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Norwegian Dawn

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Norwegian Dawn is a ship you love despite its flaws. Built in 2002 as the third ship in the Norwegian fleet to accommodate the line's Freestyle Cruising concept (lots of choices for restaurants, bars and entertainment), the ship has stayed modern with several refurbishments, the latest being a 2016 refresh of public spaces and cabin decor and the addition of new restaurants and bars. Its old bones do create some minor hassles, but the "let's have fun" mentality of passengers and crew and a plethora of options to accommodate all tastes means that nearly everyone has a great time onboard.

With 2,340 passengers, Dawn feels neither too big nor too small. The ship succeeds by offering so much choice. At dinner, you can choose from 11 restaurants, including no-charge Asian and pub food options and extra-fee steak, Italian, French and Mexican venues. The food is generally quite good, though a la carte pricing in most speciality restaurants takes away some of the carefree fun of trying out multiple dishes. Entertainment, day and night, is plentiful and varied. We especially appreciated matinee shows on sea days that spotlighted Second City comedians and the onboard magician, and the use of the Bliss Lounge, atrium and pool deck as secondary venues for evening events.

Perhaps it's the mainly Caribbean and Bermuda itineraries (read: fun in the sun destinations), but passengers onboard Norwegian Dawn are ready to have a good time. You'll find packed shows, dancing in the atrium, a hopping casino and even enthusiastic beanbag tossing. The lively vibe makes everything seem more exuberant, and you never have to worry about the "dead at 10" phenomenon you find on ships where everyone just wants to sleep after the second showing in the theatre. The crew, too, are among the friendliest we've encountered, from the smiling "washy washy" folks at the buffet to the hardworking room stewards who never fail to say hello as you pass.

Unfortunately for Dawn, the ship can't shake its outdated layout and old finishings. The galley on Deck 6 means passengers can't walk from the Venetian Restaurant aft through the midship Gatsby's Bar and surrounding restaurants to the casino and theatre forward. We never failed to go down the wrong set of elevators or stairs when looking for the Deck 6 main dining venues. On the upper levels, partial decks and added venues also add to the "you can't get there from here" confusion; the spa entrance is tucked away, the kids' pool is most easily accessed via the arcade one deck above and Los Lobos is so well hidden that we had to ask several people where it was before we found it.

The refit did a wonderful job of replacing garish decor with a more modern look, but be prepared for cabin furniture that's showing wear and tear, bathroom fixtures that might need a call to maintenance and elevator lights that never work. (We heard several tales of the elevators themselves getting stuck between floors, as well.) The most heard -- and experienced -- complaint was bathrooms that were out of order or in dire need of cleaning.

The last thing to be aware of is the rampant nickel-and-diming onboard. For some, it's an annoyance to be hit up for instant win game and raffle ticket purchases before every show or charged a la carte pricing at onboard restaurants that used to charge a flat cover (or to be tempted by so many extra-fee dining venues). For others, Dawn's reasonable cruise fares -- many people on our trip took advantage of last-minute sales -- means they can afford to come onboard and then only pay for the things they really want. Many passengers mitigate the constant charging by taking advantage of booking offers, like free beverages or dining packages and shore excursion credit.

But, really, cruising freestyle means you shouldn't worry on your vacation. There's no dress code to make packing a hassle. You can try out four restaurants -- plus some extra poolside grills and buffets and continental rooms service breakfast -- without paying an extra cent. You will never be bored. Whether you're a first-time cruiser who lives near the homeport, a repeater enjoying the high life in a suite, a gambler looking to hit the jackpot or earn points toward a free cruise or a 9-to-5er looking for a warm-weather getaway from the daily grind, Norwegian Dawn has a place for you.

Daytime: The rule of "Freestyle" is a relaxed dress code, so you'll see plenty of T-shirts, shorts and jeans during the day.

Evening: Shorts, jeans and sneakers can be worn in all restaurants except Le Bistro for dinner, though many people do dress a little nicer at night. One formal-optional night, called Norwegian's Night Out, is when some passengers do choose to get decked out and take formal portraits. Smart casual is always requested in Le Bistro; this means jeans or slacks, collared shirts and closed-toe shoes for men, and a dressy outfit for women (including jeans, slacks, dresses or skirts). Kids under 12 can wear nice shorts. Passengers are also encouraged to bring a white outfit for the once-per-cruise White Hot Party. We were surprised just how many people chose to dress for the event.

Not permitted: The only prohibitions are tank tops for men, flip-flops, baseball caps, visors, overly ripped-up jeans and swimwear. These are permitted in the Garden Cafe, though cover-ups or shirts and shorts must be worn over swimsuits and bare feet are not allowed.

