Southern Caribbean Suite Life

Norwegian Dawn Cruise Review to Caribbean - Southern

Cruises: 4-6 cruises
Reviews: 5
Helpful Votes: 91

Overall rating:

4.6 out of 5
Norwegian Dawn

10 Night Southern Caribbean (San Juan Roundtrip)

Sail date: February 07, 2019

Ship: Norwegian Dawn

Cabin type: Suite

Traveled as: Family (older children)

Reviewed: 2 years ago

Review summary

This cruise was our first experience with a departure port outside of the mainland US. The flight to Puerto Rico isn't bad, and we enjoyed an extra day before and after the cruise. We originally booked a family mini-suite with balcony, with the full gamut of Free at Sea promotions (beverage package, specialty dining package, internet, 3rd and 4th guests sail free, shore excursion credits). We bid on an upgrade for a 2-bedroom family suite with balcony. Our bid was accepted, and we were given the Jade penthouse suite, stateroom 11020. I generally enjoy smaller ships, and this cruise exemplified why: passengers get to know each other more easily, cruise staff get to know the passengers better, and activities onboard tend to have more intimacy. I must say, I now understand the appeal of the suite life, and of longer cruises - though we found this one to be slightly more port-intensive than our liking. Almost all the ports were fantastic, though, and we greatly enjoyed getting to see some of the islands that are not typically within range of a Caribbean cruise departing from the mainland US. Overall, we loved the experience so much that we booked the same suite on an even longer cruise (13 nights) on the Norwegian Jade in 2021. Background: My wife and I are in my early 40s, we have two tween-age girls (11 and 10 at the time of this cruise; currently ages 12 and 10). This cruise was our fifth overall, and second with Norwegian. We are reasonably experienced cruisers, having taken (at the time of writing this review) five cruises on Royal Caribbean, Norwegian, Disney, and MSC (and with five more booked on Norwegian and Disney). We travel as a family, and look for a mix of relaxation, family time (these two being my personal #1 priority), good food, entertainment, and fun in a cruise vacation. While I try to incorporate educational experiences, we do not usually seek out action/adventure experiences.

Embarkation

5 out of 5
We arrived at the port to a bit of a line outside of the terminal, due to a power loss issue earlier that morning. That said, the wait was minimal, and we were soon through security. Since we were upgraded to a suite, we got to enjoy the suite/Haven embarkation process. No lines, an empty waiting area with drinks and snacks, and our Concierge waiting to take us aboard at our leisure.

Ship experiences

Food and Dining

4 out of 5
Overall, the food was very good. Our Free At Sea offers included four specialty dining meals, which we used at La Cucina Italian restaurant, Los Lobos Mexican restaurant, Moderno Churrascurria (Brazilian steakhouse), and Le Bistro French restaurant. La Cucina was good, but nothing special. Los Lobos was overall very good, with some excellent (tableside guacamole) and some mediocre (stuffed poblanos). Moderno and Le Bistro (which we booked for dinner on Valentine's Day) were excellent all-around. Moderno was also the location of the suite breakfast and lunch. The suite breakfast was amazing, with a gorgeous buffet spread, higher-end cook-to-order selections, and (for me, the best part), fresh press-pot (French press) coffee. The suite lunch was limiting for me, due only to my decision to stick to my keto/low-carb diet for the duration of the cruise. But, for those not limited thus, the menu looked very good. Note, however, that the suite breakfast and lunch menus do not change, which does become an issue on a 10-night cruise. We enjoyed both MDRs, Aqua (modern) and the Venetian (traditional). Aqua, being smaller, tended to be busier at the start of dining times. The food was always very good, though I do find the Norwegian MDR menus overall to have less variety than other cruise lines. The Garden Cafe buffet was a typical buffet - as you will find me say for most cruises. O'Sheehan's delivered its typical best wings at sea. We made good use of another suite perk, room-service breakfast, particularly on mornings when we had early excursions. It was fantastic. (More in service/staff.) One star deducted because of so-so specialty dining experiences at La Cucina and Los Lobos, for the suite lunch menu not changing, and for no MDR lunch option on port days on a port-intensive cruise. These are overall very minor complaints.

Aqua Main Dining Room

4 out of 5

Nice decor and ambiance, but people flow could be improved. There is a significant bottleneck at the MDR entrance, which is particularly problematic during peak service. The food was consistently good.

Atrium Bar & Cafe

4 out of 5

Excellent coffee drinks.

Bliss Ultra Lounge

5 out of 5

Great venue for trivia, karaoke, and enrichment seminars. Very friendly bartenders and attentive servers.

Garden Cafe

3 out of 5

Often only had one half of the stations serving food. Could use a bit more variety, especially as the only lunch restaurant on port days. Food was typical buffet food - not great, not bad.

La Cucina Italian Restaurant

4 out of 5

Nice ambiance, but the food was just okay for a specialty restaurant.

O’Sheehan’s Neighborhood Bar & Grill

5 out of 5

Wings were great as always. Though, it was on this cruise that I learned that Norwegian apparently has a "no carry out" rule for wings?

