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Stinger-PR's DAWN of an era: A NCL Dawn review (Thanksgiving week 2018)

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Thanks again for your great review.  We will be on the Dawn in 5 weeks :)  

We were on the Epic last year for spring break and it is a weird ship.  It if wasn't so crowded, it would have been fine, but it was a 4 nighter out of florida, so it was FULL of college kids.  They were well behaved, but there were soooooo many of them and they took over the ship.  There were times that it took 25 minutes to get a drink.  Thank goodness we could get two at a time.  Last year's cruise is the main reason we are doing a 7 nighter out of San Juan.  I figure the college kids will not fly to Puerto Rico to board a ship.  As far as the Epic , it has a weird layout, but I would do it again if we could travel during the off season.  Being a teacher, I am limited to the peak times. 

 

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On 1/16/2019 at 2:42 AM, Stinger-pr said:

It was just after it stopped raining that the other ship that would be accompanying us today, Celebrity’s Reflection had arrived at the dock area at 9:20 (-ish) a.m., turned around and was backing up into her berth just a few hundred feet from the terminal on across from us.

 

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At this point we decide to just go for it and head to shore so we could be at the terminal before the Reflection was properly moored. We were at the gangway around 9:30am and a noticed there were no “gangway photographers”. Hmm… That’s different from Carnival. We then noticed two things:

 

1- The photo ops were being done behind a prop railing with EVERYONE behind you. They couldn’t even position themselves using the ship as their background, as boringly white as it is?

 

2- Dispelling doubts some people may have, there were shuttles taking passengers from the ship to the terminal.

 

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There were two large-ish buses doing the loop but instead of having one going while the other was coming, they were both picking up at the same time, which defaulted in some waiting time between trips. Some people decided to walk all the way but we decided to wait it out.

 

Once at the terminal we took some pictures of the new Welcome to Barbados sign. It was about time they replaces the old ones since they were already beat to hell and worn out.

 

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We continued on to the terminal which is really not much to write home about. I has the usual trinkets and souvenirs shops, along with the usual jewelry staples and a duty free store. We had hoped to find an open WIFI hotspot but contrary to other trips, there were none we could find. The only “open” ones required us to register and validate with emails and we’re not into putting any kind of info down, even when using a VPN service we pay for on our cell phones.

 

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Once you exit the terminal you see the meeting point for the big tour buses to your left and some more shops to the right as well as the walkway towards the taxi stands. We marched on and made our way outside towards the taxi dispatch area where we ran into DW’s co-worker who along with her husband and friends, were waiting to get a tour of the island. After exchanging plans for a few minutes, we were on our way to our destination. We decided to walk past all the taxis and simply make our way on foot to The Boatyard.

 

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Word to the wise: Make sure to take a pic of this rates and make sure the taxi drivers stick to it. For example, The Boatyard is in Carlisle Bay and according to the posted rate, it should be $4 per person US one way to Carlisle Bay but we have NEVER been quoted less than $5 for the trip. The last time we were here the driver told us that "those were old rates" and the sign needed to be updated. Apparently, two years later, it still needs replacing since it was the same as it was last time. This would be my 4th time on the island and DW’s 2nd. Not once had we had an experience with taxis that can be described even close to good. Even though there’s a “dispatch” area, a lot of the drivers are very pushy. All taxis inside the terminal are shared whether you like it or not. If you want a private taxi you have two options: to basically buy-out all other remaining seats or walk outside the terminal and grab one there. Sometimes the drivers wait around for the last one or two passengers while you bake in the sun on a hot van. Last year we waited over 30 minutes and we were basically taken to another van when all passengers got tired of waiting and sweating and got off the van. When another driver saw this, he said he’d take us. Our original driver didn’t even look twice when he saw us leaving with another driver.

 

This is the taxi dispatch area. They simply ask you were you are going and they point you to a driver.