Theatre

The Stardust Theater, on decks 6 and 7, is set up with stadium seating and cup holders, rather than long banquettes and drinks tables. Seats are packed in without much legroom and no "escape route" up the far sides, so you have to use the two main aisles if you want to arrive late or leave early. There's a balcony at the Deck 7 level, but many of the seats have obstructed views and one entire side is reserved for suite residents.

It's best to arrive early to get a seat, as shows are nearly always packed, and the nature of the theatre means you have to climb over people to get to any remaining seats (which are usually close to the stage on the sides). While you wait, entertainment staff will sell instant win games and raffle tickets; we found this off-putting, but many people on our cruise were enthusiastic participants.

The main shows are presented once or twice per evening and are generally a cut above the typical cruise ship shows (though not the Broadway-quality performances you find on newer ships). Several shows are themed song-and-dance extravaganzas with the ship's singers and dancers, full of brightly coloured costumes and high energy. We found the singing to be quite good. The other shows are by guest performers on board for a longer contract (as opposed to doing one or two shows and then leaving). On our cruise, these included a magician and an acrobatic duo, who performed solo acts and took part in integrated shows including the singers and dancers. A Second City comedy troupe is always onboard, and they do one main show in the theatre, which is a mix of sketch comedy and improv.

On sea days, matinee performances might be a close-up show with the magician, a presentation by Second City, a kid's circus show or game shows like Jeopardy and Deal or No Deal.

Daily Fun

Norwegian Dawn packs its sea day schedules with everything from arts and crafts, spa and shopping seminars, silly games (beanbag toss, goofy golf), dance classes, basketball and Ping-Pong games, art auctions and trivia. Note that many of the activities have a fee to participate (like wine tastings or bingo) or are meant to convince you to spend money (shopping and spa seminars, art auctions).

One under-publicized event is the Behind-the-Scenes Tour, which takes passengers to crew areas such as the galley, laundry and theatre backstage. Each tour is limited to 16 people and costs $79 per person; inquire at the Shore Excursions desk for tour times.

An arcade on Deck 13 is open round the clock and includes a mix of standard and ride-on video games, skeeball and try-to-grab-a-prize machines. It's not cheap, so set some rules before sending your children in there.

At Night

Norwegian Dawn is happening at night, in part because the ship utilizes multiple venues for events and performances, and in part because itineraries full of beachy destinations and plenty of sea days put everyone in a party mood.

The Bliss Lounge (formerly the Spinnaker Lounge) on Deck 7 is the secondary show lounge. It hosts everything from the Second City's late-night, adults-only improv show and a Broadway cabaret with the ship's singers to karaoke, '70s parties and adult game shows. Though the lounge was completely redone in the 2016 refurbishment, we found it was better as a drinking and dancing venue than as a show lounge. Seating is limited and cramped, and half of the seats have bad or no views of the stage. Plus, people treat the lounge like a bar and talk, so you can't hear the show if you want to.

The Grand Atrium is another surprisingly lively spot at night. With a small stage on Deck 8, adjacent to O'Sheehan's and overlooking the Java Café and main reception area, Norwegian can turn a highly trafficked thoroughfare into a performance venue, encouraging people to stop, listen, order a drink and dance. On our cruise, Norwegian regulars Jose and Patti packed the house with greatest hits across the decades. There's also a stage on Deck 7 in front of the Java Cafe that's sometimes used for bands. Several times per sailing, passengers can catch after-hours movies on the big screen in the ship's atrium, as well.

The pool deck is also utilized for late-night events, such as an Island Night Deck Party. Once per weeklong cruise, the ship hosts Norwegian Cruise Line's signature "White Hot Party," for which passengers get decked out in all-white and dance the night away under the stars, led by the ship's angel-wing-clad staff, who happily demonstrate all manner of line dances. Evening piano music takes place in Gatsby's Lounge on Deck 6.

The Dawn Club Casino -- located on Deck 6 along the corridor that leads to the Stardust Theater -- offers plenty of slot machines and tables games, including blackjack, craps and poker. Theatre-goers with an aversion to cigarette smoke should beware: you'll have to hold your breath as you make your way through the casino to your show of choice, as there's no route around the casino on that deck. Norwegian Dawn is popular with gambling fans who are part of Norwegian's Casinos at Sea Players Club. They come regularly to try their luck or participate in open casino tournaments; the ship also hosts a few invitation-only tournaments each year.

Norwegian Dawn Bars and Lounges

Like sake, mojitos, wine or tequila? Then Norwegian Dawn has a bar for you. While the ship has watering holes aplenty, many of them are themed and tucked away inside restaurants. If you've elbowed past diners at Moderno to sit at the Sugarcane Mojito Bar, your buddy won't be able to order a whiskey sour without decamping to a second bar.

Havana Club Cigar Bar (Deck 6): This glass-enclosed bar is the place to enjoy a cigar that you picked up in port or bought at Gatsby's next door. (Drinks need to come from Gatsby's as well.) It's a social space, and good for ship gossip.

