NCL Norwegian Dawn 10 Day British Isles Cruise August 2023

This review will cover our gluten-free dining experience on the Norwegian Dawn whilst cruising round the beautiful British Isles. Having sailed on the sister ship to the Dawn (Norwegian Star) less than a year ago, we had high hopes for our gluten-free experience on board. Would it live up to our previous experience? Read on to find out more (and spoiler alert, it was very different!).

Norwegian Dawn

As the sister ship to Star, the two ships are identical in size. Dawn is a year older than Star, having set sail in 2002. She takes around 2340 passengers at double occupancy, and we were on a sold out sailing. This meant that the ship was quite a bit busier than when we sailed on her sister back in 2022.

The Dawn had a major dry dock back in 2016, and I have to say that the public areas (atrium, restaurants and bars) felt so much newer and more modern looking than the Star. Not that there was anything wrong with the Star, but it just felt a little old fashioned and in need of a refresh. We were both impressed with how good the Dawn looked inside considering her age.

Below are just a few photos from the Dawn to give you a feel of the ship..

Booking and Prior to Cruising

I booked this cruise online direct with NCL, then called in to let them know about our dietary requirements. I already knew about the access form from booking a previous NCL form, so filled this in for both of us. This link takes you to the accessibility assistance page, which details everything you need to know about any kind of accessibility issue (including special diets). You will also find the link to the guest special needs request form, which you should fill out for any kind of special need including specific dietary requirements.

Special Diets Co-ordinator

One of the things that had made our experience on the Star so good was the special diets co-ordinator. Having one person in this role, taking all the special diet orders really worked well, and I have raved about how wonderful this was to anyone that will listen to me! I’ve also answered queries on forums where people have asked what it was like to be gluten free on NCL telling them not to worry, ask the the special diets co-ordinator onboard, and they will tell you everything you need to know, be available to pre-order all meals, and generally make your dining experience a good one. For anyone who hasn’t read my blog post about the Star, you can find it here.

You may perhaps be able to guess where this is leading! We boarded the Dawn, headed to O’Sheehan’s, asked to speak to the special diets co-ordinator, only to be told they didn’t have one. Both of us were shocked at this, as everything I’d read beforehand suggested that the special diets co-ordinator is something you can find on every ship. I even wrote a letter to the food and beverage director onboard, asking about this and querying some other things. She came to find us one evening, and confirmed that they did not have one onboard. She is fairly new to the company, so wasn’t even aware of them. The restaurant manager had heard of them, but said that they hadn’t had one on the Dawn since before Covid.

It’s fair to say that this had quite a negative impact on our dining experience, with various issues cropping up. Instead of having to explain our requirements to just one person, we would have to do it every time. This didn’t always go well, which I’ll cover in the relevant sections.

Buffet (The Garden Cafe)

There is a lot about the buffet that is identical to our experience on the Star, so I’ll try not to repeat myself too much, and make this write up a little shorter by combining breakfast, lunch and dinner. For further details about the buffet, please see my Star post.

There are still no allergen markers at all in the buffet for anything. Some things are easy to risk assess yourself to see if you are happy taking directly from the buffet (for example fruit, various salad things that are well away from anything containing gluten, ice-cream from the machine). For everything else, it’s advisable to ask for a chef to go through what’s safe/can be obtained fresh from the kitchen. We didn’t find the chef’s on this sailing as helpful as our previous experience, this could just be down to how busy it was.

At lunch and dinner, there is a variety of foods including meats, vegetables, salads, curry, pizza, pasta etc. You can ask for a gluten-free pizza to be made for you, which we did a few times. This takes about 15 minutes and is made in the kitchen. You can also ask for GF pasta, although neither of us did that on this cruise.

We were told that the soft serve ice-cream machine was GF, although it didn’t really work properly all cruise so we didn’t bother. You can also ask for gluten-free cookies (if the server behind the counter doesn’t know, find a supervisor who will be wearing a white shirt with striped epaulettes. They should be able to assist you. We actually had one send a box of cookies to our room, which was much appreciated.

At breakfast, there is the usual selection of cooked foods and sliced meats and cheeses, fruit, yoghurt, cereals etc. Unlike on Star, they didn’t keep the packaged boxes of cereal out on display with all the other cereals, so we had to ask for these. It was the same honey nut cheerios, and my husband kept a bit of a stash in case they ran out!

