This was my first Norwegian cruise and it was great. Embarkation from NYC was, as usual, a bit hectic. We arrived at 12:15 and were sent up to the mezzanie level where they provided refreshments, banana bread and small sandwiches. After going through security I was sent to the "Wine" desk. I had brought 2 bottles of champagne and 1 bottle of wine along with me as I was willing to pay the $15 per bottle corkage fee. I was allowed to bring it onboard without a fee as long as I kept it in my room;I was very happy.
Our stateroom was clean but unfortunately not vacuumed (mechanical problems with the vac). The following day all was taken care.
Diner was superb at all the restaurants, Aqua being our favorite. We did not eat at LeBistro nor at Cagneys but had friends who did and enjoyed it tremendously. Our midnight stop was the Blue Lagoon (great fries and buffalo wings). I suggest you make your specialty rest. reservations early.
The shows were fun, especially Bart Rocket, the magician. Bollywood was ok but not fantastic. Now the cruise director, Colin Kerr is extremelyfunny and cares very much about his passengers.
We were hit by a storm (more wind, high seas but no rain)on our return home. The Captain handled that marvelously, keeping us updated on our possible delay and weather conditions. We were onboard an extra day (Mother's day). Colin made sure our day was full of fun things to do. It was unfortunate that the one day Mother's Day cruise was cancelled, but we were grateful to arrive safely. Kudos to the staff, the Captain and to all who made our Mother's day special.
Debarkation was the worse I've experienced but then it was my first NCL. My husband and I look forward to many more pleasant sailings with NCL.
Embarkation was an absolute nightmare. We arrived about 12:45 to find a sea of people standing in one huge room. There were no signs directing us so we assumed we should just join the crowd. I understand that there was a problem with the ship being late and that the passengers had to debark before we could begin our embarkation, but I feel they could have made announcements explaining the problem. After 2 ½ hours we finally were directed to the next room to check in.
The ship is beautiful and immaculate. Sailing out of New York past the Statue of Liberty was absolutely thrilling. After watching the skyline of NY disappear we went inside. My husband & I were sharing an oceanview stateroom with our daughter and my son & his wife had an interior stateroom. Our room was supposed to have a sofa bed and two twin beds made into a queen. There was no sofa bed so my daughter slept on the bed that pulls down from the wall and we left the beds as twins to give her room to climb in & out. The stateroom hasgood storage space and drawers, but the bathroom only has one small shelf to keep anything on. There is a safe and a refrigerator in the room. There is also a kettle with a supply of tea bags and instant coffee, which I loved.
Dining: We ate in the Venetian dining room one night. It was very good. The service was wonderful. It's a beautiful room. We ate at Salsa. It's the Tex-mex restaurant. There is no extra charge but you do need reservations. Everyone enjoyed the meal and the service was very good.
Our favourite was La Trattoria, the Italian restaurant. You will need a reservation, but there is no cover charge. Our waiters were Tudor and Mike. They were a lot of fun and the food was excellent.
We ate in the café a lot. The food was good, but I found there weren't enough "plain" choices for me, for example, when it was Cajun night the food was ALL Cajun.which I don't care for unfortunately. I would have appreciated a little more ordinary variety. The NY deli for lunch was great!
The best thing about all the dining venues is the hand sanitizer stations everywhere. I really appreciated knowing that all the people handling utensils etc. before me had cleaned their hands.
Staff & Crew:
They were friendly and helpful. I found many of them a little reserved which surprised me, but they were very nice if you said hello or talked to them first. Perhaps they were just tired and looking forward to the drydock they were going into right after our sailing.
We didn't see a lot of it, but really enjoyed Bollywood, and the ventriloquist/comedian was hilarious!
All of this is of course my own opinion and I'm sure thousands will love NCL and freestyle cruising. Bottom line I think it just isn't right for us. On RCCL we were treated like gold from the moment we stepped into the terminal at the port. I admit I like being spoiled and freestyle is just a little too "free" for me I suppose. I want to sit in the dining room and be pampered by the waiter who knows us by name & the assistant waiter that brings me my cup of tea as soon as I sit down. And on the nights we don't want to change I'll go eat in the Windjammer Café.
Embarkation was fairly easy once I got permission to bring my oversized carry-on with all my medications in it with me. One tip, is to arrive early so you're first on line and can enjoy the rest of your day on the ship while others embark. We arrived at 10:30 am for 4pm depart, but they allowed us to board somewhere around 12. While we enjoyed lunch onboard, we watched hundreds of late arrivers waiting on long lines to go through customs. For the wait in terminal lobby, NCL had stewards serving us coffee, OJ etc. We were in a mini suite on Deck 11, which we got at a great price. The room exceeded my expectation. The bathroom was roomy with a tub & shower and separate toilet and sink area. Housekeeping staff were like invisible psychics. We would leave the room for a short time and when we returned it was cleaned. Same in the evening with the beds being turned down. There was ample storage, all behind closed doors, unlike some of their other rooms. The bed was king size and sofa queen with a curtain inbetween. My 2 kids loved it! The balcony was large with 2 chairs and a table.
The best thing was the freestyle dining with 10 places to eat to choose from. The service in all the restaurants was impeccable. Everyone treated you like you were royalty. We rarely had to wait, and often we had a party of 12. Venetian, Aqua and Impressions were our favorites even over the cover charge restaurants. It is wise to make reservations if you can, it's easy and there's a button on the phone.It takes 2 seconds. The food was just as good as most restaurants here on Long Island and often better. Some desserts were to die for, especially the ones with the long names. The poolside BBQ's offered great BBQ fare with a good variety of toppings. My one complaint was beverages. Myself and my kids are not soda drinkers and while juice was available during breakfast it was hard to find after that. The kids program was excellent. The staff treated them well and always had fun activities planned. They offer an after hours service at a fee that we utilized a few times. The kids pool area was so much fun we often hung out there with them. They have a hot tub there so the adults can hang out in that and watch the kids at the same time, or you can go on the slide into the kiddie pool which is what I did.
The evening entertainment in the alternate lounges and bars was somewhat boring to me, but I did see other people enjoying it. I would have liked some more dancing places. The main theater had some good comedy acts and Bollywood which is like Cirque del Sole which were good. The dance rave was so-so.The bingo was expensive to play. The art auction was interesting to watch. They have a movie theater which I wanted to go to but the scheduling of movies always seem to conflict with something else. The scheduling needs some fine tuning with alittle more fun activities. We went on the catamaran excursion in St. Martin and had a blast! The only problem, we didn't get to see St. Martin. On all the other islands except Tortola we went on our own which was fairly easy. We took the ferry excursion to Virgin Gorda in Tortola and it was gorgeous but rushed because it was the last port and we had to be back by one. They should do this awsome island in the middle so people can spend more time there.