 

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How long was the walk from the Cruise Terminal to the Boatyard ? We are thinking of walking it and just want to make sure its possible and we won't get lost. We will be going on the Dawn in a few weeks!

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16 hours ago, dltvermont said:

 

I hear you on the Fascination, but if I remember right reading your reviews, you have done that itinerary multiple times. We have only done it once and loved it. I never thought of looking at RCL. Will have to take a look at their itinerary. We went to the ABC islands last spring when our Jade itinerary was changed due to the hurricane hitting your area. Love them!

 

Just a heads up, looking at RCL, for the next 16 hours they are having a sale on the southern itinerary our of PR, 60%off second guest.

 

I honestly liked the Fascination. Yes it's old and small but I thought it was just the right size for the type of itinerary it does. Being that it's so port intensive, the ship is secondary to the islands. Still, I'm sure we'd enjoyed another trip on her all the same. That said, we just want to mix up the islands next time and that's why we are planning for sailings that visit the ABC's.

 

Thanks for the heads up about that sale over at RCL. It eased pretty tempting but maybe I'll bite on one of those sales if I end up canceling the Epic booking.

 

Fun fact: I drove just over an hour from where i live tonight just to catch my first ever look at the Epic since it was diverted to San Juan for repairs due to mechanical difficulties. To make matters worse she hit the end of the pier causing one of the platforms where the mooring pylons are located to collapse! She didn't suffer any damage, apparently. She was alongside Celebrity's Edge.

 

 

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11 hours ago, trippingpara said:

Hey Stinger-pr!  So good to see you writing another one of your awesome reviews here on the NCL boards!  We just booked our first NCL cruise to the Baltics for 2020.  It's always good to see a familiar face in the crowd!  As usual, another great review and some awesome photos to boot.  I appreciate some of the comparisons that you've added in between your experience on NCL and Carnival.  That really helps us as we've done the Carnival sailing several times out of PR and always had similar experiences to you on them.  Many thanks my friend!

 

Cheers,

Trip

Hey Trip!! Thanks for stopping by and for your compliments my friend. Your reviews are also top notch and I especially enjoyed your recent one on your Alaska sailing. We definitely grabbed some pointers from you since an Alaskan cruise is also on our radar. Ain't it funny?? People from the States come to PR to escape from the cold of winter and we want to leave the tropics for a week of cold weather. Hahaha....

 

Thanks for following and take care!!

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11 hours ago, juneholaday said:

I did the EPIC this past summer in Europe, Roundtrip Barcelona. I will NEVER book a ship that large again if all 4000+ passenger ships are the same. Could never get into dinner in the MDR. Must make a reservation or wait forever. Ate dinner every night in the buffet. Buffet was excellent though - one of the best I've seen. Could not get into shows unless you booked pre cruise. No elevator mid ships! Only one forward and one aft making them impossibly crowded. Travelling with my parents in their 80's and to have them climb more than 2 or 3 flights of stairs was criminal. Since our itinerary was so port intensive (off the ship at 6:30am, back on at 7pm) we only ate and slept on the ship. I remember walking by the pool saying to my husband that I hope this ship doesn't go to the Caribbean because the pool is much too small for the capacity of passengers. Our cabin steward was amazing but our other two companion cabins on another deck had a terrible time. They couldn't even get ice in their ice buckets all week. And the bathrooms in the cabins.... OMG! The sink is next to the bed. The toilet is in its own cubby and the shower is in its own cubby. The shower was great. The toilet was cramped and stifling. Thank goodness we brought POO-Pouri with us. We were in an inside cabin and there was no light bright enough to read by. The brightest light was in the toilet so makeup application, shaving and reading all took place in there. Our other family members had balcony cabins and so they did all their shaving and makeup on the balcony. At night it was as dark as our inside cabin. Oh, and the a/c didn't get cold enough so my husband and I slept under soaked bath towels to cool us down. Yikes! Please think about your situation before booking this ship. Consider the type of cabin, the age and girth of the passengers, mobility issues and food choices. Fabulous trip and itinerary but the ship I could do without ever again. Best of luck!

