Norwegian Dawn debuted in 2002 as the third ship in the Norwegian fleet to accommodate the line's Freestyle Cruising concept. It maintains an atmosphere of casual flexibility, emanating in large part from the ship's much ballyhooed selection of more than 10 eateries. The "Freestyle" concept is not limited to dining, of course, but revolves around the idea that passengers should be able to choose what they want to do, when they want to do it and how they want to do it. You can dress formally on formal night -- or not. Take in the early musical performance or wait for the late show. The spa and fitness center is open until 11 p.m. most nights, and the Internet cafe is an around-the-clock operation. Even disembarkation is pretty painless -- there's no out-at-dawn boot, and you can practically walk right off the ship.
In May 2011, the ship underwent a monthlong refurbishment, which resulted in the addition of about 50 cabins and the cruise line's newest restaurant concept -- the Brazilian steakhouse -- as well as the reorganization of several public spaces. The gift shops and art gallery were moved from the atrium area to the hall that leads to the casino and the theater. The popular Spinnaker Lounge was relocated and reconstructed, and enhancements were made to the photo gallery, kids' areas and conference rooms.
Although the refurb increased the ship's capacity by about 100 passengers, public areas and hallways remain easy to traverse, and there's hardly ever a long wait to be seated during peak dinner hours. All in all, this 10-year-old ship appears almost brand-new, though we did hear complaints from a few passengers who experienced issues with air-conditioning and closet doors that wouldn't stay closed.
Ultimately, Dawn is a ship with a fun, easygoing and relaxing atmosphere, designed to please a wide variety of travelers -- including first-time cruisers wary of the traditional, more regimented vacation at sea.
Standard cabins are on the small side, with insides measuring 142 square feet and outsides measuring 158 square feet. These categories have the usual twin-to-queen bed configurations. At 166 square feet, balcony cabins are not much larger than standard outsides, but they feature small sitting areas with couches that open up to make twin-sized beds. The main difference between these and the mini-suites, which are a bit larger (229 square feet), is that the latter's couch doubles as a queen-sized bed. For those sleeping on the pullout, it's important to note that it's rock-hard. If you prefer a softer surface to snooze on, ask your steward for an extra comforter or even a mattress pad. Balconies are outfitted with blue mesh adjustable chairs and small tables.
Bathrooms are laid out in a convenient three-part design. The showers (bathtubs for mini-suites and beyond) have sliding glass doors (no clingy plastic curtains to fight with), as does the toilet compartment. The doors separate each from the central sink area. When both doors are shut, each mini-room becomes semiprivate. All in-cabin toiletries (shampoo, conditioner, lotion and body wash), including those in the in-shower pumps, are by Elemis.
Norwegian Dawn also offers a variety of suite configurations, including the newly added family suites, which each feature a queen-sized bed that converts to two lower beds, a sofa bed and additional bedding for a maximum occupancy of six. Of the 24 family suites, measuring 495 square feet, 10 have balconies. The ship's romance suites, penthouse suites and owner's suites are outfitted similarly, but additional amenities are added as the price-point rises. For instance, penthouse suites each have a separate living room with dining table; owner's suites feature the same, but also have a powder room and whirlpool tub. These suites range in size from the 288-square-foot romance suites to the apartment-sized owner's suites at 750 square feet.
The crown jewels of the Norwegian Dawn accommodations are the ship's two Garden Villas. These 6,694-square-foot cabins are, in a word, fabulous. Each comes complete with panoramic ocean views, a grand piano and full kitchen. The villas have their own private outdoor garden areas with whirlpool and lounge chairs, private top-of-ship sunbathing decks and even steam rooms. These rooms accommodate eight passengers apiece and can be booked together for a total of more than 10,000 square feet and an occupancy of 16.
The ship's original cabins in all categories are decorated in a whimsical primary color scheme with faux cherry wood walls, while the newer cabins feature more modern (and subtle) decor in a palate of rich earth tones. Linens are soft, and pillows are fluffy and plentiful.