The greatest thing I can say about the NCL Dawn is service, service, service! Our vacation was fantastic. Disembarkation was easy as well, no nightmare like I've heard. But we were traveling with seasoned cruisers who knew the ins and outs and prefer NCL out of all the lines they have been on. Happy sailing!
This is my review on the 11/7/04 NCL Dawn 11 day cruise. First some background. My husband and I (late 30's) traveled with my parents. Each couple had a cat. BA verandah on deck 10, midship. (We had booked a BB guarantee and with this unique itinerary, prices never fell and I bet upgrades were not given as often as on the seven day itinerary, as the ship was full with the prime categories selling out well before the cruise date.) My parents have cruised extensively, and my husband and I have been on several cruises on Disney, Princess, Premier, Carnival, HAL etc. Basically between the four of us, the only line in this level that we haven't been on is RCCL. I have to start by saying, NCL totally exceeded our expectations in all areas. This experience was close to what cruising was years ago before it became cheaper and more mainstream. I am hard pressed to find anything to actually complain about, as any of the imperfect parts of this cruise were really not of any major issue. Let me get the negatives out of the way soI can concentrate on what an excellent experience the entire vacation was.
First, the cleanliness of the stateroom was not up to par. This wasn't a glaringly obvious problem, but I did notice it. I think if the head of the housekeeping department went into a cabin and did the things a passenger would normally do, they would realize these issues. For instance, there where smudges on the wall in front of the toilet (from people hitting their heads when getting up from the thing in the tiny room apparently, but more on that later). One would not notice this (or the dirt collecting in the corners of the door sill from the bathroom into the room) unless they were sitting on the toilet, and I doubt housekeeping has done that in a passenger room. Also, some surfaces had dust. Again, not a major thing, but it was noticeable and I mention it because in most other aspects, NCL was so attentive to detail, and this was a deviation from that. Secondly, the rooms are the tiniest in this category that I have seen. The room we were in had a queen bed plus the pull out full size couch. To utilize the couch as a bed, the people sharing the room would have to be extremely comfortable with each other, and extremely close, literally. There would be maybe a foot of space between the bed and couch in this configuration, and getting outside when the couch was open would be impossible. One thing that seems to add to the smallness of the rooms is the inordinate amount of furniture in them. There is the bed(s), couch, a night table, vanity chair, desk like table, chair and coffee table. The bruises from walking into all that furniture will heal long before my happy memories of the trip fade, but it was odd to have all that in such a small room. The storage space is probably similar to other lines, but is in such weird places that it seems much less. There is only one closet, but there were two pull down shelves in it. There were numerous shelves, but they were all high up and most were exposed. Most passengers wouldn't want to spend eleven days staring at their underwear on one shelf and their toiletries on the shelf beneath the coffee table for the whole trip. There is a set of shelves inside the closet, but they are very difficult to get to, especially when one utilizes the closet to hang clothing and store luggage. (Luggage will fit under the bed, but even without it being in the closet, one must twist and push their way into the closet to get to those shelves.) Since they are directly behind the door, I am assuming the designer didn't want a front facing door (separate access outside of the closet) for them since the door from those shelves would hit the door to the room. But in reality, any door, closet or bathroom, being open hits the room door anyway. That being said, we managed for the eleven days and adjusted to the space and storage issues quickly. The only other negative I can think of is the lack of variety and quality of the Garden Cafe (buffet area) food. But, because food is available in so many different venues at basically all times of the day and night, that negative is practically canceled out. In fact my scale says it was definitely not an issue ; ) EMBARKATION: We lucked out and hit no traffic into the city from Long Island despite it being NYC Marathon day. We arrived to the terminal at about 11:30 and by one ish had unpacked and eaten lunch. There was only one other ship in port, so that probably made things easier for our embarkation as well. DECOR AND LAYOUT: The ship is tastefully decorated and although it is quite large, its effective and unique use of space makes it feel much more intimate. For instance, the grand atrium stretches the entire height of the ship and is, well grand, but the actual areas that are configured on each of the floors around the atrium make it seem less imposing. When utilizing these areas (e.g., the Internet Cafe, Salsa, etc.) one feels as if they are in a distinct space and not hanging out in the open vast lobby. The layout makes sense with the restaurants basically being in one general area and flowing into bar areas. One does not need to walk through the casino to get to another area (although passing by it is required to get to the lower level of the main theater, and the smoke issues are apparent). Public bathrooms are abundant and logically placed. The theater and cinema have excellent sight lines, and each public room has its own distinct ambiance. For instance, Spinnaker's Lounge has fun and funky chairs and couches, while the area near Bamboo, the Japanese restaurant has an Asian decor. The promenade is fun to walk along even when one doesn't have the beautiful ports to look at, as the walls have been painted in Trompe L'oil style to illustrate whatever ship area abuts that spot on the inside. The "hanging" pots of petunias painted around the lamps are particularly charming. Here are some tips. If your room does not have a pocket map of the ship in the info materials, get one at the reception desk. Also if you don't want to spend your vacation trying to figure out how to get back to your room, look at the (Andy Warhol) print on the staircases and note which side the title plaque is (for aft and forward staircases) or what side of Marilyn Monroe's mole you are on (midship stairs). ROOM AND ROOM ATTENDANTS I already described the problems with the rooms so I will get into more general things here. The bathroom is divided into three areas, toilet with a sliding door and shower with another sliding door (yes door, NOT curtain!!) with the sink in between. Unless you are an elf or small child, you won't be closing the door to the toilet partition, so here's another tip. If you need that extra inch or two you can have the room attendant remove that door altogether. The wall will still be there, but you will bump your legs and elbows much less often. There is only one small shelf over the sink area and a small area for bottles and such in the shower. Bathroom storage space is at a premium. The liquid soap in the sink dispenser smelled of almonds and was wonderful. Unfortunately the shower gel and shampoo where no where near as delightful. I asked reception for a bar of soap and two oatmeal soap bars were delivered within minutes. The shower pressure is probably not as good as most home showers, but it was certainly adequate, and to be honest, not being molested every night by a shower curtain made me think if NCL decided to have monkeys tinkling out of the shower nozzle, I would overlook that as well, since just having a real shower door made me ignore every other bathroom issue. Here is a hint. If you are used to bath sheets at home, grab a clean pool towel each day to use after your shower. The room attendants (they work in pairs or groups as a team) were great. They were incredibly unobtrusive and efficient and on the rare occasions that we actually saw them, where genuine and sincerely interested in making sure they were doing their best to make our vacation enjoyable. We had fun seeing the towel animals every night as well. The balcony had a small table, a regular chair and a chair with a reclining back. There was ample room to move around with minimal shuffling of the furniture. It was too chilly to use the balcony the first and last nights, but all the other days it was comfortable. The bed...the bed...let me say the bed was incredibly inviting considering it was not my own. I loved how NCL used fluffy duvets instead of a top and bottom sheet and thin ugly blanket. It was very hard to leave that bed each morning...but of course we did for the FOOD I can't