I was aware of the design quirks of the Epic when I decided to book so that is not what worries me. Quality of food and service and lack of enough personnel would definitely be very important and those are the points I constantly hear the Epic failing. We'll see...

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9 hours ago, bluehawk47 said:

Thanks again for your great review.  We will be on the Dawn in 5 weeks 🙂

We were on the Epic last year for spring break and it is a weird ship.  It if wasn't so crowded, it would have been fine, but it was a 4 nighter out of florida, so it was FULL of college kids.  They were well behaved, but there were soooooo many of them and they took over the ship.  There were times that it took 25 minutes to get a drink.  Thank goodness we could get two at a time.  Last year's cruise is the main reason we are doing a 7 nighter out of San Juan.  I figure the college kids will not fly to Puerto Rico to board a ship.  As far as the Epic , it has a weird layout, but I would do it again if we could travel during the off season.  Being a teacher, I am limited to the peak times. 

 

Oh, you'd be amazed at how many spring breakers flock down to PR. But my experience is that, at least on land based resorts and hotels, they usually behave ok. Sure, they still like to party and have a good time but they generally behave. March is smack dab in spring break. I just hope, like you said, hopefully they don't fly down to get on a ship.  we'll see...

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3 hours ago, JaysMom2 said:

Yeah it was in the nighttime news locally too. I wonder if the ship had lateral propulsion issues since that pier had wide berths and an angle comfortable enough for it to have come in at a different angle. If I'm not mistaken, it's the first cruise ship to hit a dock here in PR, although the Cataño ferry hit this pier a few weeks ago. Thankfully no one got hurt.

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Hi Stinger-pr...when you had drinks at O'Sheehan's bar were Aaron and Wantu bartending?  They were the BEST on my cruise the week before.  We weren't at full capacity but I still don't know how they remember so many passenger names...

Edited by tacoville

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@Stinger-pr Thanks so much for all the information. We'll be down there a day ahead of the cruise for our NCL Dawn sailing March 24th (flying in on the 23rd), hope it's not too crazy with the spring breakers, lol!!

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On 2/12/2019 at 11:13 PM, Jcdcruise said:

How long was the walk from the Cruise Terminal to the Boatyard ? We are thinking of walking it and just want to make sure its possible and we won't get lost. We will be going on the Dawn in a few weeks!

According to the timestamps from my pictures it was 36 minutes from the terminal exit to the Boatyard entrance. Which I think it wasn't too bad considering we stopped for pictures more than a few times and were walking at a very leisurely pace. The walk is pretty straight forward. Just keep the water to your right as you exit the terminal and once the street turns slight right then a sharp left. Keep walking against the flow of traffic until you reach a bridge to your right. Go across and keep walking until you reach the entrance to Boatyard.

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On 12/27/2018 at 5:54 PM, Stinger-pr said:

“For what human ill does not DAWN seem to be an alleviation?”

-Thornton Wilder-

 

(An what an alleviation the Dawn was for us indeed!!)

 

Hey guys!! Welcome to my review of my cruise aboard the Norwegian Dawn on Thanksgiving week, Nov. 18-25, 2018 out of San Juan, PR. I’m still getting over my PCD (Post Cruise Depression) and as I write this and reminisce about those too few days, it only gets worse. So, what do I do? Easy. I start planning another cruise...LOL!! This was my fourth cruise but only the second along with my DW. It was also our first cruise on Norwegian Cruise Line and didn’t know what to expect with their Freestyle Cruising. And although in the end we had a great time, we were a bit nervous because there was so much lack of good, recent information about the Dawn and I felt as if we were almost going in blind. CC has spoiled me into going on cruises well informed about ships and destinations that this time, it was a bit nerve-wracking having so many “we’ll see…” things in mind. We were very surprised and surprisingly satisfied with the Dawn and its crew and we hope we get to sail on her again someday soon!

