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 theater 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 colored costumes and high energy. We found the singing to be quite good. The other shows are by guest performers onboard 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 theater, which is a mix of sketch comedy and improve.
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.
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 theater 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.
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 improve 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. Theater-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.
Like sake, mojitos, wine or tequila? Then Norwegian Dawn has a bar for you. While the ship has watering holes a plenty, 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 jewelry 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 favorite 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.
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 adults pool for more grown-ups. The water park is hard to find -- go through the fitness center 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."
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.
By the pool, chaise lounges are set up in amphitheater 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.
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 jewelry 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 jewelry, stylish casualwear, upscale accessories, alcohol and souvenirs.
On Deck 12, you'll find the library, which is cozily 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 center 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.
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 hydro-therapy 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.
The Deck 12 Pulse Fitness Center is quite roomy, 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 bootcamp 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 center is behind the buffet in the Deck 12 aft stairwell. Alternately, you can enter from the outside from the kids' pool area.
Norwegian Dawn is a fabulous ship for families, with its family-friendly accommodations, T-Rex kids' pool, Splash Academy and Entourage kids and teens facilities and dedicated programming that families can do together throughout the ship. However, it's best if your kids can stay up until 9 or 10 p.m. The embarkation day welcome event for children ages 3 and up was held from 8 to 10 p.m., and a family deck party and cupcake decorating event started at 8:15 p.m.
Norwegian's Splash Academy is divided into four age groups: Guppies (6 months to 3 years), Turtles (3 - 5), Seals (6 - 9) and Dolphins (10 - 12). Its facilities are located on Deck 13 aft, across from the arcade. The rooms are brightly colored multipurpose spaces, so youth staff can setup games or tables for arts and crafts, and arrange the room depending on the activity. One area has a giant TV for movie-watching, another has separate consoles for video game play. All rooms are accessed only via a staff-manned gate at the Splash Academy reception; adults aren't allowed in, and kids must be signed in and out. (Children ages 10 to 12 can be authorized by their parents or guardians to sign themselves in and out.)
The Guppies room is separate because it's not a drop-off program; parents must stay and play with their children. The room has a giant porthole window and a colorful mat on the floor, but was not very well stocked with games or toys for the little ones. Once or twice a day, youth staff will host a half-hour age-appropriate activity for the toddler set. A bathroom with diaper changing station is accessible from the play area. The Guppies room is generally open from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.
Splash Academy is open 9 a.m. to noon, 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. and 7 to 10:30 p.m. It offers extended hours on port days, as well as group lunch and dinner, so adults can go out on shore excursions and leave their kids on the ship. (The fee for port day meals is $6 per child, per meal.) Turtles might have activities like making destination-themed crafts or pirate treasure hunts. Seals might have a carnival with face painting and balloon twisting or play sports and games. Dolphins might have boys vs. girls competitions, spy night, Wii challenges or game shows. On our cruise, several activities were dedicated to learning some easy circus tricks that led to a performance by the entire Splash Academy on the last sea day.
Group babysitting is available onboard from 10:30 p.m. to 1:30 a.m. Cost is $6 per child per hour; the second sibling is $4 per hour. Passengers should sign up for these Late Night Fun Zones in advance; the program will close if no kids are signed up or dropped off by 11:30 p.m. There is no in-cabin sitting.
Norwegian also has developed a fleetwide discipline policy. The four-step set of rules includes warning, timeout, suspension and dismissal stages.
High chairs and cribs are available upon request (either onboard or in advance). Parents can purchase diapers and wipes to be delivered to their cabin on embarkation day. A soda package for kids ages 12 and under is $5.50 per person, per day, plus an 18-percent gratuity, and includes a souvenir thermal mug.
Family activities for parents to participate with kids of all ages included balloon twisting, circus games, Disney movie trivia, the aforementioned deck party with cupcake decorating and face painting, game shows and evening a screening of an animated movie in the atrium one afternoon.
The teen program, called Entourage, accommodates passengers 13 to 17 in the Deck 13 Entourage Teen Club. Norwegian does not separate teens from tweens. The club looks like a funky disco with a lighted dance floor, foosball, air hockey, video game consoles, a flat-screen for movies and colorful seating.
On sea days, the activities get going at a leisurely 11 a.m. with a teen-only brunch. (Norwegian clearly understands this age group.) On port days, the club doesn't open until the evening; check the schedule as opening hours change daily. Teen activities might include movie night, late-night dodgeball, foosball tournaments, group outings to the show and games like Jeopardy or Pictionary. Evenings might be a pool party or themed dance party.