Dawn Princess 10-Day Mexican Riviera A712 – Covered Balcony – Queen Bed Traditional Dining Late Seating 10-11-05 to 10-21-05 Catalina, Puerto Vallarta, Mazatlan, Cabo San Lucas, San Diego Charles and Judy Crain – 48 and 50, engineer and homemaker, respectively
Previous Cruises Eastern Caribbean (Sun Princess) – 4/2005 Western Caribbean (Star Princess) – 12/2004 Panama Canal - Partial Transit (Island Princess) – 1/2004 Mexican Riviera (Sea Princess) – 1/2002 Alaska (Ocean Princess) – 6/2001
A good value cruise. Nothing extraordinary like an Alaskan or Panama Canal cruise, but a good basic vacation away from everything and everybody. Relaxing, enjoyable and restful. Highly recommended as a getaway and for those people in the bay area that don’t have to fly, the value is very high.
The Dawn is a Sun class ship in service since 1997. She is one of four of the class (Sun, Sea and Ocean [now at P&O as Oceana]). (The Coral and Island, listed as Sun Class by Princess, are unique and are not the same ship class. They are more of a blend between the Grand and the Sun classes.) She carries around 900 crew and 2000+ passengers. She does fit in the Panama Canal (Only the Sun class, Coral and Island can.)
The artwork and furnishing are subdued, not glitzy, although the central atrium which stretches from deck 5 to deck 8, is impressive by itself. Two main staircases and elevator shafts serve the forward and rear areas, while the atrium stairways and elevators only serve the atrium area.
The Dawn is in remarkably good condition. Yes, you can find signs of wear and tear if you look closely and in nooks and crannies, but the carpets, paint, overall condition is very good. The only highly noticeable issue is with the windows. They are showing signs of permanent staining and will have to be razor bladed to be cleaned or simply replaced. The crew is constantly cleaning, varnishing and painting. This occurs on a continual basis while the ship is in port or at sea. Areas of the ship and the deck will be cordoned off at times while this work goes on.
The Dawn epitomizes the slogan “big ship, with small ship feel”. Most bars and seating areas are little spots which are both near to the action, yet seem quaint and isolated. We spent a lot of time in Magnums, basically for the service. The Patisserie on deck 5 is another example. The wheelhouse bar, when an activity is not scheduled, is also another place for a quiet drink.
A712 is a BB category balcony. We booked a BE guarantee and were upgraded. These cabins are smaller than the Grand or Coral class balconies. But they are more than sufficient for two people for 10 days. We didn’t use all the closet space and all of our bags fit under the bed. The balcony is small but completely enclosed and covered. The door to the balcony is a sliding door, not hinged. The Aloha and Baja balcony openings are larger than those on Caribe, but the size of the balcony is still the same as are the cabins themselves. (The Sun class cabins were originally intended as outside view cabins. Princess decided to cut large circular holes in the hull, move the wall in on the cabin and basically build a balcony. At the time, this innovation was hailed and widely advertised, but has now been superseded by the more modern balcony designs on the Grand and Coral classes.) Note that the mini-suites on the Sun class are essentially two balcony cabins side by side with a double size balcony as well. They are much bigger than the minis on the Grand and Coral class.
The only issue with an Aloha deck balcony cabin is that you will hear noise from the open deck above you. Joggers or work parties on the deck above may disturb your afternoon power nap. There was no noise from the gym and the door to the aft of the ship opens into a large deck over the stern. It’s a great place to wander out to and is close by for a quick view of the moonlit wake behind the ship. Its also relatively unknown to most newbies on a ship and relatively little used.
