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First of all, I want to say that my expectations for this cruise were very high, and all my expectations were either met or exceeded. If you are booked for a cruise on the Dawn, you are in for a treat. The food was terrific and plentiful, the attitudes of the crew members was warm and friendly. And the crew kept the ship very, very clean.
We stayed in cabin 10600 (BA). The balcony completely spoiled us. There is no way that we will be able to cruise again without having a balcony. It is a great place to relax, watch the sunrise or sunset, watch the ship pull into and out of each port, and just enjoy some privacy. We didn't realize until the second night that the doors can be closed and sealed airtight by pulling the handle all the way clockwise to the top. It completely reduced the wind noise at night.
Here is a list of items that were very useful for us: water shoes, a small battery powered alarm clock, a multi-outlet power strip, a yellow highlighter (for highlighting the Freestyle daily), binoculars, walkie-talkies (for families), a spare battery for your digital camera, a spare pair of eyeglasses for those of you that wear glasses, disposable underwater camera, and a bar of your favorite soap (they have liquid dispensers in the shower).
We were advised to get to the terminal at 2pm to avoid the crowds, but decided that the sooner we got on the ship, the better. So we arrived at the terminal at 10:30am. There was a delay in getting the passengers off the ship, so we did not embark until about 1pm. There is a small snack bar in the terminal where you can get a hot dog and soda while you wait. The waiting area at the terminal is upstairs. However, you are called to form a line and move downstairs and have to merge with the passengers arriving from the street. Arriving early and waiting upstairs could cause you to have to wait longer to board.
If you are arriving by limo, you can avoid the long lines on the lower level by using the upper level (which is marked â€ścars onlyâ€ť). Announcements are made by a gentleman that just walks into the crowd at the waiting room and shouts. If you are not near him when he is giving the announcements (about documentation and the status of the boarding process), you will not hear what he has to say. If he had a bullhorn, it would have been easier for everyone to hear him. After you pass through the checkpoint where they examine your tickets, you proceed to another long line to go through the metal detectors. After the metal detectors, you go to another line where they take your photograph and you make arrangements for the payment of your on-board charges (everything is paid for with your room key, no cash is used on the ship). Once you finish that part, you are issued your room key, and are allowed onto the ship. Overall, the embarkation process is a hassle, but you know that it is temporary, and soon you will be on a wonderful vacation.
Here are some general thoughts about the cruise experience: As the ship leaves New York and you pass the Statue of Liberty and the Verrazano Bridge, if it is chilly outside you can get a great view of everything from the inside the Spinnaker Lounge on deck 12, all the way forward. You can get extra keys for the rooms. This worked out well for us since our sons were in a separate cabin. We had a key to their cabin, and they had a key to ours.
I brought a quart of my favorite before dinner drink, Grey Goose vodka, in two water bottles. Carried it right on board, no problem.
Our group included two of my brothers and their children, totaling 5 adults and 5 children. The walkie-talkies worked great for us. We had three sets of them and always were able to communicate (with respect for the other passengers) with each other. The ship is so big that you really need some form of communication if you want to meet by the pool or have dinner together. The telephones in the rooms have a ring that is so low that it never woke us if we were sleeping.
BRING A POWER STRIP! We only found one plug in our cabin, and one in the bathroom that was labeled "shavers only". The power strip allowed me to plug in my laptop, walkie-talkie charger, my CD player, cell phone chargers, etc. It was one of the most useful items that we brought.
You can bring your own cigars to the Havana Room. They sell cigars there, but they are pricey. It was a nice place to relax and enjoy a good smoke at the end of a long day.
It is advisable to book your excursions in advance. The lines on the ship at the Excursion Desk are long. Also, some excursions sell out. One of our excursions at the Fountainbleu Hilton was cancelled. When we went to the excursion desk to book an alternate, Deco Pool Party, we were told "Let's see if there is any room available in this excursion". Book early to avoid getting shut out of an excursion that you want. We visited Universal Studios and bought the Standard pass with the intention of upgrading to the Express Pass when we got to the park. We were very disappointed to learn that the Express Pass was sold out when we got there. We used the system that they offer where you get a ticket for an attraction that allows you to return between specific times and go to the Express line. We were able to see 5 or 6 attractions.
Watch for the specials in the Freestyle Daily - there are times when you can get half price drinks in some of the lounges, and the daily will tell you when they are serving certain foods in the Pearly Kings Pub (the chicken pot pie is awesome!).
