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Copyright © 1995-2003 
Linda Coffman


Norwegian Dawn
Eastern Caribbean
February 8-15, 2003

Part Two

By Charles B. with Holly


The Freestyle Daily listed a huge variety of daily activities. Our main focus was on the various fitness classes. As a cycling enthusiast, I took advantage of the week’s vacation to get multiple workouts everyday. Although it may not sound like much of a vacation to some people, it was a treat for me to spend as much time as I wanted on my fitness regime. I tried spinning and Pilates for the first time and learned some new things at several of the yoga classes that were offered. The three spinning classes were thoroughly invigorating and gave me some of the toughest and most sweat-producing workouts I’ve ever had. Each of these had a $5 charge, but the instruction by the former personal trainers from New York City was excellent and the fee probably helped regulate attendance. There were also plenty of “free” classes of various kinds. Between the two of us, we went to enough classes to win an “In Motion on the Ocean” NCL t-shirt. It was nice to see NCL making an effort to promote health and fitness amid all the gluttony that is possible on cruises. Having done yoga before, it was interesting to do the various stretches while listening to typical new age-type music while the boat was gently moving through the ocean. It was reassuring to know that I would never suffer from a calorie deficit due to all of my exercising with all the great food onboard! According to the handy scale in the fitness center, I managed to maintain my weight, even while eating a ton of food.  

Thanks to a generous gift certificate from my parents, we were able to enjoy pedicures in the spa. The specialist who worked on our feet was a charming woman from London in the midst of a career change. My pedicure was scheduled just as we departed Tortola and I didn’t miss anything from the comfortable seat in the posh salon with floor-to-ceiling windows. We didn’t get any massages, mostly because they seemed very overpriced, while the pedicures were priced similar to prices at home.

When we weren’t in the fitness center or spa, we relaxed on our balcony, or in other spaces like the library, reading room, or various lounges that were quiet in the daytime. The forward-facing Spinnaker lounge has the two best indoor seats on the boat, the ones jutting out left and right, over the bridge, providing excellent views forward and back.

Ports of Call  

Day 1 At Sea  

Day 2 San Juan - We were unfortunately docked across from the usual place right at the foot of Old San Juan, but it turned out not to matter as we had rented a car with our companions for a drive up to the El Yunque rain forest. The traffic was sometimes slow, but it was worth the one hour drive and interesting to see some real life along the way, even if parts of it looked just like any other strip mall on the mainland. After returning the car, we taxied over to Old San Juan for a short stroll until dusk, then back to the ship. The time in port was limited, so we hope to see more of Old San Juan next time.  

Day 3 St. Thomas - Charlotte Amalie was as touristy as expected, but we still managed to get a flavor for the place. We hopped in a jitney for $6 each over to Magen’s Bay beach, which was well populated with other cruisers, but had plenty of room to spread out. We had a picnic of PB&J sandwiches that we made at breakfast, along with some other accumulated snacks and bottles of our water. After exploring Charlotte Amalie a bit more, we were able to do our favorite activity while traveling, which is shopping in local supermarkets and groceries. It turned out that a large supermarket was near the pier, as was an excellent health food store. We managed to re-stock our soy beverages and get a few exotic juice flavors that were not available onboard.

Having visited St. Thomas previously, Gordon and Carol signed up for the Champagne Catamaran Sail and Snorkel excursion. Here's their description: After a scenic 20 minute trip across the island in one of the wonderful open-air buses found throughout the Caribbean, we boarded the Allura, a 50 foot sailing catamaran built and operated by the Witbeck brothers. Motoring out of the harbor, the crew hoisted the sail for the trip to St. John. Due to brisk trade winds, we were under sail for the entire trip to St. John and back. We anchored at a small but beautiful beach in the Virgin Islands National Park and enjoyed over an hour of excellent snorkeling with optional beach-laying and walking in the Park. Sailing between St. Thomas and St. John was one of the most "Caribbean" experiences we have had on a cruise. The friendly crew of the Allura provided snacks of cheese, homemade banana bread and the promised champagne, along with the usual selections of juice and soft drinks. Overall, this was one of our favorite ship-sponsored shore excursions in our four cruises. As a bonus, NCL only marks the price up $5 over the non-cruiser price and includes transportation to and from the boat.

