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Sealetter Cruise Ship Review
Dawn Princess
Alan Walker

Dawn Princess 3 Day Pacific Coast Cruise May 28, 1997

Dawn Princess

Our first view of the Dawn Princess, as we approached the dock in San Pedro (Los Angeles), impressed us. Our three-day cruise to Vancouver, with no ports of call, didn't give us a chance to view the whole ship again. But we live in Vancouver, and we can see the Dawn Princess every second week during the summer when Vancouver is the starting point or ending point of a seven-day Alaska cruise.

The Dawn Princess is a big ship: almost 2000 passengers, 77,000 tons, 856 feet in length. One indication of its size is that the Dawn Princess is charged a fee of $157,000 to transit the Panama Canal, when the average fee paid by commercial ships is only $30,000! Another way of comparing the size of the Dawn Princess is that it's almost four times as large as the original "Love Boat", the Island Princess.

Checking In

Our boarding arrangements were smooth. The check-in booths were arranged by decks, so you would proceed to the booths marked Baja, Dolphin etc. This was the first time I had seen this arrangement -- previously I'd only seen check-ins where the booths were arranged alphabetically by your last name. This system seemed more efficient. At the check-in booth we also gave our credit card particulars, thereby saving us from visiting the Purser's office on board. We were given our "cruise card," just like a plastic credit card, and this card had our name, cabin number, dining room and table number details on it. There's also a place for your signature. The card is very important as it is your room key and your credit card on board ship. Everything on board can be charged to your cabin using this card including casino and boutique charges.

As always, a ship's photographer was at the gangway to take your boarding photo, and a gloved steward showed us to our cabin.

The Cabin

We were in Riviera 334, a cabin on the highest passenger deck on the ship. This is a "BA" category cabin, and has a balcony. The balcony was certainly a wonderful extra, especially when leaving or arriving at a port. The balcony furniture consisted of two chairs and a round table, and was very private except that you can hear, but not see, people on adjacent balconies.

This was certainly one of the smallest cabins we can ever remember being in. The two single beds were made up as a queen-size bed. There was less than two feet between the end of the bed and the wall of the cabin. There was room for a writing desk and one chair, but no "sitting" area.

We found the closet and drawer space to be very small, and we would have had a tough time trying to find a place for everything if we had been on anything other than a short, 3-day cruise. There were three closet doors: one was for full length clothes, and one split with two sections for shirts, blouses, etc. The third one contained a series of shelves with a rack for shoes on the bottom. Some of the shelf space was taken up by the life jackets and pool towels, and part of one shelf was taken up by the safe. The safe was a good one where you could set your own code (of anywhere between 2 and 6 digits), and it was not one of those safes that I hate where you have to use a card with some kind of magnetic stripe on it to open it and close it. The writing desk had six drawers, and there was one end table which had one drawer and two shelves. Additionally, there was a unit in the corner which contained the fridge and had the TV on top of it, and also had two small shelves.

There was a fixed hair dryer next to the desk, and it was a "full power" one, which was more than adequate.

Over all, the room was very attractive. The lighting was from recessed halogen lights. There were multiple mirrors in the cabin, including one the complete length of the head board. Obviously, with a cabin as small as this, the use of mirrors is important. There was definitely a "classic" look to the cabin, with much use of dark wood moldings. Colors were mostly "Southwest."

The bathroom was downright small. You could dry your back when coming out of the shower just by being hard up against the terry cloth bathrobes hanging on the bathroom door. As my wife said, "there wasn't room to swing a mouse." You could touch the door with your head when sitting on the toilet (what a wonderful image). My wife managed to take the few available shelves in the bathroom for her toiletries, leaving my junk to sit on the edge of the sink. Princess does provide shampoo and hand lotion, in paper packages.

Princess advertises this ship as being very spacious, and it certainly is in terms of public rooms. But the cabin itself was smaller than any other Princess ship we have been on, and our cabin was close to one of the top categories. I can't imagine what would be done in a lower category if the cabin were smaller.

