3.5

Norwegian Cruise Line

Review Summary

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Pros

  • Fresh decor in common spaces thanks to 2016 renovations
  • Refurbished cabins come with minibars, coffeemakers, and storage space
  • Main pool deck has four hot tubs and tiered sundecks
  • Main dining, buffet, poolside grill, Irish pub, and Asian-restaurant fee-free
  • Seven extra-fee specialty options, including a sushi bar and two steakhouses 
  • Range of bars, from the Art Deco Gatsby’s to a sake bar and a mojito bar
  • Mandara Spa with a beauty salon, treatment rooms, and thermal suite (extra fee)
  • Free age-separated kids' clubs, teen lounge, and kids' pool area
  • Live music, casino, dance parties, arcade, and comedy shows
  • Sports court, jogging track, gym, golf driving net, and shuffleboard 
  • Freestyle Cruising means casual dress and no set dining times 

Cons

  • Main pool can get crowded; no adult-only pool
  • The most affordable cabins are tight on space
  • Few “wow” features (no rock-climbing wall or big waterslides)
  • Many specialty restaurants priced a la carte rather than with cover charge
  • Thermal suite in the spa costs extra -- even with treatments 
  • No babysitting options for kids 6 months to 3 years

Bottom Line

Cruisers overwhelmed by hitting the high seas with 4,000 other passengers might be drawn to the Norwegian Dawn, which is a mainstream ship with a cruiser capacity of 2,340. Thanks to massive renovations in mid-2016, the ship looks surprisingly fresh, though it lacks the extravagant features of newer Breakaway-class ships. Still, there’s plenty on offer. The line's Freestyle Cruising concept includes main dining room meals, two buffet restaurants, a poolside grill, an asian restaurant, a 24-hour Irish pub, and classic cruise-line entertainment. Passengers can pay to drink and dine at seven specialty restaurants and a dozen bars and lounges. Cabins range from snug and tasteful to massive and luxe, but they’re all comfortable and nicely equipped with amenities like refrigerated minibars and coffeemakers. Another perk of the ship's smaller size is an easier time securing dinner and show reservations. 

What's Included (and What's Not)

Fares on Norwegian Dawn include accommodations, most entertainment, kids’ club activities, and (most) food in the free dining venues: two main dining rooms, the indoor/outdoor buffet, the 24-hour Irish pub, and the Asian restaurant. Guests can ostensibly get away with paying no extra fees, save the mandatory daily service charge, though there are ample opportunities to spend more money, encouraged by some sales-y onboard pitches. Special booking offers are usually the best way to save on dining and drink packages.

Dining at onboard speciality restaurants will cost extra -- most venues charge a la carte, though some options cost an inclusive cover charge (the latter is more typical on cruises). Dining packages are available to bundle the cost of out-of-pocket meals. Room service orders are charged a $7.95 convenience fee, though the food itself is free. The fee is waved for continental breakfast and for suite-level passengers.

Non-alcoholic beverages like iced tea, a selection of juices at the breakfast buffet, and regular coffee, tea, and ice water are also included in the fare. Alcohol, soda (Pepsi products), bottled water, and specialty coffees cost extra. Beverage packages, outlined in the Drinks section, are a popular way to avoid paying full-price for each drink. Soda packages are comparable or slightly cheaper than rates on other mainstream lines like Carnival and Royal Caribbean, but alcohol-inclusive packages tend to be pricier. (Only one Norwegian ship, Norwegian Sky, offers included beverage packages.)

Use of the thermal suite (including use of the saunas and steam rooms) costs extra, even for guests who book treatments, as do hair, beauty, nail, and spa treatments. Use of the pools, kiddy pool, and gym is free, though exercise classes will cost extra. The video arcade is pay-for-play, and guests can book shore excursions for an extra fee. Kids’ and teens' clubs are included, save late-night child care and meal fees for kids’ clubs on port days. Unlimited Wi-Fi plans cost $29.99 per day on most voyages (for voyages 13 days and longer, it’s $24.99). There are also several time-based plans, such as 100 minutes for $75.00 or 250 minutes for $125.00.