mention the food without mentioning the instant hand sanitizer stations. Anywhere that food could be served (even in the casino due to the late night snacks offered there) there were motion activated waterless soap stations. I can't remember hearing of any Norwalk scares involving NCL, and that is very much due to those sanitizers. (Even the kids club requires all children to use them on entering and leaving the area.) I already mentioned the lack of variety on the buffet. After the first few days, we stopped having lunch and concentrated on the breakfast buffet instead, since that ran till 11:30 on port days and noon on sea days. There was always a toast section and an omelet and waffle section. Besides the usual breakfast fare, there was other items like corned beef hash or blintzes to chose from. They alternated between offering French toast and pancakes, and even the flavor of pancakes varied. Bagels, cream cheese and lox where also available. Be aware that the lunch buffet does include a "New York" deli. It was New York in the sense that it did have pastrami, but the portion size of the meats that were served were not like in the Carnegi deli. Also, further down the deli buffet line fresh bacon was always available so you could make yourself a BLT. (Although, I did get quizzical looks from the staff each time I asked for toasted white with lettuce tomato and mayonnaise and nothing else.) There is also always a vegetarian buffet at lunch which was always a (pretty varied) selection of Indian food. Since we like Indian food we did try this on occasion, and although it was tasty, Carnival did better with this genre. The buffet desserts where hit and miss but there was an ample selection. There was little variety though. When not serving lunch or dinner, the Garden Cafe served afternoon snacks or late night snacks. From 3:00 till 5:30 they served what most lines call "tea." Small sandwiches, quiche, another hot dish and fresh baked scones with cream and current preserves where available. The scones where very good. You could always get fresh cookies and hot dogs and hamburgers in the Garden Cafe. The late night snacks were similar with the addition of an "Oriental soup area" which featured a staff member making ramen noodle soup with whatever you liked added to it. (The end of the veggie buffet line at lunch also offered this.) Fresh fruit was available at all times with meal times featuring a staff member carving melons and pineapple to order. We only ate dinner in the Garden Cafe once, and it was just okay. Walking by on other nights revealed that they basically had similar items to what the main restaurants where serving. Hot coffee, varied teas and Hot cocoa as well as ice water, (unsweetened) iced tea (Vanity brand concentrated if anyone wants to know, but I couldn't tell it wasn't fresh brewed), skim and regular milk are available at all times in the Garden Cafe. Breakfast time offers cranberry, grapefruit, orange and apple juice as well. Other less formal venues include the Pearly Kings pub which offered lunch or dinner-time fish and chips and occasional entrees such as roast beef and Yorkshire pudding or beef and kidney pie. They also have a popcorn machine and generally have fresh popcorn available at movie and show times. The Blue Lagoon is open twenty-four hours and provides waitress service of basic fast food type items. We ate lunch there on embarkation day, and at another time my Mom tried the Won Ton soup and enjoyed it. The Bimini Bar (all the way at the top of the bleacher type seating by the pool) offered hot dogs and hamburgers as well as tasty marinated grilled chicken breast. Then there were the BBQ's. When NCL says pool side BBQ, they mean BBQ in the true giant charcoal burning, Webber kettle BBQ grill type of way. In fact, there really is no need for the Bimini Bar's food, so it doesn't matter that it is so far from the pool. There was a BBQ on deck every day. On sea days, it was typically during lunch time, and on port days it was at sail away. There was always chicken, ribs, hamburgers and hot dogs, all quite tasty. They sometimes added other choices like sausage, and one day they were grilling mussels for a paella station. Caribbean night featured an additional BBQ during late night snacks that offered grilled steaks. They also had fresh fruit and chocolate fondue that night. I still dream of all that liquid chocolate The chocoholic buffet looked better than it tasted, but it was a good time to see the skills of the chefs decorating with food. Hard ice cream with varied sauces and toppings was basically available from noon till midnight. You could also purchase Hagen Dazz bars. The soft serve machine was still not in use during our cruise. Here's a tip. If you (or your child...or husband) must have chocolate milk, add some of the always available chocolate syrup by the ice cream station to your glass of milk. The room service menu was limited, but they will substitute available items if you ask. The one time we ordered, the food arrived quickly, was well presented and tasty. We did not eat in any of the restaurants that charged a cover, but I do want to mention that Bamboo offers an all you can eat Sushi dinner (and sometimes lunch) for only ten dollars. They have a conveyer belt, and you take what you like as it passes. People who are familiar with those types of restaurants from years ago in the city may enjoy that. The only alternative restaurant we tried was Salsa. We attempted to get a table without a reservation but they would only do that very early or very late. The food there was very, very good. The Sangria was good too, and they had pitchers ($25.00) of both red and white. Don't be scared off by the line in the menu that says "ask your server about the hot and cold tappas selection." These Spanish appetizers vary from night to night, and the server will bring you a plate of all the varieties for the table to share. They also offer a sampler plate including all the regular appetizers, so you don't need to choose just one. The food was as good or better than any Tex-Mex restaurant I have been to, and if the idea of that type of food scares you off, they even have meat loaf on the menu. We ate dinner at around 7:00 to 7:30 each night and ate in Aqua most nights. The first time we went there because there was a twenty minute wait at Impressions and the Venetian for our party of four. We did try the Venetian one night, but because of the location, motion and vibration is more pronounced in that area, so although the food was fine, we opted to not eat there again. We found that Impressions always had a wait of about twenty minutes at those times, and the one night we decided to wait for a table since we did want to try that restaurant, their estimate of twenty minutes took closer to forty. The food there was fine as well. Although a main reason we kept going back to Aqua was the lack of a wait, it was equally due to how much we enjoyed the wait staff there. Aqua is entirely staffed by women (actually that is a lie, there is one male in management), and the women who work there spoke to us about enjoying that. We found they worked well as a team and as with all the staff we encountered were genuine and willing to do whatever they could to make our meals pleasant. Aqua and Impressions are the only restaurants that share a galley. There was not one night where we didn't empty the bread basket of the special roll for the night and requested more. The European butter was so much better than what we have at home. There was always a varied selection of appetizers and soups with one type of special salad and a plain salad offered each night. The cold soups were usually great and on the nights that they were too different for my taste, I was still glad I did get to try them. The apple bisque was by far the best cold soup I have ever had. Dinner usually featured two fish or seafood selections, a pasta selection and a beef selection. I found it curious that poultry was not available on the menu most nights. In fact, in all eleven days it appeared once as duck and twice as chicken breast. (If you must have chicken, supreme of chicken breast is available every night, but I never tried that.) Turkey did appear often as an alternative selection in the "taste of section" usually as part of a pasta dish. I am usually a poultry eater, and while I did miss having a different chicken or game bird choice available each night like most cruise lines offer, I found the beef to be excellent every time I had it, and always cooked as I had ordered it. The vegetables and accompanying side dishes were obviously fresh and thought out, not just thrown together and pre-plated like many lines are doing these days. There was always a vegetarian entree, and on many occasions we ordered this or the pasta entree to share with the table. In general, those dishes were excellent as well. The only not so good meal