Norwegian Dawn Cruise Review to Caribbean - Western

Contributor Level: Third Mate

4-6 cruises


Helpful Votes

4 out of 5

A real nice cruise

Sail Date: December 20, 2015

Reviewed: 1 year ago

Traveled As: Family (older children)

Room Type: Balcony

Like many, I was reluctant to take this cruise due to the reviews.  It was a chore but we sailed with open minds.


First of all, stayed at the Omni Riverfront the night before the cruise.  A nice hotel and very clean.  It's right across from the Julia street parking lot and port so we could see when the ship arrived.  Very convenient to walk to Riverfront outlets and have some buttermilk drops while watching the Dawn dock.  Parked at Fulton's garage so it was an easy walk back to the Omni after parking.  Omni was an easy walk to Deanies for mandatory oysters prior to sailing.


Our embarkation time was 11:30 so we returned to Fulton's garage for our sailing luggage (left it in the trunk when I parked) and took the shuttle to the Julia street terminal.  They dropped up beside the Julia street parking lot and took our luggage from there.  While the shuttle got us there before 11:30, I forgot my sunglasses and had to go back to the car for them and ride the shuttle back again.  That put us in line (no priority boarding)  to get our stateroom keys at 12:00 or so.  There were a lot of people in line but we were on-board the Dawn by 12:35.  No complaints about the Julia street terminal process or people.  They processed a lot of people efficiently.  We did not have the horrible experience others have commented about.


Once on-board, we headed to the Venetian for lunch.  This was our 4th cruise (2X Carnival and 1X Holland America) so we knew the buffet would be madness.  We were seated quickly and received good service.  The food itself wasn't horrible nor was it excellent.  It was just ok.  That is a big part of the reason for the 4 star rating.    Overall, it was a great start to a cruise.  I'll address the sections separately below but want to give an overall option now.


I've read reviews from a lot of members that really made me reconsider cruising on not only the Dawn, but Norwegian in general.  My experience is that like most anything else, it is what you make of it.  We had a great experience and will defiantly sail with Norwegian again.  Sure there were minor quirks and the food wasn't gourmet 24/7, but it was horrible either.  Service was consistently good with minor exceptions, entertainment was great, and the ship was clean and serviceable.  We got what we paid for and had no expectations otherwise.

Cruise Photos

Cabin / Stateroom
Bathroom was a little tight but overall was very glad to have the balcony. Spent a lot of time just looking and enjoying a scotch.

Embarkation and Disembarkation
I've already addressed embarkation. For disembarkation, we chose to handle our own luggage and take advantage of the walk-off. We were sitting in the Garden Café at 7:30 having breakfast when it was announced that the ship had cleared customs and we could disembark. We were off the ship, through customs, walked to the parking garage (elevator broke last night so I had to hike up 8 stories of stairs because they didn't see me going up, else they would have taken me in a golf cart), luggage loaded in the car, and headed out of NOLA by 8:30 AM. No complaints about Norwegian or the port.
Ship Quality
Overall, the ship was clean and well maintained. Considering that the last refit was in 2011, the ship has the expected dents and dings. There were some issues with the rest-rooms outside the Dawn Casino, but aside from that, I didn't notice any of the glaring defects that others have remarked about. The ship does take some time to learn to navigate. I don't like that you cannot go directly from the Venetian to the Stardust theatre without having to get on a different deck. The other thing that stood out is that the Dawn is a rocker. Even in 3ft swells, you could feel the ship Moving. When the seas were higher, you find yourself holding on to something quite a bit. I cannot recommend the Dawn for someone with motion sickness issues. For comparison, the MS Ryndam was much more stable in higher seas than the Dawn. The Carnival Dream were the most stable ship we have cruised on, and in the same seas, the movement was minimal. We didn't run into heave seas on the Ecstasy so no comparison there.
Destinations and Excursions
This was the 3rd time for us to cruise the Western Caribbean itinerary, once on Carnival, once on Holland America, and now on Norwegian. There are so many excursions to do that boredom isn't really an option. I did like Mahogany Bay over Coxen Hole as a destination.

Cozumel: Did the Xcaret Eco Park. Excellent excursion to take. Well organized and not on the bus forever. Highly recommended if you have already done the ruins tours.

Belize: Did the Lamani ruins and river safari. In a nutshell, I thought the 45 minute boat ride up the river and back again was worth the price of admission. The captain was on the throttle the whole way and it was a blast. The ruins were nice but there was only time to climb one temple, so the guide picked the best one and didn't piddle away time at the lesser structures. Lunch was a buffet at a restaurant at the boat dock. Food was decent but the rice was excellent. Was not a fan of the 45 minute bus ride each way. Still, highly recommended. Of note, we were supposed to depart at 5 PM but did not leave until after 7 PM when the last two tenders arrived a full 2.5 hours after the last 'Scheduled' tender. Never did find out what happened to cause them to be so late, or even if it was a Norwegian sponsored tour, but the ship waited for them.