Most of the ship's cabins feature 16-inch flat-screen televisions that show programming from a variety of channels, including CNN, TNT, Cartoon Network and ESPN, and a selection of not-yet-on-DVD movies. One oddity (for those bringing along laptops and other gadgets) is that, for Americans, the only 220-volt outlet is by the vanity, not by the table. You can ask reception for an adapter to use on the single European outlet or bring one from home. There's also a mini-bar stocked with a selection of for-fee beer, spirits and sodas. (Don't be afraid to move these to make room for any snacks and drinks you might want to bring back to your cabin -- you won't be charged for touching.) Storage space in all cabins is adequate but not generous; the garden villas and owner's suites go above and beyond with walk-in closets.
Norwegian Dawn has 26 wheelchair-accessible cabins, with an option in every category.
Indoor activities on Norwegian Dawn are primarily concentrated on Decks 6 and 7. The Grand Atrium (Deck 6), with its glass-domed ceiling, is the hub. There you'll find passenger services counters (shore excursions, reception) and a duty-free cosmetics shop. On the landing of a curved stairway is a performance platform, where live bands play, and the Java Cafe, where you can pick up specialty coffee drinks and pastries.
Deck 6 is also where you'll find the ship's main duty-free shop, which flanks both sides of a long hallway that opens up to some of the specialty restaurants. The shop offers jewelry, stylish casualwear (Tommy Bahama is a mainstay), upscale accessories, alcohol and souvenirs.
The Internet Cafe has 17 terminals; Norwegian Dawn also offers wireless access. Passengers can bring their own laptops or rent them. Rates at the cafe itself are industry standard -- 75 cents per minute -- as are wireless fees. Packages are available (100 minutes for $55, 250 minutes for $100) and include a laptop rental (exclusive of a $3/day insurance fee).
On Deck 12, you'll find the library, which is cozily appointed and offers an excellent selection of books. Though checkout hours are limited, you can almost always grab a book off the shelf to enjoy in one of the library's comfy club chairs.
While Norwegian Dawn offers the usual fare during sea days -- bingo, art auctions, arts and crafts, wellness seminars, etc. -- the real highlights of the ship's entertainment offerings are the nightly shows.
Each evening's "main event" is held in the ship's gorgeous Stardust Theater, usually to a packed house. Our weeklong cruise featured everything from a variety show to Broadway-style song-and-dance acts. Our favorite? The Bollywood show. From great voices singing beautiful songs to stunning dancers and incredible acrobatics, it's a true treat. Also be sure to check out a performance of the famous Second City Comedy Troupe (former stomping ground of many Saturday Night Live alums) -- we recommend the late-night, adults-only improv show.
The Stardust Theater, which spans Decks 5 through 7, is designed in a European opera house style; it's beautiful and quite comfortable, though views from some of the side balcony seats are obstructed. The Dawn Club Casino -- located along the corridor that leads to the Stardust Theater, rather than distractingly plopped in the center of a well-trafficked area -- offers the usual slot machines and games, including blackjack, craps and poker. Theater-goers with an aversion to cigarette smoke should beware: you'll have to hold your breath as you make your way through the odorous casino to your show of choice.
The ship also features a variety of bands, playing everything from classical to Latin to torch songs, and most of Norwegian Dawn's nine bars, all with varying personalities, offer some kind of entertainment. Favorites included the Spinnaker Lounge for martinis and dancing and the Pearly Kings Pub for karaoke and offbeat British beers. And, once per weeklong cruise, the ship hosts Norwegian Cruise Line's signature "White Hot Party," for which passengers get decked out in all-white (sheets and towels are acceptable) and dance the night away under black lights, led by the ship's angel-wing-clad staff, who happily demonstrate all manner of line dances.
Several times per sailing, passengers can catch after-hours movies on the big screen in the ship's atrium.
As for shore excursions, you can expect the usual -- snorkeling, catamaran-sailing, glass-bottom boat rides, beach days, etc. Rates are on par with or slightly lower than those of other mainstream cruise lines.
Norwegian Dawn has an automatic gratuity program that costs $12 per passenger, per day, and covers tips for all services -- including room stewards and restaurant waitstaff. A 15 percent gratuity is automatically added to bar drinks, and 18 percent is added to spa and salon services. Passengers can opt to pay their own tips, however, by asking at the reception desk. The cruise line also encourages passengers who receive exemplary services from butlers and/or concierges to tip these crewmembers separately, as they do not receive a share of the auto-gratuities.
In addition to solid family-friendly accommodations, the children's facilities on Norwegian Dawn are excellent and truly make this ship ideal for families. The main center of action is the T-Rex kids' lounge, with play rooms and a movie theater. Adjacent (but not enclosed within) is the T-Rex kids' pool, complete with downsized lounge chairs, a waterslide and a whirlpool. For teens, there's a video arcade and a disco-style teen club.
