It was just my husband David and I on this cruise, a romantic summer interlude for two. We have been on 15-plus cruises, and this was our third time to Bermuda on Norwegian from Boston.
Embarkation. Living only an hour away from Boston, this port is an easy one for us. We were dropped off by a relative, making it unnecessary to park the car. A friendly porter promptly greeted us and pointed the way to registration. We booked with the Casinos-at-Sea program and, therefore, had priority boarding, which was very fast and efficient. We arrived at 10:45 am, and after waiting a short time in the priority waiting area, we were on board within an hour. Our rooms were not ready, of course, so we headed right to the pool and adjacent bar, as it’s just not a cruise until David is the first one in the pool with a beverage in hand.
First impressions. In 2016, The Dawn underwent a major renovation, and she looks beautiful. New venues were added, a few removed and some were relocated. New carpet, artwork, colors, flooring and furnishings have been added throughout the ship. The Grand Atrium, the first thing you see when boarding, is stunning, classy and elegant, rising up multiple decks. It’s worth mentioning that this ship has a promenade deck, a classic ship feature that seems to have vanished with the new and larger ships being introduced nowadays.
Weather: Like our visits to Bermuda in the past, all in August because of my husband’s school schedule, the days were hot and humid. We cruised through some weather when leaving Bermuda, resulting in a day with soaking, wind-driven rain and rough seas. Other than a few more clouds and passing showers, it was pleasant. In fact, clouds were a blessing as they kept the heat down.
Fellow Passengers. As is typical in summer, there was a mix of couples, extended families and large groups. Many folks, as expected, were from the Boston and New England area.
Cabin-Category BA Balcony #10630. Our cabin was in a convenient location, mid ship, by the elevators. Decor has been updated since we last there, with new bedding, furniture, artwork and flatscreen TVs. My husband thought the bed was less comfortable than previous NCL cruises, but I did’t notice any difference. The balcony is still small but sufficient for enjoying breakfast, as long as you can fit it on a table the size of a postage stamp. There were a number of smokers surrounding us who ignored the ban on balcony smoking. On a couple of nights, I had to close the balcony door to keep the smoke from coming in the cabin.? The dull, warn balcony flooring from 2015 has been replaced with something much nicer. Storage is adequate for two as long as you’re not an over-packer, but the shelves in the closet are still a pain to access. There is just one plug in the entire cabin, so a multi-outlet adaptor with USB ports or power strip is necessary for people like us with lots of electronic gadgets. The bath is the same 3-part setup as before – separate stalls for shower and toilet with the sink in the middle – a little cramped but worked for us. The shower is great, plenty of room to move. The sink space is adequate, but the toilet section, however, is crazy tight. If you’re tall, be prepared for your knees to hug the wall. If you’re really wide, some creative maneuvering will be required. I get what NCL’s trying to do here – allow more than one cabin occupant to use the bathroom space at the same time. Unfortunately, the space is really too small for that purpose. Bring a hanging bag for your toiletries, because there is very little storage space by the sink.
Crew & Service. We met our cabin steward maybe twice on the entire cruise, but she provided excellent service, kept our ice bucket filled and our cabin clean and orderly. There was a towel animal to greet us every night, all of them cute; no scary monkeys on hangers to scare the bejesus out of us.? In fact, we found the crew, in general, to be friendly and eager to please. NCL’s “Washy-Washy” was cheerfully waiting at the buffet door to give you a squirt – sometimes accompanied by a song and dance, alongside antibacterial dispensers and a sink for hand washing. Whether this is all germ elimination overkill or just a fun reminder, who knows. But “washy-washy” gets old fast.
Notably, there were a number of toilets throughout the ship that were out of order, and the locks on the stall doors were finicky. In fact, I was trapped in one by the pool, when the lock would’t turn to open the door. I was about to panic and began kicking the door in an attempt to bust it down, when the door suddenly popped open.
Our cabin AC crapped out on the afternoon of Day 5, and it took 4 calls and a visit to the service desk to finally get it fixed 24 hours later. All it took was a re-set from a hand-held device and it was working fine again.
Dining. We didn’t make any advance reservations for the complimentary dining this time around, and did not have a dining package, but did reserve a night at the specialty Mexican restaurant Los Lobos on line in advance. Plus, we went to the dining reservation desk on embarkation day and reserved a night at the Italian restaurant, La Cucina. Tip: If you don’t find your dining choices available on line, simply go to the dining reservation desk on board and book. We had no trouble getting the day and time we wanted for La Cucina.