The Cellars- A Michael Mondavi Family Wine Bar

5 out of 5

I think Cellars gets a bad rap, though I agree that it is underutilized as a venue. The bartenders were very friendly, and remembered my drink preferences. I greatly enjoyed the wine tastings/classes.

Venetian (Main Dining Room)

5 out of 5

Consistently good food for an MDR, nice layout, traditional design. Hostess was extremely pleasant. Some servers were better than others, but overall service was good.

Le Bistro

5 out of 5

Great ambiance and food, especially for a Valentine's Day dinner for two.

Los Lobos

4 out of 5

Some very good (tableside guacamole), some mediocre (stuffed poblano), most somewhere in between. Worth it for the guac alone.

Moderno Churrascaria

5 out of 5

Excellent meal. The Churrascaria concept is executed well on the Dawn. Also an excellent venue for suite lunch and breakfast.

Gatsby's Champagne Bar

4 out of 5

Great place for piano music in the evenings and trivia during the day. Could get a bit crowded, due to size and deck 6 traffic patterns.

Onboard Activities

5 out of 5
Karaoke nights and the karaoke idol competition were fantastic (though the Dawn needs to upgrade its karaoke equipment and song repository; the system looks like it's from the 90s, and the song selection is extremely limited). The karaoke group were all great, and had a lot of fun with it (as karaoke should be). My oldest daughter, who can be very shy, was encouraged to try her hand at karaoke, and everyone supported her and cheered her on. The same is true for the (ample) onboard trivia. There was a much larger trivia group that all seemed to migrate to each day's trivia, and everyone had fun with it (unlike I have experienced on other cruises). We made trivia a family affair, with 2, 3, or all four of us at any given trivia. I like that, on Norwegian, there are no prizes for "winning" an individual trivia event; rather, the cruise director staff have activity cards that they sign for participating in the various onboard activities - and would usually give extra signatures for the winners. At the end of the week, activity cards could be turned in for typical cruise ship swag. I rate these activities as excellent because of the interaction with the cruise director staff, who got to know the passengers/activity regulars. This is one of the reasons that I love smaller ships, and is a function of having fewer passengers; still, credit where it is due. I also booked two different wine-tasting classes held in Cellars wine bar. One was canceled due to lack of participants, but I greatly enjoyed the black-glass (blind) tasting and the wine and chocolate pairing.

Mandara Spa & Salon

5 out of 5

I enjoyed my massage, and did not experience the typical post-massage upsell hard sell.

Entertainment

5 out of 5
We enjoyed all of the entertainment, though as often happens, I spent more time with the musicians and variety acts than I did watching stage shows. Gatsby's champagne bar is a great venue for the piano players.

Stardust Theater

5 out of 5

Very nice theater. We saw the comedy troupe here for the all-ages show.

Children's Programs

This was a port-intensive cruise; our girls opted not even to register for the children's programming, because we were simply too busy.

Service and Staff

5 out of 5
I now understand the attraction of the suite life. We originally booked a family mini-suite with balcony, but I put in a minimum bid on a 2-bedroom family suite with balcony and to my great surprise, it was accepted. Our Concierge, Roy, greeted us at check-in and escorted us to our stateroom and then to the suite embarkation lunch. He also switched a couple dinner reservation times for us. Throughout the cruise, he (or one of his fellow Concierges) provided priority disembarkation escort services. Our room steward, Kedek, was wonderful. While we try to keep our stateroom as tidy as possible, he still did a great job of keeping everything ship-shape. What can I say about our butler, Gil, except that he was phenomenal. He truly made the suite experience memorable. We made use of room service breakfasts a few mornings when we had early excursions, and he made sure that we had our meal promptly, with white-tablecloth service. He brought snack plates and other treats daily - including cheese and fruit plates to try to accommodate my low-carb diet. Even though we said that we were not heavy champagne drinkers, he kept our two (gift) bottles on ice - every day - until we eventually drank them. So many, little things. All of the other staff were great, as well, from MDR hostesses and servers to bartenders and activity staff.

Ship Quality

5 out of 5
The ship is very well-maintained, and looks quite polished from a fairly recent dry dock refurbishment. The layout has a couple oddities, particularly around decks 6 and 7. Deck 6 is comprised primarily of the Stardust theater, the casino, the two MDRs as well as a restaurant/bar area with Gatsby's, Le Bistro, La Cucina, and the cigar bar, but it is not really designed to be traversed from forward to aft. The Venetian MDR is located on deck 6 aft, but is accessible only from the deck 7 aft stairs. Aqua is on deck 6 midship and is accessible from deck 6 via corridor leading aft from the Gatsby's bar/restaurant area, but is most conveniently accessed from the deck 7 midship stairs. The forward stairs/elevators can get congested around show times, so you can alternately go to the midship stairs, but have to go through the casino and up a flight of stairs to do so. But, once you figure out the deck 6/7 layout/design, the ship is easy to navigate. Note that Los Lobos was built into the port side of the Garden Cafe, resulting in only a starboard aft exit from the buffet. And to get to Los Lobos, use the aft stairs. Cagney's and Moderno share a space on deck 13, accessible from the midship stairs.