in the dining room was Italian night. The menu finally had chicken (parmigiana) but the sauce was so bland and fake tasting that I didn't enjoy it. There was never a problem getting seconds (and thirds and fourths for some members of our party on lobster night) or getting a second entree. The desserts where pretty good in the dining room. Most nights I had to try more than one (or two or three). There was some sort of souffle each night except for the last night, and cherries jubilee and baked Alaska (the best I have had on a cruise so far) did make an appearance. Optional formal nights (first and third sea days) featured a petit four selection for the table, although these small pastries where not all that tasty. ACTIVITIES We didn't really go to many activities, but could see from the Freestyle Daily's that they were varied and offered throughout the day. We did watch some of the game show activities on TV after they took place, and they seemed amusing. Arts and crafts was available practically every day, but we only went once and the craft (flower combs) was really not that thrilling. There were many classes (some for an additional small fee) offered in the fitness center. Yoga, pilates, spin, etc., was often offered, and a plus to this compared to other lines is that there was usually a class offered in the afternoon or evening instead of just early mornings. The fitness center has a lot of equipment with many treadmills, bikes, (a whole separate spin studio) free weights, weight machines, elliptical trainers, etc. It is open twenty-four hours, so it's hard to come up with an excuse to not keep up your routine if you are used to going to the gym at home. I went one night and used the treadmill, but found it was difficult to stay balanced on it due to the movement of the ship. I did use the indoor lap pool, hydrotherapy pool and indoor hot tub in the spa, and they were great. CASINO There are nickel slots as well as the higher denomination slots, and the usual video screen slots. The casino was very smoky, but aren't they all. Some lines do have a non smoking section, but the casino seemed too small to accommodate that. NCL says their slots are certified 95% payouts. We generally broke even, but one member of our party did win on the quarter machines. ENTERTAINMENT So many people give the Jean Ann Ryan Company shows such high ratings, that I was excited to see what all the buzz was about. The first two shows left me wondering if I was missing something because I was just not so impressed. Three productions shows were offered. The first was Music of the Night, a tribute to Andrew Lloyd Webber. It started out great with familiar show tunes that got the audience interested, but then seemed to fizzle out with songs from mostly unfamiliar musicals like Starlight Express and Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. The second production show was "South Beach Rave." All of us in my party had a hard time seeing the plot to this show which was basically a bunch of Latin tunes thrown together. I was awfully confused when they did an operatic version of Stings "Roxanne." For those first two shows, I felt that although the singing was technically accurate, it wasn't exceptionally pleasing. The dancing however was great. I also have to mention that my party was divided on opinion regarding the singing. Cruise lines show the same production shows generally for six or seven years before having new ones, due to the high cost of the sets and computer programs that run the lighting and effects. Based on the high school like sets and lack of any special effects for those first two shows, I was baffled as to where all that money for the production shows had gone. It obviously all went to the last show, "Bollywood." This show was phenomenal, and coming from a Disney cruise line addict, that is a true compliment. Do not miss this show. In fact, you may even want to see both showings of it. It features gymnastics, contortionists, belly dancing and even trapeze and rope dancing (similar to Cirque de Soile). What the cast was able to do despite the eight to twelve foot seas we were experiencing that night was amazing. I can't describe how much fun it was to watch this show, so just make sure you see it for yourself. We found that the shows on the alternative nights were quite good compared to other lines. The comedian (Dave Heenan) was consistently funny at all his shows as was the comedic magician (Ed Alonzo). The Juggler (Jeff Bradley) was pretty amusing, but the ventriloquist (Philip Hughes) seemed to do the same basic act that any other ventriloquist I have seen does. We did not go to two shows, a violinist show and a trumpet show. We did see the trumpet player at the last variety show, and he was very good. PORTS To my husband and I, a cruise is generally about the journey and not the ports, so I didn't go on any excursions, and he only went on the helmet dive in St. Thomas. (He loved it.) But since this was such an unusual itinerary, I have asked my Mom for her feedback about the ports since mine is limited to my getting off the ship and walking around a bit just to say I was there. I won't get into St. Thomas since most cruises go there. Antigua was a really pretty island but it was similar to other Caribbean islands with people chasing you around to try and get you to take their taxi or let them braid your hair. Mom says she found out that the sugar export they rely on hasn't been going as well as in the past, so they are trying to focus more on tourism and be more like St. Thomas. In Barbados you have to take a free shuttle around the boat basin to get to the port where there are the usual Diamonds International and Colombian Emerald shops. Mom says that if you plan to buy flowers in the port area, order them on the way to your excursion and pick them up on the way back to the ship, or all the pretty ones may be gone. They were reasonable, being only $1.00 for each exotic stem, and since Barbados is early in the trip, even though you can't bring them with you into NY, you can enjoy the flowers for most of the cruise. We did go to Grenada and were one of the first ships returning to the island after the hurricanes. The devastation was obvious with so many of the usual tiled roofs now consisting of blue tarps. Building damage was still apparent, and the pier was not able to be used causing us to tender. We could see that the island had been beautiful prior to all this devastation, so it was kind of sad. They do need tourists there to spend money. Sadder still is that the spice plants they relied on for export were destroyed and many varieties take many years to reestablish themselves. We did buy a bunch of straw baskets filled with different spices, especially nutmeg. Dominica was very pretty and unspoiled with the people of the island being very pleasant with an innocence not seen in all the other over visited ports. The guide on my Mom's tour had a lot of fun telling riddles on the ride back, and she did also say that this island relies on export of different agricultural crops, mainly to England. Tourism is a secondary money maker here, and the island is better off financially than most. Tortolla is another unspoiled island, and many people on our cruise were talking about wishing we had longer time in that port since we left at only 1:00. DISEMBARKATION We arrived in NY a half hour early, yet disembarkation didn't start until 10:15. We were joking that maybe it was because there was a very confused agriculture beagle wandering around customs dazed at smelling all the spices in everyone's luggage from Grenada. (BTW, the spices are legal to bring in.) We didn't check luggage so we just walked right off the ship as soon as the first group was called. NCL doesn't make mention of this being an option, but if you are able to pack light, you may want to try this. We were in our van on the way home by 10:30 ish. SUMMARY My husband is calling this the best cruise ever, and all four of us checked off "definitely" on the comment card question, "would you cruise NCL again." I was amazed at how much this cruise exceeded my expectations. The crew was certainly a big part of that. Everyone worked together, and you could tell they were friends, too. Management was very involved and highly visible, yet it was obvious that staff members were treated with respect and that everyone enjoyed doing their jobs. NCL says every employee uses a model in doing their jobs called "STYLE." It stands for "service, teamwork and 'yes' lead to excellence," and they are so on target with that and went out of their way to accomplish that goal. Freestyle cruising is a great thing, and that word is a great description of our cruise. It was laid back enough and free enough for us to really mellow out and relax yet exciting enough to keep my short attention span amused. Even without the unique itinerary, this would have been an A+++ cruise.