You could ask for GF bread/toast as well as bagels, which is what we tended to have most mornings. About halfway through the cruise we also discovered they had gluten-free sweet waffles. These seemed like pre-packaged ones, and were also toasted for us. There was also GF sweet muffins, although after I was told about them, I only managed one, and was then told that there were no more onboard (and this was on about day 3 of the cruise!).

I only had cooked food from the buffet once at breakfast, as the chef treated me like it was a bit of a hassle to get food fresh from the kitchen and didn’t seem to really understand about the potential for cross contamination on the buffet. I found it easier and safer to get things from the fresh egg station such as omelettes and scrambled egg.

Something we’d really liked about the buffet on our previous cruise was that the butter, jam, peanut butter etc all came in pre-packaged portions. This makes life so much easier for anyone trying to avoid cross contamination with other things. However, up until day 8 of our cruise, all butter was not pre-packaged, and was in big bowls in the buffet (and in general found next to the bread, so less than ideal). That meant we had to ask for fresh butter, which took around 15 minutes to arrive! We got round this by buying a tub of spread when we off at one of our first ports, along with a jar of jam (up until day 8 there was only apple jelly, orange marmalade or peanut butter available. Once they re-stocked, individual portions of strawberry jam appeared on day 8 along with the individual butter portions). There was also no sign of any Nutella being available.

It was quite often a struggle to find a seat in the buffet at breakfast and lunch, I guess this was down to having a full sailing. I think the whole buffet experience would have been more of a struggle if it had been our first cruise. However, it definitely helped sailing on the sister ship recently, as the set up was identical so we knew about things like asking for pizza, speaking to chefs, the availability of GF bagels and toast etc. Had we not have sailed, I’m not sure we would have known about any of this without asking a lot of questions. I find it frustrating that information isn’t willingly given out, and this is a cruise wide problem, not just limited to NCL.

Main Dining Room (MDR) Lunch and Dinner

As per the Star, there are two main (included) dining rooms on the Dawn. These are Aqua and Venetian. We preferred the look of the Venetian, as it’s very light and airy, with high ceilings and lots of light coming in from the huge windows at the rear. However, we ate at Aqua most of the time, as we found a very helpful maitre d’ in there who seemed to know his stuff when it came to special orders.

For our first evening, we’d had a server on O’Sheehan’s who had brought is the menu so we could make a pre-order. After that, we’d follow the usual protocol of every other ship we’ve been on of pre-ordering for the next evening via the maitre d’. A couple of times we also pre-ordered breakfast for the following morning in the MDR, and we also pre-ordered lunch once (there was only one sea day on our entire cruise, and the MDR is only open for lunch on sea days).

Our experience at dinner was generally ok apart from one thing – yet again, no-one seemed to understand what being a vegetarian meant. I regularly had cheese missed off my food, even though the maitre d’ had taken the order and put it through and knew that I ate cheese (we had this discussion pretty much every night!). Even my husband, who eats both meat and fish, had cheese missing from his dish once. More bizarre than this, he had one meal which was bacon wrapped shrimp. The meal was already marked as gluten free, but obviously because it was pre-ordered was made in the special diets/allergy section of the kitchen. His shrimp came out without the bacon, and when he queried it the eventual answer was that the chef thought he was vegetarian, so left the bacon off! First of all, a vegetarian wouldn’t eat shrimp (but a pescatarian would), so it seemed strange that this was sent out. More concerningly though, is the fact that if the kitchen couldn’t get the basics right, then what other misconceptions did they have when it came to dealing with things, especially in relation to the gluten-free aspect.

In the below gallery you can find a selection of our dining choices from dinner.

At the start of the cruise, we laughed off the missing menu items. However, it was pretty much a daily thing, and it did become quite frustrating. Even on the very last night of the cruise it happened. I pre-ordered a dish from the menu that was already marked up as both vegetarian and gluten free (unusual in itself, as most marked up GF dishes are meat or fish based). It was baked pepper stuffed with ricotta and spinach on a bed of rice. However, hat came out was a red pepper just stuffed with spinach. Not particularly appetising, and as the poor maitre d’ had had to do at most other meals, it was sent back to be corrected.

The offending stuffed pepper!