Gatsby's Champagne Bar (Deck 6): Gatsby's is flanked by Le Bistro, La Cucina and the cigar bar; the bar forms the fourth wall of the square, with seating in the middle open to Deck 7 above. It's an all-purpose bar and does not exclusively serve sparkling wine. Singer-pianists play themed sets at night (Simon and Garfunkel, tribute to Nat King Cole, etc.). The area is also used for daytime activities like origami, trivia and jewellery seminars.

Casino Bar (Deck 6): The Casino Bar is used by smokers and gamblers, especially the avid players who get free drinks at this bar only.

Java Cafe (Deck 7): If you want Lavazza coffee, tea or a cocktail, the atrium's Java Cafe has it all. You can also purchase macarons and other treats at The Bake Shop. With an adjacent stage and one above, this bar is always hopping, with morning coffee drinkers, pre-dinner sippers and after-hours dancers. Events like towel folding and cake decorating demos take place here during the day.

Bliss Lounge (Deck 7): Whether it's a late-night game show, performance or dancing -- when something is happening at Bliss, you can be sure the bar will be patronized. All types of drinks are served here.

Bamboo Bar (Deck 7): If you want to sample sakes, this small bar on the Deck 7 corridor, adjacent to Bamboo and the Sushi Bar, has a seat for you.

The Cellars - A Michael Mondavi Family Wine Bar (Deck 7): Formerly the Pearly King Pub, this wine bar is where you can sip your favourite vintage or attend extra-fee tastings (like wine and chocolate pairings).

O'Sheehan's (Deck 8): As befitting its pub setting, O'Sheehan's is your bar for beer (American, international and hard cider), as well as beer drinks like Shandies or Snake Bites. It also serves Lavazza coffee (and Irish coffee), liqueurs and cocktails.

Lounge (Deck 9): A funny little lounge is tucked away on Deck 9 that can be used for private parties, like Cruise Critic meet-and-greets. It does not have its own bar but is quite close to O'Sheehan's.

Topsiders Bar (Deck 12): This full bar is the main provider of fruity drinks and refreshing beer to the sun worshippers on the pool deck. You'll need to elbow your way to the front during the White Hot Party or other late-night pool deck events.

Los Lobos Tequila Bar (Deck 12): The small bar inside the Los Lobos restaurant serves tequila, margaritas and other tequila-based drinks. You won't find many other liquors up here.

Sugarcane Mojito Bar (Deck 13): Hidden inside Moderno Churrascaria, the Mojito Bar is only open while there are patrons; we showed up one night at 10 p.m. and it was already closing. The menu is mainly mojitos -- from the standard rum and mint concoction to spicy and fruity versions. You can also try a mojito flight or a few other cocktails featuring mint or pisco (perhaps for its South American connection to the restaurant?).

Bimini Bar (Deck 14): The secondary poolside bar is located up two decks from the pool, and best for those lounging on Deck 13 or the terraced rows of loungers leading from the pool all the way up. It's got shade, an attached grill serving burgers and fries, and blenders whipping up nonstop pina coladas and strawberry daiquiris.

Norwegian Dawn Outside Recreation

Pools

In the main pool area on Deck 12, there's a saltwater pool, plus four whirlpools and a bandstand for entertainment. The pool has a wading area with lounge chairs in a couple of inches of water along both sides. There's another hot tub on Deck 13, all the way forward.

The main pool deck is surrounded by chaise lounges, and chair-hogging is pretty rampant. Slightly set back from the pool area and out of direct sunlight are cafe tables and chairs so you can grab a snack or cocktail and enjoy the poolside scene without risking a sunburn. There are also clusters of wicker couches and comfy chairs, and the port side is reserved for smokers.

You must bring a beach towel from your cabin to the pool; you can trade a wet towel for a dry one, but you can't get a new one without a charge on your card until you bring it back.

The T-Rex Kid's Pool on Deck 12 is the perfect place for kids to splash and slide, freeing up the adult's pool for more grown-ups. The water park is hard to find -- go through the fitness centre or head up to Deck 13 then come down the aft stairs -- but it's worth the search. There are three water slides for varying ages and sizes, a hot tub, a pool with water sprayers and kid-size deck chairs. The whole area is prehistoric themed with giant dinosaurs and cave-like showers. (These are cute, but in reality, it's the adult chaperones who sit on them -- the kids are always in the water.) There's a see-saw by one entrance.

Parents should know that there is no lifeguard or crew member to watch children or enforce the oft-broken rules of "no jumping" and "no swim diapers."

Recreation

There's a narrow jogging track (3.5 laps equal a mile) on Deck 13, where sports enthusiasts can take advantage of golf driving nets, shuffleboard, a man-sized chessboard and Ping-Pong. The basketball/volleyball court is up above on Deck 14. Walkers are better off on the wider, more relaxing wraparound promenade on Deck 7, which also offers shuffleboard courts.