NCL's "Splash Academy" is currently divided into four age groups: Guppies (6 months to 3 years, with parent), Turtles (3 - 5), Seals (6 - 9) and Dolphins (10 - 12). The teen program, called Entourage, accommodates passengers 13 to 17. The overall program focuses on sports, arts and crafts, theater and technology, with age-appropriate activities for each group. Planned activities may include circus workshops, parades and scavenger hunts. (Both Splash Academy and Entourage feature a different theme every day, like pirates, space cowboys, jungle fever or circus.)
Games for kids are also organized on Great Stirrup Cay, the line's private island.
For the 3 - 12s, organized activities are typically offered from 9 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. on both port and sea days. On port days, a supervised meal fee ($6 per child) may apply. Entourage's hours of operation are 11 a.m. to 1 a.m. on sea days and departure time or 8 p.m. to 1 a.m. on port days.
Group baby-sitting is available onboard; evenings it's offered from 10:30 p.m. to 1:30 a.m.; on port days. Cost is $6 per child per hour; the second kid is $4 per hour. Passengers should sign up for sitting services by 8 p.m. the night prior to when they are needed. There is no in-cabin sitting. Norwegian also has developed a fleetwide discipline policy. The four-step set of rules includes warning, time-out, suspension and dismissal stages.
High chairs and cribs are available upon request (either onboard or in advance). Other kid-oriented amenities include kids' packages for soda. The unlimited beverage program is roughly $4 per day, per child, up to age 12 and $6 per day for teens 13 and older.
The shipboard crowd ranges from toddlers to seniors, with many in the middle range. Norwegian's "Freestyle Cruising" appeals to a mostly unpretentious clientele, and the overall vibe is super-casual and fun-filled. With dozens of family-friendly cabins, including many added during the May 2011 refurb, the ship is usually full of multigenerational groups, especially in the summer months and during school vacations.
The rule of "Freestyle" is a relaxed dress code. Evenings are always resort-casual, though on one optional formal night, some passengers do choose to get decked out and take formal portraits. Swimsuits are not permitted in either of the ship's two main dining rooms or any of the specialty restaurants. However, they can be worn in the buffet, permitting that cover-ups, shorts or T-shirts are worn over them.
|Fitness and Recreation|
Norwegian Dawn offers a wide range of fitness and recreation services. First: the two-tiered El Dorado Spa and Beauty Center offers up-to-date fitness equipment and a fabulous glass-paneled room for classes in stretching and aerobics (free) and yoga and Pilates ($12 fee).
The spa itself is beautiful and serene. Operated by Hawaii-based Mandara (which is owned by Steiner), the treatments are a bit more exotic than the average, with Hawaiian and Polynesian influences. Passengers purchasing treatments are permitted to use a lovely adults-only relaxation room, with tile loungers, multiple hot tubs and Wi-Fi. Men's and women's locker rooms each feature a sauna and a steam room.
The piece de resistance, however, is the spa's indoor lap pool. (It's an adequate size for swimmers who want exercise.) The only problem is that passengers occasionally missed the concept of lap swimming and treated it as an alternative to the main pool. There's also a whirlpool and a hydrotherapy-pool. Another neat feature found in the spa is the for-fee juice bar, with all sorts of healthful drinks. The spa's amenities are only available to passengers who purchase either a spa treatment (same day only) or spa passes for $30 a day or $119 a week, per person.
In the main pool area, there's a saltwater lap pool, plus four whirlpools and a bandstand for entertainment. (Another hard-to-find whirlpool is tucked away on Deck 13.) Chaise lounges are set up in amphitheater mode, as well as directly around the pool. Slightly set back from the pool area and out of direct sunlight are cafe tables and chairs so you can grab a snack or cocktail and enjoy the poolside scene without risking a sunburn. On our nearly full sailing, we never had an issue snagging a couple lounge chairs, even during sunny hours.
There's a narrow jogging track on Deck 13, where sports enthusiasts can take advantage of golf driving nets, shuffleboard, a man-sized chess board, volleyball/basketball courts, paddle tennis and horseshoes. Walkers are better off on the wider, more relaxing wraparound promenade on Deck 7.
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