Telephone & Television

As usual, there was a telephone in the room, from which you can call anywhere in the world, but at a significant cost -- I didn't actually check the cost on this cruise, but typically calls cost about $15.00 U.S. per minute.

The TV programming in the cabin was quite extensive. CNN and ESPN are both carried, when satellite reception permits. There is a "Discovery" channel produced especially for Princess cruises, "highlighting history, travel, technology, sports, nature, science, world class cuisine and exciting specials". A channel called "Voyage" channel carried a 24-hour reporting service including information from the bridge, weather data and world times.

A channel called "Dawn TV" featured classic TV shows including National Geographic specials, the Love Boat, M*A*S*H, the Danny Thomas Show and Murphy Brown. This channel also carried children's programs. A further channel, the Princess Channel, was the Princess advertising channel, including particulars of shore excursions, and videos of other Princess ships and other cruise destinations. There was also a 24-hour news channel called "Oceansat" (video only with classical music). The movie channel carried modern movies, and you could see a movie starting as late as 2:30 a.m., or as early as 6:00 a.m.

Original Love Boat Cast

The Cast of the original "Love Boat"

Stateroom Fruit and Beverage

Fresh fruit is provided daily in your cabin, at no charge. Fruit includes apples, pears, oranges and bananas. A large bottle of water is provided in your stateroom when you arrive, but note that if you use it, you will be charged for it. A bucket of ice is put in your fridge each day.

We found the cabin quite soundproof. There is no clock provided in the cabin (although you can phone for wake-up calls). A travel clock is certainly a handy thing to have, if you need to get up for shore excursions. We found the temperature control in the cabin to be excellent, and had no problem making it warmer or colder as we required.


Dress Code

The shipboard dress code, as set out in the folder with shipboard information in it, is as follows:

Casual clothes are acceptable during the day, except that bathing suits or beach attire are not allowed in the public rooms or lounges, especially the dining room.

The dress code for each day begins at 6:00 in the evening. On formal nights "a tuxedo or dark business suit for gentlemen, and a full-length evening gown, cocktail dress, or pants suit for ladies." On semi-formal nights "a business suit or sports jacket and tie for gentlemen, and a cocktail dress or pants suit for ladies." On casual nights "an open neck shirt and slacks for gentlemen, and a dress, skirt and blouse or pants outfit for ladies." On our one formal night on this cruise, about 30% of the men were wearing tuxedos.

Dining Facilities

As with most ships, there are two sittings for dinner, with the first sitting being at 6:00, and the second sitting being at 8:00. For breakfast and lunch, there is only one sitting, breakfast being between 7:30 and 9:30 and lunch between 12:00 and 2:00.

There are two separate dining rooms on this ship, which is an unusual feature -- it used to happen in the old days on all cruise ships but I haven't seen one with two dining rooms for a long time. The Venetian dining room is on the Emerald Deck, and the Florentine dining room is on the Plaza Deck. Each seats 500 people. The two-storey single dining rooms in ships like the Legend of the Seas or the Veendam, are much more dramatic and attractive in my opinion, and the ocean views are spectacular with the double-storey high windows. Not that the dining room on the Dawn was unattractive, but the problem of being on many other cruises is that you can remember when something was done better.

As an alternative to the main dining room, the Horizon Court on the Lido Deck is open 24 hours a day, and is a great area for eating breakfast or lunch, under cover. Continental breakfast starts as early as 4:00 a.m., full breakfast at 6:00 a.m. and the luncheon buffet goes from 11:30 right through until 4:30. Light snacks may be had between 4:30 and 7:30, and a much abbreviated dinner menu may be had from 7:30 right through to 4:00 a.m.

The pizzeria, which is a feature of all Princess ships, was open from 11:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m., and from 9:00 p.m. to 2:00 a.m. The La Scala Pizzeria is on the Dolphin deck, one deck above the Promenade Deck. The pizza was great, but the service was very slow, perhaps because the area has become too popular. When the pizzeria kitchen is not open, the pizzeria itself is a great place to play cards, or do anything else that requires a decent size table. The pizzeria leads out to the Grand Casino.