Cabin / Stateroom

5 out of 5
We originally booked a family mini-suite with balcony, with the full gamut of Free at Sea promotions (beverage package, specialty dining package, internet, 3rd and 4th guests sail free, shore excursion credits). We bid on an upgrade for a 2-bedroom family suite with balcony. Our bid was accepted, and we were given the Jade penthouse suite, stateroom 11020. This room was amazing. The stateroom door entered into an anteroom with the second bedroom on the left and living space directly ahead. The second bedroom had its own bathroom, and included a sofa bed and Pullman-style bed that folded down from the wall, to sleep two. It also had its own TV. The living area included a dry bar, dining table, sofa, TV, and balcony access. The "master" bedroom included a large bathroom with water closet, garden tub, and shower, as well as dual sinks. The master/first bedroom was a curtained-off alcove opposite the bathroom, and also had its own TV. Needless to say, there was more than sufficient storage space. Toiletry amenities were Bvlgari, I believe. Note that the shower and tub have windows with blinds that open both to the starboard exterior and to the balcony, so be mindful to close one or both as needed. The only, minor complaint was a lack of sufficient (particularly, bedside) outlets or USB ports.

Ship tip

Most of the deck 6 venues are most easily accessed via deck 7. The Venetian can *only* be accessed via deck 7 aft stairs. (I believe there is an elevator entrance for those who need accessibility?)

Ports of call

San Juan, Puerto Rico

4 out of 5
As a port of departure, San Juan was overall very good. The cruise terminal was easy to navigate and not crowded. Be aware that ride share services cannot be used from either the airport or from the cruise port (though they can be used from other places, such as from a hotel to airport or cruise port). (Copied from my Ship Mate port review.)

Kralendijk, Bonaire

5 out of 5
The southern Caribbean's best-kept secret. I have not had as much time exploring any island more than Bonaire, which we did via golf cart, thanks to Bonaire Cruisers. From postcard port town, to peaceful western beaches, to the flamingos at Lake Goto, to the tropical wilds of Washington-Slagbaai National Park, to quaint Rincon (and the unique cactus liqueur worth a sample at Cadushy distillery), to the Onima indian inscriptions, to the panoramic views from Saru Largu, there's something for everyone - and that's just the northern loop. Head south from Kralendjyk past the airport to see Pekelmeer, the salt pans, slave huts, Willemstoren lighthouse, the wild eastern shore beaches, Lac Bay, and mangroves. The island is small enough to explore on your own - and we did so with plenty of time, even taking a two-hour lunch break on the ship. Simply put, this was one of the best days I've ever had in port. (Copied from my Ship Mate port review.)

Oranjestad, Aruba

4 out of 5
We called on a Sunday, so the island was pretty quiet. Well laid-out port area, with the typical port shopping establishments. Beautiful island; I'd love to spend some beach time here. (Copied from my Ship Mate port review.)

Willemstad, Curacao

5 out of 5
Willemstad is the sort of quaint, picturesque port town that calls one to the Caribbean. The Dutch colonial influence is as strong in the friendly culture of its people as it is in the postcard-worthy architecture. We booked the trolley train, and enjoyed the experience immensely. (Copied from my Ship Mate port review.)

Castries, St. Lucia

4 out of 5
Lovely island with warm, welcoming people overflowing with joy for their independence and pride for their country. The flag can be seen flying everywhere. The view of the mist-enveloped Pitons sailing into port is iconic. We booked the Castries Trolley Train, which was fun and educational. (Copied from my Ship Mate port review.)

Bridgetown, Barbados

5 out of 5
Beautiful beaches. When one thinks of the white sand and turquoise water of the Caribbean, one sees Barbados. We booked a beach break, a perfect way to spend the morning. (Copied from my Ship Mate port review.)

St. John's, Antigua

2 out of 5
I haven't experienced such an aggressive cruise port since Nassau. The hawkers were so persistent that the entire port experience was ruined. They congregated around choke points and would barely take "no" for an answer. I'd love to see Nelson's Dockyard, but not if I have to deal with that to do so. (Copied from my Ship Mate port review.)

Basseterre, St. Kitts

5 out of 5
What a great day! We have Toussiant's Taxi Tours largely to thank: a private tour of the island highlights, time at the UNESCO Brimstone Hill Fortress site, and an amazing beach break. History, architecture, and a wonderful beach break at South Friar's beach, less crowded than, and not the party/tourist atmosphere of, Cockleshell beach, and even more beautiful. (Copied from my Ship Mate port review.)

Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas

4 out of 5
The bay at Charlotte Amalie might be one of the most beautiful sights in all of the Caribbean: the water, the houses dotting the hills, and the yachts and pleasure craft floating in azure waters. We have yet to book an excursion here, but we love the view. (Copied from my Ship Mate port review.)

Disembarkation

5 out of 5
We enjoyed one, final suite breakfast at Moderno, and then met our Concierge at the theater to be escorted off the ship. Our luggage was waiting for us in the suite-designated location, and we were quickly through customs and on our way to our hotel. What a treat the suite experience was!
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