Hello fellow cruisers! I will try and cover everything discussed in other reviews and just about the boat in general and give a very reliable and honest review. I traveled with a group of 26 people all over the age of 18 (we were 28 but two had last minute emergencies and had to cancel). We booked the Norwegian Dawn leaving from Tampa and going to Roatan, Honduras, Belize, Costa Maya and Cozumel. Since we cruised on NCL before we were aware that Norwegian offers a beverage package. That is unlimited drinks on board, which for our group saved us thousands of dollars. It is hard to find information on this so here is how it works...You must be a group of 20 or more people in a minimum of 8 rooms. There are 2 packages to choose from, regular or premium. Everyone in the party has to take the package and the same package. Anyone under 21 needs to take the soda package. We took the regular package which included call liquor (Stoli, Bacardi, etc) and most frozen drinks. The cost was $322 for the week. Now on with the rest of the review.
Getting on the boat probably took about 2 hours which was much longer than last year. The first issue came up when my friends got to the front desk and the Guest Services Rep said they do not offer a liquor package on board (which we paid for up front). After getting a manager involved we were able to get that straightened out to an extent but they had no idea what was included. I immediately sought out the beverage manager and spoke with him. His name was David and he explained that they were not used to anyone getting the package and were unfamiliar with it and he needed to confirm what was and was not included. I told him what was included last year and after about 24 hours he was able to confirm everything (except mudslides which were included last year but not this year). We had a problem at every bar getting drinks until everything was straightened out. Very frustrating. If you offer out a service then your staff should be well informed! After those discussions I went to the room and the bags were already there. My roommate has some seasickness issues so months ahead of time we requested to have a room where the beds faced the front of the boat (so he didn't feel like he was moving backwards when in bed). NCL had verified ahead of time that the layout of this room (cabin 9686) met my expectations. Sadly when I got on board the room configuration did not meet my request but they had moved the beds from one wall to the other. By doing this there was no way to watch TV since the TV is now behind us. They stated there were no other rooms available and nothing could be done. The rooms were very small. Plenty of storage but not much room to move around. Great mid ship location, great balcony views, no noise and not too bad to get to the one set of elevators. My room steward was terrible. The room was never made up and not once did we ever get the towel animals that everyone is always talking about.
We hit almost every specialty restaurant and the both the Venetian and Aqua which are the free dining rooms. Getting the check for the cover charge in the specialty restaurants is not very quick but the food more than makes up for it in most of them. For this trip my favorite had to be the Asian restaurant, Bamboo. We had Sushi there one night, Chinese another night and had the noodle bar for lunch one day. Service was great and so was the food. The Food and Beverage manager even sent over 2 bottles of wine for us after hearing about our problems at the Churascaria. We had eaten at the Churascaria on the Epic and it was fantastic. Unfortunately it was the exact opposite on this boat. The salad bar was always empty and the service is the worst I have ever experienced anywhere. A friend of mine ordered a few bottles of expensive wine and they brought them to the table and didn't open them. We had to wait 20 min to get someone to open the wine. 15-20 min spans between each time someone came over with meat and it was gone before everyone in the group was able to try it. I asked for more rice and potatoes and that took 30 minutes. Ridiculous. Overall it took 3 hours to have dinner and another 30 minutes to pay all the bills. As a result, we missed the show as usual (I will get to that later). We had a birthday dinner in the Italian restaurant and the food was pretty good, although I do think the food on the Epic was better. My favorite dishes there were the beef carpacio and the penne with Italian sausage. The food at the 24 hour restaurant called the Blue Lagoon, is not the best but it does the trick. Stick to the wings and burgers in this place.
Next item is the shows. Here is my complaint -- The shows are at 7pm and 9pm so both are hard to make. Getting back from the islands at 5ish no one wanted to eat early and dinner reservations at 7:30 or 8 made the 9pm show impossible as well. The Epic had shows starting much later and we never had issues making those shows. Their start time was usually about 10pm or later. The few shows we did see were amazing. The Bollywood was great and not to be missed. It helps having some great eye candy to look at as well (thanks Kyle!). The Cirque type shows were great and the comedians were not bad either (we saw them at the club later in the evening).
The nightlife on this boat was almost non-existant. This was a much older crowd so the nightclub which is called the Spinnaker Lounge consisted of our group and maybe about 10 others that we got to know quite well. Thank God the staff hung out in the club as well or it would have seem deserted. The DJ was nasty and rude and would not play what we wanted to hear. Why not? We were the only people there!! Some nights he turned the music down because he said there were complaints. Aren't the locations of these places specifically to avoid this issue? We spoke to the cruise director Candi, and she said she would speak with the DJ. We still had problems after that and Candi was unavailable. The only option other than that was the casino and they closed early some nights too. For people who want to drink and party there were no options after 2am some nights.
The stops on this boat were amazing. Each one was fantastic. We got a deal on Roatan to rent a chair on the beach and in a resort with access to their pool and bar. This turned out to be key since the locals were quite annoying trying to sell us stuff. Belize was nice and we had an all day excursion there to do cave tubing. It was nice but it took more time to get there and back then the excursion itself took and the hike in the jungle was tough on the feet. I wouldn't do this again. Costa Maya we went to a beach and got an all day drinking package and were waited on hand and foot. There were Beds on the beach and great service. It was fantastic and only like 10 minutes from the boat. Before getting on the boat we made a donation to wildlife rescue and were able to hold some lion cubs...amazing experience that I will not forget. Cozumel was a drinking and partying day and we went to the bar the staff goes to and had a great time with them (sorry but not giving away their secret place).
Getting on and off the boat was very quick and easy. It literally took less than 5 minutes every time. Coming back from Costa Maya the NCL Star was docked right next to us so they had a party on the pier....that was so much fun.
Certain crew members were outstanding and need to be mentioned. First off was Justin Short who was part of the Cruise Director staff. He went above and beyond his job responsibilities to make sure we had a good time, especially me. The next mention is the bartender Tamia Bartha who was the best bartender on the boat (and coincidentally was also on the Epic with us the year before). Kenin was the bartender in the Spinnaker and he was also great. After the first day I never had to ask for a drink he just made it for me.
All in all we had a great time. It's hard to have a bad time with a large group of friends but this boat tested us. We would not recommend this boat unless you have never been on a newer boat or you fall in the Senior category.
We are looking at the NCL Breakaway next year so hopefully that is an improvement otherwise we will be right back to the Epic. For those keeping track we did the Carnival Miracle the year before the Epic and NCL was much better (see my reviews on that if you want the whole story). We would love to do Royal Caribbean Oasis or Allure but they require 50 people to get the drinking package so for now we have to stick with Norwegian.
I hope I covered everything and that my review helped. Happy cruising!