Sun Decks

By the pool, chaise lounges are set up in amphitheatre mode, rising up two decks to the Bimini Grill on Deck 14. More loungers and some circular pod-style cushioned wicker chairs overlook the pool on Deck 13. Head forward on this deck for more sun deck space by the lone hot tub.

Norwegian Dawn Services

The hub for guest services is on Deck 7. In the Grand Atrium midship, you'll find the reception desk, as well as restaurant reservations, an onboard credit desk, future cruise sales and shore excursions. You'll also find a jewellery store, Tides, here.

Head aft from the atrium to find the photo gallery and internet cafe. They look the same, as they both feature computer screens; the main row of terminals is to view photos (or find your prints in the binder with the number that matches the one on your key card), while the cluster of five stations all together is where you can check your email and print your boarding pass.

Norwegian also has Wi-Fi throughout the ship. Fees are the same no matter how you connect: 95 cents per minute, packages of 100 minutes for $75 or 250 minutes for $125, or unlimited use for $29.99 per day. Norwegian also has an app, iConcierge, that lets you make shore excursion and restaurant bookings, review your bill and check the activity schedule free of charge and text with other iConcierge users on the ship for $9.95.

Head forward on Deck 7 to find the ship's main duty-free shops, which flank both sides of a hallway. The shops sell jewellery, stylish casualwear, upscale accessories, alcohol and souvenirs.

On Deck 12, you'll find the library, which is cosily appointed with comfy couches and club chairs and offers a large selection of books. You can also borrow board games and decks of cards. Adjacent are four meeting rooms that can be used together or separately.

There's a medical centre on Deck 4. You won't find self-serve launderettes, but you can pay a fee to have the ship's staff clean and/or press your clothes.

Smoking is permitted in the casino (only during operational hours), as well as on the port side of open decks 7 and 12.

Spa

Norwegian's serene Mandara Spa (owned by Steiner, which runs many cruise ship spas) might be so peaceful because it's hard to find. The spa entrance is tucked away in the aft stairwell of Deck 11, with a modest sign and small entryway. The splashier entrance is actually for the Pulse Fitness Center one deck up; from there, you can head down an interior stairwell to the spa reception desk.

Spa services include facials, massages and ionithermie body treatments; salon services include hair cuts and styling, manicures, pedicures, waxing and men's shaving. You'll also find couples treatments, acupuncture, teeth whitening and medispa treatments like Botox and Restylane. You'll find standard and value pricing (lower prices for less busy times at the spa, like port days), as well as discounts when you sign up for three "signature" treatments (10 percent off the first, 20 percent off the second and 30 percent off the third). The spa will also run promotions for packages of mini-treatments during select hours for lower rates.

Passengers can buy passes to the ship's beautiful thermal suite; you can't get free access just for booking a spa treatment. It has a heated lap pool, Jacuzzi and hydrotherapy pool, as well as heated tile loungers with ocean views, a steam room, sauna, showers and a drink station with tea and fruit-infused water. Only 80 passes are available for the full cruise at $149 per person; daily passes are also available for $35 per person. For a simpler, cheaper sweat, the men's and women's locker rooms each feature a sauna and a steam room.

Fitness

The Deck 12 Pulse Fitness Center is quite roomy, with two glassed-in areas for classes or stretching. It features elliptical trainers, stationary bikes and treadmills, plus free weights and resistance machines. Cardio machines each have their own TVs; some face floor-to-ceiling glass windows, while others have interior views. Group classes like stretching, abs and total body conditioning are free. Yoga, Pilates and cycling cost $12 per class, TRX suspension training is $20 and body sculpt boot camp is $35; sign up for three or four sessions of the same class to get a discount. Note that an 18-percent service charge is added to the cost of all extra-fee fitness classes and services.

You can also pay extra for personal training sessions ($85 per session), body composition analysis ($35) and a nutrition consultation ($85).

The main entrance to the fitness centre is behind the buffet in the Deck 12 aft stairwell. Alternately, you can enter from the outside from the kids' pool area.

Norwegian's approach to dining is to give passengers lots of choice -- there are 11 dinner venues plus a sushi bar and room service -- but to charge extra for meals in more than half the restaurants. Passengers can eat for free in two main dining venues, the buffet, O'Sheehan's pub and Bamboo, the Asian restaurant. Extra-fee options range from Benihana-style Teppanyaki to steaks, Mexican and classic French bistro fare. You could manage to try every restaurant on a seven-night cruise, but it would get costly. Even so, the variety of dinner options keeps meals fresh and fun, as you're not going back to the same restaurant every evening (unless you want to).

Overall, we found the food to be flavorful and well prepared, and service was excellent throughout. If you sailed Norwegian in previous years, know that the menus changed after the 2016 dry-dock, just because you loved or disliked a restaurant on cruises past does not mean you'll have the same experience now.

