This was our 8th cruise, our first on NCL. We are in our late 40's traveling with our 20yo daughter & her best friend. We don't claim to be experts & it takes a lot to get us angry/annoyed. We are former New Yorker's who have seen many Broadway shows & dined at some superb restaurants, so when we cruise we do not expect Broadway quality or fine dining. We cruise because we enjoy being on the seas and exploring the ports.
Embarkation - We arrived at the port of Tampa around 10:30am, got on line and waited. After a 15 minute wait security opened & we went through their process. Checking in was very fast & efficient and only took 5 minutes for the 4 of us. We sat in the lounge where juice & water were provided and waited for our group number to be called for boarding. By 11:30am our number was called and we boarded. We each had a carry-on & were thrilled to read in the Daily that we could securely check them in at the Spinnaker Lounge.
Ship - We thought that the Dawn was decorated very whimsical and in fairly good condition. Plenty of seating in the public areas even by the pool. I will say that many of the pool lounge chairs need to be replaced, too saggy & uncomfortable. We were disappointed that there was no forward indoor bar/observation area where we could just sip a drink, relax & look out on the seas as we have done on other cruise lines ships.
Room - Mini-suite 11662 was well appointed and easily handled the 4 of us. All suitcases were emptied & put under the bed. Our room steward(Shashank) was one of the best we have ever had. Veranda size was adequate.
Dining - Breakfast and lunch every day were at the buffet. Selections were good & the food was fresh & of good quality (remember, it's a buffet). We went to the Venetian 2 times and experienced below average service from unfriendly wait staff. The food there was adequate at best. We dined in La Cuccuina and Bamboo where the service was spectacular and the wait staff was very engaging and went out of their way to make for a great dining experience. The food was very good, for a cruise specialty restaurant.
Entertainment - The magician/illusionist(Justino & Daniella) were fantastic as were all of the acrobats/aerialists. The variety shows ranked from average to good(remember, this is not Broadway), the main voices were at times poor and difficult to listen to. They had some good moments also.
Ports - We enjoyed the all ports of call however tendering in Cozumel was a nightmare. It took us over 3 hours to get to the dock and another 2.5 hours to board on our return. If you want to get off quickly, book a ship excursion.
Disembarkation - Very smooth process.
Overall - This was our first NCL cruise & were very satisfied with our experience (with the exception of Tendering in Cozumel).