Cruise Day 1: Steak on the Ocean

A steamboat on the Mississippi River.
Sailing down the mighty Mississip.

I will always remember this trip as the vacation where I got up stupidly early nearly every morning. For someone who enjoys his sleep, especially while on vacation, this was very odd behavior. The morning we were set to get on the ship, I was up at 6:00, skulking around our hotel room, trying not to wake a sleeping Kathleen.

She eventually awoke, and we attempted to grab a quick bite before heading to the port. Unfortunately, the breakfast offerings at the Hilton tended to fall in the pre-made sandwich or unappetizing packaged food department, so we decided to hit the streets in hopes of finding something tastier. This turned out to be a tough task, as we didn’t want to do a full sit down restaurant, opting to save both time and belly room for our time on the ship.

We wandered by a McDonald’s, which I feel bad admitting, as we were in basically food nirvana in New Orleans—but it checked the box of being quick. I know, we should have walked to Café du Monde for beignets, but in my defense, that would have been a bit of a walk from the Hilton. No worries though, we consumed enough beignets upon our return to New Orleans to feed a small army.

Kathleen ate a surprisingly good chicken biscuit at the McDonalds, and we continue to joke—when we remember all the great food we had on vacation—we should remember the excellent chicken biscuits at the New Orleans McDonald’s. Side note: now, three plus years after this trip, you can now find the chicken biscuit on McDonalds’ menus nation-wide—enjoy, America.

Authentic southern breakfast consumed, we went back to our hotel to grab our luggage and walk over to the port. I booked the room at the Hilton specifically because walking to the port was supposed to be easy from this hotel. Unfortunately, I neglected to read about exactly how to accomplish this, thinking that the folks at the hotel would be happy to tell me how to get there. Well, I was wrong.

The people at the Hilton were, in a word, terrible. When we asked, both at the check in desk and at the concierge, no one would tell us how to walk over to the port. Instead, they said things like “you don’t want to do that,” “you have all that luggage,” “it’s a SUPER long walk with no sidewalks and you’ll have to go through multiple fences,” and “just get a cab.” This was surprising, and annoying.

Not wanting to mess around, we opted to just get in a cab, but I resented the Hilton people pushing us in that direction, especially after we paid $8 per person for a ride that was literally three minutes long, and that looked to be easily walkable! The people at the Hilton obviously have some incentive going with the cab drivers to funnel business to them. Needless to say, we don’t intend on staying with them again, but if you do, be sure to find some directions on walking to the port yourself, and don’t rely on getting any help from the Hilton staff.

Luckily, that was the only problem we had that morning. Embarkation was the easiest we’ve ever had. We arrived to the port around 11:00, and after about 15-20 minutes to get through the security line, we were able to walk straight to the check in counter with no wait. What’s more, after checking in, we were able to proceed directly on to the ship with no wait at all. We were on the ship and exploring by 11:30.

We entered on deck 7 and took a brief seat near the atrium bar so Kathleen could send some texts to family and friends letting them know we were leaving. For myself, I prefer to just ghost, so I gleefully turned my phone to airplane mode and enjoyed listening to the gentleman playing piano as Kathleen composed her final missives.

Since we’d feasted on chicken biscuits not too long ago, we decided to skip the buffet and instead went off to explore the ship. We walked through decks 6 through 8, checking out many of the spots where we’d be hanging out over the next week.

We eventually made it up to the pool deck on deck 12, and we decided to grab our first drink of the cruise. We made our way up to Bimini Grill, which is on deck 13 and which sports a cool view of the pool deck and, when at sea, a nice bird’s eye view of the ocean. You have to walk up what feels like a hundred steps to get up there, but the exercise helps work off all the calories you consume.

We took a seat and grabbed drinks—a Mango Meltdown for Kathleen, and a strawberry daiquiri for me. I like scotch and beer as much as the next guy, but something about being on a cruise turns me in to a fruity-drink addict, and my number one choice in that family of drinks is the daiquiri. We felt very content—listening to the band play down by the pool and sipping our drinks under a breezy blue sky.

They announced that staterooms were ready at about 1:30, so we immediately headed down to check out our room. I was particularly excited because this was to be our first cruise in a balcony cabin.

We’d initially booked an interior midship on deck 8, but following advice I read on Cruise Critic, I called the NCL upsell department a few times before our cruise, hoping to score an upgrade to a balcony cabin. I was not overly hopeful that I’d be able to upgrade, as there were no available balcony cabins for several weeks prior to the cruise. However, something must have opened up, because when I called three days prior to the cruise, I was able to upgrade to a midship balcony on deck 9 for an additional $150 per person. I was very excited, as that price for a balcony cabin was about half of what balconies were going for over the last few months. Note: in the years since this cruise, NCL has moved to a bidding system for cabin upgrades.

We were in cabin 9602, which was midship on the port side. When we got to the cabin, however, neither of our keys would open the door. We went up to guest services, where there was quite the line, but they were able to fix the issue very quickly once we made it up to the desk.

We finally made it to our cabin, which was great. We immediately plopped in our balcony chairs, only to get nice wet butts. They must have recently cleaned the balconies, and the chairs were still a bit damp. Pro tip: check your balcony chair for dryness before cavalierly placing yourself in one, and avoid the wet-bottom blues.