The staff were accommodating of special diets, but you get better results if you pre-order your meal the night before. Menus are posted outside of each restaurant (or you can ask to see speciality restaurant menus at the Reservations desk at Guest Services), which was helpful in deciding which nights to eat at the main dining rooms and which to seek out an alternative.

You can make reservations for speciality restaurants and main dining rooms at the Reservations Desk on Deck 7 (just to the side of reception), at each restaurant, through the iConcierge app or your cabin TV, or by calling the reservations number from your phone. You can also make reservations online in advance of your cruise, but not all dining slots are available, especially for odd-numbered and large groups. During dining hours, which start at 5:30 p.m. (last reservations are 10 p.m.), electronic signs in public areas show which venues have no, short or long waits for walk-ins. Tip: The speciality restaurants are much less busy the first couple of days of the cruise when most passengers are still orienting themselves.

Kids' menus are available in all restaurants and have a standard selection of chicken tenders, pizza, hamburgers, mac-n-cheese and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Children can order off the regular kids' menu for free in any upcharge restaurant, or they can order off that restaurant's regular menu for the listed price.

Free Dining

Venetian and Aqua (Deck 6): The ship's two "main" restaurants, both on Deck 6, differ mostly in terms of the atmosphere; their menus are identical. The 433-seat Venetian is the more cruiselike of the two, though smaller than most main dining rooms on mainstream cruise ships and feels less crowded. With white walls, high ceilings and floor-to-ceiling windows that stretch across the entire back wall, the venue is light and airy -- though it does feature bizarre renditions of portrait paintings with slashes of coloured paint across the faces and bodies. Because the Venetian is situated on the stern, its location is also one of the most motion-sensitive of the entire ship, so if you're having a rocky sea day, you might want to dine in one of the midship eateries. The 340-seat Aqua features contemporary decor with touches of blue, and is also dimly lit, which can make for a more romantic dinner. In both venues, tables are available for two, four and larger groups.

Both of these dining rooms are open for dinner daily from 5:30 p.m. to 9:30 or 10 p.m., while the Venetian also serves breakfast and lunch. Kids menus are available for breakfast and lunch/dinner and come with crayons to keep the munchkins busy.

The breakfast menu offers fruit, yoghurt, cereal, eggs and omelettes, bakery selections (order them -- waiters don't come around with baskets), pancakes, waffles, French toast and sides like bacon, sausage and hash browns. An Express Breakfast of scrambled eggs, potatoes and baked beans will get you in and out faster; daily changing specials might include vanilla pound cake French toast or huevos rancheros.

Lunch starts with appetizers like roasted tomato soup, spinach Caesar salad or chicken nachos. Choose from sandwiches and burgers (tuna salad, Philly cheesesteak) or entrees like fish and chips, Spanish frittata or fried chicken. If you can fit in dessert midday, options might be peanut butter cup cheesecake, Key lime parfait or ice cream.

The dinner menu is divided into two sections. The first page has a changing selection of appetizers (beef carpaccio, New England clam chowder, Caesar salad) and entrees (braised red snapper, lamb tikka, beef tenderloin, baked eggplant). There's always a fish and vegetarian option. The second page is always-available choices, either complimentary (steak frites, herb-crusted chicken, flounder Milanese, shrimp rigatoni) or extra-free (ribeye for $19.99, surf and turf or a whole Maine lobster for $24.99).

Desserts always include a cheese or fruit plate, ice cream and a warm chocolate lava cake; changing selections might be pistachio creme brulee, cheesecake or cherries jubilee.

Bamboo (Deck 7): Bamboo is the ship's Chinese restaurant. The menu features appetizers (pot stickers and spring rolls), soups (hot and sour, egg drop), mains (kung pao chicken, vegetarian fried rice, beef chow fun) and desserts (coconut tapioca pudding, crispy chestnut and red bean triangles, five-spice chocolate cake). Two premium entrees incur a charge: lobster Cantonese ($24.99) and ginger-steamed Chilean sea bass ($15.99). You can also order sushi at a la carte prices. The complimentary menu is rather limited (it's shorter than it was when the restaurant incurred a surcharge), and it's not a stellar choice for folks with various dietary restrictions.

O'Sheehan's Neighborhood Bar & Grill (Deck 8): O'Sheehan's is a pub, sports bar and casual restaurant in one, with a prime location overlooking the main atrium action. It's an open space surrounding the atrium, rather than a walled-off venue, which gives it a direct view of the elevated stage where musicians perform, as well as activities going on in the Java Cafe or Deck 7 plaza. This means that people actually use the bar to drop by for a late-night snack or dessert, as well as dine here for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

The menu is all comfort food and pub fare -- fish and chips, fajitas, burgers, bangers and mash, Buffalo wings and spinach-artichoke dip. Breakfast includes baked goods, eggs and omelettes, French toast, oatmeal and corned beef hash. Desserts tempt with apple pie a la mode and brownie cheesecake. O'Sheehan's is a great option for a laid-back dinner without a price tag, without having to go to the buffet. Open 24 hours.