There didn’t seem to be much thought given by the kitchen either, in terms of replacing things containing gluten rather than just removing them and not offering an alternative. For example, at lunch I ordered hummus as a starter. This was made GF by removing the pitta bread that it was supposed to come with. However, no-one thought to put gluten-free bread with it, so I was presented with a bowl of hummus and nothing to eat it with until I specifically asked for some bread. Even some crudités would have been an ideal replacement.

When there was nothing suitable on the menu we were able to ask for something else, and they’d do their best to cook it, which was nice. During our chat with the Food and Beverage Director, she had told us that she liked to challenge the kitchen, so we explained that to the maitre d’ and asked for a few things that could be challenging, such as a chocolate soufflé that was on the dessert menu one evening. The chefs did make this for us – it wasn’t brilliant, but we definitely appreciated the effort they went to and made sure to say this. I also tried thinking outside the box too – for example, one night I asked if I could have gluten-free French toast for dessert the following evening. I love the breakfast one, so why not? It was served with ice-cream, and really good!

The below images show all the dinner menus from our cruise, along with a selection of the dessert menus (we didn’t bother asking for them some nights, and as previously mentioned also did some pre-orders for things that were off menu).

I realise the review of the dining room sounds quite negative. As seems to be quite often the case, the fact I’m vegetarian as well as gluten free seemed to be quite confusing for the kitchen, and I don’t understand why. Normally this doesn’t affect my husband’s food as well (meat and fish eater), but this time it impacted him too. It did happen a couple of times to me on the Star, but nowhere near the frequency on the Dawn (pretty much every meal). It isn’t unusual for people travelling together to have different food requirements, whether these be by choice or medical need. With a pre-order system, it shouldn’t be difficult to get the order correct, and when it isn’t, it gets a little frustrating. However, in spite of the many frustrations we did have some really tasty meals.

Main Dining Room Breakfast

We did this twice, and pre-ordered the night before. Remembering how good the shakshuka was on Star we both ordered this, along with GF French toast and pancakes. It was all fantastic!

The second time we had breakfast was the last day of the cruise, and it’s a more limited menu, so we ordered the usual cooked breakfast. Again, it was great, other than the fact my plate came with a pile of bacon on which of course, I hadn’t ordered, so had to go back to the kitchen! When you’ve specifically pre-ordered exactly what you want the night before, it makes things a little bit stressful when additional items turn up that you can’t eat.

In general though, the breakfast in the main dining room is very good, especially the French toast and pancakes, so I’d highly recommend making time for a sit down breakfast.

O’Sheehan’s (open 24 hours, serves food for around 20 hours)

O’Sheehan’s is an included place to eat, and you can get breakfast from the early hours, then later on there is a variety of food for the rest of the day (mainly burgers and hot dogs, along with a few other choices). There are no allergen markings on the menu, so you do need to ask.

Starting with the positives, we were told that the fries were always gluten free, and cooked in a separate fryer (we did still double check this every time we visited, as you can’t be too careful). It’s really nice to be able to get a simple plate of safe fries whenever you want – it’s surprising how many cruise ships you’re not able to do this. They carry gluten-free buns for burgers, and the meat burgers were GF (sadly not the veggie burgers). The nachos were also gluten free, but you need to be wary of the dips, as the spinach and artichoke dip was made with wheat flour (and not all staff knew this).

We had one server who really knew her stuff in terms of allergens (she was the one who told us about the dip), but a few in there didn’t seem to know that much, which was worrying. If in doubt, ask, even if you have to ask for another member of staff or a supervisor.

Breakfast was a bit of a mixed experience. My husband ate there once without me (he tends to get up earlier than me) and had a great experience. He was told that they can do omelettes, gluten-free toast and eggs, and also most of the cooked breakfast (minus the sausages) safely.

Following on from his experience, we both decided to have breakfast in O’Sheehan’s one morning for a change. To be completely honest, it was an awful experience, and put us off eating there again. I ordered the breakfast sandwich with GF bun and no ham. My husband asked for the full English breakfast with everything that was safe. This is exactly what he had ordered the previous time.

Mine came as ordered, and looked fine. My husband was presented with two fried eggs, and nothing else! When queried, the first explanation given was that he had ordered his as a coeliac. However, we had both ordered this way, so that didn’t make sense. This then made me concerned that my breakfast wasn’t safe, as the GF bun came with breakfast potatoes, so I didn’t eat any of it.

