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Stinger-pr

Stinger-PR's DAWN of an era: A NCL Dawn review (Thanksgiving week 2018)

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55 minutes ago, Stinger-pr said:

Scrip? Could it be that Apple users are experiencing the font different? I was using Comic Sans as font. Do you see script?

Yes, I am seeing a cursive, script font, not Comic Sans. But I will also power thru to read your review!

Thank you. Looking forward to reading more. 

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My guess is that iOS is changing the font to cursive since iOS seems to be the common denominator. I'll stick to not styling the font and keep a darker color then.

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So, hopefully those of you having trouble with the fonts are reading this better. If not let me know to see what else I can change (although at this point it's just size and/or color).

 

As promised, here's what we found at the buffet when we boarded, around 12:30pm:

 

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I was a bit confused because the buns for the burgers were nowhere near this area. They were all the way at the end (or start... depending where you were coming from) of the line. The more logical placement would've been besides the burgers or at the start of the line where the rest of the bread is located, near the salad.

 

 

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Are the fonts any better??

 

Or is it the color that's throwing everything out of whack?? 

 

I'd rather know before continuing so that everyone can enjoy it the same way.

 

 

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Ok... So now that the fonts are fixed...

 

This is what ended up in our plates:

 

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DW had white rice with rotisserie chicken pot roast and some bread. I had chicken and mushroom quesadilla, slow rosted pork belly, pot roast and also some chicken and some muenster cheese. Taste-wise everything was delicious except the quesadillas. They tasted like tortilla and nothing more. No taste from the filling. Everything was at a good temperature except the pot roast. it was cold and even though it tasted good it was tough as a leather belt. It was the only thing neither of us cleaned off the plate.

 

After we were done with out "mains" we headed out to the dessert area of the buffet.

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I ended up getting a chocolate praline cake (very yummy!!) and DW had a passion fruit creme cake (a bit bland).

 

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Sorry no passion fruit creme cake pic...🤔

 

While overall, our first impression (and up until in the end) was that we were quite pleased with the food from the buffet, at least on the days we ate there. BUT… The buffet turned out to be the most inconsistent food area of the cruise and not just on different days, but they weren’t consistent on the same day at different time with the same food!

 

One thing we noticed and liked was the condiment rack. Unlike Carnival where you carry your plate and your silverware, the utensils are already at the table on the condiment rack waiting for you. I did notice that no mayo was offered, even in packets. Eventually I found mayo but it took me literally until the last day to find the darn thing!!

 

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Then around 12:45pm they announced that the rooms were ready!! Wait, what?? Really?? So after we stuffed our bellies we headed to the room and by 1pm we were already looking out our balcony (yes!!)

 

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At first glance we found the room adequate for what we needed (especially considering the age and size of the ship) but upon further inspection we found out that some points could’ve been better. For example: the drawers. There were three drawers located just below the mini fridge and we found them the be on the small side. I mean, we put our miscellaneous stuff on the first drawer, which filled up quickly, and we only had two small drawers left for whatever clothing was NOT to be put in hangers. C'mon! This is soled as a "standard FAMILY balcony" cabin because it holds three persons (with one fold down bed). We were two persons and ran out of storage space quickly for our clothes, I can't imagine what three persons would be like.  

 

Apparently to compensate for this, NCL made some shelves inside the closet. But they were not the pull-out type and if you put clothes there, you have to stack them up and can be a bit difficult to reach if you have other items on the hangers and because they are much deeper than tall. On the other hand, hangers were plentiful with about an equal mix of regular and clip bar hangers.

 

The was just one closet which, again, for a "family" cabin seemed too little but for two it was OK since it was quite wide.

 

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I never quite understood what those shelves on the back of the closet were for since if you have them in the down position, it takes away from the space your clothes will be.

 

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This little cubbie is where the ice bucket is located along with two glasses. We also found the water we ordered tucked away here as opposed to on top of the (admitedly small) desk area like on my trips on Carnival.

 

Open the door over that cubbie and you find that its a combination door for the mini fridge, where the wood door is fixed to the fridge door so when you open/close one, so does the other. That is something we found cool.

