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Linda Coffman


Norwegian Dawn
New Year's 2002-03 Cruise

by Dan Tobey

Introduction: We just returned from a New Years sailing of NCL's brand new Norwegian Dawn, to the Eastern Caribbean. This was my 29th cruise and number 12 for my partner. We have sailed NCL before and are Latitude Club Members. We tend to think of NCL as a budget cruise line and were interested in sailing their brand new Flagship. This was only the Dawn's second sailing, so we expected there would be bugs to be worked out. The demographics of this New Year's sailing saw many large family groups and of the 2700 passengers 700 were children 17 or under. This caused many problems with lack of deck space, dining room reservations and hordes of kids roaming the ship unsupervised. We can't help comparing the Norwegian Dawn with our last cruise on Celebrity's Infinity. Both ships are about the same size but the Infinity carries 25% few passengers.

Embarkation: We flew from Philadelphia to Miami early on the day of departure. We booked our air through NCL, thus receiving transfer to and from the ship. After picking up our luggage from baggage claim, an NCL representative led us outside where our luggage was placed to be taken to the ship via truck. She then told us we would have a two hour wait as the first buses to the ship would not arrive at the airport until 11:30AM. There went our hopes of being on board by noon. 

The first bus to the Dawn arrived at our terminal at 11:45. After a short ride to the pier we started the very long embarkation process. The special line for Latitudes Club members moved slower than the regular line. NCL just didn't have enough people processing paper work. It took almost an hour and a half and several lines before we finally boarded the ship about 1:30PM. Two friends who got to the pier about 2PM waited in line for over 2 hours before boarding. There was still a good size line behind them. The ship sailed about two hours late. Once on board there was no one to take our hand baggage and lead the way to our cabin.

The boarding process of our Infinity sailing just 4 months earlier was a snap. We where on the ship with in 15 minutes of reaching the pier. A White Gloved crew member greeted us and escorted us to the cabin.

Staterooms: We booked a guarantee outside category "H" cabin and received just that in cabin #4506 on deck 4. No upgrades on this fully booked sailing. These outside cabins, on the lowest passenger deck have only a very small porthole. The porthole provide little light and no view. The price we paid was a bargain compared to what other ships offered for a 7 night New Year's sailing. All cabins except Villas and Penthouse Suites tend to be compact by today's new ship standard. They are, however, well designed and nicely appointed. Lots of drawer, hanging, shelf and hook space. Twin beds can be made up as a Queen size. Light cherry wood fixtures with cream color wall accented the bright shades of Aqua for bed spreads and carpet, make for a pleasant decor. The bathroom has a sliding shower door and another sliding panel to close off the toilet area. The cabin and bathroom had good light and a powerful hand held hair dryer. The closet area had a small safe and micro mini refrigerator. Another nice feature was the adjustable sign wheel, just to the side of the cabin door that allows one to signal, "Do Not Disturb", "Make Up Cabin", "Turn down Cabin", or "Welcome". Our nod for cabin size and design goes to The Infinity, but we liked the Dawn's bathroom better.

Our two cabin attendants were accommodating and kept the cabin spotless. On the last night when we returned to our cabin we found we had no towels. It took two calls and one trip to the reception desk before clean towels were delivered. The problem was the front desk person keep insisting that housekeeping had placed clean towels on our bed. When the housekeeping attendant finally delivered the towels, he admitted that he had placed the towels in another cabin down the hall.

Freestyle Dining and Restaurants: The Dawn was specially built for "Freestyle Dining." While we enjoyed dining in a different restaurant each evening, we missed the experience of dining with other passengers and having the wait staff know your likes and dislikes. There are ten restaurants to choose from each evening, that is where the problems begin. While the food was outstanding in every venue we tired, getting seated at a popular times was impossible. Service was friendly but very slow and a four course meal took well over two hours each evening. There were long wait times. Once seated, you waited long periods until you order was taken and each course came slowly. The hard working wait persons were friendly but understaffed, tables would sit empty and uncleared. The maitres d' never had time to stop by the table, they where always clearing and resetting tables themselves. The "reservation only" and "extra charge restaurants" were no better.

This is a basic run down of all the restaurant on board. Aqua, Venetian and Impressions are considered the three main dining rooms. They all served the same menu, just in a different decor. While Aqua and Venetian are large and noisy, Impressions was smaller and charming and our favorite. All three are no charge and first come first served with no reservations. Anytime between 7PM and 9PM we found lines at all three. When the 7:30PM evening show let out at 8:30PM, there was a mad dash to these restaurants. People trying to make the 9:30PM show were still in the dining rooms even though they went to dinner at 7:30PM.

