incredible stunts on rings.
The movie theatre wasn't the best quality projection but I saw three recently-released movies: Cheaper by the Dozen, Last Samurai and Love Actually. Arrive at least 15 minutes before show time if you don't want to sit in the aisle or stand. I wasn't the only one perturbed by two different groups of women at two different movies who talked in normal speaking tones throughout the entire movies. In a normal setting, people might seek out an usher to confront them. No one including me wanted a ruckus so we just suffered through. I thought about giving the Cruise Director some feedback, but who has time for that?
The Library offered a wide selection of types and titles of books. We checked out books on Day 2 and easily completed one book apiece reading nights and afternoons. I sat in the Reading/Writing Room a couple times. Comfy upholstered chairs face out picture windows with nice ocean views. It was a quiet environment where people worked on lap tops, wrote letters and slept.
Having experience with trip planning, I was anxious to "do our own thing" at the different ports of call. I couldn't find any better offerings for Canaveral than the ship offered so I toured Epcot. I wasn't expecting rain that day based on my 10-day forecasts that printed out before I left Denver, so a full day of showers was distressing. The Cruise Director gives you no weather tips before you begin your big adventures. Consequently, I left my much-needed umbrella on the ship. I dried off twice in the course of the day. Epcot didn't do much to take my mind off the inclement weather. The concept for the park is a good one, but the material is dumbied-down to about 5th Grade level. I did enjoy "Mom, I Shrunk the Audience" and Space Mission which opened in 2002.
In Miami, we rented a car, traveled down the Keys past Key Largo to Islamorada (Is-la-mor-AH-da). We had preconceived notions of driving on bridges over water between landmasses. Not at all the case. The main drag is like any other two-lane road. We drove as far as Mile Marker 67.5 or approximately half way to Key West. In that distance, we crossed two drawbridges and in the 5 miles preceding Islamorada, five small bridges. Half that distance was through the Everglades. It was hard to imagine that entire expanse being swamp. We didn't see any alligators, but did see some unique waterfowl. At Robbie's Marina we were able to rent a motor boat for an hour for $40 only because I had talked to Mark who assured me if we got there, he "would get us on the water." I drove the boat out through the channel and onto a very turquoise ocean. We did a few big laps heading toward two nearby islands and headed back. We were surprised to be sprayed by 3-foot waves every time we crossed one. It took 2.5 hours to rent the car at Budget ($50 including taxi) and drive to Robbie's. After stopping at two souvenir shops on the way back, we made it to the ship by 4:30 p.m. with an hour to spare. If you want to snorkel, check out John Pennekamp State Park in the Keys.
By the time we arrived at the Bahamas, we were pretty tired of being herded all week. We chose to walk to the two forts and visit the Straw Market where I had two braids put in my hair for a discounted $1 each. My friend bought hats and t-shirts for gifts. We stopped in McDonald's for a 99-cent soda and at another shop bought a rum cake and $4 ring. Mid-day we made our way back to the ship for lunch, which worked out well. Another option would be to rent scooters and do what we did plus have time to visit Atlantis Resort where you can play a Tom Fazio 18-hole putting green course ($15). They also have a 5,000-fish-stocked snorkel area. You can gain access to these areas of the resort through Guest Services, otherwise, it seems that most of the resort is "off limits" to the public at large.
The private island, Great Stirrup Cay, was fun. We brought snorkel gear with us. I borrowed a floatation vest at the Cay, but I don't think anyone would have stopped me from snorkeling if I didn't have one on. The water was chilly and I entered slowly. There were some nice reef areas to explore and quite a selection of fish. A stingray was swimming up near the beach with a foot-long light blue and pale yellow fish swimming alongside and on top of it. It was like being in a life-size fish tank. This was my first time snorkeling, and I enjoyed everything but saltwater in my eyes. We stayed in the water over an hour before we took a walk to the back of the NCL property line. Not much to see at the end of the trail.
We left the boat at 10:00 a.m. on Sunday, which allowed plenty of time to take a taxi to Penn Station and catch the commuter rail back to the Newark Airport ($12) in time to catch a 1:40 p.m. flight.
At our first port of call, I was surprised to feel the earth moving under my feet. My friend wasn't as aware of the rocking sensation as much as I was. It's almost a week later, and I am still adjusting to being on land. It hasn't made me sick; it's annoying more than anything. The other drawback to cruising you hear about is weight gain. I weighed in at the Fitness Center the morning of Day 2. I was anxious to "protect" the 13 pounds I had lost since the last time I had weighed myself. How did I do? My weigh-in on Day 7 showed I gained 5 pounds--17,500 additional calories of mostly bran muffins, fruit juices, wonderful breads and a couple dishes of Atkins-forbidden ice cream. These pounds will disappear pretty quickly.
Overall, the trip was what I expected, met my expectations and provided some very memorable experiences. Here's how I rate the different elements:
LeBistro (10 stars); The Venetian (10 stars); Impressions (10 stars); Garden Café (5 stars).
Canaveral/Epcot Center (5 stars); Miami/Islamorada (10 stars); Great Stirrup Cay (10 stars); Bahamas (7 stars).
Library/Reading/Writing Room (10 stars); Dolphins jumping (10 stars); Walks on Deck 7 (9 stars); Pool Side (7 stars); Jean Ray Entertainment (7 stars).
Cruise overall: 8.8 to 9.0 stars