At lunchtime, the Balcony Grill was also open for hamburgers, hot dogs, etc. from 11:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. And if you still had any room left, you could always get afternoon tea between 3:30 and 4:30.

There is a sundae ice cream bar which is open from 11:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m., but unfortunately, you have to pay for what you get. Although I generally like the idea of "the user pays," it did look cheap seeing Princess charge for ice cream.

On the Plaza deck, La Patisserie provided Espressos, cappuccinos and pastries.

Room service is available 24 hours a day, but you can't get the equivalent to what you would in the dining room. Hot dishes are limited to grilled ham and cheese sandwiches, hamburgers and hot dogs. Additionally, you could get roast beef, roast turkey, tuna, vegetarian and clubhouse sandwiches. The room service menu also included a Chef's Salad and a Caesar salad. Oh yes, you could also get some dessert items.

Drinks can obviously be ordered from room service as well. American beers were $2.75, imported beers $3.25, and a glass of wine $3.50. Hard (alcoholic) drinks averaged $3.50. Coke and other pop was $1.50. You could also buy wine by the bottle, a Californian chardonnay being about $20.00 and a Californian red $24.00.

The Food

I thought the food was excellent, but my wife, being more discerning than I, thought it was just "OK". We always had breakfast and lunch in the covered Lido Cafe, although it was a bit crowded at times because of the bad weather. I'm setting out a typical evening dinner menu below, to show the range of selections:


  • Appetizers
    • Smoked Wild Salmon with Condiments and Brown Bread
    • Pineapple Dotted with Honey-Roasted Pistachios
    • Green Asparagus Spears with Butter Sauce and Puff Pastry
  • Soups
    • Diced Root Vegetables and Barley Oxtail Soup
    • Lentil Puree Garnished with Herb Croutons
    • Chicken Consomme with Profiteroles
  • Salad
    • Mixed Garden Green Salad and Shredded Red Radish with three dressing choices
  • Pasta
    • Linguini Al Pesto Alla Moda Ligure
  • Entrees
    • Orange Roughy in a Citrus-Caper Butter (Sauteed Fish Fillet with Braised Artichoke Bottoms and Chateau Potatoes)
    • Ostend Sole Fillet Florentine (Served with Lobster Sauce, Butter Spinach Leaf and Potato Gratin)
    • Rabbit with Rosemary and Sage (Pan-roasted lean meat in a White Wine and Shallots Sauce Served with Mushrooms and Corn Pudding Polenta)
    • Rack of Lamb Dijonnaise (Roasted rib chops coated in mustard and Bread Crumbs with Caramelized Bermuda Onions and Garlic Mashed Red Potatoes)
    • Prime Rib Au Jus (Black Angus Beef with a Grilled Tomato, Sugar Snap Peas and Baked Beto Junction Potatoes)
  • Desserts
    • Granny Smith Sorbet with Apples Marinated in Calvados
    • Bananas Flambe a la Foster
    • Chocolate Fudge Cake with Chantilly Cream
    • Cheese & Crackers
    EVERY night, these selections were also available:

    • Caesar Salad
    • (Vegetarian) Tofu with Oyster Sauce and Chinese Pea Pods
    • (Vegetarian) Puff Pastry Vegetable Roll with Tomato Sauce
    • Alaskan Silver Salmon Fillet
    • Skinless Chicken Breast
    • Black Angus Sirloin Steak
    I asked the Maitre d' about comments I had heard about the food being "bland". He told me that the chefs have been instructed to reduce the amount of salt in dishes for health reasons. Obviously, the remedy for people who like saltier food is to grab the saltshaker.

    There is no smoking in any of the dining rooms on Princess ships.