Two other no charge "Theme Restaurants", reservations only, for seating 5:30PM - 10:30 PM. Reservation are made the day you wish to dine there, either in the lobby area or by calling a special reservations number. Salsa, on deck 8 for Tex-Mex cuisine and La Trattoria, on deck 12 for Italian. La Trattoria provided us with our best and speediest service of the week. The maitre d' even stopped by the table twice to check that things were going well.

Extra charge Restaurants include, Le Bistro for French cuisine, $12.50 cover, Cagney's Steak House, $17.50 cover and Bamboo Asian Restaurant, $10.00 cover. Located within Bamboo are the Sushi Bar and Teppanyaki, both with A La Carte pricing. The Bamboo was the most under used restaurant on the ship and the Reservationist pushed this choice. NCL would be better served to offer a No Charge Chinese style restaurant in this space. The only extra charge venue we tried was Le Bistro on New Year's Eve. We had made 8:30PM reservations and the Maitre d' tried to seat us in the undesirable Wine Cellar which is just outside the main entrance to Le Bistro and open to a main lounge and traffic area. Only after I demanded to see the Hotel Manager did the Assistant Food and Beverage Director arrange for us to be seated inside the dining room. This charming room is full of original works of art by French Masters. Estimated values is said to be over 16 million dollars. The food was no better than served elsewhere on ship but the art work and wild mushroom soup serve in hollowed out bread was worth the extra charge. We were thinking about going to Cagney's Steakhouse one night but after reading the menu we didn't think it was worth the extra cost. All the dining rooms had excellent steak and beef offering each evening, so why pay extra just to order steak?

The Garden Cafe, Norwegian Dawn's  buffet, on deck 12,  offers a no charge, casual Theme dinner each night. Blue Lagoon, on deck 7, offers a small 24 hour snack style menu.

Wait service breakfast and lunch were served in the Venetian on deck 6 aft. While the Garden Cafe, had buffets for these meals. Lunch time would also see a barbecue set up out by the pool on deck 12. Hamburgers and hot dogs there available at the Bimini Bar and Grill, outside up on deck 14. Most day there was $10.00 "all you can eat" Sushi at the Sushi bar.

There was never a lack of food 24 hours a day. Room service was offered from a limited menu if you didn't want to leave your cabin. The quality and taste of all the food was outstanding, far exceeded our expectations, but service fell short. The Garden Cafe buffet was always busy, and cluttered with soiled trays and dishes left on tables too long. The buffet lines were not refilled promptly and drink and ice dispensers were constantly empty and not refilled even when brought to the attention of staff.

The only area where there was not a shortage of staff was the bar service on the open decks. These people were everywhere and in your face pushing drinks. There was not bar server or Sommelier in any of the dining rooms. It was up your wait person to take drink and wine orders. This slowed the dining room serve even more. An interesting side note, one night I ordered a bottle of red wine listed under "French Wines." The bottle once open and sampled turned out to be a lovely Red from Chile, not France. When I pointed this out to the maitre d' in Impressions, he acted like he could not care less. No offer was made to replace the wine with a bottle from France. This fine Chilean Red appeared on every wine list on the ship as a French Red.

Entertainment: The three "Production Shows" staged by Jean Ann Ryan are not to be missed. They were the best of all my 29 sailings. The beautiful Stardust Theater on decks 6 and 7 was the perfect venue for these shows

There were comedy acts, piano players and singers in the many bars a lounges throughout the ship. Spinnaker Lounge on deck 12 forward was the venue for the evening lounge acts and the late night disco. Bingo, trivia games and karaoke where part of the normal cruise ship activities. The were deck games including shuffleboard, basketball, golf green and giant chess pieces. Deck 12 has a nice Cinema with a large screen but it was never used for other than a couple of kids movies. TVs in the cabins showed movies but the times and titles were never listed.

Games of chance could be found in the Dawn Club Casino on deck 6. This large nicely laid out casino was always busy. I am not sure how well the payout was on the slots, since I do pay them. Everyone seemed to be having a good time.

Gym and Spa Facilities: Deck 12 aft houses a large 24 hour fitness center. There are many treadmills, step machines and stationary bikes. TVs line the wall as do mirrors and some ocean views. One deck below is the El Dorado Spa open until 11PM each night. This area includes men's and ladies' lockers with steam rooms and whirlpool tubs. In between the men's and ladies' area is a large lap pool and hot tubs. There are a few lounge type deck chairs face the large aft windows. Use of these facilities is free, while all the standard spa type treatments are offered for a fee. Some classes in the Fitness Room come with a fee also.