Day 4 Tortola - Roadtown was very much more of a real town compared to Charlotte Amalie, though the rugged scenery was equally spectacular.  We took a taxi over to Cane Garden Bay, which was a lovely beach, but was clearly the most popular for passengers on the three ships in port that day. It was great people watching with many different languages in evidence. We found the local residents in Tortola to be very friendly and after a few hours at the beach, we sat in the town square by the post office writing post cards and feeding chickens. It was an easy walk back to the pier to the comfort and serenity of our ship and cabin.

Day 5 At Sea

Day 6 Great Stirrup Cay - After the final day at sea, the Dawn positioned offshore from NCL’s private island in the Bahamas and started the process that it seems cruisers must become familiar with. We wanted to be among the first on the island, so we lined up a few minutes early the previous afternoon for tender ticket distribution. For us first-timers, it was fun to bounce across the waves on the way to the beach, giving a nice view of the Dawn in the process. I don’t enjoy sitting on the beach, so we quickly scouted spots in the thicket of umbrellas and chairs then went off exploring. Clearly, Dawn is the largest ship to unload here, so it was pretty crowded. However, a quiet walking path took us a mile or two through the trees to an old lighthouse and a secluded jetty in a deserted cove on the back side of the island. We had the place to ourselves and it was a highlight of our vacation. I escaped back to the ship after watching Holly experience snorkeling for the first time as she marveled over the colorful schools of fish, even with all the people around. I wanted to get back for my final Indian buffet, which was as delicious as ever, while Holly reported a very nice beach barbeque that included veggie burgers and a variety of fresh salads and fruit.

Service and staff  

Although we received generally good service, the only person we established any kind of ongoing personal connection with was our extremely personable room steward, Roberto. He somehow managed to materialize just as we were leaving for meals or exercise and always had our room perfectly made up or turned down, even when we weren’t gone very long. His turn down service was especially thoughtful, with several different whimsical towel “sculptures” on some nights. In a nice touch, a special card and red carnation was left on one pillow on Valentine’s Day. When our safe malfunctioned, he quickly called in his supervisor, who promptly summoned a technician to replace a part, all in less than 20 minutes.  

Other crew members around the boat, such as reception staff, dining room staff, cleaners and management were competent and friendly enough, but nothing spectacular. Being a newly launched ship, it could be that the crew is still building its own internal rapport and the teamwork will improve over time. We never felt that any staff people were going out of their way to engage with customers.


The only thing we can say about the entertainment is the venues. Although there seemed to be multiple good programs every night, the best we managed was to walk in for a few minutes in the Stardust Theater for one of the main shows and then to laugh at a few of the comedian’s jokes in the Spinnaker Lounge. The Theater was a very nice space, with appropriately theatrical entrances and a nice variety of seating. We had a chance to explore it on the first day as it was our muster station for the safety drill. We wanted to do some dancing, but it mostly started well after 11PM, so we skipped it.


The dreaded final day was a chance to test NCL’s Freestyle Disembarkation. To newbies like us, the way it was managed seems logical and it seems illogical to do it any other way. Since we didn’t have checked luggage, we could keep all our stuff and arise like every other morning of the cruise. Breakfast was available in some additional locations, but we didn’t feel any particular crush when we headed up for our final breakfast at the Garden Café at well past 8:00AM. We took our trays out to the pool to savor the warm Florida sunshine and hang out as long as possible. As it turned out, we got our wish to remain on the boat until after 10:00AM, as disembarkation was delayed due to some immigration issues. It was amazing to see how the room stewards rush to turn the rooms around in the short time until boarding starts for the next cruise in only a few hours. To make this happen, Roberto politely asked if he could make the bed while we were still onboard (though at breakfast) and do an initial bathroom cleaning. Although we could have remained in our room until the end, we chose to get out of his way and relax up on deck 13 in the sunshine until our turn for disembarking was called. The stair hall to the gangway was jammed with people for a few minutes, but in the end, the process was fairly smooth. Then it was one last glance at the ship, through the terminal and on to our waiting NCL bus to the airport.  

