Some opening comments
1) this was our second year taking this exact cruise aboard the Norwegian Dawn (here's last year's review http://www.cruisecritic.com/memberreviews/memberreview.cfm?EntryID=105557)
2) My friend and myself cruise for relaxation (both in our mid-30's). We don't go to explore the nightlife or drink ourselves silly. We go to enjoy the sun, read, relax and rest. So that's really what I can comment on. If you're looking for a review of all the activities - this one might not be for you!
3) We are of the opinion that on any cruise, if you find a ton of things to complain about you're WAY too negative and picky. Someone is cooking and cleaning for me, I really can't complain.
Now, onto the review. We just returned yesterday from a lovely and sunny week on the Dawn. Clearly, since we did the same cruise two years in a row, we enjoyed ourselves. The cruise is convenient for us as we can drive to the port in Boston from our home in New Brunswick (Canada) which avoids the hassle and costs of the flight.
Before: We shopped our way down to Boston and stayed the night on Thursday at the Four Points Sheraton Boston Airport. The night's stay and the ability to park our car there for a week came to $275 (taxes in) which was the best rate we found in the type of hotel we wanted to stay at. The taxi to the cruise port is about $30 plus tip each way which wasn't bad. For those of you not a fan of Boston's unique take on getting tourists lost with confusing roads and an uncanny ability to dupe even your GPS, this hotel is very easy to get to. That got a lot of points for us, we stayed in South Boston last year and went on quite the adventure to find that hotel.
Embarkation: We left the hotel around 11am. Last year we arrived a little later and the lines were definitely longer. This year it was quick and easy. We were on board and eating lunch by 12:30. Rooms were ready just after 1pm. A couple of notes - we had the opportunity to watch the port staff (not NCL-employed) loading the luggage. My advice, either pack anything breakable VERY well or carry it on with you. Gentle with the luggage they are not. We had our luggage delivered by 5pm. All intact (we saw a few bags go on that weren't so lucky).
Cabin: Just as last year we chose a mid-ship balcony on deck 9. We were starboard and forward this year, port and aft last year. Deck 9 is nice because there are cabins above and below. Be careful when you book to look what is above and below your room. If it is a public area it will be noisier in your cabin. I won't go into too much detail on the cabin other than to say they are smaller than other lines but well organized and comfortable for two people. Our cabin steward Margarita was lovely!
The Ship: Comparatively with Celebrity and HAL, the ship isn't anything spectacular but also nothing to complain about. If the weather wasn't nice out there are very few indoor spots to relax. NCL is loaded with restaurants/bars but not a lot of seating areas to lounge and read or stare at the ocean indoors compared to other ships we've been on.
Activities Aboard: There were 800 kids under 21 on our cruise (1/3 of the passengers). This really wasn't that evident to us. I'd imagine the kids programs were hopping. We took in the comedian, Tim Kaminski who was hilarious but ours was his last cruise. We also went to see Alex and Sally's performance "Ocean's Apart" - it was without a doubt one of the best performances I've seen aboard a ship. Beautiful combination of classical ballet and acrobatics. Highly recommend it. Otherwise we were more interested in reading than taking in too much more of the shows.
The Weather: Beautiful. Sunny 95% of the time we were away. The first day at sea was sunny and warm but WINDY. And of course, windy on a boat means rocky. Was a bit of a wild ride, but we enjoy the ship's movement. Others I don't think were quite as happy. Nothing bonds cruisers together than greeting each other in the halls while you're trying in vain to walk a straight line.
The Food: Whenever I don't have to cook, I don't complain. The food was good, with a nice variety. Not as good as HAL and Celebrity. You will never go hungry.
Bermuda: I cannot say adequately how much I love Bermuda. It is a beautiful island with wonderful people. Last year we did the excursions, this year we went ahead on our own. On the Sunday we went to Horseshoe Bay by taxi (we could've taken the public transit bus but it was quite crowded). Taxis on Sunday have a 25% surcharge, it was about $40 each way with tip included. Horseshoe Bay is beautiful. You can rent umbrellas ($11 plus $5 deposit) and chairs there. There's a canteen that serves food. On Monday, we got a day transport pass ($15) and took the ferry to Hamilton and then to St. Georges for some shopping. The last day in port we just wandered around the Dockyard shops.
The last two sea days were beautiful with calm seas and warm temperatures. The last night we hit fog (thick fog, couldn't see anything) which was fine. The skies were blue again in the morning as we sailed into Boston.
Disembarkation: I think the majority of people choose the "easy walk-off" and carry their own luggage. If you're a non-US resident you have to go to the Aqua Restaurant for 7am to be cleared by US Customs. No non-US residents can leave the ship until everyone does this. Of course there are always those that don't follow instructions. The "easy-walk off" lines are long and wrap around almost the whole outside deck of deck 7. But we were off the ship and in our car headed home by 9:45am.
Summary: NCL is not our number one cruise line, but this cruise particularly is one of our favorites because of the two nights docked in Bermuda and three sea days. We have no complaints and have been quite satisfied both times. NCL is nice if you're not looking to get all dolled up in the evening and just want to enjoy being comfortable. I'd definitely recommend this cruise (and have already to many others). We do plan on doing it again!