 

Disclaimer:

 

Opinions vary from person to person and what you will read here are my opinions, thoughts, experiences and those of my wife in some instances. They might not be the same as yours and even if you traveled on the same sailing as us, you might have experienced things differently. I can sometimes be opinionated and most times I try to be funny about it all. But in the end I do hope that our opinions help some and entertain others.

 

If you have read any of my previous reviews, you’ll know that I work in the hospitality/gaming industry and therefore I might sometimes be very (maybe even too) critical of guest services, crew attitude and things like that. You might think it’s ranting or nit-picking but trust me, after 24 years in the business I know that the devil is in the details and even though you might not consciously care, details do start to stack up when not done right and they do mess with your experience. Yes, there were a few things that were off. It wasn’t all perfect as you’ll see when I get into details. But nothing was so major that it lessened our enjoyment of the cruise.

 

Now, there might also be some differences from other sailings of the Dawn from San Juan since not all are scheduled to be the same in length and itinerary as ours. In fact, if I’m not mistaken, the sailing right after the one we took was a 10-day itinerary followed by an 11-day which included stops in the A-B-C islands as well as the ones we visited (at least I think that was the order).

 

I will also be doing a bit of comparison between this trip and my previous cruises which had similar destinations. All my previous cruises have been with Carnival Cruise Line on the Southern Caribbean route out of San Juan. Even though we have previously visited most of the islands on this itinerary with Carnival (Carnival doesn’t usually stop at Antigua when sailing from SJ), we decided against booking with Carnival because we wanted a new ship. Royal Caribbean also has the Freedom of the Seas sailing from PR, but it didn’t seem as a better value for our “all-of-a-sudden” budget. NCL’s Dawn slotted right between the Fascination and the FOTS and even though there’s a lot of discussion about the “value” of the free perks on NCL, it worked great for us in the end. The ship experience will be different from those previous reviews, but you’ll still find reference for info on what to do on the islands (well at least I’d hope so!).

 

Another difference from other reviews out there (for the Dawn or otherwise) is that I am local to Puerto Rico. That means that I will not be writing about the experience of going through the airports, airlines, staying at any hotel, taxis, etc. Anyhow, if you have any questions about these topics, feel free to ask whatever you like, and I’ll try to answer to the best of my knowledge.

 

When I started with this cruise bug, I got TONS of ideas and information from other reviewers who shared their experiences like Mitsugirly, pghsteelerfan, among others. Some are still posting, some since retired or on hiatus from cruising and/or CC. But since the info I gathered from reading those reviews helped me further the enjoyment of my travels, I always try to pay it forward in case my experience can help someone else have a better one themselves.

 

Also, while I try to be comprehensive in the info I gather and the pictures I take, please be aware that we’re still on vacation. So there might be some things I missed because, well… I was having fun!! Also, we had the Specialty Dining Package for three nights, which means the menus for the MDR will likely be missing for those nights, although I did save all the dailies for you guys.

 

I’ll also try to post as soon as I can, as quickly as I can. These things take time to put together and life happens and can sometimes get in the way. So, please be patient if you don’t see the whole thing posted in three days. I never leave my reviews incomplete so I won’t leave you hanging.

 

That being said… on to the review.

 

Pre-cruise:

 

This cruise basically came out of nowhere for us. We are currently doing some home renovations, including fixing up damage from last year’s hurricane Maria. We had already budgeted and put aside some cash in case something went over budget (as usually happens). Although the renovations are still ongoing, we have basically signed all contracts for the remaining work and GASP!!! nothing will actually go too much over budget so that means we got some moolah left after all. So, what does my DW do? She turns to me and says something along the lines of “after all this and what’s still to come, we need a vacation. Honey, go book a cruise!” (I might've said Hell yeah!!!! No less than an hour later I had the info on prices that we needed and sat down to discuss the options. I still had some personal time at work and she was getting Thanksgiving week off from hers so we decided to cruise on that week since the timing was perfect for us.

