Dawn Western Caribbean March 10-17, 2013
Background: I'm 42; my first cruise was on a Princess ship at the age of 17. Since then I have cruised Disney, RCCL, NCL-POA, and one of the smaller Carnival ships. Our cruising party consisted of myself, my DH of 23 years and 9 of our closest friends; 4 of whom had never cruised before (we are all 40 something). This was a first for us as we left the kids at home! Our group has vacationed together for the last 20 years, too many camping trips to count...I suggested we kick it up several notches and take a cruise! We all arrived to the Tampa area at various times on Saturday, March 9th and we chose to stay at the Ramada Inn Westshore based on price and location. The location was fine, but even at $80 the price was way too high! Lets just say the picture of their rooms on their website does not reflect the rooms that were assigned to us...maybe there is a room within the hotel that looks like that, but not ours. It was the kind of place that was so grimy and dirty that you didn't want to take your shoes off or put anything on the floor! DH and I had planned to stay here one night after the cruise as well, but that was not going to happen! After arriving DH went on a run and found a nearby Marriot that we booked instead. Score for DH!!! Through our CC Roll Call we discovered that a few members were also staying at the Ramada Inn, so we planned to meet for drinks and ended up having dinner at the on site restaurant. It was fun to put faces with some of the people that I had been sharing info with over the last several months! One more thing about the hotel...upon check in we were offered reservations for their shuttle to the pier the next morning at $10 p/p. Thanks to CC I had an idea that we might get a better deal by calling a taxi...it was a much better deal! I called yellow cab and arranged for two mini-vans to pick our group of 11 up at 10:30 Sunday morning. The cost was about $20 total for each taxi...somehow one taxi was only $18 and the other was $23???
Sunday, Day 1, Tampa
We arrived at the pier around 10:50AM and check in was a breeze! It was strange though that even though we all arrived at the same time that we were assigned different boarding numbers?!?! Some of our party received number 1, another couple received number 4 and of course DH and I received number 7! It was fine, 2 of our newbies were also in group 7 and from the time they called group 1 to the time they called group 7 only about 20 minutes passed. Before boarding we made a plan to meet at the Venetian for lunch. Our group was the first to arrive at 11:55 and they didn't seem ready for us, but they sat us at two large round tables where we enjoyed a very relaxed lunch. Only a handful of other passengers found their way to the Venetian, I'm sure others trickled in. We decided to see about making dinner reservations here for the evening for the 11 of us, no problem if we came at 8PM, we took it!
After lunch we toured the ship for a bit, we grabbed a drink at the Pearly King and before we knew it our rooms were ready! A few of us even had luggage! Our group had a port-side mini-suite booked on deck 11 for 3 single guys, we had 3 balcony staterooms next to one another on deck 10, also on the port-side, as well as a port-side window stateroom on deck 4. We all found our rooms to have a great layout and I really loved having the enclosed shower vrs the dreaded shower curtain!
At 3:15 it was time for the muster drill, we were assigned to the Stardust Theater. It was nice not having to bring our life vest along. We headed back to settle into our room and unpack. Then around 6:30 we went up to watch as the ship passed under the sky bridge. We were treated to a beautiful evening, low wind and a gorgeous sunset! We found our friends and enjoyed the scenery as we set sail for our adventure before heading back to the Venetian for dinner. (One reason we choose to go back to the Venetian tonight was because on the first night of the cruise the men were not required to wear dress pants and closed toed shoes, you are allowed to be a bit more casual). I was happy to see the mushroom soup offered as I've read how good it is...I found it to be bland and tasteless...so disappointed! The first night is lobster night, so of course several of us had the steak and lobster...the steak was very good, but the lobster was fishy. Desserts were OK, having cruised NCL before I knew to expect this.
After dinner we hit the Star Bar for drinks, here we met Orlando Flores our waiter. He is a very friendly fellow and gave us great service! We found this location to be a hidden little hide away that we really enjoyed. After a drink we hit the Spinnaker lounge to see what was going on. There were a few people dancing, I couldn't convince my friends to dance with me so we decided it was time to hit the hay and rest up for the next day's activities!!!