There is a shower and a sink, no tub. The shower is small but functional. The sink has a shelf under the counter and a set of smaller shelves next to the mirror. All were more than adequate for basic toiletries. Shampoo, conditioner, lotion and soap is provided as is room service twice a day. The TV is very small with no RCA jack inputs for viewing photos from digital cameras. The refrigerator is also small with an ice bucket refilled twice daily. The desk is small and intended more for a makeup area than a real desk. A single 110VAC outlet services the desk, a hairdryer is over the desk. The safe in the closet is self coded electronically as you close it. A four to six digit pin number allows a pretty secure storage. Another 110VAC outlet is under the shelf near the bathroom door, but two is not sufficient for most of the electronics we carry, so we bring a short 3 outlet splitter to charge multiple items at the same time.
A couple of important cabin notes. We always bring a can of Lysol and several bathroom cleaner cloths, like Clorox, in our carryon luggage and go over every square inch of the cabin solid surfaces, spray the bedspread, floor, shower curtain, drapes, inside the closet, etc. Can’t be too careful with hygiene. We also tried a special anti-viral cleaning agent this time just in case. We didn’t get sick, so either we didn’t need to or we did some good. We also request an egg crate foam mattress. This is a two inch foam mattress pad that goes on top of the two push together twin beds and actually helps keep the two beds together. It also makes the bed a little softer.
Our cabin steward was Ren. It took a while to get adjusted. He was a very shy, hardly ever seen, but very efficient room steward. We left in the morning, came back and the room was clean. Left for dinner at night, same thing after dinner. No cute towel animals, just very efficient service.
There are two main dining rooms on the 5th (Florentine) and 6th levels (Venetian). The Venetian is for traditional dinner seating, while the Florentine is for Personal Choice dinner, and lunch and breakfast seatings. The breakfast menu has a couple of featured items which change every day – like a scrambled egg with something dish (asparagus, spinach, celery) and a waffle or pancake dish and a bunch of standard items. The lunch menu changes everyday as well and has a variety of items, including ice cream. The dinner menus at both dining rooms is identical. The Venetian has an early 6pm and a late seating 8:15. The Florentine is personal choice. You can eat anytime between 5pm and 10pm. Just walk up or call and state your preference: Table for two-twelve, any available, round table by the window, etc. You can request to eat at the same time, same table, every night, BUT the popular dinner time of 7pm is VERY difficult to get seated. Once you arrive, they give you one of the lighted buzzer things and they buzz you when your request is available.
We ate in the dining room for breakfast once and did not like it much. The selection is limited and the food was cool when we got it. We ate in the dining room twice for lunch and on both occasions were pleased with the service and the food. (It was our two CC group lunches with 6-9 of us at the table.) The atmosphere is much more relaxed and you can enjoy a conversation much easier than in the Horizon Court.
I know that the menus are identical across the fleet. What I didn’t know is the latitude a ship’s chef has in making the dishes. The tastes for the same menu items on different ships were totally different – except for the lobster. That was excellent and did taste the same. One specific example was the eggnog ice cream. On the Star the flavor was light and very good, on the sun the spices were heavier and overwhelming, on the Dawn the ice cream was lighter, but still not the same as either previous ship. The Beef Wellington was another example. On the Star is was very good. On the Sun, I couldn’t eat it, but on the Dawn it was very good again.
My philosophy on a cruise is to taste everything I can’t pronounce. This cruise was no exception. I found out several interesting things on the last couple of cruises. They have added a couple of new menu titles. The candlelight menu was one. Also, because of my desire for differences, I usually end up with something I don’t care for. The Lobster Thermidor was one, an Italian crepe dish was another. One thing I can say, the fish was excellent on all nights.
The cream soups were excellent. European style cream soups heavy with the vegetable’s flavor (broccoli, asparagus) were all very good. The lobster, on the second formal night, was probably the best meal. Two of my least favorite menus (Continental [used to be French] and the Candlelight) are good candidates for going to La Scala or the Sterling Steakhouse for dinner. The International Menu surf and turf were also very good as were the tournedos of beef.