The Venetian (complimentary main dining): This is our preferred complimentary dining venue on the ship, as it’s such beautiful room. The only oddity is the weird artwork on the walls. It’s peculiar, bizarre and a little disturbing – maybe it’s meant to be a conversation piece or some modern art nouveau – I don’t know. It’s just strange. Dinner was disappointing the first evening. Service was painfully slow, David’s prime rib was overdone, as was my pork loin. However, the food got better as the week went on. We were particularly put off, though, one night by a waiter, working in one area of the Venetian. The encounter went something like this: Me: “What flavor of ice cream do you have?” Them: Why do you want ice cream? You can have that any time?” A similar conversation happened with an entree David was ordering. Really? On our last evening, all was forgiven, when we were seated by a window looking out at a gorgeous sunset on the opposite side of the room, where the wait staff was much more friendly and professional. Couples looking for a private, romantic table for two, won’t find them here, as tables for two are situated about a foot apart. It can either be a way to make friends or an awkward meal, depending on your neighbors.
Aqua: Compared to the larger and grander Venetian, Aqua is smaller and cozier. Like Venetian, the tables for two are nearly on top of one another. Both service and food were fine here.
La Cucina – Living in Providence, RI, we have some of the best Italian restaurants on the East Coast, so our standards are high. Specialty dining La Cucina was not only good, but it rivaled all the best that we’ve experienced locally and was definitely the best meal we’ve had on any cruise in a long time. Service was fabulous, and our waiter friendly and professional. La Cucina is a la carte pricing if you’re not on the dining plan, so can run you some money, depending on selections.
Los Lobos – This specialty restaurant was added with the 2016 makeover. Mexican food is not my husband’s first choice, and I am not a fan of anything spicy. As David likes to say, I have a boring pallet. In fact, the stuffed poblanos, which the waiter assured me were not too spicy, set my mouth afire. The waitstaff were awesome, though, and quickly produced an alternative fish dish – red snapper – which was delicious. We shared a cheese fondue appetizer, which was to die for, and my empanadas and his chicken quesadilla were both excellent. My husband also had the enchiladas and the tortilla soup, both of which he didn’t care for – but like I said, Mexican food just isn’t really his thing. But like me, he did love the appetizers, and the service here was both good and attentive. As with the Italian restaurant, Los Lobos is a la carte pricing if you’re not on the dining plan. With the appetizers being good and filling enough, though, you can still have a decent meal without breaking the bank.
Garden Cafe: This is the usual standard buffet fare – cafeteria style – and nothing special. At peak times, it’s chaotic and lines are long, and playing Dodge-Em is the name of the game.
O’Sheehan’s Bar and Grill: This large, popular complimentary NCL venue was added in the 2016 facelift, replacing the smaller Blue Lagoon. We like meeting here for drinks; however, we weren’t impressed with the appetizer portions, which seem to be getting smaller with every NCL cruise. The wings were puny, and there was just a handful of tortilla chips for the spinach dip. We didn’t have an actual meal here this time around, so can’t comment, but in the past on other ships, the shepherds pie has always been a favorite. O’Sheehan’s is a great place to enjoy pub food and drinks in the open atrium while listening to or watching whatever entertainment is going on below.
Grill Food: There are two grills on the Dawn. Topsiders grill by the pool serves up hot dogs, burgers, chicken, pork, chili and sides. The Bimini Grill a deck above, is limited to hot dogs, burgers and potato salad. We found all to be as good as anything you’d find at a typical BBQ.
The Cellars: We stopped in here for a pre-dinner drink. The Cellars is off the atrium in a place that used to belong to the former Pearly King Pub and, in fact, I remember beating my husband at Wii bowling here. Now it’s a very quiet, more refined atmosphere, with wine tastings and such.
Bliss Lounge: Formerly known as Spinnaker’s, it seems more comfortable with more spacing between seats, and good acoustics.
Java Coffee Bar, Atrium: We enjoyed a coffee or adult beverage here while listening to the pianist, the vocal/guitar duo or the jazz band.
Casino: The casino got an upgrade, but to me, it seemed like they just crammed in more machines, several of which were out of order, with less space to move. Unlike other cruise ports, the ship’s casino opens at 9 pm on the nights the ship is docked in Bermuda. Why anyone would want to sit in a smoky, crowded, and noisy room, when a beautiful evening awaits outside in port or on the island – is a mystery. Admittedly, I was in a momentary mood to try and win a little money, but due to some special event going on, the place was mobbed. I was so turned off by the chaos, craziness and smoky smell, that I left my husband to his fun, while I went to enjoy my balcony and the quiet, fresh night air and the lights of Bermuda in the distance. I never did return to the slots for the rest of the cruise, but my husband did, and actually left with a good amount of money in his pocket.