This facilities are for passengers 16 and over, but were over run by large groups of younger kids and teens all week. The location of these, what should be adult only facilities, is right next to and below the T-Rex Kids Center and Teen Club. In comparison the "Infinity" has a better spa and fitness center, and enforces their adult only use of these facilities.

Outside deck space: Deck and sunning space it tight for a ship with this high a passenger capacity. On sea days every deck and lounge chair had towels and personal items on them by 8AM. There were no real areas for those who like to sit in the shade on an open deck and read a book or enjoy the ocean passing by. The pool and the five outside hot tubs were always full of kids and young teens, even though there is a kids' pool with their own hot tub located aft.

Parties: The sail away party held topside around the Oasis pool was very good, better than most. There is a large bandstand right over the pool and our Cruise Director and his staff, along with the band did a great job in setting a party mood.

Another large outdoor sail away party and barbecue was planned for 7PM the night we sailed from San Juan. Rain forced the party into the Spinnaker Lounge. Need less to say this put a real damper on the festivities.

New Year's Eve saw good weather and a large, festive deck party that went on until the wee hours. We only got to the party just prior to midnight as the service in Le Bistro was very slow and we were not seated in the dining room until 40 minutes after our reservation time of 8:30PM.

Public rooms, bars and lounges: As befits a ship this size, there are lots of pubic area to relax--card room, game room, Library, writing room, chapel etc. There are a number of private meeting rooms as well. Most of these facilities are located on deck 12. Bars and Lounges included The Pearly King Pub, Salsa, Gatsby's Champagne Bar, Java Cafe, Dazzles Lounge and Dazzles 2 for the 18-20 year old set, Star Bar, Juice Bar, Topside Bar and Bimini along with the fore mentioned Spinnaker Lounge. Havana Club offered a cigar and pipe smoking area. The Internet cafe was large and had the latest up-to-date equipment. The $0.75 a minute charge was on the steep side, the room was never fully used.

Ports of call and tours: We didn't plan on taking any tours offered by NCL, since the four of us friends traveling together had been to some of these ports before. NCL does offer lots of tour options in each port and you can pre book prior to sailing. Prices are about the same as other lines charge. I always think you can do better on your own by going onto the Internet and booking with local tour operators who will pick you up at the pier. There are always tours offer in most ports right at the pier as well.

Mon. 12/30, San Juan:
Sailing into San Juan harbor was lovely, passing El Morro Fort on the way. We didn't dock at the main terminal in Old San Juan but off in a remote part of the harbor several miles away. About an hour after the ship was cleared for disembarkation we headed for the gangway. There was a long line waiting to get off, even though they had two gangways set up. Every passenger had to have their plastic key/credit/security card swiped. This was a slow process as many passengers would ask those doing the checking questions and there was an officer to help speed up the process. Once off we opted to walk the mile or so from the pier out to the main highway area where we were able to catch a bus at $0.50 per person to Old San Juan. We spent a pleasant afternoon walking around Old San Juan. We took a taxis, at $3.00 per person, back to the ship about 6PM as it was looking like rain. There was only a short line to re-board the ship.

Tues. 12/31/2002, St. Thomas: We docked early that morning and after a late breakfast we left the ship about 11AM. The problem getting off was worst this day. There was only one gangway set up and there were already groups returning to the ship form the early morning tours. The pier in St. Thomas is located about a mile outside of main part of town. There is a shopping area set up at the docks with branches of the same stores in town. The prices were about the same. We found many waiting taxis, which are mostly open air trucks with seating or vans. They ask where you are heading and give you a per person price, then wait until they find others for you to share the ride with. It cost $2.00 PP to town, $6.00 PP to Megan's Bay beach. You can rent one of these taxis by the hour as well, I didn't notice the charge per hour in St. Thomas but $20.00 per hour was posted on the side of the taxi in San Juan.

The weather was sunny so we headed for the beach at Megan's Bay where there is a $3.00 entrance fee. Megan's Bay is a beautiful horseshoe shaped beach that is always listed as one of the top ten beaches in the world. There are several restaurants, showers and bathrooms, and covered picnic areas lining the mile or so long beach. After a couple hours of sunning and swimming, the clouds rolled in and we got caught in a downpour. Soaked we quickly changed and grabbed an open van taxi back to town. We opted to return to the ship while our friends were dropped off in town to do some shopping. We arrived back at the dock about 3PM to find a line, the length of the ship, to get up the gangway. It took 3/4 of an hour to get back on board. It started to rain and we got soaked again, but this time not in our bathing suits but in our regular clothes. Interesting, was the fact that we were docked in between two other large ships, Carnival's Pride and Celebrity's Century. Neither one of these ship had even the smallest line for returning passengers. NCL might want to take a look at what these other two lines are doing right and what they are doing wrong. I am sure the answer is not enough knowledgeable personal supervising the process. This seemed to be the problem throughout the week, whenever we encountered slow or poor service. 