    Duty Free Liquor

    Duty free liquor could bought at a store on board. The following are example prices (each being for a liter) in US dollars:

    • Glenfiddich $22.95
    • Johnny Walker Red $10.95
    • Jack Daniels $17.95
    • Jim Bean $7.95
    • Canadian Club $12.95
    • Beefeater Gin $8.95
    • Smirnoff $5.95
    • Absolut 80 Proof Vodka $8.95
    • Bacardi Rum $9.95
    • Bailey's Irish Cream $19.95
    • Grand Marnier $29.95
    • Kahlua $14.95

    Business Center

    A business center is located on Riviera Deck and includes fax, photocopy and computer printing services. It is also possible to use either a MacIntosh or PC computer, with a CD-ROM. (The foregoing was stated in the ship's brochure. The business center was always locked when I visited.)


    The casino games included roulette, blackjack, Caribbean stud poker, craps and Let it Ride. As you would expect, there were a huge number of slot machines as well, mostly for a quarter or a dollar, although there were a few $5.00 and nickel machines.

    Children's and Teen's Programs

    For children aged 2 to 12, there was a "fun zone" children's center including a splash pool, castle, doll's house, children's theater and a ball jump. Evening activities, including group babysitting, took place between 7:30 and midnight. The program did not include "private babysitting, diaper changing or meal services".

    A separate location called "the fast lane" was available for teenagers including video games and a karaoke set-up.

    Fitness Center/Gymnasium

    Not being a user of this type of stuff, I can only report that the fitness center was supposed to contain "state of the art weight and aerobic conditioning equipment."

    Golf Simulator

    You could practice your golf on board at a golf simulator located on Riviera Deck. You use regulation clubs and balls inside a self-enclosed booth, and you can "simulate" virtually any location and surface, without a specialized tee. You need to make reservations, and a fee is charged.

    Laundry, Dry Cleaning, etc.

    As with almost all cruise ships, you can send clothes out for laundry or dry cleaning, using the services of your room steward. There are also self-service laundromats on board, with a limited supply of irons and ironing boards. Soap and bleach can be purchased in the laundromats.


    There is a well-stocked library containing very recent books, as one would expect on a brand new ship. On a typical day, the library was open from 9:00 a.m. to noon, and from 4:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m. Although you could sit in the library at any hour, you can only check out a book at the times indicated.

    Shipboard Photographs

    As usual, there is always a shipboard photographer around taking photos, which you can subsequently purchase if you wish. The photos cost $6.25 for a standard shot, more for a portrait photo. There are also "stock" shots of the Dawn Princess you can purchase for $5.00 each. For fun, you might also want to buy a photo of the original "Love Boat" cast (the cast was on board for the inaugural cruise of the Dawn Princess).


    The recommended tipping was: cabin steward $3.00 per person per day, waiter $3.00 per person per day, assistant waiter $1.75 per person per day. No specific recommendation is made for tipping the maitre d', or the head waiter. Many people feel that those persons don't require any tip, unless they perform some special service. It is not necessary to tip the wine steward or the bar staff (unless you want to), as every wine bill or bar bill includes an automatic 15% tip.

    Art on Board

    Not being any kind of art connoisseur, I am unable to say whether Princess wisely expended $2.5 million on art purchases. I do know that I enjoyed the artwork, especially California artist Diana Smith's paintings of different views of the same Italian villa, and a seascape by another California artist, Laurie Chase. All main staircase landings on the ship abounded in colorful art.

    Sculptures showed up everywhere. According to the brochure, there are works of more than 30 contemporary artists on board, all specifically commissioned for the Dawn Princess.


    This is definitely not my area of expertise. The shops (some call them "boutiques") are located in the atrium area and are on the same decks as the two dining rooms. One shop featured daily necessities such as aspirin, film, and Dramamine, as well as the usual souvenirs of clothing and other items emblazoned with the ship's logo. Other stores featured upmarket clothing, sequins, spangles, brocades, silks, fragrances and lavish jewelry. I was disappointed not to find a hardware store on board.

