My husband and I just returned from a Christmas cruise on the Dawn and loved it! Great ports, great ship and great cruise staff! I know there have been alot of negative reviews for the Dawn in December but we saw only a couple minor things that others have posted here.
Embark/Debark - there was a long line when we got to the pier about 12:30pm on the 23rd but it moved very quickly and we were on board within about a half hour or so. We immediately booked Cagney's and La Cucina using credits we got from the online travel agent as we wanted to make sure we got Cagney's for Christmas Eve. We'd already booked Moderno and Le Bistro online before we left.
Room - we had a midship mini-suite on Deck 11. The room was decent size with a great balcony. Our steward, Gilbert, was great. Very attentive and made sure we had all that we needed. Our room was very clean, bed comfortable and no issues at all with the balcony.
Food - I'll run through each restaurant separately as we hit most of them.
Aqua - we went here the first night and were told there would be a 15-20 minute late so we headed to Gatsby for a drink but we'd just ordered when the buzzer went off so we skipped the drink and went to the restaurant. It was surf and turf night so I went that route while DH had the salmon. Service was a bit of an issue that night but unlike others, we experienced service that was too fast, not too slow! The food was good but dinner felt a bit rushed.
Venetian - we had lunch here the first day and then dinner two nights during the cruise. Both food and service were good and we enjoyed both meals. Service was just right and we were in and out in about an hour or so. We had a bit of a wait one night but it was just enough time to go to the Pearly King for a drink before dinner (more on Pearly King's later).
Le Bistro - my favorite! Both service and food were fantastic. Our waiter was great and had a good time joking with my husband as DH was wearing a Santa hat for Christmas day! I had the Duck served two ways - the confit was good but the roasted breast was to die for! Mussels were tasty as was the mushroom soup for a starter.
La Cucina - a close second to Le Bistro. I was a little leery after reading here that the food was a bit bland but we really enjoyed ours. I had the pasta carbonara and DH had the lasagna. After appetizers, neither of us could finish our entrees we had so much food. The food and the service were easily on par with the best Italian places in our home town (a heavy Italian area in case you are wondering if I know what good Italian tastes like!).
Cagney's - the food here was good but I'd expected it to be a bit better. I will admit to having attended the martini tasting earlier in the day and then we polished off a bottle of high end red wine so perhaps my taste buds were a bit numb. Service was attentive and we had a good time.
Moderno - we visited here after a long day in Cozumel and it happened to be the same night as the chocolate buffet in Garden Cafe. Salad bar was good but nothing special. The meats were terrific but I didn't pace myself well so I ended up not able to finish it all. Unlike others who reviewed, we were offered seconds and thirds even though our card was turned to red. No problem with getting enough to eat here!
Garden Cafe - we had breakfasts and a couple lunches here. Typical buffet food, decent omelets for breakfast and a good selection for lunch. Was anxious to try the Indian food as so many here have raved about it but I found it to be pretty bland and not even close to our favorite restaurants at home. A don't miss is the chocolate buffet - they have this one evening and it was great! More things made out of chocolate than you can imagine!
The ports were great - we did Victor Bodden in Roatan, Cavetubing.bz in Belize and then ship excursions (ATVs in Costa Maya and Dolphinarius in Cozumel). Tendering in Belize was a breeze, we went to Spinnaker early to get tickets as I'd read here that they often hand them out early and we were pleased that we did as they started about 7:30am. Within about 10 minutes, it was announced that we were cleared to tender and we rushed down to the boat. Thank you CC for the tip to get tickets early and be ready to go shortly thereafter!
On board activities - our first at sea day DH played Texas Hold'em in the morning while I did the culinary session and then hung by the pool and then we did martini tasting in the afternoon. This was a great deal as we got 5 nearly full-size martinis for $15! Well worth the money!
We saw the Christmas show done by the crew and Greg London, both of which ran just about an hour and were well done. We went to Second City in Spinnaker on two nights but found it too crowded and we could not see well. I agree with others here, Spinnaker is not a good venue for some of the shows they scheduled there.
We visited, I think, all the bars on the ship. The Java bar in the atrium (which does serve alcohol) was our favorite as we met our favorite server, Nenette, there on the first day. Despite a difficult last name, she managed it well and remembered us for the rest of the cruise. We also enjoyed the Pearly King and had fun talking to the bartender "Chips Ahoy". If you've been there you've heard his tag line - "you're the best....after me!" Pearly King is the venue for progressive trivia so it was packed at 5:30pm with die-hard trivia players but otherwise was a great venue to have a drink with nice windows to watch the sea if you wanted to do so.
Star Bar is really nice but it was empty the night we were there and the waitress was not very attentive - she was the only server that we felt did not care to be there and the only place where I can say the service was not very good.
Topsiders is fun it you want to be outside as is the Bimini bar on the other side of the pool.
I'm sad to hear that others did not have a good experience on the Dawn as we loved it! As frequent travelers, perhaps we have learned to overlook some of the little things that just don't matter but I don't think that was the case. How can you argue with good food, good service and friendly staff?