Other Random Notes  

The Dawn is maintained to an extraordinary standard of cleanliness. There were crewmembers of all kinds who were constantly cleaning, repairing, sanding, varnishing, painting and scrubbing throughout the ship. While we were in port, an elaborate system of window washers mounted on rails went around all sides and decks, washing off the salt spray. This included a crew of two who used high-pressure nozzles to hose down our balcony railing glass inside and out, sort of like on high-rise office buildings. We even noticed that some scratches around the forward anchor housing were painted like new while we were ashore in St. Thomas.

We made good use of the nice laundry facilities, which were located on four of the six main decks with cabins. One of these “guest launderettes” was conveniently on the same deck as our cabin. There were three high-end washing machines and dryers, along with two ironing boards with irons and a large sink. There was no extra charge, but you did have to supply your own powdered soap that was also for sale at reception.

Although we don’t have children, the facilities for kids of various ages seemed quite extensive. We were told that there were 100 kids on our cruise, but we almost never noticed them. In addition to an exclusive pool/waterslide area at the stern, there were numerous rooms, with PCs, toys, nap beds, kitchens, video games, and separate “discos” for different ages. The nicest touch in our view was a specially built kid’s cafeteria line, about half height, right next to one of the adult serving lines at the Garden Café. It always seemed to have kid-friendly food like macaroni and cheese, cookies, jello and kid’s cereals. Everything was kid-sized, which made it amusing to watch parents eating there with their children. We also noticed that kid’s menus were always available in all of the restaurants.  

The main onboard store was a large “galleria” located all the way aft on deck 7. Although the shop was attractive enough, the prices were even higher than you would understandably expect given the captive nature of the customers. Sundries especially were a terrible rip-off, with prices around three times that on land. Why bother to stock any of this if passengers can just hop off the ship and pick things up at local markets?

Having heard about bad-tasting water on some ships and wanting to avoid expensive onboard purchases, we brought a case of our own bottled water. It turned out that the water out of our bathroom tap tasted just fine, as did the chilled water from the drinking fountains in the fitness center. We always accepted regular water from pitchers at dinner, which also tasted fine. We learned later that Dawn produces its own fresh water from seawater, which must work because we certainly didn’t get sick.

On disembarkation morning, we had a chance to take sneak peeks at other staterooms while they were being cleaned. The higher level suites were truly awesome, with the amenities kicked up a few more notches. In particular, the eight AB category penthouse suites were very nice (we called them “doublewides”) and they’re all located on deck 11. Two were on either side of our cabin. The balcony was the same size as ours but it had authentic looking teak deck chairs like on the old steamers. In the location of what would otherwise be a second balcony was the spectacular bathroom, with full-height windows looking out from both the separate whirlpool bath and shower compartments. Of course, there was a separate living/dining room, with well-stocked glassware, dishes, potted plants and much larger closet. There was even a completely separate small “inside” bedroom with its own smaller bathroom that looked perfect for kids. For those who can manage true suites, I would say the AB suites had the best combination of features and location. The suites I saw facing forward were also nice, but the balconies are nearly unusable when the ship is underway due to the strong wind. The rear-facing suites were similar to the forward ones and have a great view, but I would be worried about vibration. In general, we felt almost no vibration anywhere on the ship, except in the Venetian restaurant, which is directly above the propulsion system. However, during port maneuvers, there would occasionally be sharp jolts and some noticeable vibration, which was felt most at the rear of the ship.

Final Thoughts

If you’ve gotten this far, you may not want to read any more, but here are a few last observations about the Dawn. The ship seemed extraordinarily well designed to us, making efficient use of all available space to match the wide variety of needs that the diverse passenger mix has. Even though the ship was large, it was a pleasure to go from one part of the ship to the other as there was always something interesting to see or pleasant spaces to just be in. We love the concept and execution of Freestyle cruising, which is clearly very well done on this ship. It allows people complete flexibility to enjoy their vacation at their own pace. We are hooked on cruising now and are looking forward to our next trip on NCL or another interesting cruise line.

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