We are a semi-retired couple from Toronto, Canada. This was our 13th cruise, only 2nd on NCL. We chose this based on itinerary, price, and positive reviews from repeat guests on this ship, as evidenced on Cruise Critic active forum postings.
Sailing from Tampa let us enjoy 3 nights at the Sheraton Riverwalk, where many other Cruise Critic members were staying. Meeting up with them in person was like starting the cruise party "on landâ€. We used the hotel shuttle to visit Ybor City, Channelside, and Walmart. We followed the non-stop news coverage of the tragic Boston marathon events on every TV channel. We were glad when the lockdown ended while hurting for the innocent dead and injured at our final destination port.
Embarkation was congested around 11:30am until more luggage carts arrived to clear the backlog. Once we dropped off our 2 suitcases and found our way to the escalator at the end of the terminal and through security, it was much faster with no lines.
We had lunch at the Venetian, and were told it's the same menu every day. (We did not return there for lunch for the rest of the cruise). Our BA category mid-ship balcony cabin on Deck 10 was ready after lunch. The cabin size was adequate, the shower stall roomy, but the toilet enclosure was very tight with a sliding door and its jagged edge aluminum frame and jamb. At least it flushed flawlessly. We brought our own soap and shampoo (only a dispenser was available for both). The bed was firm, but we got used to it without requesting a mattress cover. The balcony offered privacy and had a slight overhang for shade. We had our friendly and attentive room steward Pablo clear out the mini-fridge so we could store our own water and soft drinks, and bring ten more hangers for the closet. We did have some problems with the cabin during the cruise. The jammed balcony door was repaired promptly, but the scolding hot water in the shower took too long, so apologies were offered along with a bottle of red wine. The TV offers limited channels, and the remote only has a channel up/down key. If you hold it down it will move quickly through the channel numbers. I liked having CNBC via satellite for financial news.
All the Cruise Critic activities were well attended, including the "meet and greetâ€ at the Venetian, cabin crawl, tequila clinic, celebration dinner etc.
We were not sure about Freestyle dining, but our wait time at peak hours was about 10 minutes. We did not eat at any of the surcharge restaurants, as the complimentary choices were satisfactory. The food was plentiful, ranging from average to very good. We were offered alternate choice for any dish not to our liking. While the Java Cafe offerings were disappointing, the Blue Lagoon was a welcome oasis for a lighter meal (delicious chicken wings) and the Garden Cafe had tasty sweet potato fries and made-to-order crepes, and excellent burgers everywhere you look. Forget good pizza, unless you're willing to pay $5 for the "room service only version (which we never tried).
The nightly entertainment was very good, as was the music throughout the ship (Gatsby's Bar jazz combo in particular) and the crew was friendly, polite and did not push hard to spend more on drinks like other cruise ships. We enjoyed deck 7 promenade, where you can walk 560 meters for a full lap, a feature that some newer ships no longer include. On the negative side, we missed an indoor or covered adult pool area without having to pay a fee.
In Jamaica we went to Turtle Falls and Gardens with a Cruise Critic group of 24. $20 per person for admission, $10 return for the short bus ride up the hill, and an impromptu tour to drop off a few couples at Scotchie's Restaurant on the way back.
Curacao was new port for us, an island we've waited many years to visit. We took the Irie Tours bus with a few other Cruise Critic couples for the East side tour of the island. At $20 per person including beach admission (Sea aquarium) and on-board beverages it was terrific value.
It was raining in Aruba when we got off the ship so we changed our plans to take the local bus to Eagle beach. Instead we walked to the nearby mall to use the wifi at Starbucks. A short while later the sky cleared, and we continued walking past the Renaissance complex to Nikki Beach. We just sat on the Terrace by the bar sipping smoothies and watching the big planes land. Beach chairs and umbrellas were $6 each. We walked back to the pier, but 25 minutes in very hot sun is not for everyone. (George, the owner offered a free ride for people returning to the ship, but we didn't want to wait for 2 hours).
We've been to St. Martin before and we really like the island. We planned to go to Grand Case on the French side, but on Sunday it is mostly closed, so we walked along the water to Grand Bay Beach, about 20 minutes from the ship. We got 2 padded beach chairs, a large orange umbrella and 3 drinks all for $15.
In St. Thomas we planned to take the ferry to St. John, but ended up going shopping near the ship (same stores as downtown), and having a drink at Senior Frog, at the end of the very long pier (Carnival Valor and Celebrity Summit along with the NCL Dawn).
The 3 sea days to Boston were relaxing, a good practice for an Atlantic reposition cruise.
The weather was sunny, the waves were moderate but by the third day it was too cool and windy to be on deck for too long.
Our last dinner was at the Aqua dining room was very good, in the company of another couple from Chigaco we met on board. After 12 days I found that the everyday menu is not the same as at the Venetian. We were told the two restaurants had the exact same menu each day, which is not quite true.
Disembarkation was organized until you exit the terminal. An hour wait in line for a taxi is just unacceptable. Boston's Black Falcon terminal was not ready for the Dawn on its first visit this year and I hope they improve on this in the coming weeks. We really enjoyed 3 nights staying in Boston's downtown Copley Place, using the Old Town Trolley 2-day pass and exploring the interesting attractions. On the third day we walked part of the Freedom Trail, then off to less "touristy areasâ€ mixing with the locals. Over the past ten years we tried to visit Boston on a driving vacation from Toronto, but never made it. This cruise had us getting there finally via sea, with no parking fees to pay. Thank you Norwegian Dawn!