The Horizon Court (Lido Deck 14) is the standard Princess Buffet. There is a lot of griping about the layout, but Princess chose a station layout rather than a linear buffet. (Note that there are two buffets, one on the port and one on the starboard. Both serve identical food and are both open at peak times in the morning and for lunch, but they alternate openings and closing to prep one for the changing of the meals.) As you enter, there are 3 hot entrée stations on the right, 5 cold or packaged stations on the left and 2-3 island stations in the middle with salads and breads. The station concept allows you to jump ahead to each station rather than a linear buffet that would require you to pass each and every item from beginning to end. We like the station concept. The only time there is a problem is at peak rush hour and the jostling between stations can be frenetic.
It is important to note that the menu on the Horizon Court depends on the ship and the manager. Over the past four cruises I’ve noticed significant differences between one ship and the other that can only be attributed to shipboard management. For example, on this cruise, the dinner buffet selections mimicked the dining room selection to a certain extent. However, on the Sun in April, the dinner buffet was deliberately different, and advertised as so, from the dining room menu and was theme based. There was a German/Bavarian night on the Sun in the Horizon Court in April – and it was advertised in the patter. No such night on the Dawn that we could find.
We usually had breakfast in the Horizon Court. They have scrambled eggs, two versions, sausage, ham, bacon, cheeses, cold cuts, pastries, cereals, French toast, pancakes, yogurt, breads, a few ethnic hot dishes that vary and an omelet/egg and toast station that will cook your omelet to order or eggs over easy to hard. There are no special taste treats, it’s a standard buffet, but the food is pretty good and plentiful. Lunch can vary. We missed sushi day (with fake sushi – smoked fish, cooked shrimp and crab), but caught a couple of good hot meals of pasta. There is a dessert station, but the Dawn has something extra - An additional dessert station of cakes and pies just outside the last buffet station. Some pretty good treats. At 3:30pm to 4:30pm, ice cream is served in the Horizon Court for free. Vanilla and chocolate with syrups, nuts and sprinkles.
The Sun class has a sit down Italian style Pizzeria, on the Dawn its La Scala. This is on deck 8 at the top of the atrium. They serve fresh made to order individual pizzas (about 12” in diameter) and calzones for lunch. At night they expand the menu to include salads and a limited selection of pasta. There is no charge for this alternative and it remains one of our favorites. You can mix and match your topping selections, or order directly from the menu. Judy likes the vegetarian pizza with double pepperoni. Note that La Scala is closed on embarkation day – darn.
Half of the Horizon Court becomes the Sterling Steakhouse at night. They block off entrance to that half. The newer ships have a separate restaurant, but not the Sun class, they had to create a restaurant out of the buffet. We did not try it and have heard mixed reviews. My own opinion is that I can get a New York steak, or beef tornados off the dining room menu and it doesn’t cost me $15 per person.
The Balcony grill is on the deck above the pool. They serve hotdogs, brauts and burgers. I liked the burgers and Judy liked the hotdogs. They are open on embarkation day as well.
This cruise had a much higher drink service characteristic than other cruises. The feeding frenzy to get that 15% tip has abated somewhat and I had several waiters offer us glasses of water (not bottled!) when we declined to order. Snacks were available in most bars after 500pm and the drink of the day was typically a pretty good deal. They do have a bar hopping card for the 12 bars on board and offer a gift, but what I’m not sure. We visited Magnum’s a lot because of the great service there.
The coke sticker is $40 ($45 with tip) - it also comes with a insulated coke container that holds about 12 oz.. This is for bar gun drinks only. A can of soda cost $1.50. The Riviera bar has the LARGE coke glasses. The Horizon court has the small and medium. Everyone else is typically those small glasses that you down in one or two sips. Diet coke is the only diet drink from the gun. Sprite is sugared. (We brought our own sprite on board.) If you are a major coke drinker, I would recommend that you go to the bars with the large glasses and order your own coke – its quicker and more efficient.
Water is $3 for a 1 liter bottle (plus tip) and $2 for a ½ liter bottle (plus tip). Its not totally absurd, but there is sufficient shopping in the ports to pick up your own bottled water and save a bit.
