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NCL Repositioning or...
the Brink of Sunset, a Cruise Line Creates a New Dawn
By Warren H. Davis
Somewhere off the coast
of Grenada, while sipping a perfect Martini during Norwegian Dawn’s
repositioning cruise from Miami to New York via the Caribbean and New
England it, dawned on me – if you’ll pardon the pun – that I was
witnessing the (re)birth of a cruise line. I was aboard a brand new
ship that seemed to be an innovative hybrid. She is part traditional,
part wildly radical in concept.
She is lavishly and uniquely appointed. Her crew is genuinely warm and
attentive. Service is efficient yet unobtrusive. In fact I kept
wondering if this was NCL. Each time I needed assistance at the
Purser, Shore Excursion or Dive-In desks I found the professionalism
to be high and a concern for resolving the problem quickly and to my
Cuisine is varied, inventive, tasty and of high quality. There is
talented entertainment in every lounge. She’s part art museum and
exclusive resort. The art on display throughout the ship is literally
masterful; her furnishings artful. Norwegian Dawn not only carries
works of art, she is a work of art. The attention to detail shows from
the quality of her contemporary chandeliers to the now ‘round the clock
availability of NCL’s famous cookies in Blue Lagoon Café (once only
available during 4-5pm snack time).
There’s a feast around every corner both visually and
gastronomically. Her ten restaurants range from greasy spoon to silver
spoon. Passengers can dine amidst impressive neon or impressionists.
The Impressionists: Renoir, Matisse, Monet, Van Gogh. One can dine on
A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte (well, actually a
lovely Seurat reproduction) – even on a Tuesday if preferred.
Choices range from Mac ‘n Cheese to Mignon with Champagne any day of
the week. Special requests were honored in the dining room within
reason. A fellow diner asked if he could have a white sauce instead of
red on that day’s specialty pasta in the Trattoria. “Of course”
was the reply. I asked if a particular featured ingredient could be
omitted from an entrée served in one of the main dining rooms.
“Absolutely!” A Maitre D’ overheard my comment that maybe we
could skip dessert, enjoy some entertainment and then go to another
quieter formal dining room solely for dessert and coffee later on. The
Maitre D’ politely interjected “We would be delighted if you chose
to do so.”
Cabin décor is plush in every category and range from economically
cozy insides to vast apartments boasting two and even three bedrooms
with balconies and private decks.
There is very little “old NCL” about the m/s Norwegian Dawn. Had
she debuted as the first ship in a brand new cruise line, this vessel
would immediately be classified as premium plus. Her hallmarks would
be hailed as superior to Holland America. Her chic would easily exceed
Celebrity. She’d royally conquer Princess. Her innovations are more
universally appealing than rock climbing walls. And her whimsical and
bold interiors are more festive and yet classier than the floating
Norwegian Dawn is that good. She’s sexy. She sizzles! Her interiors
However, this masterpiece isn’t completely flawless. Even a diamond
can be imperfect.
First and foremost, as wonderful as Norwegian Dawn is, she must defy
the reputation of her heritage. NCL, once the big kid on the block in
the 1970’s and most of the 1980’s suffered some self inflicted
stormy seas. The line bankrupted several acquired and much loved
cruise lines. In the late 1990’s the cruise line nearly dived into
the brink itself and shipboard quality across an inadequate fleet
suffered. NCL’s passenger ratings plummeted as quality took a
nosedive and service became nearly non-existent. NCL has disappointed
and alienated thousands of dissatisfied passengers who, when asked
about the cruise line, often repeat the mantra “never again.” The
cruise line does have many loyalists due in great part to the
popularity of its former flagship s/s Norway. I count myself included
in this category. The great blue dame is my favorite ship.
NCL must somehow convince travel agents and potential passengers alike
to give them one more chance. A cruise on Norwegian Dawn is almost
guaranteed to convert most into believers.