After a quick change into dry clothes and a snack in the Garden Cafe we got back off the ship to do some shopping in the stores located on the pier. The rain had stopped but the sky was still overcast. We stayed shopping until the last of the stores closed at 6PM. The line was still just as long to get onto the ship, but this time, officers standing at the gangway helped move it along. We departed at 7PM. The weather cleared in time for the New Year's Eve Party on deck.

Wed. 01/01/2003, Tortola: We docked early and got off the ship mid morning, no lines. Tortola is part of the British Virgin Islands and we docked a short walk from Road Town, Tortola's main village. There was a tourist information booth right on the pier handing out maps and answering questions. Since it was New Year's Day, most of the shop were close. We asked about the ferry to Virgin Gorda and the beach area known as The Baths - $26.00 and a 30 minute ride. Instead we took the $6.00, 30 minute taxi ride to one of Tortola's free, local beaches, enjoying the trip up and down the other side of Sage Mountain. Our driver of the open air, shared taxi, pointed out places of interest along the way. After several hours on the beach we went back to the ship later afternoon. We expected lines but found none, maybe this was because other than the tours and beach there was not much to do on Tortola and we found that most passengers were already back on board.

Fri. 01/03/03, Great Stirrup Cay, Bahamas: This was the third time I was to visit this private Island getaway. On my first visit, years ago,  there the weather was too bad to anchor and tender ashore. On that sailing the Captain headed for Nassau where we docked for the day. Two years ago, on the Norway, there was a medical emergency and we dropped anchor off the Turks and Cacaos Islands so a passenger could be taken off ship. This time weather got to us again and the Captain felt we cold not safely off load passengers. We head further north in the Bahamas for calmer seas and a cloudy day at sea. The Norwegian Dawn was not really prepared for this extra, non deck day at sea. They tried to have some half hearted activities but none interested us. We headed for the very well stocked library and spent the day with a good book. Someday I'll get to do the Private Island beach party.

Security: There are security cameras in all areas of the Norwegian Dawn. We got friendly with a couple of the entertainers on board, they told us that the security cameras watched passengers and crew alike. Interestingly, theft is a real problem with crew on board, according to them. The entertainers are not considered crew and were very willing to tell you all the little secrets of the ship.

One of our friends had his Walkman taken by a crew member from the men's spa area. He had been listening to it while using the tread mill in the gym. He went into the locker area just outside the men's shower, warped the Walkman in his shirt, place it with his other stuff on a shelf and went to take a shower. When he returned about five minutes later the Walkman was missing form the shirt. Two other passengers who where in the locker area said that a NCL crew member walked over to the shelf, went through the items, found the Walkman and asked them if it was theirs. When they said no he put the rest of the items back on the self and but left the locker room with the Walkman. Yes, my friend should have known better and gotten a key from the spa reception deck and put his things in a locker. What happened over the next 16 hours upset us more than the loss of the Walkman. Josh, my friend, tired to report the theft to the spa manager. He was told to wait by the manger as he was busy booking treatments for other passengers. After ten minutes Josh went up to the manager again and insisted that he call security, he was worried that the two men who saw the incident would leave without anyone interviewing them. The manager start to give him a hard time, telling him that there had been no NCL crew in the locker room area. Josh said he had seen four crew working in and around the spa that afternoon, removing dirty towels and cleaning up. Security was called, Josh spoke with them on the phone, they took his cabin number and said someone would be down to see him. The Spa Manager finally took the names and cabin numbers of the two witnesses. About an hour later security showed up at our friend's cabin which was next to ours. The security office interviewed Josh and said he would look into the matter and get back to him. Josh asked if they were going to review the surveillance tape and debrief the two witnesses. He was told they didn't know how they would handle it. Later that evening when he heard nothing back, he went to the reception deck and was told security was not available until the morning. I was there and asked to speak with the Hotel Manager, the highest ranking office on the passenger side of the staff. We were told that he was not available. Then I asked to speak with the receptionist supervisor, very quickly she change her story and said she would try and track down the head of security. We told her we would be in the La Trattoria having dinner. We received two calls while having dinner. The first was from the head of the reception area saying that the Hotel Manager had turned in early but that security was working on the problem and would get back to us in the morning. Josh was unhappy with this response because he felt the two witnesses would be off the ship the next morning as this was our last night. He pressed her to talk with the head of security, telling her that two of the ships officers were having dinner at the next table and he was going to ask them to intervene if security could be found. The second call, from the head of security, came within minutes. He said he was on top of everything and that it was going to take some time to review the tapes and interview the witnesses. Needless to say Josh never heard back from anyone. The next morning he spent over an hour at the reception deck, prior to disembarkation, trying to get someone from security to talk to him. The Security head finally did speak with him. He had no answer and got nasty, telling Josh they has no record of any crew scheduled to be working in the spa or locker area at the time of the time theft. He further told our friend it was his own fault for not using a locker and that his was not the only security case he was working on. At that point Josh used his cell phone and called the Miami Police. They came on board and took a Police Report, which is needed in order to make an insurance claim. The head of Security was not happy about this. Bottom line, no Walkman, no thief found.

