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Copyright © 1995-2004 
Linda Coffman

 

Norwegian Dawn
NY – Florida – Bahamas- NY
March 21-28, 2004

Norwegian Dawn by Wayne Goldstein

As first time cruisers, our expectations were really nonexistent. Personally, I was most concerned about Manhattan’s West Side traffic, as cars spilling out from the ships’ loading zone during Sunday turnovers had trapped me previously. We decided not to arrive “as early as possible” for the noon start boarding routine, despite multiple recommendations to do so. We left the house at 1pm, got there 1:30 and, sure enough, no lines. We’d done web-based pre-registration and I guess that helped, but Bahamian immigration cards still had to be hand completed all 4 family members these (no, we weren’t moving there). Anyway, we finally boarded, and were quite struck by the luxurious ambiance of the first public area on deck 7. They shoved tall tropical, cocktails at us within 3 seconds of boarding. We demurred when told they were $6.50 per, though had that one “welcome drink” been complimentary, it would’ve been a classy touch.

The Norwegian Dawn is indeed a spotlessly clean, richly appointed luxury cruiser, often to the point of opulence (the Venetian dining room comes to mind). The ship’s soaring atrium, visible riding the glass backed mid-ship elevators were not anything we could have imagined in advance. Even the spa facilities, with their tasteful artwork and hardwood lockers were first rate.

The kids liked it, too. We could either dump them off at the kids facility where they were kept happily busy by a staff a friendly Canadian girls, or take them to “T-Rex”, with 3 small, but sufficient outdoor pools, 2 of which have spiraling slides and for those cooler windy days, a hot tub to warm them up so they may continue sliding into the pools without towel wrapping.

The food, for the most part, was quite good. Their soups, particularly the interesting cold ones, were excellent. Most entrées were good, as well. The only course that was consistently weak was dessert: commercial grade on par with pre-packaged supermarket fare. The only first rate dessert all week came at the surcharge French restaurant, Le Bistro. I had the apple flambé. It’s understandable that having a baker produce that many desserts from scratch is impractical, but upgrading to a restaurant grade commercial supplier would be more consistent with the ship’s image and atmosphere.

At breakfast, they’re not too good with pancakes, much too dry. But the omelettes are very good. The pastry baskets, also served at breakfast, are fresh and tasty, as well. Instead of coffee, I had cappuccino all week. The service at many of their eateries is a weak point. At the Venetian, for example, breakfast on one day took so long to arrive (nearly an hour) that it cut into the Miami shore day we had scheduled. More than once, the time interval between beverage order & delivery was 25 minutes. Another time, at the Impressions, which serves good food in an intimate atmosphere, no one took our food order for a half hour and we left. Another time at Venetian, the language barrier with the largely Philippine staff with varying English proficiency levels caused the wrong order to be delivered.

Figuring we paid enough for the week, we did the surcharge eateries just twice. As mentioned, Le Bistro, which, if you’re accustomed to New York’s better French restaurants, is no big deal. Still both entrées were good, mine the filet mignon in béarnaise sauce, my wife had fish, also quite good. With a good glass of wine each, recommended with each dish, the surcharge, including default tip, was $40. Worth it? Probably, in as much as I’ve never dined beneath an original Van Gough, with other originals (one each) in the same small room, by Monet, Renoir and Matisse. I’m told they are part of the personal col1ection of Norwegian’s primary shareholder; a Hong Kong based Malaysian billionaire who paid $48 million for the 4 and wanted them displayed in his flagship vessel. (Don’t get any ideas-–each is behind a sheet of thick Plexiglas with 4 deadbolts and a separate casino-style dome ceiling camera trained on each masterpiece).

The other surcharge restaurant we tried was the Bamboo, Asian cuisine. No big deal except the barbequed duck, which was top notch. Get it if you go there.

Each day on the pool deck there was a BBQ. Hot dogs, burgers, chicken and ribs. I don’t do dogs or burgers since mad cow, but the chicken was good and the ribs were the worst I’ve had in memory. Not tender (i.e., undercooked) with a mediocre commercial sauce slapped on after the fact. Also, the hours of this daily BBQ seemed to shift. I missed it twice after being told different things.

And now for some criticism. I tend to be exceptionally critical, and much of this is minor. All in all, these points should not have a material adverse affect on the overall enjoyability of your cruise:

  • They offered no “inside tour.” I’m always curious about the working of a large-scale operation like this and would have enjoyed a peek at the engine room, the bridge, and other behind the scenes facilities. But in a post-9/11 world, no dice. I wonder how big the propellers are? Because of visit to the infirmary (having incurred a knee cut from a shard of glass wedged in the drain of a public hot tub – no fault of Norwegian – just some foolish passenger who didn’t use a plastic cup drinking on the pool deck), I got to see the morgue. It’s really just a deep closet with a “no entry” sign. The nurse opened the door and there’s a German-made stainless steel box a little shorter than a refrigerator, but much deeper. It’s got 2 circular hatch-like doors, each to slide one corpse in horizontally. Should’ve brought my camera. But what happens if 3 people pass on? 