Coxen Hole Roatan: Didn't do an excursion, just some shopping and relaxing. Some good deals to be had if you wait until just before departure time.

Costa Maya: Had scheduled the Beach adventure and snorkelling but due to high winds/surf, it was cancelled. Ended up just doing the beach adventure. Food was not included but it was an open bar with limited drink selections (no scotch on the rocks for me). Regardless, it was nice and relaxing to sit in a cabana at 7am with a Miami Vice (no bloody mary either) and just soak it in. There was shopping up and down the boardwalk equivalent, as well as restaurants an plenty of places to get a massage on the beach. Because lunch was not included, we went to the Krazy Lobster a little way down the walk. I'll just post a photo of that. Recommended if you want a slower day of relaxation.
The entertainment was excellent. We attended the evening show each night in the Stardust theatre. The best was the Elements show, which I could watch a few times just to see everything that is going on, but the Magic and acrobatics shows were very entertaining also. There were a few times that left you with a dumbfounded 'what/how' expression on your face. I glad I saw all of them. The various singers and dancers were very good also. It is evident that a lot of preparation and practice went into the shows. I found the entertainment that I saw to have a better variety than Carnival (Ecstasy and Dream) and Holland America (Ryndam).

The various lounge singers were also entertaining and definitely worth listening to.
Service and Staff
Overall, the service and staff were very good with a few exceptions. There were so many positive experiences but a few negatives. Of note, one of the waiters was a little rude when ordering a drink in the Stardust theatre prior to the show. Having said that, the drink was delivered quickly and without fuss. The second issue was with a washy-washy girl in the garden café. She used a butter knife to pry open a hand sanitizer dispenser to get more sanitizer for her squirt bottle, then put the knife back in the napkin and rolled it up. There was no way to identify it else we would have taken it. There was not a manager in the area so couldn't get the whole tray removed either. Somebody probably ended up using that knife. The only other complaint is the empty tea glass situation in the Teppenyaki.

Some reviewers have complained that cocktails were hard to come by. We had the UDP and had no issue with getting a drink anytime that we wanted one. Whether it was at Topsiders, the Java Cafe (very good bloody mary), Star Bar, Gatsby's, Bimini, Sake Bar, or the Casino Bar, bartenders were attentive and the drinks were excellent. The only exception was at Spinnakers where the drinks seemed to be overly sweet to the point of being not drinkable. That was only once though. The UDP was a perk so we only paid tips on it, but we certainly got our moneys worth out of it.

Our room steward, Christian, was on the ball and quickly fulfilled any requests. The room was kept clean and well presented.
Food and Dining
We had the ultimate dining package (3 UDP) so tried Cagney's, Moderno, and Teppenyaki, in addition to the Venetian, Garden Café, Blue Lagoon and Pool BBQ.

Venetian: Service was good but the food was just consistently OK. Nothing horrible or spectacular. There was supposedly a dress code for dinner but I saw people in gym shorts, t-shirts, flip-flops and hoodies dining at tables next to those who dressed appropriately. Lunch was ok and breakfast was ok with a limited menu. The garden café had a larger selection of breakfast items.

Blue Lagoon: Had the Fish and Chips a couple of times and it was good. Service was better than average.

Garden Café: It is what it is, a buffet. The featured main course changed each night and ranged from Roast Turkey on Christmas night to Roasted Strip Loin to Prime Rib. There was some variety from night to night but not much. Lunch was pretty standard, some burgers, hot dogs, etc on one line, an asian themed line, and a hodge-podge line of a variety of different eclectic items. Breakfast was the same each day.

Cagney's: Service was good and they were fast with cocktails. I had the bone-in ribeye and the DW had the regular ribeye. My steak was good while DWs steak was tough and had a lot of gristle in it. It wasn't so bad to warrant sending it back but still, it should have been better. Having experienced Art's Steakhouse on the Carnival Dream, Cagney's was a sub-par premium experience by comparison; however, I'd still go back but have lower expectations.

Moderno: Excellent service but we were confused about how everything worked. I will say this, the salad bar is the best we saw on the ship with a wide variety of items. 5 stars for the salad bar alone. The meat and sides were average. Nothing stood out as excellent or particularly bad. I'm glad we went but wouldn't do it again.

Teppenyaki: Managed to get a last minute reservation so swapped Cagney's for Teppenyaki. I'm so glad we did. The seafood plate, lobster, scallops, and calamari, was phenominal. By far the best grilled lobster and calamari I've ever had (lived in Korea and Hawaii so not my first). The DW had the Shinto, which consisted of scallops and shrimp. Both were excellently prepared and very flavorful. The preparation presentation was good and entertaining. Drink service was my only complaint since my iced tea glass remained empty even though I requested more. The Japanese Martini was different and served quickly. When we left, I had three empty glasses but the quality of the food more than made up for the oversight.

Overall, my opinion is that Holland America and Carnival have better tasting food so that is the reason for the 4 star rating.


Keep an eye on the restaurant listing to see if reservation times become available. Scored Teppenyaki reservations that way.

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