 

I had never even looked at cruises for Thanksgiving week until this opportunity came along and I was amazed that (At least sailings from San Juan) prices weren’t really that bad. I was truly expecting them to be higher, specially in PR since a lot of people have days off during that week.

 

Carnival was dirt cheap and came in around $700-something per person including taxes, fees and gratuities for an inside cabin with no extra amenities. FOTS was way up there since insides showed as sold out (or blocked maybe? RCI has a HUGE presence here in PR with local travel agents). So, they had ocean view and upward cabins starting at around $1000 per person including fees, taxes and gratuities. NCL had the “Free at Sea” promotion where Ocean View cabins and up received at least two perks “free”. We opted for NCL and the Dawn and opted for the “free” 3-day Ultimate Dining package and the Unlimited Beverage Package (UBP) and alas!! not all “free stuff” is free. There was a $100-something gratuities per person added to your fare if you opted for the UBP. We were fine with this since the regular charge for the UBP is $99 per person, per day PLUS 20% gratuity so for us it made a heck of a lot of sense to just pay the gratuities. The cost was just over $2,100 (or $1,050 per person) including taxes, fees and all gratuities (for the cruise and the UBP). Although NCL had the highest overall cost, we thought we had the best net value on NCL. This “free/not free” thing has garnered a lot of discussion here on CC about “misrepresentation” of what the promo really means but in the end, we saved money  and that’s all I really care about.

 

So, our sailing ended up being the first sailing of the Dawn from San Juan for its winter season, coming from her reposition trip from Boston, MA. Our itinerary would be a 7 night cruise with stops at Barbados, Antigua, St. Kitts, St. Maarten, and St. Thomas. We also ended up booking an OK (class) Obstructed Ocean View cabin on deck 8. DW wanted me to get an inside but I convinced her to get an OV for one extra “perk” and we also got $160 of OBC with the offer at the time. I looked at the available rooms on some deck plans and chose cabin 8566 because it was one of the four cabins (two on each side) with the least obstructed view since the lifeboat in front of the window was smaller and had no roof cover, hence visibility wasn’t THAT much obstructed. But a few days after booking (I booked about 50 days out) I received an email with an “invitation” to bid for an upgrade. I took the bait and bid just over the minimum for a balcony cabin upgrade. This had me going crazy, logging in to NCL.com, looking for a “congratulations” message or doing mock bookings to see the remaining inventory, hoping to see lots of balcony cabins still unsold (which I did). Finally, 9 days before sailing I received an email stating that my bid was accepted and was moved to an aft balcony (not aft-facing) cabin #9196. SCORE!! A few minutes later I had all my cruise docs all printed out and my luggage tags with their info filled. Yeah, I was that exited!!!

 

The day before we were to sail I had my suitcase all ready and kindda felt it a bit light. But I could not put my finger on why it was. Heck, I even had some space left. I thought it was due to packing smaller clothing than usual since I had lost over 40 lbs since the last time I cruised and was wearing one size smaller clothes than last time (as if that made any real difference). Little did I know that this “I feel lighter” would come into play a few times later in the cruise in multiple ways. Ughh...even writing this I feel like slapping myself. You’ll see…

 

After doing some research I ended up buying three things specifically to take on this cruise and eventual cruises. One were some cruise luggage tags. Last trip the paper tags were almost ripped off my bags and being an over-worrier some times, I told myself that I wouldn’t risk it.

 

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This held up perfectly this time.


Another item was a non-surge protected multi plug thingy which almost didn’t fit on the only American 120V outlet in the room (there’s actually another for electric razors in the bathroom).

 

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Although I forgot to take a picture of it actually plugged in but all I can say is that it was a tight, tight fit. Also, unless your chargers are very slim, it’s almost impossible to fit three chargers at at time, but we had no problem connecting two to the regular outlets and two more devices using the USB outlets provided for a total of 4 devices.