 

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The fridge was filled with all kinds of expensive goodies for you to buy. If you take something out and consume it, you will be billed for it, most likely the next day since the room steward takes constant inventory of the contents of the fridge. What we did was that we took everything that was NOT on the door out and put it next to the ice bucket and kept at least two, water bottles (1L each) inside all the time. I wasn't immediate but the fridge did it's job of cooling stuff and keeping it cooled.

 

Drops of Wisdom: The items in the fridge are "pay-as-you-go" and they are NOT included in any of the beverage packages (be it Non-alcoholic, adult beverages, Unlimited Beverage Package, etc).

 

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The room safe was small. Like real small!

 

Here's my wallet inside for size comparison.

 

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This was mostly used to keep our cash, wallets, passports and small valuables. Small point-and-shoot cameras would fit but bigger cameras, tables and laptops would no way fit in there.

 

We found the bathroom to be practical but, it can feel very claustrophobic at times for some. It is divided in three spaces. The toilet has its separate area divided with a sliding door. Me, being 6’3” barely fit sitting so it might be challenge for taller people. In the middle there’s the sink area which was a bit small and lacked maybe more places to put stuff. We were just two in the room and took the whole shelf over the sink with a few things. Again, three or more could make it a very cluttered space. The shower was the highlight of the bathroom. It had ample space and another sliding door which I personally find SO much better than a curtain that ends up dripping water all over the floor outside the shower and sticking to you mid bath...haha. It had a tall ceiling and felt bigger than those I experienced at Carnival Conquest and Fantasy-class ships.

 

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We were surprised to see that the bathroom amenities include a plastic box to dispose of sharp objects that can pose a biohazard, like needles which is especially useful for those with diabetes or other conditions that require needles to treat . I’m not aware that I’ve seen it before but it’s good thinking on NCL’s part to have this little detail.

 

 

 

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Like I said before, this is billed as a family balcony, maybe not because of the space available but because it’s a connecting room. While it looks a bit awkward, the door didn’t take up much away from the room.

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The room also included a weird sofa bed as the sleeping arrangement for the third occupant. This was not the type where the bed folds into the sofa structure but more like a folded up, two piece mattress setup you had to unfold and where the sleeping area laid flat on the floor, not raised. It reminded me of those toddler seats that unfolded into a sleep mat my DD used to have at a certain age. But I found that even those mats were softer than this bed since this one was STIFF! And I do mean stiff. As in “if I slept one night on it I would spend the rest of the cruise in pain” stiff. I can’t imagine a grown adult spending too much time sleeping on a thing like this. And I’m a firm mattress kind of guy but even that was too much for me. Do they put like a foam topper over this or something like that?

 

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The TV became the easiest way of keeping track of our dinner reservations and on board account during the duration of the cruise (you could also keep tabs of your reservations by downloading the Cruise Norwegian app but I have a rant on that later on) . BTW, I forgot to mention earlier that we also had $160 of OBC thanks to the promo NCL had running at the moment we booked so it was another incentive to book with them as opposed to RCL or CCL. Anyway, One of the switches located below the TV controlled the balcony lights and there were some plugs for LAN connection, although I'm sure they are for techs use only. The table was not bolted to the floor so it was handy in case you wanted to pull it up to the bed or sofa to use it.

 

 

We loved the floor-to-ceiling sliding door that accessed the balcony. The view was awesome when the drapes were off to the side but sliding the door itself was sometimes a task. The darn thing is heavy! Sorry but the only picture I took came out really crappy.

 

We heard a knock on the door and were greeted by our steward for the week. His name was Rene and while we didn’t really interact much with him, he always kept our room tidy, clean and we never lacked anything. He always greeted us with a smile when we saw him in the hallway and always asked if everything was to our liking. As usual, we had brought a collapsible cooler so we could have ice in the room but the fact that the mini fridge kept a good temperature and that Rene filled the ice bucket in the room twice (morning and during turn-down) regardless if we used any or not, made us leave the cooler inside our luggage the whole trip.

 

Oh and in case you didn't see it on the first post, we were in room 9196.