We have never snorkeled before, but Great Stirrup Cay and the Sea Island Adventure provided us with the most amazing snorkeling experiences. We brought our own snorkeling equipment, but were required to use a vest at Great Stirrup Cay (no charge, but you do have to fill out a form), and a floatation belt in Nassau (again, no charge).
Be sure to be on the first tender to Great Stirrup Cay. You will get the best choice of spots either on the beach or under the palm trees where the hammocks are located. Those spots go fast, and it gets very crowded, so getting on that first tender will give you the best choice on the beach or in the shade. I read an earlier post about bugs or sand flies at Great Stirrup Cay, but did not see any at all. Brought bug spray, but did not use it.
Sea Island Adventure was great, but very brief. The boat ride to the island is fantastic, full of great views of the ships in port, the mansions, the yachts, and beautiful crystal clear blue water. The beach looks like something from a Caribbean post card with hammocks under the palms and plenty of room (not crowded at all). The Nassau stop was only 8am to 1pm, much too short. We would have much preferred to skip Miami and stay another day in Nassau. The Sea Island Adventure could have been a full day.
We never had a meal on the Dawn that was anything less than excellent. Here are my comments on them: The hand sanitizers at the entrance to each dining area are a great idea. Impressions was my favorite for dinner, small, classy, excellent service, and fantastic escargot. We also had two dinners at Aqua (my wife's favorite). We had dinner in the Venetian, one in the excellent atmosphere at Le Bistro, and one dinner at Teppanyaki - very entertaining (especially for the kids and adults that had not been to a Bennihana before), the chefs prepare the food on a grill right in front of you. It was a nice change of pace from the other restaurants on board.
I was up at 6am on most mornings (not a good sleeper), so I would go down to the Blue Lagoon and get a cup of coffee and a Danish and use my yellow highlighter to plan our day from the Freestyle Daily. A full service breakfast is available in the Venetian. From this dining room you get a beautiful view of the wake of the ship (it is located all the way aft), but you also feel the motion of the ship quite a bit. The Garden Cafe offers a buffet breakfast for those that are in more of a rush. In general, all the restaurants took a long time to bring the food. I do not have a problem with that since I enjoy eating a leisurely meal, but others with plans for shows or excursions were impatient with the pace. Book your reservations for La Trattoria and Salsa early. When we tried to get a reservation for either of those restaurants one afternoon, they were booked solid and could only offer a 10pm seating. My brothers had a dinner at Cagney's Steakhouse and they said that the meal was awesome, but it took over two hours to eat their meal.
.The cabin attendants did a great job. There is a rotating display outside each cabin that you can set for â€śDo not disturbâ€ť, â€śWelcomeâ€ť, â€śMake up room nowâ€ť, or â€śTurn down room nowâ€ť. In the evening, your clean towels are placed on the bed with two mints and the towels are folded into the shapes of animals. Very cute touch.
Complaints? I canâ€™t think of anything to complain about that was under the control of NCL. The seas sailing to Port Canaveral on Monday were very rough, and many people were sick from the motion of the ship. My wife took a pill on Sunday night in anticipation, and was not sick at all.
My advice: Donâ€™t sweat the small stuff. No vacation is perfect down to the last detail. When things donâ€™t go exactly the way that you had planned, go with the flow! Some people cannot be pleased no matter how good things are going. If you are flexible and understand what things are in the control of the cruise line and what are not, you can relax and have the best vacation of your life.
If anyone has any questions, I will be happy to answer them to the best of my ability.
Happy Cruising to all!!
Thanks so much for the thorough review! I would like some more info on the Sea Island Adventure - what time did you leave and return to the ship? Exactly how much time on the beach? Was there enough time left over to walk around Nassau? BTW - we are there an extra hour for my sailing in a few weeks!
RCCL Enchantment 7/02
Carnival Glory 8/03
Thanks for taking the time to do the review...You are so right about not sweating the small stuff! We are excited to take this cruise in 5 1/2 weeks yeah! Thanks for the advise of getting off on the upper level. We will definetly keep that in mind.
We met at the gangway with the person that was running the excursion at 9:30am. There is about a 10 minute walk to the boat that takes you to Sea Island. The boat ride must have been about 45 minutes each way. We had about an hour and a half at the beach, but what a beach! Bring a can of Cheez Whiz if you plan to snorkel. The fish love it, but they won't detect it in the water until you squirt some. I forgot to mention that they serve unlimited rum punch from the time you get on the boat till you get off. That made the dance contest during the return a lot of fun! We got off the boat at about 12:45pm. That gave us about 30 minutes to walk around Nassau and pick up some quick gifts.