There are two show venues, Vista in the rear and the Princess Theatre in the bow. The Vista is a show lounge with couches and chairs while the Theatre is a standard row seating theater.
The entertainment is run by the Cruise Director – in our case Mr. Billy London. Billy is a wonderful person, but he’s leaving soon on vacation. His support staff were: Andre, Gavin, Kate, Anya and Natasha. Andre is Billy’s right hand man, is very funny and has a voice you have to hear to believe. He will have his own ship soon – he’s that good. Gavin is one of the assistant cruise directors. A great personality and impersonates a cab driver very well. Kate is the line dance instructor, wonderful girl, great personality. Her contract is up in a few weeks and will be going home on vacation. We hope to meet her again on a future cruise. Anya and Natasha are also assistant cruise directors that run the various activities on the ship. I don’t understand how they do what they do on only 4-6 hours of sleep a night.
We did see one production show, the Piano Man. Judy liked it, I thought the dancing could have been a little better. We saw all the comedy acts we could fit in. The best was Jay Moore. We’ve seen him before and he’s pretty good.
However, the cooking show stole the award for best comedy show. It’s a don’t miss. While most ships have a normal serious cooking show, this featured the head chef cooking with the matre de doing his thing alongside, showing the head chef how “real Italians” cook. It was an absolute riot.
We also saw Elliot Maxx and Dan Horn, the ventriloquist. Elliot’s ok, but Dan is pretty good as well. He makes his puppets seem alive. The international crew show, sorry no pub night, was also an entertaining evening.
We did the country western ho-down in the wheelhouse. Judy ended up wining a travel clock. (They’re giving away better prizes now a days.) We tried to do 70’s night, but the smoke in Jammers (the disco) was too much to tolerate. We missed 50’s night.
THE PORTS Weather Overview The weather started out chilly and breezy during sailaway. Approaching Catalina, the marine layer lifted and the sun came out, but the breeze was very chilly. After Catalina, the weather warmed enough to leave our balcony door open. In PV and Mazatlan, it was hot and humid. In the 90’s for temperature and 70’s for humidity. In Cabo the temperature stayed high, but the humidity dropped a little. In San Diego, the weather was clear but cool. After San Diego, the balcony door stayed shut at night.
The sea was almost flat the entire trip. Minimal chop going out of San Fran bay. Only 1-4 foot swells coming back up the coast to San Diego. Very unusual. The trip back north is usually the worst.
Catalina We didn’t go ashore in Catalina. By 3:30pm our tender ticket color still had not been called, so we went hot tubbing instead. It was a beautiful day in Catalina and we did see a lot of porpoises on the way in to the harbor. There was never a good reason given on the problems with tendering, but it has happened on several other cruises as well.
Puerto Vallarta Our sole objective in PV was to see what a Wal-Mart in Mexico looked like. (Don’t laugh too hard!) We had also heard that they have a large souvenir collection. They didn’t. We basically just restocked our water bottles. We did notice the vendors are pretty aggressive in PV. Not as bad as Jamaica, but persistent none the less.
Mazatlan We booked, along with 3 other CC couples, a guided tour with Mazatlan Frank (see the Mexican Riviera Boards). We did his Sierra Madre tour, but it should be called a taste of Mazatlan. We went to see a brick maker, a tile maker, a bakery, the mountain mining town of Copala, the Golden Zone, the cliff divers, the downtown area, the church, a hacienda. We started at 800am and got back to the ship at 4pm. Highly recommended if you want to see a little of everything around Mazatlan. Frank is an excellent guide, his English is better than most of ours and his knowledge of local history, the people, the area is pretty amazing.
Cabo San Lucas The tendering was a little better for Cabo, but since we had the whole day, we weren’t concerned. The Osterdam and Crystal Harmony were in port as well. The vendors are not as aggressive as PV here.
