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Norwegian DawnNorwegian Dawn
October 26 2007

By Richard H. Wagner

This was a two-day cruise to nowhere in October 2007 just prior to Norwegian Dawn’s repositioning from New York to Florida for the winter. It was an interesting experience giving one a glimpse of the alternative style of cruising offered by Norwegain Cruise Lines (NCL).

Norwegian Dawn is a relatively new ship, built in Germany in 2002. At 92,250 gross tons and carrying 2,200 passengers, she is a large ship. Somewhat at odds with her sophisticated interior (discussed below), the ship is targeted at the mass market and on this cruise had a mass market passenger body.

Outside, Norwegian Dawn is painted white like many traditional cruise ships. However, she is distinguished by the murals painted on either side of her bow, one side depicting porpoises swimming through brightly colored waves while the other has the Statue of Liberty, reflecting the ship’s connection to New York (the ship has been homeported in New York for most of her existence).

Inside, Norwegian Dawn is beautiful. The public rooms are decorated in a contemporary style. They were done using good quality materials and are lit in such a way as to enhance the visual effect. Everything is clean and the woodwork and the metal are highly polished. One could just as easily be walking in a top-of-the-line contemporary New York hotel. 

The artwork on the ship is magnificent. It is not uncommon for a new cruise ship to have a multi-million dollar art collection. However, often such collections feature works by contemporary artists the “art world” believes are up and coming. Sometimes, there are some good maritime works or artifacts from some bygone civilization. However, on Norwegian Dawn, there are works by established masters such as Renoir and Van Gogh. There are Andy Warhol’s prints of Marilyn Monroe on one of the staircases. This is art that one would expect to see in a major museum, not on a cruise ship.

The artistic theme is carried through and developed in the décor of the ship’s major dining rooms. The Venetian dining room is done in colors taken from the palette of Caneletto, making this vast area light and beautiful. Impressions features floor-to-ceiling reproductions of works by Renoir and Seurat. The highlight of the modernistic Aqua restaurant are panels with Henri Matisse’s dancers. Then, in Le Bistro, the French-specialty, extra-tariff restaurant, are the original French Impressionist masterpieces hung almost casually above the tables.

Accommodations range from luxurious to utilitarian. The suites and the penthouses are sumptuous with their polished cherry wood and interesting lighting. However, as one goes down in the price range, the staterooms shed their luxurious feel and become more Spartan. Still, even inside cabins have a refrigerator, a television, a safe and a sliding door (as opposed to a plastic curtain) on the shower. 

NCL distinguishes itself from the other cruise lines with its “Freestyle Cruising.” Under this approach, passengers are given as much flexibility as possible to design their cruise experience. There are no restaurant assignments, no dinner seatings, and on disembarkation, passengers can leave their staterooms when they want to rather than when the cruise line decides. This has proven to be an attractive philosophy--after all, flexibility and freedom of choice are concepts deeply ingrained in the American psyche--and other cruise lines (e.g. Princess and Holland America) have taken steps to add flexibility to dining on their ships.

With regard to dining, the flaw in the Freestyle approach is that not everyone can be accommodated in the most popular restaurant at the most popular time. To overcome this problem, NCL has included a large variety of restaurants on the ship with differing menus and differing degrees of formality in order to appeal to different tastes. It is working to keep the quality of each venue high so that passengers will not feel they have been short-changed if they cannot get a booking in their venue of choice. Also, the restaurants are open well into the evening, which increases the number of people each can accommodate during a given night. Still, a passenger must be flexible about when and where to dine. If there is one particular restaurant that one wants to dine in at a particular time, one should make a reservation as early as possible.

During the two day cruise, I sampled three of the ship’s 13 dining venues. As above, the Venetian main dining room is a light, beautiful room, enhanced by an array of tall windows across the stern of the ship. The menu is international, ranging from light fare such as hamburgers to full multi-course meals. I found the service attentive and food good.

Impressions has recently changed from a general restaurant to an up-scale Italian specialty restaurant. Again, the service was very good as was the food. 
Le Bistro is the French specialty restaurant. It has been rated as the top dining venue on the ship. Perhaps because of high expectations, I was disappointed by the food. It was good but I did not find it superior to either the Venetian or Impressions. Of course, the experience of dining under an original Van Gogh is worth the extra charge just by itself. 

Each day, the ship distributes a program listing the day’s activities and the evening entertainment. This is pretty much like one finds on other cruise ships. However, in the evening, the entertainment is scheduled at various times in recognition of the fact that people will be eating at different times throughout the evening. 

The two-day cruise did not provide much of a test of Norwegian Dawn’s seakeeping abilities. There was rain when the ship left New York but the sea conditions were not bad. The ship went slowly out to sea to a position parallel to southern New Jersey. This was enough to get the ship out of the rain although not far enough to find the sun. The ship maintained this position for the entire day, seemingly motionless. The passengers were quite comfortable. 

With Freestyle disembarkation, a passenger can stay in bed late or leave early to catch an early flight or even use some of the ship’s facilities. This is an attractive feature. Of course, one cannot stay on the ship forever as new passengers are coming aboard and the customs and immigration officials are not going to hang around all day waiting. Furthermore, as with the dining system, if everyone decides to leave at once, there are going to be long lines. Thus, passengers must do some planning ahead for the system to work properly. With freedom comes responsibility.

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