  • I didn’t do the NCL sponsored shore excursions. Would’ve done Kennedy Space Center with them in Cape Canaveral, but the premium for a family of 4 above the KSC retail was $135. Instead, I rented a car for $40, we stopped at an orchard for some oranges on the way, and still saw KSC. This kind of premium holds for pretty much all of the NCL-transport provided shore excursions.

  • Sadly, the one stop most passengers looked forward to was NCL’s private island in the Bahamas. But the winds were high and NCL has no docking capability there; they must moor offshore and use tenders (smaller boats) to get people ashore. As a result, this stop was eliminated. No partial refund or tangible consolation was provided.

  • The safety presentation was odd. Attendance was sparse and my 5-year-old girl had to strap on an orange floatation device nearly as big as she. They have thousands of adult size preservers but I read, only 20 for infants and nothing in between. Also, the staff couldn’t really answer questions about the lifeboats. They said 150 people could squeeze into each, but one glance at them and 150 people would be a Guiness-book-Volkswagon type exercise. How much food is on the boats? How long would it last? How much fuel (you could see each had 2 propellers)? Radio communications? Nobody seemed to know.

  • Physical orientation (bow/stern type stuff) is not easy. They have helpful diagrams by the elevator banks but the best way is to get to a window to see which way the boat’s moving. Then you know the bow is the same direction, stern the opposite. Even crew officers, in their identifiable uniforms, often had difficulty when asked.

  • While the live entertainment is good, quite professional, the “cinema” should be scrapped or overhauled. It’s a sloped, low-ceilinged room with a small screen and a bad, ceiling-mounted video projector, showing a poor image from a DVD. They do not have 35mm prints of films or the projection equipment to present them. They show the same movies on the cabin televisions. Watch them there.

  • Stateroom service is plentiful (make up and turn down service) and generally good. But problem-solving can have bottlenecks. For example, I thought there was a problem with my phone. I’d use the speakerphone option, but nobody could hear me when I talked. They called in a technician, he tested it and only in testing did he discover the Alcatel phones have no microphone pickup. That is, you can hear through speakerphone, but must use the handset to speak. Not very useful. He said some other NCL ships use Siemens phones and they have the microphone pick-up. Also, the toilet seat in our cabin wouldn’t stay in the upright position (very inconvenient for males). It took a day and a half to correct.

  • Hot tubs. No shortage of quantity. 5 outdoor, 2 indoor (even 2 more for the staff at the point of the ship’s bow). But getting a high enough temperature is sporadic, if at all. They were consistently 98ºF to 100ºF. Not nearly hot enough for a hot tub enthusiast like myself. A good hot tub is 103ºF to 104ºF, if not a shade higher, especially on a cool night (like March in New York). I logged this issue with the desk. The next day a phone message to my cabin claimed it had been corrected by order of the “Chief Officer” (temperatures raised to 104ºF). That day I tried 2 different outdoor hot tubs. No change. I returned to the lobby desk requesting a meeting with this chief officer (who, I’m told is 4th or 5th down from the Captain) with his mercury thermometer in hand. We’d go from tub to tub dip sticking the water. As you may well imagine, this request was roundly rebuffed and the tubs never did get up to temperature. Don’t be fooled by the presence of an adjustable thermostat dial at the rim of each tub. Most require a wrench to turn and those that didn’t had no affect.

  • One of the things I liked about cruising (unlike the real world) was not needing to walk around with my wallet. Just the card key, with which all additional purchases could be made. Not entirely true. When I went to do laundry, which itself had no additional charge, I still had to buy the powdered detergent and the vending machine only took real U.S. quarters (4 of them). I didn’t have them with me or in the cabin, nor could the room service personnel change a dollar. Finally, another passenger overheard my Larry David-esque conversation with the staff and lent me 4 quarters. (I later slid a dollar bill under his cabin door.)

  • The spa, nice as it is, has men’s room hairdryers suitable only for those under 5’4”. The cords just aren’t long enough. And unless you're from Europe, don’t bring your own; the outlets are 220V only.

  • Downside to kids facility: Bottleneck signing them in & out. One clipboard per age group. Should just computerize for card key drop off & pickup.

We really enjoyed our first cruise. There’s enough to do and the pampering is nice. Norwegian Dawn is a good first experience. Would I do it again? Maybe. But paying $2,700 (with default tip) to squeeze 4 people into a tiny windowless room for a week does raise the value question. Nonetheless, I’ve no regrets.


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