My husband and I sailed on NCL Dawn for the second time. This time with our 4 grandchildren. Their first cruise and they were amazed. Overall experience was great however we had to wait too many times on long lines to get into the Venetian and Aqua restaurants. Also tried making reservations for Cagney's, a specialty restaurant and it took three days to get one, again waiting on a long line.
The shows are the best we have ever seen. The Jean Ryan Company are all very talented. Two of the grandchildren joined the Kid's Crew programs and enjoyed the many activities they offered. We are planning on going again in the future.
Background -We are a couple in our mid 40s who sailed on the Norwegian Dawn 6/13 sailing with our two daughters, ages 11 and 14. It was our eighth cruise, but first in 10 years. Overall the cruise was very good. Most of the problems encountered were not the fault of NCL or the crew, but due to a few other passengers. The only reservations that we would have about sailing the Dawn again are fear of similar passenger behavior (again only a few).
Embarkation - We took NCL bus 3 to the pier. The bus leaves Harrisburg PA and picks up passengers in Allentown along the way. It was a comfortable 54 passenger bus that was completely full. There were passengers on the bus for the Dawn cruise and the Norwegian Crown Bermuda cruise. The bus arrived at the Crown pier at 12:05, dropped off the Crown passengers and luggage and arrived at the Dawn pier at 12:15.
We claimed our luggage, left it with a porter, and got into queues that looked endlessly long. However, they moved moderately well. We boarded the ship at 1:05. There was juice andwater while waiting. Overall, I would rate it as a B.
The NYC cruise terminal is vastly inferior to the terminals in Miami and Port Canaveral. However, I understand that it will have a much needed upgrade.
Cabins - Deciding to go for space over a view, we booked two inside guarantee cabins. We were assigned to two cabins on deck 5 midship. The cabins were identical. They were small, but very functional and nicely laid out. The cabin was adequate for 2, but accommodating 4 would have been overwhelmingly cramped.
Each cabin had two lower beds that could be pushed together for two. There was a small TV, small refrigerator, hot pot with instant coffee and tea, a hair dryer and a small safe. The bathroom was a good size for a cruise ship, especially the shower, which was larger than usual. The sink faucet was like a kitchen sink faucet, which was nice. WARNING: The hot water is very HOT. Be careful. Closet space was adequate, but drawer space was a little lacking. There were shelves in the closet for short, polo shirts, etc.
Our cabin steward was a young woman from the Philippines. She was quiet, but very nice and quite courteous. We only saw her a few times, but she did a good job.
Public Areas - The Dawn is a beautiful ship, clean, and well maintained. The atrium is impressive and the public rooms are very nice, not overdone. There was a very nice library, card room, and game room on deck 12. There is also a cinema for movies. It is far better than watching a movie on the small cabin TV. The lounges were also very nice. The Stardust Theatre was the best that I have seen on a cruise ship, despite the fact that I do not like the color purple. The theatre is on decks 5 through 7 front and has over a thousand seats. All have good sight lines. The only improvement that I could think of is cup holders in the seats for drinks.
The pool areas were the only place on the ship where I felt crowded for me. However, we are not sun worshipers, so this is not a problem. We prefer to lounge in shady areas. Sun worshipers can find more relaxed areas on decks 13 and 14 front. The kid's pool is very good.
The fitness center was excellent. It had very nice equipment and enough of it so there was never a wait to get on a piece of cardio equipment. There were plenty of towels and a water fountain with cups. There was a room for spinning classes and a room for other exercise classes. The fitness center staff ranked with the best that I have seen on land. The classes could challenge all levels and were very well done.
Kid's Program - We registered the girls upon embarkation, but they showed no interest in the program. They spent almost the entire week with us, so I can't comment. We did purchase a "teen passport" with 20 coupons for non alcoholic drinks ($34.50). It's the best deal on the ship. The smoothies, etc. are about $4.50 each. We bought another for our younger daughter.
Shore excursions - We went into all ports on our own.
Ports of Call
Weather was great all week except for wind and clouds when leaving NYC and a brief (5 minute) shower on GSC. Seas were fine. I did not see any problems with motion sickness.
Port Canaveral - Rented a car from Hertz and drove to Kennedy Space Center and had a great time. There's too much to do. Don't pay extra for the maximum access pass because you won't have time to do the extra stuff in a single day. It will take 2 days to see everything. The maximum access pass can be used on two consecutive days. We also went to Ron Jon surf shop in Cocoa Beach.
Miami - Took a taxi ($16.50 fare) to South Beach (10th street). Nice beach but we did not go into the water because of Sea Lice and Jellyfish warnings. If you have kids please note that there are topless sunbathers. We then walked around the South Beach area to look at the architecture and stores. We then took a bus to Bayside Marketplace. It's an interesting mall on the bay, but the stores can be found at your local mega mall, except for a few touristy stores. We had lunch and took a taxi ($5.50) back to the ship. Personally, I would rather see the Dawn skip Miami in favor of Key West.
Great Stirrup Cay - Took the first tender to the island. Ride was a little rough then, but the waves subsided later. We rented floats ($5 each). They are fun and relaxing. I highly recommend them. Warning: A number of people thought they were free and kept trying to take them from us when we were not using them. One actually succeeded, but the rental hut replaced it. We also did some snorkeling. It's a very friendly place for beginners like my children.
The beach may be a bit small for a ship as large as the Dawn. More on that later.
Nassau - A short stop. We took a taxi to Atlantis ($4 pp). The taxi was an old stretch limo. The girls got a kick out of that. We arrived at Atlantis early, before the guards were in position. Therefore, we got to see a lot of the resort and the dig. We then returned to Nassau for some shopping on Bay Street.
Entertainment - Paul Baya was the CD. Paul and his sidekick had a good rapport with the passengers and seemed to be everywhere.
Shows - The Jean Ann Ryan shows were fantastic. They are an extremely talented group of singers and dancers. They put on 3 shows, an Andrew Lloyd Webber show, South Beach Rave (a salsa show), and a show called Bollywood. All of the shows are great. Personal preferences will determine your favorite.
The house band (Modal Magic) was good. The orchestra was also good. There was a fellow named Fabio who was a great Flamenco guitarist.
There were 4 comedians on the cruise. The best was Thien Fu, a Vietnamese juggler/comedian. There was a magician/comedian (don't remember his name) who was a cross between Woody Allen and Elvis Costello. He interacted very well with the audience, but the magic was basic. Dave Heenan was not very good. There was also a pair of rap comedians. I did not see them, but my 14 year old enjoyed them (we were at Le Bistro).