Monday, Day 2, Our first sea day
DH and I ordered room service the night before (very limited menu) we ordered a pot of coffee, a couple of cartons of milk, Danish/muffins and a fruit plate. The muffins were dry and the fruit was tasteless. Good thing we brought along our protein powder! After breakfast we hit the gym for a workout. We had a meet and greet scheduled for 10:30 at the Star Bar, there were about 80 people who signed up but only about 30 something showed up. The captain and several officers came in and introduced themselves and that was about it. Off to the pool!!! And off to the casino for some of us. My girl friend and I were able to come up with two lounge chairs together and eventually snagged one close by for my DH who joined us a bit latter. I did notice a lot of saved chairs that stayed saved for over an hour with no one even attempting to occupy them. Later 2 more loungers became available and 2 more of our friends were able to grab those! For lunch we had the delicious pool- side BBQ! One of my friends and I made our way down to sit on the edge of the pool to cool off a bit. We had great timing as the Mr. Sexy leg contest started shortly there after and we had front row seats! Being spring break along the east coast there were lots of contestants who weren't shy about showing off!
After our lazy afternoon in the sun it was time to get ready and meet up with the rest of our friends for the martini tasting at the Gatsby bar. This has to be the best drink value on the whole ship! $15 gets you 5 different martinis! They were delicious and potent!!! We all had a lot of fun...maybe too much fun! We all ordered our own tasting, I would suggest sharing with a friend! After the tasting we went to dinner at the Aqua where we had reservations. (By the way they will allow one person from your group to make reservations for all of you.) I had the salmon and the cheese cake, I was happy with both.
Dinner did run a little long, but I expected that based on our previous cruise with NCL. We also ordered a few bottle of wine and it takes time to pour for 11 people. After dinner we made it to the Spinnaker lounge just in time to see (or almost see, we had a bad view of the stage) the not-so-newlywed game. It was fun, not great, but it all depends on the contestants that you get. We stayed for the 70's dance party and the ABBA show. This night I got all of my friends out on the dance floor, we had so much fun!
Tuesday, Day 3, Roatan:
We awoke to a beautiful day, not blazing hot, just enough cloud cover and a breeze to keep you comfortable. DH and I had breakfast at the Blue Lagoon. We arrived and found 5 of our friends finishing up their meals. One did not care for the food, 2 others said the scrambled eggs were imitation and you could tell, they did like the French toast though. Both DH and I ordered 2 real eggs over med, toast, bacon and sausage, and an order of French toast. The eggs were great, but we both found the French toast to be undercooked. (Side note, I've read several reviews saying how terrible the service is here, we never found that to be the case.) We finished eating and then met our group down at the Java Cafe, this became our morning meeting place before each excursion.
We easily walked off the ship around 9:15 and made our way through the pier area to where we meet Larry the rep from Little French Key. Another smaller group showed up just after us and Larry had them on their way. Not to worry, with in a few minutes we were loading into a van and off we went! Roatan is very lush and beautiful, but also very poor. I enjoyed the 30 minute car ride to our destination; we were able to see a bit of the town and country side. Once we arrived Larrisa was there to meet us and we paid for our day including the extra snorkeling portion. As a group of 10 or more we received a 10% discount! (I did have to remind Larrisa about that, she was the person that I had exchanged emails with and who we made our reservation through.) No problem! We were ferried over to their beautiful private island and we were given a quick tour of the grounds. I was a bit surprised at how busy it already was, but we had no problem finding a base-camp for our group.