The cruise charges a fixed service charge of $13.99 USD per person (for guests ages 3 and up) per day in cabins and Mini-Suites and $16.99 per person per day in suites. Be aware that a gratuity is added to bills for salon and spa services, at the bars, and at any of the ship’s specialty restaurants. You don’t need to tip on top of that, though gratuities can be adjusted at guest services or via cash tips to individual staff. Tips are shared by a variety of crew members, including the cabin steward, the waitstaff in the free restaurants, and behind-the-scenes support staff.

Note that prices are subject to change at any time, so double-check fees before sailing.

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Oyster Ship Review

Scene

4.0

 Laid-back cruising on a refreshingly simple ship, though the main pool can get overcrowded

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While the Norwegian Dawn’s maiden voyage was way back in 2002, massive multi-million dollar renovations in mid-2016 made much of the ship’s decor feel brand new. Dawn may lack big-name features like crazy waterslides and rock climbing walls, but the air of simplicity can feel refreshing in the face of the line’s flashier mega-ships. While we still had to make reservations at specialty restaurants and get to shows early for a good seat, we found that the smaller size ship meant we didn't have to get advance tickets to ship entertainment and spent less time rushing to make a dinner reservation way in advance.

Passengers range in age, though we found Norwegian’s casual, family-friendly vibe attracted a slightly younger set than some of the senior-heavy lines like Holland America. Guests on Dawn include plenty of young and middle-aged couples, new retirees, and lots of families with kids. On our sailing, we saw many matching t-shirts, birthday groups, and big families with young children. Lots of cruisers were loyal to the Norwegian name, and we met several cruisers who’d stayed onboard through multiple sailings.

While the ship has an ample kiddy pool area, everyone seemed drawn to the ship’s solo main pool on Deck 12, which could often get boisterous and overcrowded. Sometimes, the only crew monitoring the children jumping into the pool seemed to be the musicians and DJs who performed on deck, since splashing could damage their equipment. Multiple levels of sun deck meant that it was easy to grab a lounge chair somewhere, if not on the main level, and we saw lots of cruisers drinking and eating poolside. But without an adult-only pool area, there are few completely relaxing swimming holes -- even the hot tubs get crowded with kids. For peace and quiet, the library and extra-fee spa are primary safe havens, and there’s also a somewhat more subdued hot tub on Deck 13 forward.

While decor throughout feels fresh, the layout is somewhat outdated and occasionally confusing. Several areas of the ship are only accessible from certain stairs or elevator bays. Most of the restaurants can only be accessed via mid-ship elevators, while getting to the fitness center meant walking through the busy buffet restaurant. Los Lobos feels almost purposefully hidden, and the kids’ water park is so tucked-away that many kids end up swimming in the main pool.

Norwegian’s Freestyle Cruising makes for a casual, laid-back cruising experience. There are no set dining times and few rules about attire. Shorts and tees are regular ship wear, and smart casual is standard practice at specialty restaurants and in the main dining room. Swimsuits should be covered up, even at the buffet. The only restaurant with a strict dress code is Le Bistro, which prohibits shorts. Passengers can opt-out of formal nights, though many guests do get dressed up in their finest attire. 

Cabins

4.0

Everything from pleasant-but-snug entry-level interiors to massive multi-bedroom suites

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Norwegian Dawn's standard cabins received updates during the mid-2016 dry dock. Refurbishments included new carpeting and updated furnishings and artwork. Decor isn’t fancy, but it’s pleasant. An Inside Cabin (without windows) might feature gray patterned carpeting, cherry-colored wood furnishings, and a few bright accents, like chevron or fish wall art and beach-y throw pillows. Entry-level cabins are a fairly standard size for a mid-range cruise ship, but at just 142 square feet they are nonetheless snug, especially when pullout sofas or pull-down bunks are used to accommodate four guests. Bathrooms are standard fare with blue tiling, shower stalls, and small sinks with just a bit of counter space for toiletries. 

Scale up from a windowless interior room, and cabins get bigger. Guests can choose from Ocean-View Cabins (some, as indicated, with obstructed views), Balcony Cabins, larger Aft Balcony Cabins, Mini Suites, and Suites. Suites include a variety of staterooms, like Family, Penthouse, and Owner’s Suites. Deck 14’s two massive three-bedroom Garden Villas have an enormous terrace, a living room overlooking the pool area, indoor and outdoor hot tubs, and other luxury features. Our Balcony Cabin was sufficiently sized for two people, and came with a comfortable couch, narrow balcony with two chairs and a table, and lots of storage space -- though we did make use of every crevice, including some difficult-to-access in-closet shelves. The biggest annoyance? A sole outlet by the vanity. Guest services offers extension cords, but you may want to bring a multi-plug.