 

Last but not least, after reading all the controversy and outrage about cruise lines doing away with drinking straws, I decided to buy a set of stainless steel straws. The set included 8 straight, narrow tubes, 4 straight wider ones and 4 bent tubes, along with two brushes to clean them on the inside. At 10.5” they ended up being to long for almost any glass that NCL served us in (which varied from plastic to glass, small to tall) and we ended up not using them that much unless we knew we were going to order frozen drinks. Also carrying them was a bit of a hassle sometimes, even if they were only two. So either I get shorter straws or I simply leave them at home next time and simply adapt.


 

One thing that never, ever, ever goes into my suitcase is my photo equipment. I have a 55L backpack that gobbles up a LOT of stuff. I decided to put all the photo equipment I was taking on it so I could have it with me all the time during embarkation. And after this trip I vowed to leave most of it home next time. If you’re into photography and you already have been once (or more) to a place, you start to think about photo ops, specific shots of specific places and specific angles. Theory is one thing, practicality and what happens once you’re there is something else altogether.

 

I have (and took with me) a Canon SX50HS bridge camera with UV and CPL filters, a Nikon AW100 (for underwater, now my secondary UW camera), an Olympus TG4 also for underwater photography (primary for underwater, mostly due to RAW shooting capability). I also took for its maiden snorkel trip an Apeman A80 action cam (GoPro clone with great capabilities and comparable qualities that I TOTALLY managed to mess up!) and finally my Galaxy S7 smartphone (in which I alternate taking jpeg and RAW pictures). In the end, the Canon is getting to bulky for cruising for me and having FIVE chargers, plus accessories, plus extra batteries are simply becoming overkill. I am starting to look into upgrading the Canon or simply not taking it with me on cruises. The TG4’s RAW capability and the S7’s (since upgraded to and S8+) camera proved to be quite sufficient on almost all conditions for what I needed. Although having two UW cameras for still pictures might be too much, it came into play later in the trip. As if that weren’t enough, I also took with me my Tycka Compact Travel Tripod (looking at a Gorillapod for next trip now) since I wanted to do some time-lapse videos with the action camera. An experiment that came out horrendous. It ended up being too much equipment for the activities weI did so I made the decision that this would be the last cruise hauling so much photo stuff. I am in no way a pro photographer. Just a photo enthusiast that sometimes has delusions of being Andy Warhol...lol!

 

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The thing is that I ended up using the tripod just once for a miserably failed attempt at a time lapse shoot leaving San Juan bay and the selfie stick once. I didn’t even install the windshield mount on the car while in St. Thomas. I think I’m going to start using the TG-4 a bit more to get the feeling of what it could do as a companion to my (now) S8+ cell phone, which is also capable of taking RAW images. That is, of course, IF I don’t end up getting a new mirror-less Olympus I got me eyes on before the next trip. Either way, I really need to figure out how to take less with me.

 

So, finally, tomorrow I get my taste of the Dawn!!

Hey Stinger-pr!  Just got on CC for a little while and came across this review that I somehow missed when you originally posted it...what a pleasant surprise!  I am definitely going to read and looking forward to it especially with the dry spell in reviews due to cruise cancellations due to covid.  We actually had our first cruise booked since we took our last one on Liberty in 2015 out of San Juan.  That was supposed to be in May, on Magic and out of Miami to HMC, GT, Aruba & Curacao.  We all know what happened there.  We actually have Fascination booked for Oct. 31, 2021 out of San Juan to STT, Antigua, Dominica, Grenada, & Barbados, so keeping fingers crossed that cruising will resume by then.  And if the Fascination cruise is a go, we plan on booking our favorite "go to" hotel again.  🙂  The past two years we've done milestone "destination" birthday's for two good friends - NOLA in 2018 (so much fun) and FL last October.  So we've had a cruising dry spell and I'm going through serious withdrawals right now, so reading this, even though almost 2 years late, will help.  Always enjoy your reviews and the great pictures you get.  So glad I found it!!! 

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