We are just back from a seven-day cruise of the Caribbean on the Norwegian Dawn that left March 17, 2013, from Tampa, Florida. We went on this cruise with another couple of our same age - 66. This was our ninth cruise -- having been on Azamara, Royal Caribbean, Costa, Renaissance, Oceania, and NCL before. None of us are overly picky but all appreciate nice touches and good, not overly attentive, service. We had a butler once and thought it was 'a bit much.' Food is important but it's not the end-all/be-all for us.
After both couples having been on a very expensive and port intensive Oceania cruise of Europe last fall, we opted to try a less expensive winter getaway on NCL. All things (air, hotels, shore excursions, drinks, wine, etc.) considered, the cost of the Oceania cruise ended up being about $1,000 a couple per day as compared to the NCL cost of $450 a couple per day. The additional cost on Oceania was not worth it in our opinions.
We had taken NCL out of New Orleans a few years back with our kids and grandchildren and were totally satisfied with the experience. Since my Dad lives in Tampa and we wanted to visit him for a while, leaving out of Tampa was a big plus. We and our friends were looking for nothing more than a relaxing respite from a seemingly endless northern winter. As the price was so much less than other cruises we had taken, we had few - and actually low - expectations of what our cruise would be.
We booked the cruise through Costco as our travel agent and received a $50 credit and prepaid gratuities. We also booked our airline flights directly through the airlines -- I was able to use some credit card points to lower the cost. We did not book any transfers through NCL -- it was much less expensive to take a taxi directly to the port. We also did not take any NCL excursions.
BOARDING (10 out of 10)
Boarding in Tampa was very organized and took no time -- it was maybe the best boarding experience we have had. We arrived at about 11:15 AM and were on the ship having lunch by noon. Bags were delivered to our rooms by about 4:00 with no problems at all.
SERVICE (9 out of 10)
Service on the Dawn was very good -- maybe not great -- but a lot better than we expected. Drink waiters were plentiful by the pool, the cabin staff did their jobs well and the dining staff was also very good. No complaints and everyone we encountered was very friendly. Most of the service crew had been with NCL for many years. I cannot fault the service we experienced in any way at all. Thanks NCL!
THE SHIP ITSELF (7out of 10)
I liked the Dawn quite a bit but there were some things that were annoying. First off, the pool area is too small and the areas around the pool that are covered have no ventilation. The glass walls on deck 12 did not have windows and very often on hot days it was uncomfortably warm in the shade. We are all big fans of outdoor dining areas -- all of Oceania and Azamara have fantail dining areas that were the highlight of our cruises. The fantail of the Dawn was given over to the Kids Club. Smoking is allowed in many places -- more than I would have expected. And there were a lot of smokers. Oh well......
On Board Activities and Entertainment
There were three at sea days so there was lots of time to partake in shipboard activities that were plentiful. The on-board shopping was OK according to my wife -- but she bought nothing.
I thought that the casino was well laid out and that the slots and games offered were very good.
The pool deck and the decks above the pool deck had lots of loungers and we never had a problem finding a spot to sit, to lounge or to lie in the sun.
We never used the spa or any of its features so I cannot comment on that.
The song, dance and stage entertainment were a lot better than we expected. The band that played around the pool was great -- but maybe a bit too loud for some (not me). The song choices seemed to appropriate for a Caribbean cruise,
OUR STATEROOM (8 out of 10)
We and our friends had adjacent balcony staterooms on deck nine. On Oceania and Azamara, we were allowed to open the side doors on the balcony making a wonderful place for us to have cocktails or to merely relax. NCL flatly refused to let us do that. Oh well, instead we had to smash four people on to one balcony.
Our stateroom was not spacious, but well laid out and comfortably furnished. The bathroom was great! I'm 6'2" and had no problems with the shower stall or the commode area. We both though that the bath was the best one we have ever had on any cruise. Towels were plentiful, large and were usually soft -- although some of the towels had seen better days.