All cabins have TVs, small (or downright tiny) desk areas, closets, safes, and refrigerated minibars. Coffee machines and Lipton teas are also included in the setup, a nice addition that's not standard across mid-range cruise ships. Cabin bathrooms feature hairdryers, along with shampoo and body soap dispensers. Higher category rooms may add bathtubs, sofa beds, Bulgari soaps, Nespresso machines, high-end Tea Forte-brand tea bags, and glassware. Suite-level guests have access to certain poolside lounge areas and other perks, like special room service menus, priority boarding and reservations, and butler service. 

Food

4.0

Eleven restaurants range from an included buffet to an extra-fee sushi bar 

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Norwegian Dawn offers a surprising amount of restaurants for a ship of its size, though passengers will have to dig into their wallets to dine at about half of them. Included meals are offered in the two main dining rooms, the buffet, the two poolside grills, the 24-hour pub, and the Asian restaurant Bamboo. Of the two main dining rooms, Aqua is only open for dinner, while Venetian offers all three meals (dinner menus are the same in each dining room). The blue-toned Aqua has a sleek, modern air, while Venetian offers classic cruise-line main dining room decor with faux white columns, chandelier lighting, and velvet upholstered dining chairs. Freestyle dining means guests don’t have to schedule a dining time in advance, and there is no assigned seating.

Garden Cafe is Norwegian’s trademark buffet, which serves up pre-made and cooked-to-order options for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Expect to find waffles and made-to-order omelets, DIY sandwiches and stir-fry, meat-carving stations, and soft-serve ice cream. Dinnertime crepes were a regular favorite on our voyage, and a formal night raw bar was a hit. In the afternoon, the buffet extends outdoors to Topsiders, a poolside bar and grill with staples like burgers and dogs. There’s also poolside scooped ice cream, with toppings. Another freebie is the sundeck-level Bimini Grill. Guests can also dine gratis at the 24-hour O'Sheehan's Neighborhood Bar & Grill, which overlooks the atrium, and the Asian Bamboo restaurant, which also has add-on extra fee options like a la carte sushi. Overall, we found the free food to be decent, if not always exceptional. Our favorite meal was a delicious poke bowl at Bamboo. 

Extra fee options include a French bistro, an Italian restaurant, a Japanese-style Hibachi restaurant, an American steakhouse, a Brazilian steakhouse, and a Mexican cantina. There’s also extra-fee sushi inside Bamboo. We found the extra fee dining to be good, but sometimes not on-par with the cost. Some guests complained about how many restaurants charged a la carte rather than using the cover-charge system typical on most mainstream cruise ships. Cover charge options include Teppanyaki, the hibachi grill ($29.95) and Moderno Churrascaria, the Brazilian steakhouse ($24.95). For everything else, guests will be charged per item ordered. One other extra fee option: light snacks and desserts at the atrium-level Java Cafe.

Room service is available 24 hours and is free just for continental breakfast and suite-level guest. For everyone else, there’s a $7.95 delivery charge outside of continental breakfast. 

Drinks

4.0

Range of bars and lounges specializing in everything from sake to Champagne

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Norwegian has almost as many bars as it does restaurants, and many bars are dedicated to specific drinks like Champagne, sake, or mojitos. Perhaps the classiest option is Gatsby’s Champagne Bar, an Art Deco open-seating area. It’s situated near the casino (which also has its own bar) and the Cigar Lounge, a smoking spot that sells premium cigars and drinks like cognac. Some bars are tucked inside restaurants, like Bamboo’s Saki Bar and Moderno Churrascaria’s mojito bar. The Mexican restaurant, Los Lobos, specializes in tequila. Cruisers can also drink wine at Cellars or draft beer at O’Sheehan’s. The poolside bars, including one in Topsiders and another on a balcony-level sundeck at Bimini’s Grill, serve up lots of beer and sweet cocktails. Bliss Lounge, the ship’s club-style late night spot, also has its own bar. For specialty coffees or teas, there’s the Java Cafe. The best drink we had on our sailing was a spicy margarita at Los Lobos; another guest raved about a jalapeno mojito at Sugarcane. 