Disembarkation: Like most cruise ships the Norwegian Dawn uses color coded tags based on flight times. Since our flight from Miami back to Philly was not until late we took dark green tags for flights after 3:00PM. The paper they passed out with the tags indicated that they would start debarking about 8:30 and our color would be called about 9:40. Bags needed to be placed outside your cabin by midnight. We followed orders but when we returned to our cabin about 1:30AM we did not see any of the baggage being picked up. The ship offered breakfast that morning either room service, Aqua Restaurant or the Buffet in Garden Cafe. We opted for the Garden which was packed at 8:45AM. From about 7:00AM on we heard the standard paging of passengers to come to the reception or the customs area so the ship could be cleared. At about 9:15 the started calling the first color. We were in no hurry to disembark so we had another cup of coffee and went back to our cabin to retrieve our hand luggage and go wait on deck for a color to be called. Ours was the last color called for those who were going via NCL transfer to either Miami or Fort Lauderdale airports. At 10:15AM our color was called and we left our comfortable chairs in the sun on deck 12 to walk down to the deck 5 gangway. As we descended the central stairwell, halfway between deck 6 and 7, we encountered hordes of passengers pushing and shoving and yelling that their color had been called. What a mess, again no one for NCL around to supervise. I think the person calling the colors was just calling a new color every ten minutes with no regard to the length of the line. From that point it took another hour in this cattle line to get off the ship. We would have went back up on deck but by that point there were a few hundred passengers behind us. The problems was they were swiping your plastic security card one last time. I understand the reason for this last security check but no announcements were made that you would need these cards. They only announced that you would need your photo ID and customs declaration form. Thinking that they would not need these plastic ID cards, many passengers either left them in their cabins or packed them away in their hand luggage.

Worst disembarkation in 29 cruises. Someone from NCL should take a sailing with Celebrity or even Carnival, they both do a much better job getting on and off their ships.

We found our luggage, board the bus to the airport, checked in with our flight and headed to the airport hotel. We spent several hours sitting by their pool having drinks and lunch before our 6PM flight home.

Conclusion: The Norwegian Dawn is a beautiful ship with great food and entertainment. Very good value for the money. We enjoyed our cruise and so did our friends. We didn't let didn't let the things that went wrong spoil our good time.

As an architect and designer I spent 25 years in the Hospitality Business, designing and consulting restaurants and hotels. The Norwegian Dawn's problems in these areas can be corrected but only if NCL cares to correct them. Two suggestion I would make: First, move the show times to 8:30PM and 10:30PM. This would force those wanting to see the earlier show either to dine before seven or after 9:30PM when the dining rooms are less crowed. Those going to the late show could eat as late as 8:30 and still make the last show. Second, eliminate the deck 4 cabins as there are so few of then anyway. Because they are so close to the water line, you hear the ocean and the boom of the waves hitting against the side of the ship. This is more true through the night when the ship picks up speed.  It didn't bother me but it does get quite noisy and freaked out some other passengers. Many of the public rooms, which didn't get much use on our cruise anyway, cold be moved down from deck 12. These would include, the chapel, library, writing room, game room, meeting rooms, cinema, card room, etc. These areas are used mostly during the day when the ship is either docked or cruising slowly. The freed up area on deck 12 could then be used for higher priced cabins, thus generating more revenue. Since this is a brand new ship I don't think NCL will be making these changes anytime soon. But, they might want to look into it for future new builds.

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