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Here are some views from our balcony:

 

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That's the Sheraton Convention Center hotel in the center. Don't be fooled by close it seems to me. It's quite a long walk and there are no sidewalks leading to the pier. You could walk over on the side of the road but it's not smooth asphalt and you'll likely ruin your luggage's wheels on the way.

 

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This next image was taken at 1:10pm. As you can see, the traffic jam has not let up. In fact, we were told by other people we met later on that they took even longer than us to reach the ship due to the traffic jam and they boarded around 3pm. There seems to be a break in the back of the line to the right but they were just cars that were slow to react to traffic moving ahead of them.

 

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At around 1:45 pm we headed out to explore some of the ship and ended up by the pool grill and bar area. Here you got a grill on the left side, the gelato/ice cream and the pool bar on the right. There were not that many people around so we had no trouble ordering and a few minutes later we had our first drinks on hand! We had a Bacardi mojito which had too much sugar, and not much rum and a Mudslide which was made from a pre-made mix. I had bought some stainless steel drinking straws off Amazon but I remember I left them in the room as soon as the drink has put in front of me..DOH!

 

 

A view of the grill area:

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And the bar:

 

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Staff moved quickly most day at this bar, specially since a some of the drinks were pre-mixed which most times made me look for a drink that wasn't.

 

 

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Stinger, we will be coming from the Courtyard Isla Verde, what time would we have to leave to arrive and avoid the bulk of the traffic?  Will a cab driver know your back way to get to the pier?

 

thanks, love the review.  Keep it coming

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Can’t figure out those roll down shelves in the closet either. Buffet looks good.

Cabin looks tiny as do the closets and ( lack of ) shelves. 

Hope you found a bar that didn’t have pre mixed stuff. 

Thank you !

 

 

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Great start to your trip! We've only been on one NCL cruise and it was a 3 day. Interested to see now your week unfolds!

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17 hours ago, VtMac said:

Stinger, we will be coming from the Courtyard Isla Verde, what time would we have to leave to arrive and avoid the bulk of the traffic?  Will a cab driver know your back way to get to the pier?

 

thanks, love the review.  Keep it coming

From what I saw, you are better off going to port during the afternoon, I'd say after 1pm. You see, the problem is that two ships are debarking passengers while people are arriving for the next cruise in a relatively small area with limited access. Taxis that run anywhere between the airport and the docks (what's considered the Tourism area) have a zone based, fixed fare so they don't really have a logical decision to take "the long way" just to jack up the meter. If they think they can take a faster way, they will. But from what I saw, most (if not all) taxis were taking the usual route, not taking a detour to come from the other side.

 

And thanks for reading!

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16 hours ago, meatball_nyc said:

Can’t figure out those roll down shelves in the closet either. Buffet looks good.

Cabin looks tiny as do the closets and ( lack of ) shelves. 

Hope you found a bar that didn’t have pre mixed stuff. 

Thank you !

 

 

Yeah, I never asked the steward what they were for but we never found a logical use for those shelves. Closet was ok if you intend to hang most of your clothes (we did and actually had extra hangers from home) but other storage space left a lot to be desired. Overall cabin size was small but remember this ship was built in 2002 and they weren't really going for big cabins like newer ships with more space.

 

We did find the bars indoors, like O' Sheenan's had better liquor selection and less pre-mixed stuff. Bimini pool bar also had less pre-mixed but also less selection, which is understandable considering the type of bar and the area they are located.

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6 hours ago, FMZ said:

Great start to your trip! We've only been on one NCL cruise and it was a 3 day. Interested to see now your week unfolds!

Thank you!! This was our first NCL cruise and overall it was great! Already planning the next one.

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Day 1 continued...

 

Before I go any further, I want to add something I should've added a while back and that is the Dailies. I know some of you are waiting for them so here you go:

 

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Also, for those interested, here is the shore excursions "menu" with prices, in case you want to compare to independent operators on the islands.

 

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Back to the pool area...

 

Once we had our drinks on hand we continued forward on the outside decks checking out what was around. BTW, I had no problem whatsoever on ANY of the bars and/or restaurants getting alcoholic and non-alchohol drinks two at a time. DW was not at my side every time so it can't be that the assumed the other drink was for whoever was besides me at that moment.