The ocean water was a bit chilly and it seemed extra salty to us. We played in the water, kayaked and a few from our group jumped into the ocean from a second story platform! We had some "Monkey Lala's" a delicious drink that I had read about here on CC and on Trip Advisor, I'm so glad I knew to order them! Once the BBQ lunch of steak, chicken, lobster, shrimp, rice and beans and plantain chips was ready the staff came out and served us. This was the best food I had in any of the ports!!! The chicken was soooo good!!! After lunch we got to go over to the little zoo that they have on the island and we played with spider monkeys!!!! So cute! This was a high light for many of us! After hanging out with the monkeys we decided it was a good time to go on our snorkel adventure. By this time it was more cloudy than sunny so the visibility wasn't great. We were also a little unsure of the boat that took us out to the reef. No life vests were visible-where they could be hiding was impossible to imagine, there were also wires visible that could easily come into contact with water, it just didn't seem like the safest vessel! We were given no direction or instruction...it was a bit of a mess. To boot there wasn't much to look at, the coral was interesting, but overall very underwhelming. We spent a little more time relaxing and then it was time to head back to the Dawn. A few of our friends went to do some shopping around the pier, but I didn't so I can't tell you what they had to offer.
We went to the early show tonight, Jacko and Maria, an aerial show. I know a lot of folks loved this show and there were aspects to it that were great, but the way it was presented/produced made it just OK for me. After the show we again had dinner at Aqua. I ordered the three cheese mushroom ravioli...they were gross!!! (What is it with me and the mushroom dishes on this ship?) I was glad that I shared an order of the chef's special with my friend! It was a spicy chicken dish...so good!!! After dinner most of the guys hit the casino, but a few of us went to karaoke at the Pearly King, this is where we met one of the cruise director's staff, Daniel, we all really enjoyed his dry British humor. The place was nearly empty so I made one of my girlfriends sing with me! It was fun, but it was getting late so off to bed...
Wednesday, Day 4, Belize:
Thankfully one of our friends is an early riser and thankfully NCL allowed one person from our party to get tender tickets for all of us! Score! We were in the top 50! DH and I had eggs at the Blue Lagoon again before meeting our group at the Java Cafe. Tendering was no issue, a bit of a ride though. Out of all the days the weather was the worst on this day, but it wasn't too bad. The sun wanted to break through but never managed, we were glad that the rain never broke through though! The pier area was a little more confusing but we managed to find our Coral Breeze tour rep. We made our final payment (again we got a 10% discount!) and then we had to wait and wait! Coral Breeze must be getting very popular as there was a huge group for both the manatee swim and the trip to shark/ray ally. Snorkel gear was distributed and then our group was loaded into a large and very loud tender type boat. It took about 35 minutes to make it out to Caye Caulker where we made a pit stop and picked up another guide. Then we were off to our guided snorkel stop. Our guide was Natalie and she was GREAT! All the guides were nice and friendly and you could tell that not only did they care about our enjoyment, but they truly cared for the reef and the marine life. We all had to use a life vest, but we were shown 3 different ways to "wear" them. Again visibility was not great due to the cloud cover, but the water was warm! We did see a giant green eel, a sting ray, interesting coral and a few fish. (Better snorkeling than Roatan, but still not great, we are lucky and have snorkeled a lot in Hawaii -- Oahu, Maui and the Big Island, so its hard not to compare!) It was nice having Natalie guide us as she was familiar with the reef and knew what to show us. After 40 minutes or so we loaded back into the boat to head to Shark/Ray Ally! This is an area where the water is very shallow, I'm 5'4" and the water hit me at my shoulders. The bottom of the ocean has a lot of sea grass here and you can wear water shoes if you have them. It was funny that the water seemed colder here being shallow you'd think it might be warmer. We were welcomed by lots of stingrays!!! Only a few sharks came to play. Natalie made sure that everyone who wanted to hold a stingray could, of course I wanted to!!! We were at this location for about an hour and then we went back to Caye Caulker for lunch. Caye Caulker is a very cute island, too bad we only had time to eat and no time to explore! We ate at Tropical Paradise, a bucket of beer was something like 6 for $10 and the rum punch was buy one get one! We were all happy with our meals. Then it was time for the long, loud trip back to the pier. Natalie said that they usually use smaller quieter boats, but this day they were so busy and there were so many people that they had to use the larger boat. Back at the pier there were lots of shops if you needed to do some shopping.