Garden Cafe (Deck 12): The buffet area is open from early until late and popular at all times of day. Be aware that the port and starboard stations do not offer the same dishes, so you'll need to make the full circuit to peruse all the options. The soft-serve ice cream dispenser is hidden all the way aft, beyond a buffet area that we never saw in use. Beverage stations are always open and form a wall between the seating area and the food service area.

The Garden Cafe serves early-riser breakfast from 5:30 a.m. and regular breakfast from 7 to 11:30 a.m. It features standard breakfast options (omelettes made to order, eggs, bacon, cereal, yoghurt, breakfast pastries, fruit, pancakes and waffles). An easily overlooked juice bar sells fresh fruit and vegetable juices for $2.50 to $3.50. At lunchtime (11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m.), you'll find lots of international options, from Indian cuisine to made-to-order pasta and Asian stir-fry, as well as make-your-own and pre-made salad and sandwich stations, hot dishes, fruit and desserts. One oddity -- there isn't white or wheat sandwich bread (or peanut butter, or jam) in the sandwich area at lunch -- just meats, cheeses, tuna and egg salad and fancier rolls and breads.

During dinner (5 to 9:30 p.m.), there are carving stations, made-to-order pasta and hot entrees, sometimes with a theme like Country Western night.

In between lunch and dinner, and after-dinner until 11:30 p.m., you'll find a hearty snack selection. Late-night is lots of comfort food -- pizza, burgers and hot dogs, sandwiches, nachos, etc.

The pool-deck extension of the Garden Cafe is called Topsiders. It's got a buffet line that's open from noon to 5 p.m., serving burgers and hot dogs and a partial selection of the food available inside. In the middle is the Sprinkles ice cream counter, serving three flavours of complimentary hard ice cream (always chocolate, vanilla, strawberry) with toppings.

Bimini Grill (Deck 13): For lunch on a sunny day, be sure to try Bimini Grill, an outdoor bar and burger joint that offers a bird's-eye view of the poolside activities, alongside juicy burgers and fresh fries. (You can order a veggie burger, but you'll need to wait for a crew member to bring one up from the buffet and have it cooked to order.)

Fee Dining

La Cucina (Deck 6); a la carte: If you dismiss Italian venues on cruise ships as uninspired pasta joints, don't make that mistake on Norwegian Dawn. La Cucina was one of our favourites, and so popular that it swapped places with Le Bistro in the 2016 refurb to offer more tables. The venue is carved up into sections, so the dining experience feels more intimate. Cheat on your Paleo diet for the amazing, fresh warm bread that starts the meal. Starters include standards like Caprese salad and fried calamari; pastas (served as sides or mains) include pesto gnocchi, meat or vegetable lasagna, and rigatoni with veal meatballs. For mains, choose from osso buco, pancetta-wrapped rack of lamb, lobster or filet mignon with a gorgonzola crust, among others. Authentic Italian desserts (like tiramisu) and aromatic espressos are offered for dessert.

Le Bistro (Deck 6); a la carte: Le Bistro is positioned as a date-night venue; it's the only speciality restaurant with a dress code (no shorts). The venue features heavy French options like mushroom soup, escargot, and fish and beef dishes covered in sauces. The fare there is top-notch and served similarly to what you would expect at a nicer land restaurant. Desserts include vanilla creme brulee and chocolate fondue for two.

Teppanyaki (Deck 7); $29.95: Part show, part meal, Teppanyaki is a Benihana-style restaurant in which diners sit around a hibachi grill, while chefs simultaneously prepare seafood, steaks and vegetables while telling jokes and tossing food in the air -- and catching it, of course. Teppanyaki can only seat 32 people per seating (eight per hibachi grill), so advance reservations are a must. Seatings are at 5:30, 7:15 and 9 p.m.

Sushi Bar (Deck 7); a la carte: The Sushi Bar is adjacent to Bamboo, and passengers can grab a seat at the bar and watch the chefs roll their sushi to order. Ten types of rolls are available, plus nigiri and sashimi upon request.

Los Lobos (Deck 12); a la carte: Carved out of the aft section of the buffet, Los Lobos is styled after a Mexican cantina, with colourful skull masks on the wall and a menu featuring tableside guacamole, tacos and burritos and tequila-based drinks. Other than the wall art, the a la carte eatery feels more cruise-ship-restaurant than authentic-Mexican-hole-in-the-wall, but that doesn't take away from the truly yummy dishes. Regular and spicy chips accompany the made-to-order guac, the beet-and-watercress salad was simple but flavorful and mahi-mahi tacos quite tasty. One order of quesadillas is enough for two kids to have dinner, and the beignets are crispy and sweet, and enhanced by the guava sauce. It's hard to find -- we wandered lost around Deck 13 for a while, even after asking a Garden Cafe waiter for directions. It's literally a hidden gem.

