I just returned from my first cruise ever and since I was travelling with my two boys ages 15 & 9 and my husband—all of whom do not like to get dressed up—I chose the Norweigan Cruise Line which is known for what they call Freestyle Cruising.
Many cruise lines still offer traditional dining which takes place at a certain time and affords the opportunity to sit with the same passengers and have the same waiter nightly. There are often formal nights on such cruises.
NCL has done away with fixed time dining–although you can still make reservations in their specialty restaurants. Instead they offer two restaurants where you can show up and usually be seated immediately–although we did come across a 30 minute wait on one evening. But not to worry–just come back a bit later and the line-up disappears.
When we were really hungry or in a hurry, we had the options of a 24 hour casual restaurant: the Blue Lagoon, as well as the large Garden Cafe where all meals where provided in a varied buffet format. And my boys enjoyed the 24 hour room service for simple snacks that was included in the base price of the cruise.
Beyond food, we enjoyed the fact that there were always a multitude of optional activities from early morning to well–early morning. Some of the choices included trivia contests, napkin folding classes, movie screenings, sports tournaments and bingo.
There was a great band playing vacation type tunes in the afternoon poolside and we found hanging out in this area to be one of our favourite shipboard activities. There were four hot-tubs as well as a bar, an ice-cream counter and loads of chairs on which laze and read a book.
Our first port was Grand Cayman and having opted not to spend hundreds of dollars on an excursion, we got off without much knowledge of the island or how to get around. The heat hit us right away so we decided to leave the shopping district which was heavy on the jewellery bargains and take a taxi to one of the beaches. The cab driver charged us about four dollars each to drive to the beach–which wasn’t too bad.
The sand was white ; the water a beautiful turquoise blue and I was expecting one of those tranquil fantasy Carribbean experiences. We were however a bit shocked at how rough the water was on this day. My son actually found 40 dollars in the water that was knocked out of someone’s bikini top by the wild waves and it was a challenge to keep an eye on my son while being knocked down and covered in water and sand.
We were happier with out second port–Cozumel where we spent our time shopping and bargaining with the charming locals. Great bargains were to be had with a bit of haggling and it was fun getting to know the people. It was much easier to walk off the ship as we did here– without having to go through the process of taking small boat to the port as we was required in Grand Cayman.
The worse part of this experience, known as tendering, is having to line up to get back to your ship along with hundreds of other tired passengers from various cruise ships. Some of the older people looked on the verge of fainting and it was not a good situation.
The staff on the Dawn had a positive attitude and this seems to come from the sense of humour and playfulness that was often displayed in the daily television reports on what was happening on-board. We also learned a lot about what goes on behind the scenes as the Social Director brought cameras unto the staff quarters and other hidden parts of the ship. His enthusiasm really added to our sense of having fun on the cruise.
At night the entertainment options were almost limitless–there was dancing, comedy, piano bars, karoke–all you had to do was to find the location aboard the ship which was harder than it sounds. In fact we got lost quite a bit during the cruise but by the end we were pretty sure that we had finally found the ” short way” back to our cabins.
Another plus was the fact that there were family friendly offerings early in the evening–with the off colour comics and games being kept for a late night diversion.
I must say that one of the best things about cruising is having cabin stewards constantly around to tidy your cabin–in our case they also were able to inform us of when and where they had seen our boys–usually on their way to and from getting more food!
We thought that we would have to each share with one of the kids but they immediately took charge and pushed the beds together into doubles in one room and moving our kids luggage into a room two doors down the hall. I didn’t think my nine year old would be comfortable but the boys loved their bachelor pad on-board.
The verdict is that we would do it again. We enjoyed being able to go different places but come back to the same room each night. The many options for all ages made the trip relaxing for this mom and dad. It was good to start with a short cruise–but now that we know what to expect we are planning a European cruise for this summer.