The second explanation given was that the butter wasn’t gluten free. Yes, that’s really what we were told, and the reason given for my husband being served two fried eggs and nothing else (bearing in mind he’d been given everything except sausages a few days before). At this point, we asked to speak to a supervisor, because it was clear that there was some huge confusion somewhere, and we weren’t convinced that anything was safe.

The supervisor came over and tried to say that the chef was being extra careful. We explained how concerned we were there that there didn’t seem to be any kind of understanding over what was gluten free, and whether it was safe or not, and the supervisor said he would get us fresh food, and ensure it was completely safe. Surely nothing else could go wrong, right?

Our fresh breakfasts were brought to us, and explained that everything was GF and cooked safely. The supervisor explained that my husband couldn’t eat the sausages because they weren’t gluten free. He was already aware of this, but great to know that they were aware of this EXCEPT for the fact that on his plate, under his bacon, was sausages! My husband explained to the supervisor that clearly he couldn’t eat this, as the sausages had now contaminated his plate, and it was taken away and freshly cooked minus the sausages.

It’s safe to say that we didn’t go for breakfast again in O’Sheehan’s!

Other Included Eating Places

We didn’t eat anywhere else on the ship. Bamboo is an included Asian fusion restaurant, and they can make some of their food GF. It has an identical menu to Ginza on NCL Star. We were told that there would be a bit of a wait for gluten free, and it was always very busy.

Topsiders Bar and Grill is on deck 12, whilst Bimini Bar and Grill is on deck 14. We didn’t eat at either of these places, although Topsiders did have an early breakfast available, which was basically fruit and pastries (not gluten free). There is also room service, which we didn’t use as there is a charge. There is also no allergen marking on the room service menu.

For more in depth details about these places, please refer to my NCL Star review.

Speciality Restaurants (extra charge)

There are six speciality restaurants onboard Dawn, along with a sushi bar. Five of them are identical to those onboard Star, with the additional restaurant on Dawn called Los Lobos, which is a Mexican restaurant. We only had one meal included with our Free at Sea package, so decided to make a reservation at Los Lobos. Mexican food can often be naturally gluten-free friendly, so we hoped that we’d be able to enjoy a good meal there. This link will take you to the NCL page detailing all the speciality restaurants, and you can also see sample menus (no allergen markings though unfortunately). Below are some photos of the menus that we took whilst onboard.

With no special diets co-ordinator to help us out with the menu or ask questions to, we decided to go up the restaurant a couple of days before our booking to have a chat with them about what could be made gluten free, whether we’d need to pre-order etc. The maitre d’ in Los Lobos was amazing, and really knew his stuff in terms of allergens. He made us feel completely reassured and was able to tell us what was already GF, or what could be adapted to be made so. He also was able to tell me as a vegetarian that the refried beans were made with chicken stock, along with the Mexican rice.

We were told that there was no need to pre-order, and the evening we dined there, the maitre d’ made sure he was present when our order was being taken, and we were reassured that everything would be cooked safely for us. The food was amazing, the portions huge, and we walked out of there stuffed to the point of being uncomfortable (but it was so worth it!). It was by far the best meal we had on the cruise, and in hindsight, we should have paid to eat in there again as it was so good. I can’t say enough good things about this meal!

Gluten Free Beer

We learnt an important lesson when asking about beer on Dawn. Having been on Star, which had Redbridge as its gluten-free beer, we asked for that beer by name, and were told that they didn’t have it on board. We were a little disappointed, thinking that there would be no GF beer onboard. However, this wasn’t the case, and we quickly discovered that they actually had bottles of GF Estrella Galicia. For anyone that’s UK based, they also serve this in Wetherspoons pubs! Just to make sure no-one gets confused, these are specifically marked gluten-free bottles. You can also get standard Estrella Galicia in bottles (I don’t know if they serve the standard ones on board or not, but just in case), so if you’re ever in a position to have this beer, make sure it’s the GF one.

It wasn’t available in all bars, but we didn’t have too many issues getting it. However, about halfway through the cruise my husband overheard someone in O’Sheehan’s asking for one, and was told that it had run out. Later on, we happened to be sat in the wine bar when the Beverage Manager came in (I had recognised his face from the photos of the officers and directors displayed on a screen). I asked him about the beer, and he immediately arranged for all remaining bottles on the ship to be sent to O’Sheehan’s. He also had some sent to our cabin, which was really kind. We only found this a day or two later when we happened to look in our fridge for something, as it had been done one evening when we were out, and no note had been left.