Cagney's Steakhouse (Deck 13); a la carte: Cagney's is a Morton's-like establishment, featuring Angus beef, lamb and seafood with sides like rice, mashed potatoes and creamed spinach. While the meat is cooked and seasoned well, the sides and appetizers are outstanding. The shrimp cocktail is a great size and features a tasty olive oil and herb marinade and cocktail sauce with a nice horseradish kick. Weeks later, I can't stop thinking about the white truffle fries. They only come with one entree, but the restaurant is happy to serve you up a batch as an appetizer or an additional side. You just have to ask. Cagney's also serves breakfast and lunch for select past-passengers and those booked in suites.

Moderno Churrascaria (Deck 13); $24.95: Monderno Churrascaria, a Brazilian-style steakhouse, offers 11 different types of meat, including lamb chops, filet mignon, sausage and bacon-wrapped chicken breast. In addition, the restaurant's all-you-can-eat salad bar includes international cheeses and dried meats, olives, and pickled and marinated veggies. If that isn't enough, you also get sides: white rice, sauteed mushrooms, garlic mashed potatoes and fried yucca. Dessert includes papaya cream and coconut flan.

Room Service: There's 24-hour room service that carries a $9.95 convenience fee per order placed (excluding morning coffee and continental breakfast items). In the morning, order omelettes, French toast, oatmeal and breakfast meats. All-day, choose from hearty chicken soup, three different salads, BLT, pizza, burgers, fish and chips, grilled salmon, kids' meals and desserts. Soda, alcohol and special occasion platters (caviar, cheese plate, cold hors d'ouevres) require a per-item fee in addition to the delivery charge.

Norwegian Dawn's cabins got a makeover, not plastic surgery, in the ship's 2016 refurbishment. Gone are the turquoise, starfish-stuffed carpets, the lime green couches and the fuchsia chairs -- replaced by a tasteful, neutral grey decor. Yet standard cabin bathrooms and furnishings remain the same, so expect some scuffs on the tables and throwback ashtrays by the toilet.

Standard cabins are on the small side, but can easily accommodate two people. Add in a third or fourth, either by bunk bed or pullout sofa, and you'll start to feel the squeeze. Storage is plentiful with a closet that offers both hanging space and wide shelves, three drawers of a suitable size for clothing and a few high shelves.

These cabins feature queen beds that can separate out into twins, one nightstand, corner vanity with an ottoman-like stool and attached hairdryer, and a moveable square table with a second stool. Hidden behind cabinet doors in the closet area are a mini-bar (you can ask to have the items removed) and a safe. Flat-screen televisions are mostly utilized as Norwegian ads, with several ship channels (bow cam, shore excursion videos) and descriptions of onboard spaces, with a bunch of news channels, one free movie channel, one general TV show channel and a lot of pay-per-view movies. Cabins also come with ice buckets and glasses, and coffee makers and coffee cups.

Definitely bring some sort of multi-plug device because there is only one 110-volt outlet and one 220-volt outlet by the vanity. You won't be able to plug in your cellphone and leave it by the bed.

Bathrooms are laid out in a convenient three-part design (two for inside and outside cabins). The showers (bathtubs for mini-suites and beyond) have sliding-glass doors, as does the toilet compartment. The doors separate each from the central sink area. When both doors are shut, each mini-room becomes semiprivate. The showers are spacious by cruise ship standards, but general bathroom storage is lacking and it's pretty easy to bang your elbows on all the dividing walls. Fun fact: The odd wall attachments by the toilet are an ashtray (smoking hasn't been allowed in cabins for years) and a magazine rack.

Provided toiletries include bar soap, body lotion and attached pumps of hand soap, shower gel and conditioning shampoo. No brand name is provided.

Norwegian Dawn has 26 wheelchair-accessible cabins, with an option in every category.

Interior: Inside cabins measure 142 square feet, and have a large mirror on the wall behind the bed (where the window would be in the identical outside cabins). They can sleep up to four people, with pulldown bunk beds.

Oceanview: Outside cabins measure 158 square feet, with a porthole or picture window above the bed. Obstructed-view outsides on Deck 8, behind the lifeboats, can measure up to 196 square feet. Outside cabins can also sleep up to four.

Balcony: Balcony cabins measure 166 square feet, with 37-square-foot verandas. These staterooms add in a small pullout sofa that can sleep one, and is not overly comfortable. Balconies are furnished with two metal and plastic-mesh chairs with a small drinks table. For those sleeping on the pullout, it's important to note that it's rock-hard. Aft-facing balconies on decks 8 through 10 are the same size as regular balcony cabins but offer a larger veranda, ranging in size from 71 to 136 square feet.