 

Also for those of you wondering, the outside smoking area is located right next to the pool bar on the port (left) side of the ship  and is in an area full of comfy chairs and tables. From what I could observe during the whole week, almost everybody stuck to smoking in designated areas and other than the casino and the immediate surrounding areas and the area close to and (obviously) inside the cigar room cigarette/cigar smoke smell was NOT an issue anywhere else on the ship. Even at the times I was using the balcony, I never once smelled any smoke coming from the front.

 

Here are some views of the pool area:

 

These are the tables in front of the grill area and the back of the pool stage:

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All of the sun loungers forward of the pool are arranged in a stadium-like way. There weren’t really too many loungers poolside so this was the second best spot to spend the day taking in the sun while enjoying the poolside activities later on.

 

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And some shots of Old San Juan on the other side of the bay:

 

That's the Capitol building on the right and San Cristobal Fort on the left way in the back.

 

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The Carnival Fascination was docked on the other side as well.

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Around 2pm, the NCL Jade was making it's entry to the bay.

 

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It's ironic (and kind of sad) that these pictures were taken completely oblivious to the fact that she was limping to port by this time and that everyone onboard was just hour away from taking on the ordeal of having their cruise cancelled and having to make very premature arrangements to make it back home. From what I have read, NCL did as good a job as possible to help everyone during the whole thing and that's commendable.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Since we skipped breakfast and, as a lot of people do, we tend to sometimes over eat while cruising, we decided to try some food elsewhere so we headed out to O’ Sheehan’s.

 

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This place is centrally located on the 8th floor, just above the atrium and it had a good mix of high chairs (Usually for 4 persons), large booths on the windows and two tops (that we found to be really small) along the edge of to the atrium. We got a booth this time but it would end up being the only time that we were sat on one for the duration of the cruise. The pub has two entrances but only has a host, which you need to see to be seated, on the port side. They also had sports on two TVs on either side of the large bar but sports were really random and (at least the times I ate there) was heavily geared towards European guests since the majority of the transmissions were from Europe with the exception of an NFL game here and there.

 

Here's the view we had:

 

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While cruising with Carnival, I always try to take a picture of the whale tail funnel's shadow on the water (something I picked up from another reviewer). I tried it this time as well but I guess NCL's shadows is not as interesting as a Carnival shadow.

 

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Maybe it was because there weren’t much people on the ship yet or everyone was headed for the buffet first like we did but service was lightning fast!!! We sat down at 2:25pm and 10 minutes later we had our order of wings at the table. Everything went down so fast that I didn’t even take pictures of the menu this time (I know I got some, so I guess they'll be up later on).

 

Our go-to item at O’ Sheehan’s were the wings. You order them in batches of 6 but you can order as many batches as you want. All food from this outlet come out on cool wire baskets. We opted for plain, fried wings with hot sauce on the side and they arrived very hot. We would eventually end up tasting most of the varieties on the menu. As you can see, they serve a small amount of sauce (the other one was ranch) but it’s not that bad for the portion you receive. The hot sauce was HOT! But we managed...lol. How you got a beer also varied on the bar or area but I couldn't remember where you got the bottle and where they served on a glass.

 

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After eating we went outside for a while longer before starting to make our way to the back of the ship To the Venetian dining room for our 5pm muster drill.

 

While outside we saw that the Celebrity Equinox was already lining up to dock over in Old San Juan.

 

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If I'm not mistaken she would be the last of a total of 7 ships in port that day. Seven ships!! I had not seen so many ships at the same time in San Juan in a a few years. In total we had the Viking Sun, the Equinox, NCL's Gem and Jade, Carnival Fascination, Royal's Freedom of the Seas and the Dawn. I can't recal there ever been three NCL ships in SJ at the same time EVER!

 

So around 4:30 they started calling everyone to their muster stations so that they could start the drill at the programmed 5 o'clock time. So we ordered another drink and made our way to ours. When we got to the Venetian dining room we saw that there were crew members all over and some had signs with letters corresponding to the stations. You are greeted by a member at the entrance, they sign you in and show you to your station where you sit at one of the fully set up, but covered tables.

