The Norwegian Dawn is a colorful ship with a hull decorated with streamers and leaping dolphins, which has been in service five years, yet it doesn't show its age. This was our fifth Norwegian cruise and our first on the Dawn. We had a wonderful much needed rest and made several new friends.
Captain Hakan Svedung runs a tight ship, with high priority on safety. Monday, the first full day at sea, he announced a change in course in order to avoid Tropical Storm Olga -- we no longer headed for Samana, Dominican Republic, a pity since there are usually whale sightings in the bay. Instead, we were off to Tortola, BVI in relatively high seas. We also met Hotel Director Jacques Le Tallec, who proved to be every bit as charming as his name. He aims to please and to that end he keeps his attention on the needs and wishes of the passengers. He visited us in our mini suite and asked how we were getting along and if we needed anything. Vincent mentioned that there were no upholstered chairs and "Presto" two comfortable armchairs appeared in just a few minutes. We also met the Concierge Yahira Suazo and she was not only beautiful, but very helpful and accommodating.
Embarkation Floridians have the distinct advantage over others when it comes to cruising -- we don't have to take a plane to start our vacations, But, we still have to brave I-95 and its propensity for traffic jams and time delaying accidents. On Sunday mornings all this is much easier. From our home in Boca Raton, it is a mere forty-five minute drive to the Port of Miami; on Dec. 9th we arrived at the pier at 12:45 and had a rather slow but thorough check-in.
We were in a special check-in line for wheelchair passengers. There were mixed signals from the Pier personnel and the Norwegian personnel. The ship's workers were attempting to streamline the process, while the Pier personnel were slower and less organized: i. e., "Wait here!" "Come forward!" "Wait there!" And finally, "Come forward!" Our photos were taken, and we went all the way to the end of the pier to collect the photo boarding pass. Then we had to return all the way back to board. The logistics for this process should be improved. The on ramps were very steep, so if you are in a wheelchair put on your safety belt. They were even more necessary during debarkation. We took thirty-five minutes for check-in and one hour total to board.
We wanted to check on reservations for the Venetian Dining Room, but were told that there were none, just come early to request a table near the entrance. Freestyle Cruising is a plus for cruisers since they are not held to specific times or places for dinner, rather each evening can be a special dinner unique from all others on board.
The Ship The Norwegian Dawn was built in Pappenburg, Germany and entered service December 2002. She is 965 feet long and 105 feet in the beam. With a tonnage of 92,250, her draft is only 27 feet and her top speed is 25 knots. The Dawn has 15 passenger decks, 12 elevators, 1,112 cabins, a guest capacity of 2224 and a crew of 1,126 (a good guest to crew ratio).
The ships newspaper, "FREESTYLE DAILY" lists all twenty-two dining venues and their hours. Like the personality of this ship (easygoing), there are a whole range of dining venues from the very formal Venetian Dining Room to the very casual Blue Lagoon -- We did our utmost to try them all and were amazed by the changing ambiance from one site to another.
Midship is the airy atrium with its many crystal sculptures. This cruise the Christmas decorations added to the ship's beauty. Like all Norwegian ships the decor is simple, with beautiful woods included. We especially enjoyed the Venetian with its aft wall of windows each decorated with a huge lit wreath.
Cabin Mini suite 11616 on Deck 11 is huge and sparingly furnished, which is perfect for this wheelchair accessible cabin. However, the entrance is situated in a narrow corridor which makes it difficult to enter and exit in a wheelchair. This cabin could have been positioned several feet either to the left or the right and thus avoided this problem, since the corridor widens out in either direction, except for this one bottleneck.
When entering on the right there is an exceedingly large bathroom with safety rails all around. There is a huge shower with a seat and rails -- very handy -- a single sink and two shelves for toiletries. Next there is a king size bed with the ubiquitous heavy white quilt. We had this last item replaced with a top sheet and lightweight blanket. The bed is flanked by two night tables each with two shelves, but no drawers. There are nice reading lamps on the wall.
When entering on the left there are shelves and a triple armoire with hanger sections and more shelves. Next there is a vanity/desk with coffee/tea maker plus amenities. There is a long and rather firm couch in green; then a TV console with three drawers, a safe, a small refrigerator and then a kitchenette set of a table and two chairs. Of course, there were also the two armchairs which H.D. Mr. Le Tallec provided. There are a wall of windows to the balcony, which is twice the size of a regular one. On it were two recliners, two chairs, and a table. How nice!
The room had lots of warm cherry wood and blue carpeting with a starfish motif. Our stewards were Henriques and Marlon, both of whom were very helpful and cordial. They aimed to please and did so very well.