There were movies in the cinema every day. They were also shown 24 hours a day on the cabin TV.
Karaoke was held every night in Dazzles lounge that always filled the place.
We did not go to any of the late night parties in the Spinnaker lounge or pool area.
Restaurants - We tried 8 of the 10 restaurants, plus the pool barbeque and Bimini lounge grill.
Blue Lagoon - Fast food, generally good. Chicken wings were decent, but the spicy wings were not very hot. Good potato wedges with cheese and bacon. However, I recommend the oriental noodles. They are very good. My wife enjoyed the fried rice.
Garden Buffet - Very good buffet food. It was always clean and had good variety. I had breakfast there every day and some lunches there. There were always good breads and rolls there and the salad ingredients were fresh. I did not have dinner there, but it looked good. There were omelet/waffle action stations at breakfast, various action stations at lunch and dinner. I saw prime rib one night, turkey another night, and a roast pig one night. Small children will like the kid's buffet area.
There were several lines in the Garden Café. The lines in the rear were always short and less frantic. If you head back there, you will avoid the line jumpers and buffet busters.
Deli - You could get a good sandwich made there, but it was not a "New York" deli, as advertised. I expected some good corned beef and rye breads. There was neither. However, I did have a nice Italian sandwich on a good roll.
Poolside Barbeque - I usually avoided this because of the crowds. Once, it was not crowded and I tried the ribs. The ribs were good and well done but the sauce could be better.
Bimini Bar - A good outdoor alternative to the poolside mob scene. They grilled burgers and chicken with French fries and some salads. I had a burger and fries there. Both were good.
Salsa - Very good Mexican food in a good atmosphere. The tables overlook the atrium or are at windows overlooking the ocean. The service was excellent. We were there on Sunday night.
Italian Restaurant - Food was good, but nothing special. The menu was limited. It could use some veal dishes and more creative sauces. Part of the Garden Café is converted in the evening to this restaurant. They do a good job, but it doesn't have the same restaurant feel as the other rooms. We were there on the last night. Ironically, this is Italian night in the dining rooms.
Dining Rooms - Aqua and Impressions have identical dinner menus. The menu at Venetian had some differences. The food in all of them was very good.
Impressions is a very nice dining room. We dined there on formal night after the show. The food and service was very good. The waiters were very attentive.
Venetian - We dined there on Lobster night. This is the most formal of the dining rooms. We had a table next to the windows overlooking the ship's wake. We enjoyed the meal but the servers seemed a bit rushed and less attentive. The bananas foster dessert was a highlight.
Aqua was (surprisingly) my favorite. It had a more modern décor. The all female staff was attentive, yet relaxed. They seemed to be the most willing to have conversations. We were there on President's night and Caribbean night. The President's menu was the best dining room dinner of the week. Caribbean night had some unique dishes. The jerk pork was very good pork tenderloin, but not what I expected. It was still very good.
Le Bistro - Exquisite décor, paintings, food, and service. It was the best dinner that I had on any cruise. It is definitely worth the surcharge.
We did not go to Cagney's or Bamboo. Bamboo always appeared to be pretty empty.
Room service - We ordered room service twice for snacks and also while waiting to debark. Except for breakfast, the food was only so-so. It was usually efficient, but once we never received our food. We ordered a snack at 10:45 PM. At 11:30, we called and were told that the food was on the way to our cabin. A half hour later, I was falling asleep and called back. They told me the same thing. I told them to cancel the order. I don't mind mistakes, but the dishonesty on the 11:30 call did bother me.
Not so good - The biggest problem on the cruise was the rude behavior of some of the other passengers. Contrary to what some may believe, it was not children. It was adult behavior. My wife and daughter made one trip to the Oasis pool. They ate and then went to the pool bar for smoothies. They returned 3 minutes later and someone had taken their table. When my wife told them they were sitting there, the response was "I was wondering whose stuff this is, please take it away from here." My wife was dumbfounded and left. If it were me, I would not have reacted so kindly. It doesn't matter, these idiots don't care. We didn't go near the Oasis pool the rest of the week.
We went to GSC on the first tender and got a good spot on the beach. As the island filled up, people came off the later tenders and just shoved themselves anywhere. A woman shoved herself under our beach umbrella and told me that I had to share it with her. When I objected, she went off cursing me to eternal damnation. Several people tried to take our rented floats. Some clearly did not know that they were rentals, but some were angry when I politely told them. One of us had to stay on the beach at all times. Who knows what they would have taken. It is the only that I did not feel secure on any cruise.
There were also the standard line jumpers, very late show interrupters, etc. Overall, this was the worst passenger behavior on any cruise that I have taken. I didn't know that common courtesy and cruise etiquette had changed since our last cruise. I sincerely hope that this is the exception and not common.
These people were a very small minority of the passengers, but even 2% (50 of 2500) rude passengers can make things very unpleasant for the other 2450. This is not NCL's fault, but if it were to happen on a second cruise, I would have to consider not sailing that ship again because of the clientele. It didn't spoil our vacation, but it still bothers me. We did meet many nice people.
Debarkation - Freestyle debarkation is the best. We went up on deck early as the ship sailed into NYC on a magnificent Sunday morning. We then had room service in our cabin until our color was called. We left the ship, claimed our baggage, breezed through customs and took the NCL bus home. It was very relaxed.
Overall it was an excellent cruise on a wonderful ship. I would definitely sail the Dawn again.
In general this was a great trip. No way can you go on a cruise and not enjoy something, But....
Hated the retipping idea. Felt that the staff did not have to work for their tip, so didn't even have to try. I had fingernails on my floor, upon our arrival. also allowed to stay in your staterrom while waiting to disembark, so the staff would fix the room for the next set of cruisers hours before they were to arrive. So we had to use the toilets, and sat on the beds, of the next people to come into the room, therefore it was not fresh for them.
Way to many kids, ship had 2212 cruisers and 869 were kids. Could never find the parents that watched them, they ran every where, yelled, were pushey, stood up in the chairs while trying to watch the shows, talked as if they were in their own living room, and no one cared!
The shows were awful! One night it was only a guy plucking his guitar....thats it, no back up dancers, no singing...just "Fabio" ....
Never enough to do, I am in my 40's. my mom had a room, she is in her 60's and my son joined us, he is in his 20's. If you didnt like to drink, sing(when the adults were not over run with 10 year olds singing) or bingo, there was nothing to do.
Would never take this line or cruise again.
It was a dreary day when we boarded the Dawn on Easter Sunday. Unfortunately, the weather didn't get any better until Tuesday afternoon but it certainly didn't stop my husband and myself from having a fabulous time.
The ship is absolutely beautiful. This was our 11th cruise and this ship shines inside and out. We had a balcony stateroom which is the only way to go, especially with beautiful weather. The spa is very modern with every kind of service you can imagine and the fitness center very spacious. We never had to wait for a treadmill or any other equipment.