 

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They do make all announcements in English and Spanish for muster but they didn't take as long as the ones on Carnival and we never went to our lifeboat, which Carnival does, at least in SJ. Once done, everyone is released at the same time and it created chaos at the exit. You see, the entrance to the dining room lies between floors 6 and 7 (I think it were those floors) and most everyone headed out the main doors towards the stairs that lead directly to the aft elevators, which made for quite the bottle neck. We saw there was a single doorway to the right of the stairs inside the dining room that led to one of the hallways on deck 6 and past all the pandemonium. So we took that exit, kept walking to the central elevators by the atrium and made our way to the pool area for what would be the saddest sail away party I have seen in my infant cruising experience.

 

 

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Actually I got the time wrong. We left O' Sheehan's around 3:30pm and saw the Equinox coming in around 3:45pm. The announcements for the muster drill were at 4pm and the drill itself at 4:30.

 

After the drill we made it to the pool area to find it almost empty. Hold on, where was everybody??? For a moment we thought we read the dailies wrong and that the party was either later or somewhere else. The cruise director Pedro Serra made his way on the pool stage and welcomed everyone (who???) and officially started the... well... party. I don't know if it was because we were not really "sailing away" for another 4 hours or because there were other activities like the Welcome Aboard trivia, the Splash academy and Entourage (for the kids) registration or because the Eagles were playing the Jets (on your room tv!) but there was no interest in the "party". We were so amazed at the turnout that we couldn't stop laughing and feel sad at the same time at the dancers who had the party basically all to themselves. The few in the pool were mostly kids and the ones in the poolside loungers could seem to care less. No one else danced. It really was a sad scene.

 

Just look at all those entertained, fun-filled faces!!!

 

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There were more crew members (including Pedro the Cruise Director in the tan polo on the left) in the dancing area that guests. Eventually Pedro, try as he did, gave up on the thing. He danced and joked for a while with the crew before moving on to his next task.

 

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We had bird's eye view since we had one of the four sunbeds on the upper deck of the pool and simply laid there listening to the music for a while, people watching and having a few drinks (which we had to always get ourselves because not one waiter was anywhere to be seen, except for the poolside area). I started playing with the camera and took this shot:

 

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By the time they relived the dancers out of their misery...err...I mean, by the time the party ended the sun was starting to set so we made our way to the back of the ship to check it out.

 

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Hi there!! Yep, That's us!

 

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Then we made it back to our room, where we were greeted by our luggage. We quickly started to unpack, which as you know by the mentioned lack of storage, was a bit of "where do I put this" kind of play. While DW was taking dibs on the drawers, I went out on the balcony to check around.

 

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They had completed loading everything up on the ship by this time. As you can see, a little over a year after hurricane Maria, there's still damage to be repaired. NCL has supposedly entered into an agreement with PR government to invest in repairing, remodeling and refitting this terminal for their (and their affiliate lines) use and in preparation for the arrival of the Epic for the winter 2019-20 season. 

 

A picture of a sunset over Puerto Rico can't be missing from my review.

 

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He headed for dinner (food again?!?!) around 6pm and headed to the Aqua MDR located in the front of the ship. We arrived around 6:15 and were seated immediately at a requested table for two. It was one of the tables with one chair on one side and the other is just a very long booth. By 6:20pm we had the menu in our hands.

 

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BTW, we liked the decor of the Aqua dining room much better than that of the Venetian. The Venetian was very old school conservative, Victorian-style (with a twist) which dated the ship while Aqua was more modern.

 

 

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We were quickly served a basket of bread, which was hard and cold (as is apparently the norm everywhere on the ship) but had good taste. Our waiter introduced herself (I forgot her name) and asked if we were ready to order.

 

For our apps we both ordered the Bruschetta and, honestly, was basically tasteless. Such a disappointment.

 

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For our mains, I ordered a Grilled New York Strip Steak, medium well, and DW had the Pork Spare Ribs. Both came hot, the steak was cooked as asked and everything tasted very good! DW's only complaint was the size of her portion compared to my steak but other than that, the mains were a hit.

 

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After our delicious main course, we were handed the dessert menu.

 

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I had the Blueberry Cheesecake (which was amazing!!!) with and extra side of vanilla ice cream and DW had the Creme Brule which was almost done to perfection.