Our stateroom attendant was great although he did miss one day for some reason. Other than that, never was our stateroom not clean and made up when we returned from any meal.
OVERALL DINING (7 out of 10
The Venetian Dining Room (7 out of 10)
The decor and atmosphere of the Venetian dining room was very much to our liking. We ate all of our dinners there except when dining in the specialty restaurants. We also ate there a lot for breakfast. The food served was OK -- a couple of times my entree was either overcooked or tough. But, the food was much better than we expected. And a couple of times, the entrees were really good.
Aqua (0 out of 10)
The decor was too bright and glitzy and had no appeal to any of us. We never ate there.
The Garden Cafe (5 out of 10)
We are not buffet people and never ate there....I take it back, I did grab a pretty good Cuban Panini and a tuna croissant one day for lunch from the Garden Cafe.
Poolside (9 out of 10)
Really good burgers, hot dogs and Mexican food one day. There were two cooking areas on sea days -- one on Deck 13 and the main one on Deck 12.
Blue Lagoon (9 out of 10)
This was a great spot for breakfast. The menu is not as extensive as the Venetian but it's quick, has great views and was located immediately below our staterooms. And, it was very easy to get coffee to go each morning rather than making your own.
La Cucina (7 out of 10)
The atmosphere was very nice and our meal here was pretty good. It was worth the upcharge.
Le Bistro (7 out of 10)
We liked the atmosphere of le Bistro as well and meal was really good and worth the upcharge. My wife raved about the vegetarian entree the Vegetarian Napoleon -- said it was one of the best meals she ever had.
Cagney's (9 out of 10)
Probably the best meal of the cruise, at least for me. The filet was great as were the oysters Rockafeller. I could have eaten more of both but was quite full. Should have had the six oz. filet instead of the 10 oz. We had really good service. Worth the upcharge in my opinion.
On the first day of the cruise, we opted to buy wine from the special selections being offered. Together, we bought 14 bottles for about $32 or so a bottle. These were delivered to our stateroom in time for dinner and we could bring them to the table as we pleased with no additional corkage costs. This was just a fantastic way to deal with dining and wine.
SHORE EXCURSIONS (?? out of 10)
We took no NCL sponsored shore excursions. With four of us it was very easy, and less expensive, to arrange for our own shore excursions in the ports we were visiting. We had arranged in advance for private tours of Roatan and activities in Cozumel. We had all done cave tubing in Belize before so our activities there consisted of a late tender into the port, a bit of shopping, a couple of frozen cocktails and back to the ship. In Costa Maya we just hung out at the Tropicante Tex Mex cafe on the beach -- thanks Steve for your hospitality.
The TV stations offered were OK but the only news was Fox -- it would have been nice to have CNN too. Announcements were always very hard to hear -- especially if you were in your stateroom. Gio, the cruise director, spoke English that was heavily accented and a bit hard to understand over the PA system - but he did a very good job.
The cruise passengers all seemed to be having a very good time. The average age was probably about 50 or maybe a little less than that. Not a lot of kids that we ever saw and the ones that we did see were always well behaved.
DEBARKATION (10 out of 10)
Worked like a charm. We were off the ship, with our account cleared and getting on the shuttle to the airport ($7 per person) within 30 minutes of our leaving. We chose to take our luggage with us rather than having it gathered the night before.
OVERALL (9 out of 10)
We came on the Dawn with low expectations and left feeling that this cruise was actually better than our $1,000 a day Oceania cruise the previous fall. Sure the Dawn was a bit older (and tired in places), the staff not overly (and annoyingly) attentive to your every whim and the food not gourmet - but better than most average chain restaurants. But, the drinks were well made and not ridiculously priced; our staterooms small but adequate; the beds comfortable and the balconies having the best view in the world!
We had a really good time and will likely look at NCL again if their ships go where we want to go.
Hope that this is helpful to those who read it.