Non-alcoholic beverages like iced tea, a selection of juices at the breakfast buffet, and regular coffee, tea, and ice water are included in the fare. All alcohol, soda (Pepsi products), bottled water, and specialty coffees cost extra. Many guests opt for purchasing an inclusive drink package. Like on many other cruise lines, these packages must be ordered for the duration of the cruise and by all members of a particular cabin (the latter rule discourages sharing). If adults purchase a drink package, guests under 21 must purchase a soda package.

All-you-can-drink soda packages start at $5.50 per day for kids ages 12 and under and $7.50 for everyone older than 12. For lovers of beer and wine, the Corks & Caps Wine and Beer Package is the cheapest option, at $59.00 per day for soda, beer, and wine by the glass. The Ultimate Beverage Package is $89 per day, adding on cocktails and spirits. Covered drinks must cost $15 or less (you can pay the difference for more expensive drinks) and room service and minibar drinks aren’t included. Bottled water can be purchased in packages (six-pack for $14.95, 12-pack for $27.95, or 24-pack for $44.95). A 20-percent gratuity (this is a 2017 increase from 18 percent) is automatically added to all beverage packages, including the bottled water.

Wine and Champagne can be brought onboard for a $15 per-bottle fee. Guests can then enjoy the wine anywhere on the ship; staff will provide glasses and a wine opener, and provide full wine service in the restaurants. However, no other beverages are allowed on the ship from the embarkment point or the port. Bags are screened and any contraband will be held until the end of the cruise. 

From musicians to magicians, improv to aerial shows, plus late-night dance parties 

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Cruisers tend to enjoy the slew of onboard entertainment choices, especially in the evenings. Nightly performances are held in the Stardust Theater, which features stadium-style seating and two balcony tiers. While performances vary with sailings, there are often musical performances by the ship troupe, magicians, and stand-up comedians. On our voyage, performances had a high-production value, though the shows by the ship’s troupe got mixed reviews. The comedians were all excellent and a duo’s aerial performance was a kitschy crowd-pleaser. 

The ship hosts an improv troupe from Second City, which often performs late night, adult-only shows in the intimate Bliss Lounge. Bliss also hosts other smaller scale entertainment, like game shows and musical performances. Bliss transforms into a nightclub in the evenings, with music and dancing -- Latin Night was a huge hit on our sailing. The ship offers a classic Sail Away Party, and there’s also the adult-only White Hot Party, a Norwegian-line staple where cruise staff performs in all white, encouraging cruisers to dress in white and dance along. For piano music, head to Gatsby’s. Other entertainment staples include musical performances throughout the ship, sometimes poolside or in the main atrium. During the day, different venues will host trivia, towel-folding demos, seminars, and art auctions (which are oriented toward sales pitches), or extra-fee events like wine tastings. 

The ship also has a good-sized casino with it’s own bar and a private high-rollers room. Decor here is surprisingly classy, a change from the theatrically themed casinos often found in cruise ship casinos. Along with the Cigar Lounge, it’s also one of the main venues for smokers. Other onboard activities include duty-free shopping, a two-story Wii wall in the atrium, a sport court, a 24-hour pay-for-play arcade, a computer lab (internet costs extra), and a library with seating and games (mainly checkers, chess, and Monopoly). Deck games include shuffle board, giant chess, giant checkers, and table tennis.

One main pool, dinosaur-themed kiddy water park, and six hot tubs -- but no adults-only pool

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Perhaps the biggest downside of Dawn is that the pool deck hubbub is all centered around the ship’s sole pool, situated mid-ship on Deck 12. The area is stylish;  the saltwater pool is flanked by two wading areas with partially submerged wicker loungers. Each corner of the pool has a hot tub, and the band stage in front of the pool is elevated. Loungers sit poolside, in tiered areas opposite the stage, and on a balcony-level deck that wraps around the entire pool area. Underneath this balcony level is a shaded area where wicker couches and chairs with bright turquoise cushions surround coffee and dining tables. Behind the pool, the buffet and grill extends out from the indoor buffet, with cafe tables and chairs on the pool deck itself. The pool area has its own bar, plus a bar and grill on the balcony deck. On our voyage, the hot tubs were almost always full (often with kids) and the pool could get crowded. Guests looking for peace might find it Deck 13 forward, where a more secluded sun deck also has its own hot tub. 