    The Technical Stuff

    The Dawn Princess has four diesel engines which turn four generators producing 46,000 kilowatts of electricity. This is enough power to light up the average disco for over 23 minutes. There are two propellers, each with fixed pitch and six blades. The two stabilizers are by Sperry Marine, and there are two bow thrusters and two stern thrusters. The cruising speed is 20 knots, with a maximum speed of 22.5 knots.

    Walking the decks

    Riviera Deck

    There are four table tennis tables as you come out onto the deck. There are two pools, one is elevated, and there are two hot tubs. The design of the pool area is slightly different from that on the Dawn's sister ship, the Sun. Apparently, the waterfall and bridge between the two pools on the Sun was considered to be "cluttered." As you would expect, there is a large bar at one end of the deck for thirsty sun worshippers. At one end of the deck is the sundae bar (which, as mentioned before, charges for its product). Unlike some ships, there is no cover over the pool area although the circumference of the deck is covered, you can still sit outside if the weather is bad. On the two open decks above the pool deck, you can use the balcony grill for lunchtime snacks and above that on the Sun Deck is the Windjammers outdoor bar. There is a full-sized paddle tennis court on this deck, and on the deck below there are twin shuffleboard courts. On the Riviera Deck you can also find the children's area, teenagers' area, business center, beauty parlour (salon), gymnasium and sauna.

    Promenade Deck

    The Vista Lounge takes up the stern of the ship. Although this is a full size show lounge, the theater at the other end of the ship is used for the main productions, with only the secondary productions being in the Vista Lounge. The Vista Lounge is very attractive, and almost all seats have clear sight lines to the stage. The bar area at the back of the lounge may be used by smokers. Unlike the Princess Theatre, cocktails may be purchased and consumed in the Vista Lounge.

    Coming out of the Vista Lounge, on the port side there is the card and game room with about 15 tables. On the starboard side you pass the many displays of ship's photos and the photography store. You can get your own film developed on board. I find nothing more exhausting than looking through all of the thousands of shipboard photos, looking for my own. It does help if a shot is taken at dinnertime, as they break up the photos into first and second sitting, and into the two dining rooms.

    Continuing to walk down the starboard side of the ship, Jammers, the disco, is on your left-hand side. This is a state-of-the-art disco, and would easily seat over a hundred people. The lighting effects are incredible, as you might expect in a brand new disco. The dance floor is also illuminated. Almost all of the disco is set up for smokers. In addition to the lounge type seating, there is a large bar which would seat about a dozen people.

    Next on our walk down the starboard side, you come to a little bar called Magnums which would hold about 25 people. This is also a specialty bar where you can get certain wines and scotches that you might not find elsewhere on the ship. Opposite Magnums, you come to a two story open circular area which has a huge roulette wheel motif on the ceiling. Art is often displayed around the bottom of this area. If you go up the stairs in this area, you enter straight into the casino.

    Continuing down the starboard side, you then come to the main atrium of the ship -- four beautiful decks which you can really appreciate when using the glass elevators. The wood and metal is softened by multiple use of plants. On the Promenade Deck level of the atrium is the Atrium Bar and Lounge, on both sides of the ship. Afternoon tea is served in this area, and in the evening, a pianist entertains at the white grand piano. While this area could easily hold 200 people, it does not seem that large because the area is broken up by different levels.

    Walking now down the port side of the Promenade Deck, there is a wonderful bar and lounge called the Wheelhouse bar which, as you might guess from its name, is decorated with nautical artifacts. It's also large enough to have a dance floor, and a place for a small band. Pre- and post-dinner dancing is a favorite in this lounge. The nautical theme also continues outside the bar, and there are interesting show business memorabilia displays, showcased in windows. One of the souvenirs is a pair of "under garment pantaloons" worn by Vivian Leigh during the filming of "Gone with the Wind." I think they were washed before they were put on display.