Tonight we had reservations at Cagney's. Ten out of 11 of us loved this place! Lot's of yummy sides and perfect steak! If you go try the crab cakes, sooo good! This was probably my favorite dish on the ship. The desserts here for the most part were a hit. My one friend who was unhappy with his meal felt he had been served a bad piece of meat. We tried to have him send it back, but he refused to do so. The dessert that was a miss was a raspberry crÃ¨me brule. I got a sampler, three bite sized treats!
To our surprise they moved the White Hot party to tonight and it was held outside poolside! We got to the party late as dinner was at 8, but we still had fun dancing! None of us lasted that long though and soon we were all off to bed! What a GREAT day!!!!
Thursday, Day 4, Costa Maya:
We were a group divided today! Most of our group went to see some ruins while the rest of us spent the day at Tropicante. Since we didn't have to meet a driver or anyone DH and I started the day off having breakfast at the Venetian. We got off the ship and made our way through the long pier to the taxi stand were we had no problem finding a cab. Another couple hopped in with us and with in 5 minutes we were delivered to the door-steps of Tropicante! It was $2 p/p, btw. Steve the owner had 4 loungers reserved for us right at the shoreline! The sun was out, but the wind was blowing!!! We had a concierge who set up snorkeling for us and arranged an afternoon massage for me. Our friends arrived about a half hour after us and we spent the morning enjoying they view while relaxing in the sun! Before we knew it our guide was ready to take us out. It was just the three of us, our guide, DH and me. We took about a 10 minute boat ride to the snorkeling location and then our guide dropped anchor and jumped into the water with us. I'd say that Costa Maya had the best snorkeling out of the three locations that we snorkeled in, still not great, but better! Due to the winds the water was really choppy, we really got a good workout! Again it was really nice having someone familiar with the location guide us along. We saw a lobster, a turtle and an eel on this outing. After our snorkel trip we had lunch. We were able to order off of a menu. I had read reviews about how great the food was and based on the wonderful smells coming from the restaurant I was really looking forward to lunch...it was OK but not what I was expecting...sad to be sitting in Mexico and wishing the food was as good as our favorite Mexican restaurant back at home! My friend and I ordered a Tequila Sunrise and they were awesome!!! Straight from lunch I went and had a massage, $25 plus tip for a whole hour!!! Yeah me! : )
The rest of our party finished their tour and met us at the Tropicante right as I was finishing up my hour in heaven. We packed up our belongings, paid our bill and did a little shopping before catching a taxi van back to the pier. We all split up to go shower before dinner and then several of us met back at the casino where one of our friends hit at the slots!!! I went and ordered some drinks to celebrate...on our friend of course. We spent a little more time in the casino and then went to find seats for the show, Band on the Run. Our friend was still feeling lucky so he stayed behind with one of our other buddies while the rest of us found seats. Before the show had even started they showed up and ordered us all another round of cocktails as he once again hit it BIG...his first win was a few hundred dollars, his second win was $1,500! This was no surprise to us; this particular friend seems to be the lucky one whenever we gamble! Non-the-less very exciting and yummy Mai Tai's to celebrate with! We all really enjoyed the show despite the fact that a couple of the singers were having mic issues. Great music!
This night we had reservations at Mederno. Lincoln was our server; he was a lot of fun! Finally we had really good service from someone on the wait-staff. All of the meats were really good, but our favorite item was the grilled pineapple!!! The desserts here were wonderful too! The mango smoothie was scrumptious! One of our friends ordered a second one! Oh, I didn't even mention the salad bar, it is small but full of wonderful salads and you could go back if you wanted to...I wanted to, but I didn't...I controlled myself! After dinner I was hoping to go back to the Spinnaker lounge for the 50's dance party, but no one wanted to go with me so we all headed to bed.