Our takeaway from this was not to ask for a specific brand of beer, as suppliers can change according to where in the world a ship is. Ask for gluten-free beer, then take it from there.

In relation to other drinks, as per usual I checked the syrups and ice cream mixes for the cocktails (I can highly recommend a mudslide, it’s my favourite!), and these were all gluten free.


This cruise is quite difficult to sum up, and I think it would be very different if this was our first experience on an NCL cruise. For us, having sailed on Star the year before, we had quite high expectations, and were looking forward to dealing with the special diets co-ordinator again. In fact, it was one of the reasons that we booked this cruise with NCL rather than another cruise line. We also have another NCL cruise booked in October 2023, which was again booked on the back of our great experience on Star.

Due to our high expectations, the reality didn’t really match up, and we found the whole gluten-free experience difficult, and even stressful at times. Without those expectations, we’d have probably found it a bit tricky, but no more so than some other cruise lines.

Some real positives to take away were our meal in Los Lobos, the general standard of food we were given in the MDR (ignoring the lack of cheese issue!), breakfast in the MDR, waffles in the buffet, pizza in the buffet, fries always being GF in O’Sheehan’s, and there being gluten-free beer easily available (until it ran out of course!).

Some of the negatives include no allergen markings in the buffet or any of the speciality menus (this is not just limited to NCL though, a lot of cruise lines don’t tend to routinely allergen mark the buffet items), the utter confusion caused by me also being vegetarian, and the impact that had on almost ever dinner, the lack of individual wrapped butter portions in the buffet until nearly the end of the cruise, and the awful time we had in O’Sheehan’s at breakfast.

There are a couple of things we did to try and make things better, and I would suggest to anyone not having a good eating experience to try this. The idea is not to get people in trouble, or to completely criticise how the ship is dealing with gluten-free, but simply to offer constructive feedback to the people who can make a difference, and hopefully make eating a little bit easier.

Most ships will have some kind of display somewhere, with photos of the top level officers for each department, along with their name. if you can’t find this, then guest services will be able to give you the details. Twice now (once on Sky Princess and once here on Dawn) I have written to the Food and Beverage Director to let them know of specific issues, how it is impacting our holiday, and making suggestions of how things could be improved. I also point out things that are being done really well, as I’m a great believer that feedback shouldn’t just be saved for the things that aren’t going so well.

On this cruise, the Food and Beverage director came to find us, bringing the restaurant manager with her, and we had a really good conversation about things. It turned out that she is gluten intolerant herself, so she totally understood everything I’d written in the letter, and realised that difficulty in finding safe food can have a significant impact on your holiday. She was so lovely, and very helpful, and we actually left her a goody bag of gluten-free goodies that we’d brought at a port stop, as we knew getting treats wasn’t so easy onboard.

This was left in our cabin after we wrote a letter to the Food and Beverage Director.

The other person who I mentioned before was the Beverage Manager. We didn’t specifically seek him out, but as he happened to be where we were one evening he was a useful person to ask about the beer situation, and was able to do something about it. Again, on a previous cruise with a different cruise line (Princess) it was a manager we spoke to who found us gluten-free beer, which we didn’t even know was available. When you’ve got a drinks package with your cruise, it’s really nice to be able to enjoy a whole range of drinks including beer if that’s your thing.

Finally, if you find a good/knowledgeable maitre d’ in a main dining room, then stick with them! Again, this isn’t just for NCL, but any cruise line. We changed all our dining room bookings to eat in Aqua after finding a good maitre d’ in there. We still had some issues (but these weren’t his fault), but in general it’s easier to deal with the same person each time rather than eating in all different places and having to explain the same thing every night to different people.

In conclusion, we’ve gone from raving about NCL after our gluten-free experience on Star, to being a bit more reserved about recommending NCL to anyone needing to follow a gluten-free diet following our experience on Dawn. We were shocked at just how different the experiences could be, and a lot of this, in our opinion, was down to the lack of the special diets co-ordinator onboard Dawn. I really hope that NCL make this a standard position for every ship in their fleet, as it makes such a difference having only one server to liase with.

Our third cruise on an NCL ship is in October 2023. This times it’s on Getaway, so we’re going with a much more contained approach than we did to Dawn, and will see what happens. Will there or won’t there be a special diets co-ordinator? Keep an eye for my write up, and you’ll find out!

The beautiful port of Cobh

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