A little background info: We are a family of 5. Husband, age 51 is an experienced traveler & cruiser. However, the Dawn was 2nd cruise for Kids, ages 16,12,10 and I, age 36. Our 1st cruise last year was on Disney.
We originally chose this cruise for the ports, not the ship. For 9+ months after we booked the cruise I read the ship reviews on this site. I was nervous we had made a wrong choice, especially after so many negative reviews had been posted. We were pleasantly surprised both the ports and the Dawn were wonderful!!
Embarkation: Easy. We drove to Tampa, parked at Premier parking & had free shuttle service to& from the Port. Quick thru check-in line, and onto ship.
Stateroom: In one word, Awesome! We were in the new Family "penthouse" suites without balcony- category SJ. I was concerned I would miss having a balcony, but the views from our floor to ceiling windows were incredible. There was plenty of room for our family. It has a King Bed, Pull-out Queen sofabed, which our boys shared, and a murphy bed. There is a small dining table with 4 chairs, plus 2 living room style chairs & a table. The bathroom was awesome as well, with double vanity, tub and separate walk-in shower. That shower with the rain showerhead was great, my kids never complained about having to shower.
As part of this stateroom we also had several additional perks. Our butler, Ruel, was very attentive& always friendly. We had a fresh fruit bowl everyday &every afternoon were given a plate with light treats such as chocolate covered strawberries, & cheese & crackers. For us & the kids we definitely felt we were living the SUITE LIFE.
Meals: Another additional perk of our stateroom was being able to eat, complimentary, in Cagney's for breakfast & lunch. We ate there several times and had delicious meals every time. We also ate in the 2 complimentary main dining rooms, Aqua and Venetian, both were good, no complaints. We ate at the Sushi Bar one night & that was good. We also tried Moderno one night, while good it was more food than we were used to eating& we were full pretty quick. Our server Ruby was outstanding!! The next time she saw us at the Blue Lagoon she came right over to say hi, remembering all of our names- very impressed. As for the Blue Lagoon, we enjoyed it a lot. Sometimes all we wanted to eat was salad and soup and we enjoyed being served. Wish we had found Blue Lagoon earlier in our cruise. We also ate at The Garden Cafe a few times, no complaints, we just aren't a buffet family.
My husband and I really enjoyed having a drink at Pearly Kings. The bartender "Chips Ahoy" kept the atmosphere fun and the crowd was great. Only suggestion would be to make karaoke Adults only after 10pm. A few families thought it was cute for their young kids to sing, & one song was cute but after several songs the mood in the bar would change & most of the adults left, including us.
We also really enjoyed having a drink at Gatsby's lounge listening to the piano music, sometimes accompanied by a cello player or singer.
Entertainment: Besides the piano player, there was also a live band & guitar player in the atrium who both were very good to sit & listen to. We also enjoyed the poolside steel drum band. We only went to see a few shows in Stardust theatre. The magician was wonderful. Really enjoyed his performance. Second City was good. And Band on the Run was ok, not really that exciting. But glad we went for the experience. The White Hot party was fun, no kids after 11pm, but we all had fun & were ready to leave with them by then.
Youth Programs: I can't say enough about the fabulous staff & programs! At first our 12 almost 13 year old tall daughter (who thinks she is 16) was not happy about having to be in the age group she was in or excited about going to the club. But she decided to check it out & the staff made her want to be there & come back. Our 10 year old son would have probably spent his entire cruise there if we didn't make him go to eat with us or go to bed. Our 16 year old son also had a blast in his club. While he didn't necessarily always stay in the confines of his club, he used it as a meeting place and to participate in some of the organized teen activities, such as pool night.
Ports: As we had hoped, the ports on this cruise were great & we enjoyed each of them. In Roatan we did the dolphin encounter at Anthony's Key. OUTSTANDING!! Highly recommend!! In Belize we chose to do the Beach day at Bannister Island. Beautiful, private. But 4 hours was more than the kids needed. In Costa Maya we went to Chacchoben Ruins. Fantastic! Our guide, Elizabeth, had so much knowledge and details. And in Cozumel while we had no planned shore excursion, we enjoyed just walking thru the mall at pier, down the boardwalk and eating at Senor Frogs.
Disembarkation: Despite the captains best efforts to race us back to Tampa before the port closed, around 10:30pm (4 hours ahead of schedule) the night before we were to disembark we came to a complete standstill & dropped anchor about 45 miles outside the port. We enjoy weather events, living in Northeast we have had a our share of snow storms. But I had never seen such heavy ocean fog like that. We spent a lot of time that night standing on deck just watching it...was mystical. So it was no surprise to us the next morning when it was announced we would not be arriving to Tampa on time. For us this just was another bonus day at sea with free rum punch, lunch at Cagneys and sitting by the pool. We did feel bad for our cruise mates that missed flights and had to rebook. We were kept informed throughout the morning and when the port reopened our captain made sure our ship was 1st in line to proceed.
Because of our suite perks we had priority disembarkation. Our wonderful butler let us wait in our suite until 5pm. Then we were directed to the Spinnaker lounge where we waited for about 1/2 hour until we were escorted by the concierge directly to the gangway. Quickly found our luggage, went thru customs & located our shuttle back to parking lot. We were in our van by 6pm.
Overall: We had a Fantastic Family cruise. I like the size of the Dawn, and Freestyle Cruise concept. While it is not a mega-ship, I am so glad we chose the Dawn, not just the ports. We would definitely sail on the Dawn again!!