Food & Service The service was always tip top and given with a smile. Freestyle cruising is excellent, but passengers should always be aware that they may not encounter the same waiters more than once. Vincent always likes to tip individually for excellent service over and above the prepaid gratuities. We certainly enjoyed the variety of the many restaurants: Le Bistro, French; Cagney's, American Steakhouse, featuring surf and turf and live lobsters; Impressions, Italian with an excellent antipasti cart; Bamboo, Asian Fusion; Teppanyaki, Japanese; and the Venetian, Continental. Executive Chef Christophe Belin should be proud of the richness of the variety and superb execution of the various cuisines. He has the portion sizes exact! On many cruises we have complained of grossly over-sized portions; we have even asked if we could order one-half portions, or we resorted to sharing an entree to avoid wasting good food. But, Chef Christophe has presented the perfectly sized portions. For those really big eaters (gourmands) who want more, they will be happy to know that they can order as many appetizers, soups, salads, pasta dishes, entrees and desserts as they desire. They will all be brought with a smile.
We did our level best to sample it all and the following are some items that should not be missed: At Le Bistro, try the lobster & scallop martini, Escargot Bourguignonne, Warm goat cheese tart, Onion soup, Braised Short rib and Grilled Beef Filet, and for dessert Apple Tartin a la mode; at Bamboo, the Asian restaurant, try the Edamame (fresh Soybeans), Shrimp & Vegetable Tempura (light as feathers), Spring rolls, Pot stickers, Corn & Crab soup, Teriyaki steak and for dessert order the succulent Banana Spring roll with vanilla ice cream and strawberry dip. Forget the Matcha ice cream (green tea). Almost everyone who tried it at Teppanyaki ended up leaving it. We were told one must cultivate a taste for it, but at this time our taste buds were not pleased with it. Don't forget to say hello to Asst. Maitre 'D Rattaya Boonyrat who adds grace and charm to the experience. We are also grateful to restaurant Manager Kaya Aydin who is responsible for all restaurants aboard which run like clockwork. We spoke with him on several occasions and congratulated him on his great accomplishment.
On this cruise we did not have the opportunity to dine at Cagney's Steakhouse, but from our last cruise on the Norwegian Jewel we remember that we had an excellent dinner. Cagney's menu has some of our favorite dishes: Great Jumbo Lump Crab cakes and Cardini's Original Caesar salad; a 14oz. Prime Rib, a 12 oz. Veal chop; desserts include N.Y. Cheesecake, Banana Foster Flambe and a terrific Artisan Cheese Trolley.
Expressions is the Italian restaurant where reservations are required, but there is no fee. The antipasti are served tableside from a food cart; the minestrone is recommended; let your imagination run wild and create your own pasta course from several types of pasta and as many sauces! The Veal Marsala was great, and for dessert Tiramisu.
In the Venetian Dining Room Vincent was happy to once again have the potato gnocchi with Gorgonzola sauce. It was excellent! The Freestyle Cruising on Norwegian allows passengers to act as if they are in a small city. Thus, Norwegian has created the variety of venues on its ships which are undeniably "Cities Afloat."
Entertainment The must not miss spectacular Jean Ann Ryan Dance Company, they are wonderfully capable athletic, acrobatic and graceful dancers. The singers are in fine voice, but once again extremely loud! A sound check is definitely in order. The "FREESTYLE DAILY" nicely lists all the special activities and parties on board, while on the back were listed Bar, Restaurant, and Library hours and locations. There are excellent Spa & Gym facilities plus the usual constant array of daily activities: Bingo (high purses), Bridge & Chess Tournaments, Basketball and Trivia games, etc., etc.
Ports of Call Day 1: Miami, FL -- Depart: 4:00pm Day 2: At Sea Day 3: Samara, Dominican Republic -- Cancelled due to Tropical Storm Olga Day 4: Tortola, BVI -- Arrive: 8:00am; Depart: 3:30pm The ship docked at the cruise terminal in Road Town, a short distance from downtown where the shops are.Day 5: St. Thomas, USVI -- Arrive 8:00am; Depart 3:30pm Mandatory US Immigration inspection for all guests. Great port for shopping. Mary's favorite shop -- Mr. Tablecloth. Day 6: At Sea Day 7: Great Stirrup Cay, Bahamas -- Arrive: 9:00am; Depart: 3:30pm NCL's private island has beautiful sandy beaches and crystal clear water. Day 8: Miami, FL -- Arrive: 7:00am
Debarkation The morning of debarkation, if you prefer, continental breakfast may be served in your stateroom. This is a rare occurrence since most cruise lines do not have room service on debarkation day. They also serve breakfast in the main dining room and at the buffet. We arranged to have wheelchair assistance from our room, so in less than half an hour we completed debarkation and by 9:30 we were on our way home. Excellent, fast, simple and well assisted. Kudos to the crew.
Conclusion This was a very good cruise. Even though both of us have been afflicted by limited mobility problems, we managed to get around the ship, at times sharing Mary's motorized wheelchair. Rest and relaxation have been the key words on this cruise, without much physical activities and island tours. We have enjoyed the "Free Style Cruising" concept.
We'll be cruising on NCL ships again, and while onboard we booked a future cruise. Our next cruise, however, will be on Costa Fortuna, Jan. 27th, and on Feb. 19th we'll embark on the Star Princess for a memorable cruise to Antarctica. Happy Cruising!