The Norwegian Dawn cruise ship at Heritage Wharf, Royal Naval Dockyard, Bermuda
I've decided to start my Bermuda trip report series with what I think is a first for UPGRD - a cruise review! (Someone please correct me if I'm wrong.) After our long drive up from Texas (full report forthcoming soon), we pulled in to the parking garage at about a quarter to noon to begin our long-awaited cruise to Bermuda on the Norwegian Dawn, May 16th-23rd, 2014. My cruise reviews will follow this basic format: overall ship experience, dining, activities, and service. I won't talk about our sole port, Bermuda, in this post, as that will be covered in detail in future reports of this series. I will very briefly cover our embarkation and debarkation experience, but will address those in more detail in other parts of this Bermuda series. This review is condensed quite a bit and is more picture-heavy than a typical user review, but you can click for the review I posted on Cruise Critic if you'd like a more detailed description.
Before I start the review, I thought I would provide a little background on Norwegian Cruise Line (NCL). Some people thing all cruise lines are the same, but that really isn't the case, as each line tends to cater to a specific clientele. NCL focuses on a more informal, "Freestyle" experience, where guests can customize their cruise experience as they want to. The most noticeable aspect of "Freestyle Cruising" is in the dining rooms, where there are no fixed dining times or formal nights. NCL also maintains an informal, fun atmosphere on its ships, though not quite to the "party boat" level of Carnival. The end result it that NCL caters to a somewhat younger demographic than other cruise lines, and is considered family friendly.
And so we begin...
The Dawn has a capacity of 2, 340 passengers, which makes it a midsize ship in the world of mass market cruise ships. By comparison, Royal Caribbean's Oasis of the Seas, the world's largest cruise ship currently, packs in 5, 400 passengers. Which you prefer is really a matter of personal preference. Some like the ginormous new ships, because they have more room for activities. I personally like the smaller ships, as they are easier to navigate, and provide more personal service from the crew.
We stayed in Hartford the night before, and made it to the cruiseport parking lot about a quarter to noon. After some quick repacking and stashing of things in the trunk, we made our way to the terminal itself. It's essentially across the street from the garage, but it is a bit of a chore to lug two heavy suitcases due to some uneven sidewalks. I'd recommend dropping off your passengers/luggage in front of the terminal first, then go park the car.
We arrived at prime time for check-in - check-in for our 4 P.M. departure started at 11:30 - so there were lines to deal with.
The bark was definitely worse than the bite. For those who haven't cruised before, you start by dropping off your large bags with a porter, then proceed with your carry-on luggage to the actual check-in counters. The whole process, from joining the bag drop line to walking off the gangway and onto the ship, took about an hour. Bottom line is, there are a lot of passengers to process, so there's going to be some standing in lines involved. If you detest queues, then plan to arrive either before 11 or after 2. Check-in for cruises usually closes one hour before departure, so don't be too late. Once onboard, we discovered that unlike most cruise ships, the Venetian main dining room was open for lunch, and not just the buffet. Take advantage of this if you cruise NCL. Nobody seemed to know that the Venetian was opened, so we practically had the place to ourselves.
Since our first experience with the ship was the dining room, I'll start the review there. The Dawn actually has two main dining rooms, the Venetian and Aqua, but we didn't try Aqua (same menu, but farther away from our stateroom than the Venetian). The Venetian, at the aft end of Deck 6, as you would expect from the name, is an Italian-themed dining room, featuring Roman-style columns and Venice-themed artwork.
This was our stateroom, a balcony room at the forward end of Deck 9. The room was reasonably spacious, with a good amount of storage space thanks to several cubby holes. The bathroom was a bit tight, though having the toilet area fully separated from the shower helped. And of course, the balcony was awesome. If you're going to drop a bunch of cash on a cruise, I highly recommend spending the little extra and getting a balcony.
The stateroom itself
Be aware that balcony rooms at the extreme forward and aft ends of the ship appear to have smaller balconies than those mid-ship. However, a benefit is that these smaller balconies are fully covered on the sides and partially from the front, affording more privacy from your neighbors and better protection from rain.
Here are some assorted photos from public areas of the ship:
The central "piazza", view from Deck 8
Duty Free shops, Deck 7
Stardust Theater, Deck 6
Outdoor walking deck and shuffleboard area, Deck 7
The dramatic ship's wake, from outdoor walking deck on Deck 7
Pool and hot tub area, Deck 12 (photo taken from Deck 13)
As you can see, there are a variety of activities to choose from on the ship, most included in the cruise fare. The ship's layout does take a little getting used to, mainly because certain portions of certain decks are only accessible using specific elevators or staricases. For example, the Venetian dining room is only accessible from the aft elevators/stairs. Once you get used to that, though, the ship is small enough that it's pretty easy to get around.