If you want to eat at any specialty restaurants make sure you make your reservations early especialy for Tepanyaki, the Japanese Steak House, since it only seats 18 at 3 different sittings. The best bargain is Salsa. It's a Tex-Mex restaurant with excellent fajitas and there is no additional fee.
The entertainment is top-notch and the Jean Ann Riley troupe must really be commended. Each show was better than the next and we would never miss one. That's one of the reasons that we've cruised NCL 4 times and will continue todo so. We go to Broadway quite often and the talent onboard could easily compete with the best of them.
We never had to wait on any lines and the service was excellent. Everyone was extremely friendly, from crew to people cruising for the first time.
My husband and I had a great time and would consider taking this cruise again especially since it's so convenient to now cruise out of New York.
Seven days on this glorified prison barge overrun by people with tattoos, drunken packs of teenagers with cornrowed hair, and drunks scurrying back to their cabins with yellow coolers full of "brewskies".
The lame, the halt, the impaired and the ever-present, ever-screaming children in strollers who's parents think that it's OK to bring them into restaurants and just let the young ones cry and the older one's run loose in the dining rooms. The food? If this ship were a diner, they'd be out of business... faux-fancy and every dish colder than the one before. Take out your wallet and go for the upgrade restaurants where the food is 20% better, but still cold and the screaming children will still be sitting right next to you.
The entertainment? Strictly catering hall wedding quality introduced by the world's most insincere cruise director.
The help? Three native English speakers out of a staff of over a thousand with what seemed like 90% being trained by the other 10%
With this kind of service and that kind of food I would have preferred a tray and a cafeteria line.
Breakfast: horrendous with cold scrambled eggs, dried bulk cooked, coldbacon, coffee? great one day and awful the next (same coffee I thought). You can get a custom omelet but it took 10 minutes on line. Want to go to a sit down dining room? Over an hour for the same dried out, cold food.
Cold, late, microscopic portions despite request to triple the vegetables. Tiny cups of coffee that take less time to cream and to sugar than it takes to consume them. "I want a carafe all to myself"...7 minutes to get it and it was small and half full....every day.
They want you to stay two hours for dinner. I want to stay 28 minutes at the outside. Freestyle dining means that you can't even BRIBE your way into something better because you never get the same waiter from one day to the next and they won't accept cash.
I had 4 shore excursions planned. They canceled them ALL and I went from the highest activity level excursion to AARP just for something to do.
450 Million for this behemoth and they have a sagging screen, insufficient candlepower, projection screen TV instead of a plasma screen affair with kids coming and going in packs and talking out loud non stop, in an unsupervised theater that seats 200. Pathetic.
Port Canaveral is an isolated dump that's only good if you are going to bus in to Disney, Universal or the Space Center. It's 5 miles into the K Mart, nothing town, and all this after steaming for 30 hours nonstop.
Miami? Why bother? A bus to a shopping arcade with a never-get-off bus tour. Look out the window at others who are free to walk around and DO something. Hurry back to the ship ....You only have until 5:30 PM to be back aboard and your bus left after 10:00 AM
Nassau, Bahamas: again, only 5 or six hours to walk around the 4 by 12 block town that has been culturally erased by the presence of multiple cruiseships in port raising the population from 400 to 4000 in 90 minutes. Hurry back to the ship...must be aboard by 6. The ship is leaving for....
New York? What do you mean we cannot get off at the "private Island" because it is too windy? TAKE ME BACK TO NASSAU and let me explore the island for a full day!...No way...two solid days steaming right back to New York, non-stop. I was robbed. Do you want this experience? Go anywhere else or stay home.
The Norwegian Dawn cruise from New York City to the Bahamas is a good cruise to take if you're fair-skinned and don't want too much sun exposure in early spring. It's not a good cruise to take if you want to meet other singles--although at the Captain's Reception a bottle of expensive wine was given to a couple that met as widow/widower the previous year on this cruise and subsequently married.
I traveled with a girlfriend, both in our early 50's, both single. We each took advantage of the NYC departure to sightsee and visit family and friends before departure. I arrived Friday afternoon and stayed with a friend of 20 years. I budgeted $300 for this portion of the trip, which included 2 tickets for the Broadway show "Wonderful Town" ($54 each at the "day-of" ticket office); 2 tickets for Ellis Island via Circle Line ($16 each including audio tour); 2 tickets for the Empire State Building ($16 total, including 1 audio tour). In terms of meals we ate out three times: 1 brunch ($18) and 2 dinners ($37 and $105). Dinner in Tribeca at The Odeon was very enjoyable.
We metat Pier 88 at 2:30 p.m. on Sunday. After we visited our room, I went immediately to the Reservation Desk on Deck 7, where I booked my shore excursion to the Epcot Center and then made a reservation for LeBistro the following evening at 5:30 p.m. You can only sign up for the restaurants that require reservations one day in advance. After the first day, I recommend being in the reservation line at 8:00 a.m. if your room doesn't come with Concierge Services to secure a reservation for the following evening. Le Bistro was fabulous! We were seated 3 feet away from and between two Monet originals. My view included a Renoir 15 feet away and my friend's view included a Mattisse. The artwork, food and service combined for a memorable and exquisite dining experience.
Day One we ate breakfast in The Venetian. We were seated facing the wall of windows at the back of the ship. Halfway through the five-course breakfast, I spotted a dolphin jumping out of the water to the left of the ship. Then there were two, three and five diving dolphins. Wow! After that we asked and waited for seating by the windows in the back. The only time this caused a hassle was when we arrived 15 minutes before they stopped serving breakfast; we kept a line of people waiting. The options for low-carb eating aren't the greatest at The Venetian, but the view and the service are worth a few extra carbs. The men waiters at Tables 28-46 were a special treat.
We ate one dinner at Aqua, but after that we settled on Impressions for evening dining. The menu is the same for both restaurants, but Impressions is a notch up in terms of ambience and presentation. The President's Night menu presented dishes prepared by the chef for Presidents Carter, Reagan and Ford. Much to my friend's dismay, we tended to eat "Republican." Lobster Night was another meal we enjoyed very much.
My least favorite restaurant was the self-serve Garden Café, a buffet on Deck 12. Going through the food line was fine but fighting two-way traffic at the beverage station was a free-for-all. The dessert and fruit stations were usually messy. The food was never at the just-right temperature like it was at Impressions or The Venetian. The same was true of the BBQ on Deck 12: cold hotdogs, ribs and heavily marinated chicken. We probably ate at these buffets 5-6 times just because grilled food sounded appetizing and/or we wanted to eat by the pool or listen to the music.