San Diego Immigration was performed at San Diego. For us this was kind of fun. For others, it was a real pain. Basically everyone started lining up at 0700, before the ship had even docked. By 0730 over 1,000 people stretched back through the ship from the Vista Lounge and around the wheelhouse bar twice. Since we had nothing planned, Judy and I sat in Patissiere for about 30 minutes, then sat near the wheelhouse bar for another 30 and then just basically walked through the line. They do punch your card, then track everyone to make sure they go through the line.
Face it folks, there is no easy way to do this. No one even looked at our passports or ID, the SOLE immigration officer was simply directing traffic to one cruise card puncher (Gavin) or another. It is a real joke, but Princess has to do it. When you walk into the Vista lounge and see the 20-30 Princess personnel sorting out all the paperwork, realize they do this to speed the process. If it was up to the immigration service, it would go a LOT slower.
Also realize that the same thing happens in St. Thomas or any US port where you arrive from a foreign port without total disembarkation, like FLL. The only way to improve the process is for the immigration service to change the way this inspection is performed.
A couple of notes. Make sure you take each of the letters Princess gives you. Drop the custom forms off at the Purser's desk and take your cruise card, letters and ID into the Vista lounge. We heard from several other people that they sometimes looked at ID, and other not.
Embarkation in a strange port was a breeze. We arrived at 1:25 and were on the ship at 1:45. No thanks to a certain princess person though. She directed us to the normal line, even after Judy showed her our platinum sticker on our envelope. As we got into line, I noticed the platinum line, switched and got on in short order. I did not need to take my laptop out of the case either. The other downer was that our luggage did not arrive until 745pm. 30 minutes before dinner. Being an eternal worrier, it bothered me enough so that I didn’t really unwind until the next day.
Debarkation was also a breeze. We were called (Yellow 4) at 0925 and were at the SFO airport at 1000. No customs, no immigration. Cab fare was $43.
Photos We spend way too much on photos, but can’t help ourselves. The Dawn does have a video team that videos your specific cruise. It’s a great concept, but execution on the Dawn suffers. Basically, being an amateur video maker myself, the video team on the Dawn does not do a proper job. A couple of gripes: (a) – they stuff the video with stock Princess footage that includes Alaska, the Med and Grand class ships. Now that’s just plain lazy. Why do I want to see footage of snow covered peaks and a Ultimate Balcony Dinner served on a Grand class ship, when I’m in the Mexican Riviera on the Dawn. (b) Their videographers are lazy. During the deck party, one camera was set up to capture the overall scene while the other was supposed to be taking individual shots of people having fun. That person was rather bored and was simply not taking pictures. Just standing there watching the crowd. (c) They only like to include scenes of people waving, acting stupid or somehow acknowledging the camera’s existence. We did buy the dvd version ($25), but we were disappointed in the content, editing and presentation of the video. They could have done a much better job. We’d buy it anyway to use as footage for own videos. We did ask about purchasing our photos as .jpgs. They wanted $50 per image to burn to CD. No thanks, we have a scanner at home. I can see $5, but not $50.
Clothing As this itinerary moves into the winter months, long pants and coats will be required from Cabo north. We’ve been in PV and Mazatlan in January and they were comfortable with shorts. Heavy coats will be needed during sailaway under the bridge for sure as winter approaches.
Formal Nights There were two formal nights, The Captain’s Welcome dinner is on the sea day after Catalina and the Captain’s Gala is on the Sea Day after Cabo. There were about 50% tuxedoes during late dinner seating. 49% suits and ties with about 1% not dressing up at all. Ladies wore cocktail dresses, formal gowns, skirts and tops.
The Gym and Lotus Spa The Gym opens at 0600. There are no "forced" tours of the spa, like the Sun and the Star were. You are free to wander around and sign up for classes. Yoga, pilates, spinning, kickboxing are all on sea days, 45 minute classes and $10 each. Port day classes like aerobics are free and 30 minutes. Judy did pilates once, but did not like the class. We did kickboxing once and really liked the class, but they cancelled the remainder due to lack of interest. They need a minimum of 3 people to hold a class.