    Finally, on our walk down the Promenade Deck, we come to the main show lounge, the Princess Theatre. The lounge has movie theater-style graduated height seating, and is done in a 30's motif, with red velour seats. The stage itself occupies two decks (although it appears only as one), so that sets can be raised or lowered. It's an absolutely beautiful room, but holds only 555 people. The main show of the cruise "Odyssea" was performed here, and was spectacular. "Odyssea," by the way, is a successor to previous shows on Princess called "Metamorphosis," and "Mystique." Because of the space limitations, the show is performed twice on two consecutive nights to give all passengers the opportunity to see it. It was even announced that admission to the show was "by ticket only," and the tickets were supposed to be given out at dinner, but we never saw any.

    Almost everywhere else, the public areas are designed in a way to make everything look smaller. There is no doubt that the ship has an overall "cozy" feeling, notwithstanding the large number of passengers it carries.

    On the Sun Deck, very close to the bow of the ship, is a large wading pool for children. There are other areas near the bow of the ship with deck chairs, that appear to be overlooked by many passengers, and are relatively deserted.

    Day-time Entertainment

    While my wife and I may be in a minority, we really enjoy the interaction of shipboard games, and one of our reasons for preferring Princess over some other cruise lines is because they pay more attention to games for passengers. This cruise was no exception. "Games" included table tennis and shuffleboard tournaments, line-dancing classes, horse races with betting, scavenger hunts, golf putting tournaments, Bingo (of course!), Pictionary, Trivial Pursuit, Jeopardy, bridge, ballroom dancing classes, chess, backgammon, Name That Tune, and Wheel of Fortune.

    Other daytime activities included a skin care seminar, a tour backstage, a passenger talent show, lectures on Alaska and other subjects, instruction on casino games, and a singles mixer.

    Evening Entertainment

    On the first night, the cruise director hosted the usual "Welcome Aboard" show in the Vista Lounge, followed by a comedian, Glenn Hirsch, who was pretty good. The Princess Theatre had two showings of the movie "My Fellow Americans."

    As mentioned previously, the Princess Theatre featured "Odyssea" for two nights. In the Vista Lounge, cabaret artist Leslie Jon was featured, but he had to cancel out on the last night due to laryngitis.

    Other late night activity include a game show called "Body Language" and the traditional champagne waterfall. The Atrium Lounge featured pianist Alan Stribling who could play almost any song that you requested. The Wheelhouse Bar had a trio who played dance music. For the night owls, the Jammers Disco went from 10 p.m. " 'til late," and one night featured passengers at karaoke. The flashy disco did not seem to suit the karaoke format, in our opinion, and the performers did not receive much attention from the audience who were waiting for the real disco to start.

    The nicest surprise we found was the entertainment provided in the Horizon Court. Being a dining area, it was easy to overlook the fact that entertainment was provided there in the evening. The stars of the Horizon Court were a duo named "Jana & Danny" who played keyboards, guitars, saxophones, AND sang. These two definitely made everybody want to get up and dance, whether they were in their 30's or their 70's.


    Arrangements for disembarkation were well organized. Passengers with early flights to catch were let off first, and then disembarkation was by deck, starting on the higher decks (this is one of the few perks that people get for paying for the higher-priced cabin, other than the cabin itself).

    The Dawn Princess docked at Ballantyne pier. Although this commercial docking area is 'way less attractive than the main cruise terminal at Canada Place, it does have a lot more room, and finding bags and grabbing a taxi were quite easy. We were back in our Vancouver apartment by 9 a.m. (one of the benefits of living in a cruise port ).


    A great ship, good service, friendly staff. We might have had no complaints at all it we hadn't been on other cruise ships where certain things were done better. If you're reading this because you're about to cruise on the Dawn Princess, then we wish you a great cruise!

    Alan WalkerAlan Walker is quite an experienced cruiser and is a regular columnist and reviewer for The SeaLetter.

    Originally from Australia, Alan has for some time been permanently settled in Vancouver where he is a practicing Attorney. Alan is currently a librarian and member of the Cruise Staff of CompuServe's UK Travel Forum. Alan loves email, and can be reached at: 74671.3046@compuserve.com.

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