Minisuite: Mini-suites are laid out like balcony cabins, but at 229 square feet with 54-square-foot verandas, they offer more space. Mini-suites upgrade to shower-tub combos and queen-sized pullout sofas.

Suite: Norwegian Dawn has 64 suites, including two Garden Villas and eight Owner's Suites, as well as Penthouse and Family Suites. All of these suites receive butler and concierge service, exclusive breakfast and lunch (held inside Moderno), priority embarkation and disembarkation and tendering, Bulgari toiletries, espresso machines, priority restaurant reservations, meals from speciality restaurants delivered to your cabin (fees apply) plus a special room service menu with full breakfast, canapes and treats delivered to your suite, pillow menu and sparkling wine on embarkation day. Owner's Suite and Garden Villa residents receive a complimentary liquor setup, and Villa residents get a limo transfer from the pier to the airport.

Penthouse: Penthouses can be found all the way forward or all the way aft. Forward-facing penthouses on decks 9 and 10 range in size from 448 to 568 square feet, with balconies sized from 134 to 252 square feet. Aft-facing penthouses on decks 8, 9 and 10 are slightly smaller, at 365 to 411 square feet, with 78- to 123-square-foot balconies. The majority sleep three people, though a few can sleep four. Penthouse suites feature a walk-in closet, living area with couch, coffee table and chair and a small dining table with four chairs. Balconies feature full-sized lounge chairs.

Owner's Suite: The four Owner's Suites on Deck 12 forward measure 667 to 732 square feet and have no balcony. Two Owner's Suites each on decks 9 and 10 forward range in size from 721 to 900 square feet (including balcony) and feature forward- and side-facing balconies, for a total of 150 square feet of balcony space. Each can sleep four with a pullout sofa. The Deck 12 suites feature a large living area with couch, coffee table and two easy chairs, a dining table for four, full desk, flat-screen TV and bar setup for alcohol and coffee (with three complimentary bottles of alcohol, plus bottled water and soda). The bedroom has a vanity table, closet (not walk-in) and second TV. The huge bathroom has double sinks, whirlpool tub and separate shower, and a toilet behind a closed door. Toiletries are by Bulgari, though you still get the Norwegian no-brand soap and shampoo dispensers. Slanted floor-to-ceiling windows in both the living and sleeping areas offer stunning views. In contrast, the Owner's Suites with balconies have a walk-in closet in the bathroom, a second guest half-bath by the entrance and smaller bedroom space. One balcony offers a dining table and chairs, the other loungers.

Garden Villa: The crown jewels of the Norwegian Dawn accommodations are the ship's two Garden Villas on keycard-access-only Deck 14. These 6,694-square-foot cabins (the size includes three bedrooms with en-suite bathrooms and humongous, two-story outside deck areas) are, in a word, fabulous -- and more space than the seven people who can sleep in each villa could possibly need for themselves. The individual bedrooms vary in size (and amazingness of the bathroom and closet space), but all have floor-to-ceiling windows. Two have king-sized beds and whirlpool tubs, while the third has a queen-sized bed and standard bathtub and shower. The living room looks out over the pool deck and features a grand piano, dining table, couch and chairs and bar/kitchen area (with six complimentary bottles of alcohol, plus bottled water and soda). The villas have their own private outdoor deck areas with whirlpool and lounge chairs, top-of-ship sunbathing decks and even steam rooms. If a large group book both Garden Villas together, walls in the living room and outer decks can be opened up to create one enormous social space.

Family: Norwegian Dawn has three types of family suites: Family Suites without a balcony, Family Suites with Balcony and Two-Bedroom Family Suites. The no-balcony suites are found on Deck 12, measure 409 to 452 square feet and can sleep six. The room features a living area with a pullout couch and two chairs, a small dining table for four, walk-in closet and bathroom with double sinks and separate tub and shower. The family suites with balcony have an identical layout, but add a 110-square-foot balcony with two upright chairs and a drinks table.

The 10 two-bedroom Family Suites are found on Deck 11; they measure 587 square feet with 54-square-foot balconies, located off the living area. A tiny inside kids' room can sleep three with a queen-sized pullout couch and a pulldown bunk bed; this room has its own bathroom, similar to the one found in a regular inside cabin, as well as its own TV. The living room has a sitting area with a couch and easy chairs, dining table and coffee bar. The balcony has two padded, wicker loungers and a drinks table. Go through a door, and you find yourself in the walk-in closet. On one side is the master bedroom, divided from the closet by a curtain; on the other is the huge bathroom, complete with double sinks, shower stall, toilet behind a door and a whirlpool tub with a window. (To us, it feels like you're sleeping in the bathroom, and that the master bed might get claustrophobic with the curtains drawn, but it's a small price to pay for all that space.)

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