The inside of a cabin on the NCL Dawn Cruise Ship.
The always comfortable (like weirdly super comfortable) NCL bed.

We hung out in our cabin for a while and, after drying our pants, headed to our muster station on deck 7. Our muster leader was a drill sergeant; she had everyone lined up and quiet very quickly—just the kind of person you’d like to have in the case of an emergency. While our group was standing at attention, awaiting orders, the group to our right was literally singing. Muster seemed a little longer than normal, possibly due to the fact that a lot of people showed up early, probably hoping that the sooner they arrive, the sooner they could leave. Everything went smoothly, despite the singing group next to us, and soon enough we were free to continue our exploration of the ship.

While exploring deck 13 earlier, we decided to make a late dinner reservation at Cagney’s for that evening. Since that was to be at 8:00, we decided to grab an early afternoon snack at O’Sheehan’s to tied us over. We ate at O’Sheehan’s on the NCL Getaway several times the previous year and really enjoyed it. This time, though, blew the O’Sheehan’s on the Getaway right out of the water.

The menu on Dawn was far more extensive than the one on the Getaway the previous year. This O’Sheehan’s didn’t have the rotating nightly specials (prime rib, chicken and waffles, etc.), but the regular, everyday menu was far superior. Over the course of the week we sampled basically everything on the menu, and it was all fantastic! Chicken wings, hotdogs, burgers, open-faced roast beef or turkey sandwiches, and an absolutely fantastic fish and chips. This first afternoon, we tried the hotdogs—Kathleen got the Chicago dog, and I opted for the Coney. And let me tell you, these were not your average hotdogs. They were very large, deliciously juicy, and on a great hard bun. This version of O’Sheehan’s was, with the possible exception of the Flamingo Grill on the Getaway, the best complimentary food we’ve had on a cruise. Thankfully, this O’Sheehan’s menu has since come to all the NCL ships.

We thought we’d watch the sites go by from atop Bimini Grill, so we grabbed one of the tables that can be found on either side of the bar. Unfortunately, the wind on deck 13 was quite fierce, so we didn’t stay outside for longer than it took to finish our drinks.

We decided to find Los Lobos and try out the tequila bar. This turned out to be an excellent decision, as we found both our favorite drink and our favorite bartender at this quiet, out of the way bar.

Los Lobos is located on deck 12 aft, most easily accessed by riding to 12 on the aft elevators, or alternatively walking through the crowded Garden Café buffet on the starboard side, all the way to the back. The tequila bar is small, only about 4 or 5 seats, but we really enjoyed having drinks there almost every evening. The bartender, Rodell, was an incredibly friendly guy, and we enjoyed chatting with him whenever we’d stop by. In a “small world” moment, we learned that Rodell, who used to work on the Getaway, was friends with our favorite bartender from our Getaway cruise.

I should also note the tequila bar was the only place on the ship that had what turned out to be our favorite drink of the cruise, the Tropical Paloma. This is a delicious mixture of tequila, passionfruit puree, Mexican grapefruit soda, and lime. We’ve already purchased ingredients so we can try recreating it here at home. I absolutely recommend you visit the tequila bar, both for the company and for the amazing drinks. If Rodell is still there, tell him Kathleen and Paul sent you.

A Tropical Paloma cocktale.
The Tropical Paloma. Filling, but delicious.

We took a break from drinking and headed back to our cabin before dinner. Our luggage arrived without issue, and we got ourselves settled into our home for the week ahead.

We headed up to deck 13 for our 8:00 reservation at Cagney’s. This meal was absolutely unbelievable. Easily one of the most delicious steaks I’ve ever had, on a ship or on land. And I have had my share of steaks; I’ve done Capital Grill, Peter Lugers in New York, and others. The only steak that rivals the steak we had at Cagney’s was at Bobby Flay’s restaurant in New York. Seriously, if you like steak, do not miss Cagney’s.

I had the porterhouse, and Kathleen had the ribeye. The highlight for me was the sauce I chose, the port wine reduction. I am salivating just thinking about this meal. We also ordered the Oysters Rockefeller, which were also fantastic.

I should point out now that this was, by far, our favorite cruise for food. If you enjoy eating, seriously, go online and book a cruise on the Dawn right now, because basically every dining option on the ship was absolutely on point. Although, I must admit that we went a little wild with the specialty (i.e. for-fee) dining, and we never had lunch or dinner in the dining room on this trip. So I can’t speak to quality there. But if it’s anything like the rest of the offerings, I’m confident it’s excellent.

The Theater on the NCL Dawn Cruise Ship.
Inside the Theater.

We finished dinner just in time to head to the theater for the welcome show. There was the usual mix of performances by the singers and dancers, the onboard comedian, and the like. The show was enjoyable, if not remarkable. We did enjoy the Cruise Director, Dan France, and his seemingly dark sense of humor. He spent some time making fun of life vests, basically saying that a light and a whistle aren’t going to really help you if you end up in the ocean. This was pretty funny, especially coming so soon after his lengthy safety briefing during the muster drill.

Since I unfortunately woke up so early, and since we’re now getting old, we decided to call it a night after the welcome show, and we headed back to our cabin to enjoy some sitting on our balcony and then bed.

Up next in cruise day 2: my first ever bout with seasickness.


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