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To say that New Englanders are excited to have the newly renovated Norwegian Dawn plying the waters off Boston Harbor to Bermuda is an understatement. Formerly served by the smaller Norwegian Spirit, this route is popular for a slew of reasons, not least of which is that sun-starved passengers can avoid pricey air fares and use the money they save on shore excursions, specialty dining or spa treatments. Passengers also love that the ship docks in Bermuda for three days in one spot, which makes for a more relaxing experience than some of the Caribbean itineraries.

In fact, when I told friends about our imminent departure, the response I frequently received was: “Oh, we went last week” or “My neighbor will be that cruise with you.” In other words, it’s a hit.

We set sail on the 2,224-passenger ship out of Boston’s Black Falcon cruise terminal mid-August with two teens in tow. Our report follows:

Norwegian Dawn Check-in

Parking at Black Falcon is in a multi-level, covered facility located about a block from the cruise terminal.

Tip: Passengers wait outside in a long line to check in their bags; if you don’t mind taking your own bag on board – keeping in mind that checked-in bags might not arrive at your cabin for hours – you can bypass the line and cut about a half-hour from the check-in process by proceeding directly to security.

VIPs enjoy a special check-in procedure with a waiting room stocked with snacks and a dedicated concierge.

Norwegian Dawn Staterooms

OK, I’ll admit it. In all my years of cruising, this was my first time in a cabin without a balcony. Our stateroom on deck five was compact, especially for two adults and two teens, and was situated right above the Stardust Theater. That said, the accommodations were fine. I’m a big believer in springing for a terrace when the budget allows, but our stateroom was equipped with an oversized window and flip-down and trundle beds that accommodated us in relative comfort and disappeared during the day.

Tip: Consider your family dynamic: If the kids’ relationships with each other and with you aren’t harmonious, this won’t work.

The renovation, which was almost complete at the time of our sailing, includes 58 new suites and staterooms, including 24 Family Suites – 10 with balconies – and four posh Owner’s Suites.

Norwegian Dawn Dining

NCL is known for its enticing menu of specialty restaurants, and the Dawn is no exception. There are 14 eateries in all, including the new Brazilian steakhouse Moderno Churrascaria. You can dine well and for free at the elegant Venetian restaurant or the more contemporary Aqua, but most passengers will want to opt for at least one or two of the specialty restaurants, which incur additional charges of from $10 to $25 per person. At the kids’ request, we opted for dinner at the Teppanyaki Japanese steak house – this one fills up fast, so book early – and Le Bistro, the line’s signature French restaurant. VIPs also can have access to Cagney’s Steak house, which we think is one of NCL’s best eateries, for breakfast and lunch, but all passengers can enjoy dinner there for $25 per person.

Complimentary dining also is available at the Garden Café and the Poolside BBQ.

Norwegian Dawn Kids’ programs

The redone Kid's Crew and Teen Club offer new game systems, as well as an Under 2 Zoo space for parents and tiny cruisers to play together. There are four age groupings; 2 to 5, 6 to 9, 10 to 12 and 13 to 17, and activities range from supervised Blues Clues games for younger kids to the Teen Dating Game for the 13 to 17-year-old set. We especially like that the ship features a T-Rex toddler pool with mini-slide separate from the main Oasis pool, which was jammed every day during our cruise.

There is also a teen disco and a video arcade.

Tip:  Keep mind that this cruise features three full days at sea, so families will have more time than usual to enjoy the kid-friendly facilities.

Be aware that while the drinking age in international waters is 18, NCL has a policy that parents have to sign a waiver (read more about that on my blog) before teens under 21 can buy drinks, and even then they are restricted to wine and beer, bought one at a time.

Norwegian Dawn For adults

My daughter and I began every at-sea day at the gym and spa, where we attended yoga classes — $30 for three – followed by a workout on the exercise equipment.

The ship also features an indoor lap pool, unusual in the industry, and, of course, plenty of pampering treatments at the El Dorado Spa.

For $30, passengers can buy a day pass to the Thermal Suite – which combines heat, steam and aromatherapy, the lap pool and Jacuzzi, sauna, steam rooms and tropical and ice showers.

Like most of today’s cruise ships, there are more things to do at night than you will have time for, including the Casino and innumerable dance and pool parties.

Tip: I usually hate cruise ship entertainment, but the Dawn features very funny, innovative shows by the Second City comedy troupe, as well as a first-rate magician. Fans of the usual Broadway-style shows will find those, as well.

Norwegian Dawn – The destination – Bermuda

I normally make no apologies for enjoying shore excursions. Today’s cruise lines do a great job of offering a wide range of activities that appeal to everyone from grandma to the littlest cruisers. That said, Bermuda is one destination where you could dispense with excursions all together. The ship docks at King’s Wharf for three days, where you can drop a few dollars – U.S. dollars are accepted here, although Bermuda has its own currency – at the shops and crafts outlets at the Royal Naval Dockyard. We also spent a day at Snorkel Beach within easy walking distance of the ship, where, for $5, you can swim, snorkel, enjoy a beachfront café meal. Yes, there are plenty of cruise passengers to keep you company, but the water is clear and warm and the beach is clean and not so crowded that you can’t relax and enjoy yourself.

You can also hop on the ferry to Hamilton from here for a few dollars, although be prepared to wait in line for the boat, especially if another cruise line is in port. Passengers can also take the bus from here to a variety of points on the island from here, or hop in a pricey taxi.

Avid snorkelers, we signed up for a three-hour Catamaran Coral Reef Snorkel shore excursion for $69.99 per person. We loved the outing, which included a 45-minute cruise to a surprisingly beautiful reef, plenty of time to snorkel and free rum swizzles for guests 21 or older on the ride back.

Golf is huge on Bermuda, so the ship offers a slew of golf excursions for passengers who want guaranteed tee times and roundtrip transportation to and from the ship.

Norwegian Dawn Schedule

The Norwegian Dawn will leave Boston Oct. 30 to head to Miami for the winter season. She will be back in Boston April 21, 2012 doing the same itinerary.

Norwegian Dawn Prices

For the 2011-2012 season, cruises start at $479 per person, not counting an automatic service charge of $12 per person per day.  For more information and bookings, contact your travel agent or learn more online at Norwegian Cruise Lines website.

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