Art Gallery: Surprisingly, while art auctions are held in one of the larger public venues, the actual “art gallery” is located in a nondescript, hard-to-find, tiny corner room on Deck 12, called the Hong Kong room. We went to the welcome party here, and it was hot, stuffy and crowded. It’s as if the art gallery was an afterthought, and was placed here because it was the last piece of space left on the whole ship.
Oasis Pool. Other than a kiddie “T-Rex” pool in the rear of the ship, this is it, the one and only pool, and it’s too small for the number of people on board. By 11:00 am on a warm summer sea day, the pool is packed with bodies, the hot tubs are overflowing with families and little kids, and every deck chair is either occupied or claimed. We are early risers and claimed our spots early. In a nutshell, if you snooze, you lose.
“Chair hogs” ruled here on the Dawn. The lounge chair hog, for those not familiar, is the least-liked person on a cruise ship. There are three kinds of pool chair hogs:
The first is not really a chair hog. They follow the rules. They are like my husband – and most good people. They are early birds. They like frequent dips in the pool and to see and be seen, and want to be out there early before the sun gets too hot. So they will grab a couple of chairs as close to the pool as possible. One will run in for a quick bite or a quick dip, while the other stays with the chairs. The other returns, and they swap places. If they are both away or in the pool simultaneously, they limit the vacancy to 30 minutes. Perfectly legit.
The second is the most common – the Piggy Hog. Piggy saves a whole row of chairs for herself and all her friends and family just in case they happen to return – and then don’t. Their chairs remain occupied by towels, hats and other personal items for hours at a time.
Third is the worst – the Super Piggy Hog – which I witnessed on this cruise. Not only does Super Piggy save a bunch of chairs for herself and 20 of her best friends, but she also simultaneously saves a table or one of the comfy sofas scattered around the deck so they can have it all with no regard for anyone else. Some ships claim to have “hog police”, but I have only witnessed the removal of personal hog articles from chairs maybe twice in all my cruising. To its credit, NCL had a crew member at times keeping the kids in the pool in check.
Side note about the pool area and one pet peeve of mine: Spray sunscreen. It should be banned. Maybe 25% of it actually sticks to your skin; the rest vanishes in the ocean breeze or into the eyes or lungs of your fellow pool or chair occupants. Do everyone a favor and reach for the tube variety instead.
Fitness Center: In order to combat cruise bulge, we did an hour at the gym each morning. The space has been upgraded, with a separate room for yoga, stretching, and classes, as well as one for spinning class. There are only three recumbent bikes, one of which was out of order the entire cruise. There are plenty of treadmills, but at least 4 of them were not functioning on at least one day over the cruise. Part of the problem with the treadmills is that they are video-screen activated – there is no manual power button. If the screen doesn’t work, the treadmill won’t work. Surprisingly, the gym was not crowded at 6:30 am, our preferred time, so we didn’t have a problem.
Entertainment and More…
I am not into bingo and games, but do enjoy shows and music – if we can manage to stay up late. Here’s what we caught:
Elements. This was the same show done on our last cruise in 2015. Because I didn’t really remember it, it was new to us, and was our favorite show of the week. If you catch only one, let this be it. We loved the choreography, with interpretations of earth, wind, water and fire very well done. Seating in the Stardust Theater, where the big shows take place, is pretty tight, but fine for an average-sized adult. For more roomy comfort, arrive early and grab one of the balcony upholstered bench seats in the wings.
PJ Magic Show: This show featured a performer from Elements, P.J. Wen, a young magician/illusionist from Taiwan. He was funny, chatty and had style and stage presence, as well as some really good how-did-he-do-that tricks up his sleeve. Don’t miss him.
White Hot Night: We are morning people, which means that we crash early. Of all the Norwegian cruises we’ve done, this was only the second White Hot Night we actually stayed awake for. We were even optimistic by planning ahead and dressed in white. It was lively and fun.
Music: Overall, the music was very good on this cruise. Our favorites were Rockaway Duo, vocalist and guitar, playing daily in the Grand Atrium, dance band Hotwire, and Flavors, featuring Caribbean/reggae. We also caught a bit of the excellent show band playing some jazz in the Atrium, and a good piano man singing pop tunes there, as well.