Friday, Day 5, Cozumel:
The tendering process went so well in Belize...NOT IN COZUMEL!!! Once again our friend went and got tender tickets for us. We had a reservation booked at Chankanaab Park and we wanted to make sure we had plenty of time to make our 9:30 time slot. We scored tickets in the top 25! The bad news...the sea was rough and the tenders got a LATE stat. After waiting for over an hour we finally were allowed to board a tender at 9AM (we were lucky, many people didn't even make it off the ship until 1PM!), the ride was short we were hopeful of still making it to our excursion on time and then we hit the very LONG line for taxis. Cozumel isn't like Costa Maya where they crammed 17 people into a 12 person van, they only allow up to 8 passengers at a time. So we had to split up into a group of 8 and 3. We all ended up at the park by 10AM and we were scolded for being late. : ( Thankfully they worked with us and we were able to fit our dolphin swim in about an hour later. They take dolphin safety very seriously and we had to go thru a 30 minute orientation. After our dolphin swim we got to get into the water with a manatee! We had lunch-very basic food and then we went to our sea-lion encounter! This for me was the most fun! Afterward we were short on time and really only had time to walk around the rest of the complex for a quick tour. DH and I were sooooo tempted to rent snorkel gear and hop into the beautiful clear water...it was so clear that we could see fish from the beach area! We only had 20 minutes so we reluctantly headed back to the pier with the rest of our friends. The traffic had died down and we made it back to the pier area a lot faster than we expected, so we shopped a bit before getting into the extremely long tender line. We waited in line for 45 minutes-not moving, 4:30 was fast approaching! It was obvious that we would not make it back on to the ship by the all-aboard time of 4:30! Finally word got out that once RCCL Mariner of the Seas pulled out from dock that the Dawn would pull into that spot. Man it would have been nice to know that we didn't have to hurry back for naught!!! We could have snorkeled for an hour! Senior Frogs was loving the delay and all of the additional $ from their $18 drinks!!! It was funny to see the Dawn pull up next to RCCL Allure of the Seas! OK, back to waiting in line for another 30 minutes! As we were waiting we were given ice pops to cool the crowd. I read a review where someone was happy with all of the apologies from NCL...we must have missed those???
Once on board we had to hustle to get ready for our dinner reservations at Le Bistro. The food was very good and very rich! The service was OK. After a busy day of hurry up and wait we hit the hay.
Saturday, Day 6, Sea Day:
DH and I slept in. I then went to the buffet and filled a try to bring back to the room. (You might have noticed this was my first stop in the buffet!) We ate our last breakfast on our balcony and then it was time to get a workout in before finding nice quite loungers for the two of us. We spent a few hours reading and had lunch from Beninis Grill. Eventually our friends found us and before we knew it it was time to get ready to go and see the farewell show! OK, I guess at this point Gio the CD might have apologized for the tendering issue in Cozumel...or joked about it! The show was cute; there are some talented members on the Dawn's staff.
After the show it was time to hit the martini tasting again! This time we thought we were being smart and we all shared a tasting with a buddy...somehow we all ended up extremely happy! Due to our state of "happiness" we went to the buffet for dinner where we found lots of good options! As if we needed any more martinis we found ourselves in the Star bar where Orlando once again provided great service! To finish the night we went to the Spinnaker lounge to dance. One by one we turned in for the night. DH and I put our luggage out in the hall and called it good. We thought that by choosing the 9:30 luggage tickets that we could sleep in a bit...wrong!!!
Sunday, Day 7, Time to say good bye to the Dawn:
Announcements started at 7AM! So we got up and showered, packed the last odds and ends and went to the buffet. We said our good byes to our friends and then before we knew it we were through customs! DH and I were not flying home until the next day so we dropped our luggage at the Marriot and took a taxi to Busch Gardens, what a cool place!
-The crew was very friendly
-Make reservations for dinner and allow at least 90 minutes to get through dinner
-There are no clocks in the room
-Bring a power strip so you can have multiple things charging or plugged in at once
-I like to use an over the door shoe hanger to keep odds and ends organized
-We brought portable speakers that connect to our i-phones so we had music playing in our room when we were getting ready or to listen to music while enjoying the balcony
-I used sticky notes to leave messages for our room steward: please add a foam topper and extra blanket to our bed...
-I purchased door clings at the dollar store and used them on the outside of our stateroom door so that we could easily identify our room in the long hallway where all the doors look alike!
-Bring wire hangers from home if you like to hang a lot of items
-Go to the martini tasting but share with a friend!
-Travel with people who make you happy!!!