This leads me to Norwegian Dawn’s second flaw – or more to the
point NCL’s. Anyone sailing with the line for the first time aboard
this ship will no doubt feel let down should they sail on her
fleetmates, with the exception of near twin and slightly elder sister
Norwegian Star. As comfortable, tasteful and satisfying as the other
ships in the fleet may be on their own, they can’t compete with
Norwegian Dawn. Norwegian Sun and Norwegian Sky come closest in style,
shipboard amenities and features on a smaller scale by nearly a third.
However, NCL will need to be inventive and honest when marketing the
various other members of its fleet. A cruise on Norwegian Majesty or
Sea is not nearly in the same league as Dawn in just about every
respect. I’m speaking from experience, having sailed aboard nearly
every class of ship in the NCL fleet on roughly 15 of my 33 cruises.
I’m even reconsidering my own booking later this year for Norwegian
Dream’s long repositioning cruise. It may pale in comparison.
The next major flaw I observed was service in the main dining rooms
which are completely open seating for dinner. Much has been written
about NCL’s “freestyle”™ concept so I won’t detail how it
works (a full explanation is available on the line’s website: www.ncl.com).
Service, while good overall, is inconsistent. I’ll provide a real
example to illustrate. Prior to this cruise I met several people
online that were also aboard. Our group grew as we met others and
periodically a dozen or more of us would dine together. We were often
offered adjoining tables as the fastest way of being seated. One night
we arrived early enough to catch the late performance of the
evening’s production show. One table was finished and seated in the
theater with twenty minutes to spare. The other table was first being
served entrees when the final curtain came down after the show’s
This is completely unacceptable and I’m not sure what the answer is
except that there seems to be a lack of ‘extra hands’ floating
around the dining room. Aboard ships with traditional dining, section
captains or assistant Maitre D’s usually fill in as needed to keep
things moving at a reasonable pace. If this concept exists on
Norwegian Dawn, I didn’t observe it. I did notice that when dining
during off-peak hours service was nearly flawless. It was rare to wait
more than three to five minutes to be seated as long as one avoided
arriving as the early show was letting out. I was surprised at how
many chose to see the 7:30pm show first and then eat a leisurely
dinner afterwards. I settled in to a 9pm dining time with some friends
during the second half of the cruise. By then the 8:30 rush had ended
and tables emptied in anticipation of the late show at 9:30pm.
The final major problem, as I see it (I tend to ignore minor problems
that can occur on any ship), is that freestyle dining is not solo
cruiser friendly. As mentioned, I had many new friends aboard with
whom I dined. But on three port day evenings I found myself on my own
as most of them (nearly all couples) chose intensive days of touring
and turned in early. I quickly learned that being able to share a
table isn’t as easy as NCL portrays. Each time I was greeted with
“oh, we’ll have to open a new table for you” as if it would be a
problem. One night I was told in all three main restaurants “I’m
sorry, but we don’t have any shares available tonight.” I was
appalled. To make matters worse, one hostess having just told me to
wait a few moments returned and asked “will that be a table for
two?” I was flabbergasted and she quickly knew it! I wasn’t alone
in this experience. One of the other guys related a similar story
later on in the cruise. NCL doesn’t seem to know how to handle
singles for dinner although there seems to be a very sensible
solution. Each night there’s a single get together listed in the
daily program for late evening cocktails. Why not list “singles meet
for dinner” and vary the restaurant each evening? This was the first
comment included on my comment card.
These annoyances notwithstanding, I disembarked Norwegian Dawn feeling
well rested with the impression that I had just experienced a very
unique and classy ship. I felt I received more than my
money’s worth. I just have one wish – that Norwegian Dawn’s
newly announced longer ten and eleven day itineraries from New York
City will be expanded. Seven days aboard this glamour gal won’t be
nearly enough. Neither is just one cruise. Next time you are aboard,
look around. You just might find me back!
H. Davis © 2003, all rights reserved
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