We have cruised 6 times with NCL and this was our 4th trip on the Dawn. We took along another couple who were 1st time cruisers and I hoped that they would have a wonderful 1st time cruise experience that would live up to everything that they have heard.
Embarkation was easy, we arrived a little early with as we had an early flight from Ohio but as Gold members of NCL's latitudes program, once we cleared security we skipped the line to check in. We only waited about 20 minutes to board and it would have been much sooner had we not arrived before 11:30am. This is our second time at the Tampa port and it is very nice with friendly people, my only issue is that there always seems to be some issue with their passport reader, it took multiple swipes of our passports to (including my friends who have brand new ones) to get the system to read them. We had the same issue last year.
Our Cabin: We were in a mid-ship mini suite which is more than comfortable for a couple, I am not sure I would try putting more than 2 in this room unless they are small children. Our cabin was clean and comfortable, although we did have to request bath robes that are usually on hand in a mini-suite. Ronaldo our cabin steward it seemed had many cabins assigned to him and yet if we needed something extra (towels, ice,etc.), we simply left him a note and it was handled.
Room Service-We usually do "first breakfast" in cabin which usually consists of room service delivery of coffee, juice, fresh fruit and croissant. This is a must for us when we cruise and it was what we were used to however there were a few days where our order was incorrect or they delivered earlier (20-30 minutes)than the time we had requested, a little closer attention to requested delivery time would be appreciated in order to get that extra few minutes of sleep.
Buffet: Standard cruise ship buffet fare, no better or worse than any economy cruise line with ample selection. Some things could have been hotter.
MDR: We did not eat at any MDR during this trip.
Le Bistro: As always, well worth the cover charge and food and service was excellent. The cream of mushroom soup keeps me coming back to Le Bistro on every NCL cruise.
La Cucina: Great selection of quality starters, entrees, pizza and pasta. Service was excellent and the pizza we are shared was incredible.
Bamboo: Not your ordinary Asian food, some familiar items with a twist. Again, great service and quality.
Cagney's: We have had mixed experiences with Cagney's in the past for dinner, one good visit and one bad. On our last trip we booked a suite and always found breakfast and lunch to be spot on. This trip we went for dinner and everything was perfectly cooked to order and service was great. The only disappointment was that my travel companion was looking forward to oysters and they had run out as it was near the end of the cruise.
Room Service Pizza: After having an exhausting day doing an excursion, we all decided to have a pizza party in our room and ordered delivery to go with the red wine that had been provided as part of a promotion during our booking. I was reluctant to order pizza as it was undercooked on our last cruise but to my surprise it was perfectly cooked and delicious.
Roatan- We decided to go on our own, hired a guide and a van/driver for $20 per person and he took us to a place to zip line ($35 pp) and then at our request to a local spot (non-touristy) for lunch and a few beers. After lunch we went on a tour of the island, overall it was a great value.
Belize City: We did not plan anything for this stop having been there before, we did some shopping and ate on the pier. Note: If you do not book an excursion for this port, you cannot leave the pier area.
Costa Maya: We did some shopping and had booked a noon excursion through the ship to the ruins which was a great experience for all. I had been there years ago with my daughter, but found our guide very informative and was not bored seeing the site again.
Cozumel: On our own once again, shopping, lunch and cerveza. This being my 5th visit to Cozumel and our last port day, we were all tired and wanted to take it easy. If it is your first visit, there are plenty of things to do and most excursions through the ships in the past have been a good value.
Overall, service was EXCELLENT as always. I read a few reviews from others on this cruise and am not sure what went wrong with them but in my 6 times cruising with NCL with few exceptions, I have always found the service to be excellent and the staff very personable, much more so than I have found with other lines including luxury cruise lines. Overall in my experience, I think that how you are treated by staff on this line is a direct reflection of how you treat them.
Also, one reviewer mentioned rough seas and people "losing it" on this ship due to what he suspected was cutting costs by not using stabilization technology. Not one person in my party (2 of whom were 1st time cruisers) were seasick or saw anyone getting sick in public restrooms. Maybe someone had a few too many afternoon cocktails.
Disembarkation: Went smoother this trip than last time in Tampa, we did not have a flight home that day so we waited to be the last group to disembark, perhaps this was why lines were not long and we were off and through customs within 30 minutes. If you don't have anywhere to be, this is the way to go, relax, have breakfast and enjoy, you'll be off the ship soon enough. TIP: At any cruise port, the cost of paying a porter to handle your luggage and go through the "porter" line in customs is well worth the $5-$10 in order to avoid long lines.
Overall, we were happy my friends were pleased with their first cruise experience and they intend to cruise again most likely with NCL.