The kids’ pool area is fairly large, but its location aft on deck 12 feels a little hidden. Still, this playful dinosaur-theme water park has a lot to offer with giant dinosaur statues and faux caves. There’s a shallow kids’ pool, sprayers, and waterslides geared toward different ages, leading to shallow mini-pool areas separate from the main kiddy pool. The area also has its own hot tub. Guests should note that there’s little supervision at any of the pools, so when there are rules to be broken, it’s usually up to parents to keep their kids in line. 

Free gym, plus extra-fee spa with Thermal Suite, hair salon, and private treatment rooms

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The Mandara Spa, situated Deck 11 aft, is chic and modern with a neutral color palette of gray and beige, accented in bright oranges and reds. Private treatments run the gamut from massages to facials to teeth whitening to Botox. Appointments can also be booked at the Barber’s Shop or Hair & Nail Salon. To access the Thermal Suite, guests will have to purchase a pass (it’s not included if you just book a treatment). The pass includes access to the lap pool, aft-facing relaxation room with heated mosaic-tiled lounge chairs, plunge pools, hot tubs, and gender separated saunas and steam rooms. Day passes and full-cruise passes are available, though the latter are limited. Because of the added cost, it’s one of the quietest spots on the ship, and one of the few places typically sans kids.

Pulse Fitness Center, situated Deck 12 aft, is free for all guests, and is open from 6 am to 11 pm. The area is large and open and TechnoGym equipment is modern. Expect lots of treadmills and ellipticals with individual screens, along with stationary bikes, rowing machines, and a range of weightlifting equipment, including free weights. There’s lots of light from floor-to-ceiling windows, though the majority of treadmills face mirrors rather than the sea and some of the ellipticals face an odd part of the kids’ pool area. The gym area has bright, wood-floored studios. They’re available for fitness classes like spinning, yoga, and boot camp, which all cost extra fees (plus a gratuity). Other fitness facilities include a jogging track, golf driving net, shuffleboard, and a netted sport court for basketball, soccer, or volleyball. 

Family

4.0

Family-friendly ship with well-like kids’ and teens' clubs

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Norwegian Dawn provides the line’s standard and well-liked kids' clubs, which are commiserate with offerings on other mainstream ships. The Splash Academy kids’ club is designed for kids ages 3 to 12, while Entourage is for teens ages 13 to 17. Clubs are free during the day, though Splash Academy closes for mealtimes. Parents must accompany kids ages 6 months to 3 years to the Guppies Open Play, and no drop-off childcare is offered. (The Norwegian Escape is the line’s only ship offering drop-off nursery care.) Splash Academy is age separated into the Turtles (ages 3 to 5), the Seals (ages 6 to 9), and the Dolphins (ages 10 to 12), with some programs bringing the age groups together. Kids are provided with age-appropriate activities that range from scavenger hunts to sports games, to craft projects to dance parties. The Entourage teen club occupies a chill, lounge-style area with bright mosaic carpeting, subdued gray walls, and playful seating that ranges from hot-pink club chairs to big beanbag chairs. There’s Wii, air hockey, foosball, and a dance floor. Teens can come and go as they please for both general hangout time and scheduled activities.

For an extra fee, late-night childcare (10:30 pm to 1:30 am) is offered at the Late Night Fun Zone for kids ages 3 to 12. The cost is $24.00 per session for the first child and $20.00 per session for additional children. Norwegian Dawn offers port-day Splash Academy programs for free and there’s a port day meal fee of $6.00 per meal, per child. The line doesn’t offer one-on-one babysitting. Parents can pre-order diapers and wipes packages delivered directly to staterooms. High chairs and cribs can be acquired on request.

Dawn lacks splashy entertainment features like climbing walls or surf simulators, but there are still plenty of spaces for kids to play. Kid-friendly hotspots include the pay-for-play arcade, an ample dinosaur-themed kiddy pool area, and a sports deck which features giant chess and checkers and a court for games like basketball or soccer. Beyond the kids’ and teens' clubs, there’s entertainment geared toward the younger set, like playful parades and family-friendly editions of the comedy shows. Restaurants feature kids’ menus with staple items that range from pizza to peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches. Kids especially love the ice cream selection, including soft-serve at the Garden Cafe, and scooped ice cream on the pool deck at Topsiders.

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