Let me know if you have any other questions, I will be glad to answer them.
Bob, you mentioned the rough seas going to Port Canveral. Just wondering if you were able to use the pool that day as we weren't the week before, it was cold and windy. Coming back on Sat. the pool was heated to 91, but it was freezing and windy when you came out. But we could still enjoy the day outside.
Your review brings back great memories!
Monarch of the Seas 6/94
Majesty of the Seas 6/96
Norwegian Dawn 4/04
As I recall, there were people in the pool and in each Jacuzzi from the moment we set sail. And yes, freezing and windy on the outside. However, on the return (Saturday) it was very mild outside and the pool party with the reggae band was great!
Thanks so much! You have made the wait for this cruise unbearable! LOL! I was also hoping to get an express pass at the park and now I am scared that I won't get one either. Oh well, I just can't imagine spending close to 150 for an amusement park! Great review!
I enjoyed your review. How busy was Universal (long lines?), how much did the fastpass system cost and how did it work out for you? I am about to order the ExpressPass from NCL but I'm cringing at spending $300 for six hours in the park. Don't want to spend six hours in the park and only do 3 attractions either. Do you recommend purchasing the ExpressPass from NCL?
Also, what day was the Art auction on the ship?
Norwegien Dawn, June 2004
Carnival Festivale, May 1989
Premier SS Royale, March 1986
Hi Bob, Thanks for the great review. You were just full of helpful info. I do have questions -Did you or anyone you know go on the everglade excursion. There is one in Port Canaveral and one in Miami. If so, which one was better? Also, can you book more than one excursion at one port? Do you recommend it? How much time should you allow between excursions? I am sure I will think of more questions. Thanks for your help.
We got several stories as to why they cancelled the Fountainbleu excursion. Since it was a holiday week (Easter), I think it is because the hotel was fully booked and they probably had a convention or two and didn't have the room to accomodate the cruise crowd. The alternative that they offered was supposed to take us to the Ritz-Carlton, but instead took us to the Doubletree in South Beach. It was nice, but not what we had hoped for. The Fountainbleu is gorgeous.
I agree that the Express Pass from the cruise ship is overpriced. All you get is a $10 coupon towards lunch.
Universal was really packed the day that we went there. The line for Shrek was estimated at 120 minutes! Other attractions like Earthquake and Twister were more like 45 minutes to an hour. If you get the Express Pass you fly right through most of those lines without waiting. I recommend the Express Pass because of the limited time at the park. That said, you have to decide if it is worth it for you to pay the cruiseline the extra $$$, and know that you will have the Express pass guaranteed, or if you want to take a chance and try to get the Express Pass at the park. Remember, the bus does not arrive at Univversal until about 11am, by then the park is very busy.
I don't know what day the Art auction took place, I will look at my Freestyle Daily tonight at home and let you know. But I remember that towards the end of the cruise they had a sale of all the art that was not auctioned off.
My brother, his daughter (14) and my son (13) went on the everglade excursion in Miami. The boys LOVED it, and Samantha was not that thrilled. They said that you do get up close and personal with the alligators, and even have a chance to sample alligator meat at the end of the tour! I don't know about the everglade excursion offered in Port Canaveral. I would not recommend booking more than one excursion in each port. To tell the truth, I felt at the end of the cruise that we booked too many excursions and I would have liked to spend more time relaxing on the ship.
Bob, thanks for the great review on the ship. I have a few more questions. First, another post said that the prices went up for the specialty restaurants ($20 for Cagney's, $15 for Le Bistro, etc.), can you confirm this? Also, I was on the Dawn last June and they had a Freestlye pictures package the first two days of the cruise for around $150, I think. Do they still offer this package? I felt that it was a great deal for all of the pictures you get. Finally, you said you were only at Nassau until 1. Is that what time you were scheduled until or did they change that? I can't remember when the change to 2:00 was supposed to take effect. Thanks for taking the time to answer everyone's questions.
Yes. the specialty restaurants did go up. Cagney's was $20 (my brother ate there and raved about it, I didn't want to spend the $80 for the four of us). Le Bistro was $15, but we got the dinner included (along with a bottle of wine) in the Honeymoon Package (which I highly recommend!). I did not see any offer for a photo package, although I just might have missed it.
In Nassau, we sailed at 2pm; they told us to be back on the ship no later than 1:30pm. I suggested on the comment card that they eliminate the stop in Miami and add another day in Nassau.
The more I talk about this cruise, the more I realize how great a time I had with my family and what a beautiful, clean ship the Dawn is!