Speaking of the pool, on this cruise it never warmed up enough to make us want to jump in. There are 4 Jacuzzi's and they were in use all the time except late at night. We sat on lounge chairs a couple times watching the sun set before we left port. The first sunburns appeared after the day at Cape Canaveral. Get help applying sunscreen if you don't want a weird burn pattern: anything not covered turns red. On Day 6 we were At Sea sailing through a strong head wind. I was watching kids swim in the pool and all of a sudden the pool water started to swell. 5-7 foot waves were carrying the kids from one end of the pool to the other. The fear was the waves would slam the kids into the walls. At first they were really excited but being tossed around by the waves started to dampen their enthusiasm. People gathered at the edge of the pool in case there was an emergency, but after about 3-5 minutes, the waves died down.
Speaking of waves, that same evening, we went walking on Deck 7 after dinner, which was our custom. As we started our 3-5 lap walk, the ship hit a wave that splashed clear up over the 7th floor deck. A lot of the force behind the water was wind-driven. It was amazing to see a splash that big. As we walked, I wondered if it would happen again, but it didn't. I was surprised that more people didn't take advantage of the walking track on Deck 7. Often we had the entire track to ourselves. Usually, we stopped at the back of the boat to watch the water churned out by three big generators. The swirling water was a sight to behold.
The Norwegian Dawn offered a wide variety of entertainment: free Bingo game, free slot pull at the casino, free cooking demonstrations, movies, shows. We went to 3 of the shows performed by the same troupe before we tired of seeing the same people in different costumes. Each show featured some combination of singing, dancing and gymnastics, and each show offered one or two outstanding acts, in particular the ballerina and the Cirque de Soleil-like rope climber/swinger. One gymnast was a former Olympian who did some pretty incredible stunts on rings.
The movie theatre wasn't the best quality projection but I saw three recently-released movies: Cheaper by the Dozen, Last Samurai and Love Actually. Arrive at least 15 minutes before show time if you don't want to sit in the aisle or stand. I wasn't the only one perturbed by two different groups of women at two different movies who talked in normal speaking tones throughout the entire movies. In a normal setting, people might seek out an usher to confront them. No one including me wanted a ruckus so we just suffered through. I thought about giving the Cruise Director some feedback, but who has time for that?
The Library offered a wide selection of types and titles of books. We checked out books on Day 2 and easily completed one book apiece reading nights and afternoons. I sat in the Reading/Writing Room a couple times. Comfy upholstered chairs face out picture windows with nice ocean views. It was a quiet environment where people worked on lap tops, wrote letters and slept.
Having experience with trip planning, I was anxious to "do our own thing" at the different ports of call. I couldn't find any better offerings for Canaveral than the ship offered so I toured Epcot. I wasn't expecting rain that day based on my 10-day forecasts that printed out before I left Denver, so a full day of showers was distressing. The Cruise Director gives you no weather tips before you begin your big adventures. Consequently, I left my much-needed umbrella on the ship. I dried off twice in the course of the day. Epcot didn't do much to take my mind off the inclement weather. The concept for the park is a good one, but the material is dumbied-down to about 5th Grade level. I did enjoy "Mom, I Shrunk the Audience" and Space Mission which opened in 2002.
In Miami, we rented a car, traveled down the Keys past Key Largo to Islamorada (Is-la-mor-AH-da). We had preconceived notions of driving on bridges over water between landmasses. Not at all the case. The main drag is like any other two-lane road. We drove as far as Mile Marker 67.5 or approximately half way to Key West. In that distance, we crossed two drawbridges and in the 5 miles preceding Islamorada, five small bridges. Half that distance was through the Everglades. It was hard to imagine that entire expanse being swamp. We didn't see any alligators, but did see some unique waterfowl. At Robbie's Marina we were able to rent a motor boat for an hour for $40 only because I had talked to Mark who assured me if we got there, he "would get us on the water." I drove the boat out through the channel and onto a very turquoise ocean. We did a few big laps heading toward two nearby islands and headed back. We were surprised to be sprayed by 3-foot waves every time we crossed one. It took 2.5 hours to rent the car at Budget ($50 including taxi) and drive to Robbie's. After stopping at two souvenir shops on the way back, we made it to the ship by 4:30 p.m. with an hour to spare. If you want to snorkel, check out John Pennekamp State Park in the Keys.
By the time we arrived at the Bahamas, we were pretty tired of being herded all week. We chose to walk to the two forts and visit the Straw Market where I had two braids put in my hair for a discounted $1 each. My friend bought hats and t-shirts for gifts. We stopped in McDonald's for a 99-cent soda and at another shop bought a rum cake and $4 ring. Mid-day we made our way back to the ship for lunch, which worked out well. Another option would be to rent scooters and do what we did plus have time to visit Atlantis Resort where you can play a Tom Fazio 18-hole putting green course ($15). They also have a 5,000-fish-stocked snorkel area. You can gain access to these areas of the resort through Guest Services, otherwise, it seems that most of the resort is "off limits" to the public at large.
The private island, Great Stirrup Cay, was fun. We brought snorkel gear with us. I borrowed a floatation vest at the Cay, but I don't think anyone would have stopped me from snorkeling if I didn't have one on. The water was chilly and I entered slowly. There were some nice reef areas to explore and quite a selection of fish. A stingray was swimming up near the beach with a foot-long light blue and pale yellow fish swimming alongside and on top of it. It was like being in a life-size fish tank. This was my first time snorkeling, and I enjoyed everything but saltwater in my eyes. We stayed in the water over an hour before we took a walk to the back of the NCL property line. Not much to see at the end of the trail.
We left the boat at 10:00 a.m. on Sunday, which allowed plenty of time to take a taxi to Penn Station and catch the commuter rail back to the Newark Airport ($12) in time to catch a 1:40 p.m. flight.
At our first port of call, I was surprised to feel the earth moving under my feet. My friend wasn't as aware of the rocking sensation as much as I was. It's almost a week later, and I am still adjusting to being on land. It hasn't made me sick; it's annoying more than anything. The other drawback to cruising you hear about is weight gain. I weighed in at the Fitness Center the morning of Day 2. I was anxious to "protect" the 13 pounds I had lost since the last time I had weighed myself. How did I do? My weigh-in on Day 7 showed I gained 5 pounds--17,500 additional calories of mostly bran muffins, fruit juices, wonderful breads and a couple dishes of Atkins-forbidden ice cream. These pounds will disappear pretty quickly.
Overall, the trip was what I expected, met my expectations and provided some very memorable experiences. Here's how I rate the different elements:
LeBistro (10 stars); The Venetian (10 stars); Impressions (10 stars); Garden Café (5 stars).
Canaveral/Epcot Center (5 stars); Miami/Islamorada (10 stars); Great Stirrup Cay (10 stars); Bahamas (7 stars).
Library/Reading/Writing Room (10 stars); Dolphins jumping (10 stars); Walks on Deck 7 (9 stars); Pool Side (7 stars); Jean Ray Entertainment (7 stars).
Cruise overall: 8.8 to 9.0 stars