 

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So from the time we were handed de menu to the time we were out the door, an hour and 20 minutes had passed. Granted, the dining room wasn't too busy but less than 90 minutes?? What a difference from Carnival where our average dinner time at the MDRs was around 2 hours. Great food and FAST service. If they can keep this up I will be a very happy camper...err...cruiser. 

 

 

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After dinner we decided to take a stroll through some of the places we hadn't been yet and ended up at the atrium bar and wondered where the heck was everybody??? Did this sailing sell so poorly?? I mean, look at the picture below (bad as it is). There weren't that many people at the dining room, O' Sheehans was almost empty, the atrium was almost deserted. Wow. I wasn't expecting that.

 

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So anyway, we ordered up some drinks and headed to the outside promenade. The promenade was very wide and uncluttered. We thought we'd see some chairs and/or loungers around there somewhere but we saw none on either side. What we did see were the lifeboats over our heads.

 

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We hung around here and headed towards the back of the ship through the promenade to see if we could find a place to see the Freedom of the Seas sail away. The promenade shrinks considerably at the end and veers to the sides towards the railings into a kindda narrow hallway that leads to an observation deck on the far back. where we had a great view of the FotS.

 

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You see the lower-most, open deck there in the back? That seemed to be the crew mess hall since it was full of crew members and had a bar and they seemed to have food. If I'd only had my zoom camera! Anyway, exactly at 8pm FotS loosened her mooring lines and started to make preparations to set sail.

 

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You can see the rest of the ships crowding the bay in the background before the parade started by FotS.

 

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Once she was on her way, we made it back to the room because we were due to sail in a few minutes and since the "sail away party" was sooooo much fun (insert sarcasm), and our day had already been so long we were kindda beat we decided to watch our departure from our balcony.

 

And at exactly 9pm, we loosened our own mooring lines and inched away from the dock.

 

IMG_0360-M.jpg

 

Contrary to the FotS, we docked nose first so we had to back all the way to the center of the bay in order to make the turn around and head out. While we were on our way there, the Fascination had already pulled out of her berth and was making her own turn behind us.

 

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As we turned, I caught my first glimpse of the rest of the ships in SJ, which had sail times as late as 11pm (Equinox). This would be the only time I set up my tripod to try to get a time-lapse video of us exiting the bay past all the other ships. So I set it up along with my Apeman (GoPro clone), which I had hooked to a power bank. But I fumbled the settings so bad that it was taking one picture every 5 minutes and it was so dark it came out too fast and looked horrible. Ugh!! First camera fail!! Thankfully I had my other camera in hand.

 

 

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IMG_0369-M.jpg

 

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Little did I know that by the time I took this picture they were about to inform their guests that their cruise was essentially over and that they needed to start preparations to leave the ship for impromptu hotel stays or last minute flights home.

 

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Partly due to hurricane Maria and part due to the a big waves event we had back in April that partly destroyed Paseo de la Princesa, the old City Wall below La Fortaleza was not lit up and made for a bit of a sad picture when we passed since we have always seen it with lights. Currently you can walk through but part of the walls dividing the pathway from the water is till missing and temporarily replaced by plastic barriers.

 

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I just can't seem to get a decent picture of El Morro while sailing past it at night. Hmmm....need a better camera with a bigger, more sensitive sensor, maybe?? haha...

 

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A few minutes after exiting the bay I noticed something I've never seen before. They turned off ALL the lights that shine down to the water on the side of the ship so there was no looking at the passing wake for us. The promenade remained lit up and you can turn on your balcony light if you want but we didn't. Before we left cell signal coverage for good made some calls home to our kids and family. We noticed that the parade of ships had continued after us since the NCL Gem had made it's way out behind us. So 4 ships sailed within 90 minutes of each other. For those on land, it must've been quite a show.

 

At that does it for Day 1. I'll be back later with our sea day, and a tour of (most) of the ship.

 

If you're still doing so, Thanks For Reading!!

Edited by Stinger-pr

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We were on the Dawn 10/26/18-11/9/18. What a great cruise. Will miss this ship out of Boston. How many passengers are aboard your cruise. It looks like a ghost town.

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