Bermuda. This was our fifth time to Bermuda – 3 cruises, one land and one fabulous Honeymoon, and we’ve seen a lot and been to all the hot tourist spots. This time around, we decided to keep it light and simple.
Hamilton: We hadn’t really spent any significant time here since our honeymoon 41 years ago, so we decided to take the ferry and spend a morning just walking the streets and having lunch. Except for the lack of a real cop in the famous traffic cage on Front Street, it hasn’t really changed a lot and is as colorful and beautiful as I remember. We meandered around, marveling at the architecture, the picturesque streets and did a little shopping. We discovered a little gem of an art gallery in town – the Bermuda National Gallery, featuring the Shepard Fairey collection. For those not familiar, Fairey is the artist/activist who did the famous Obama “Hope” campaign poster, as well as a lot of other socialist, political and environmental works. Another beautiful collection called “Land and Sea: Fragile Treasures” featured land and seascapes by local artists with a message about the threat of global warming. Overall, it was a very interesting and informative visit. We had lunch at a very good pub in town before taking the ferry back to the Dockyard.
Gosling Sunset Cruise: The ship offers this, but you can purchase the same on the dock for less money, which is what we did. Three years ago we were here, purchased the same cruise at the dock, and it worked out great because we were loaded first before the cruise ship guests, right at the dock near the tour office. Not so this time around. When we arrived at the tour office, the tour boat was sitting there waiting for us. However, somewhere between then and boarding time, they moved the boat close to the cruise ship gangway, making us hoof it all the way back, which is okay if you’re a fast walker, but for those with mobility issues, not so much. It would have been a much kinder gesture to load us first and then go pick up the rest. Inconveniences aside, it was a pleasant, fun ride, the sunset beautiful, and the rum samples were flowing. After all, you can’t go wrong when you combine great scenery and multiple potent rum drinks!
Famous Homes and Hideaways Cruise. We booked this 2-hour ship tour on a whim from the NCL Concierge app for our last afternoon in Bermuda, thinking that it would be an easy boat ride but maybe a little hokey and touristy. Our guide, Mark, a native Bermudian, was a human encyclopedia of all things Bermuda, shared a lot of information about the island, and pointed out homes of the rich and famous as we passed, with whit and humor. The ride was very nice, Mark made it fun, and the tour was not hokey at all, but a great way to spend a final couple of hours on the island.
Disembarkation. NCL issues colored luggage tags corresponding with how and when you want to exit the ship. Probably because Boston is a local port for a large number of New Englanders, the percentage of those who carry off their own luggage is high. This resulted in the first group called being one long and slow line from the gangway that snaked almost completely around deck 7 of the ship. The following groups, those who were picking up their luggage in the terminal had to wait a while, but in the end, we were called only 15 minutes after our scheduled disembarkation time. Once off, we located our luggage right away and were off the ship in minutes. Tip: If you are meeting a ride at the curb, don’t be like my husband and try to skirt the system by crossing to the opposite side of the street in the hopes of dodging the line of cars pulling over to pick people up. The traffic police will yell at you – or yell at your driver, as they did to my poor brother, for stopping the car to load us in the road.
Final Thoughts: There are relatively few options for cruises from Boston, and this one is an easy one, which is why it’s so popular with families – a cruise to a warm destination with no expensive flights and an easy drive for most folks. As with our four previous visits to Bermuda, we lucked out with some gorgeous, tropical weather with just a day of rocky seas and stormy weather. This was a relaxing cruise, as all Bermuda cruises are. On the evening of Day 1, we had the port to ourselves. On Day 2, things got busy, when Royal Caribbean’s ginormous Anthem of the Seas arrived with her 4,200 passengers. No matter how many ships in port, it’s always a pleasure to dock for multiple nights in one port with the ability to come and go without the feeling of being rushed. While not the best cruise or ship we’ve had the privilege to experience, the recent upgrade has brought new life to this 16-year-old ship.
We made two future cruise deposits with our favorite fun crew member, Juan. He could always be counted on to make us laugh. Juan also informed us that the Norwegian Gem will be doing the Boston-Bermuda run next summer, while the Dawn takes Gem’s place in New York for the Bahama run. Interestingly, the Gem will be doing two 14-day southern Caribbean cruises in 2019, round trip from Boston, March 29 and October 25th, which I find especially exciting for us in the Northeast who don’t want to fly.
For more photos from our trip, please view our Bermuda 2018 Cruise Album.