This was our 6th cruise, 5th with NCL, and have to say that unfortunately we went off the ship a bit disappointed with the experience. Norwegian has always given us a consistently good experience and we still had a great time in this ship, but this time some aspects of our cruise were just below average.
We are a family of 4, my wife and I are in the mid 30's, we traveled with our 2 kids, 6 and 9 y/o. As said above, we're not new to cruising nor to this cruise line. We picked this one because we loved the itinerary and because of the fact that we'd depart from a new city for us (Tampa), which we found beautiful. We arrived at the Port of Tampa around noon, this is a very modern and comfortable facility but the embarkation process was a bit too long, from arrival to our room, it took us about 1hr 45min... quite long compared previous experiences in Port of Miami at about the same time. A first look at the Dawn from the embarkation area proved that the Dawn was in need of some love... NCL ships are always super-clean and with those intricate hull arts, paint always look well maintained, but in this case I saw more than a few spots where rust was forming and paint was poorly applied... ok, considering this is a metal box floating on the sea, I can definitely live with a stained hull if the experience is good.
We stayed in the mini-suite 11596 in port side, and found it perfectly clean and quite big. We always used balcony staterooms but this time decided to go on a bigger one, and found the space in the balcony, bathroom and the room in general very ample and comfortable... In the balcony, however, there was some more evidence of rust, paint was peeled off from the balcony's light fixture and the balcony ceiling had lots of holes drilled carelessly as if someone tried to re-locate the light fixture and just drilled randomly, some of the ceiling panels were also misaligned and rusted, and there were pieces of some kind of foam holding them together... looked like a repair was going on and not as a recently refurbished ship. Again, not a big deal but makes you think there's not enough care being put in the ship...
After checking our statroom, we headed to the Venetian dining room to find it closed... unlike any other NCL ship we have traveled in, they closed the dining rooms for lunch, leaving over 2000 hungry people fighting for a space in the only open dining venue at that time... the Garden Cafe. Not even the usual pool party with grilled burgers were working at embarkation, only after departing... The same story with the MDR's repeated everyday, and in some cases only half of the buffet was open, making the lines to get food longer. Everything in this ship seemed to need some more order.
As per dining, we tried Aqua MDR one night, which was good but not superb, we also tried the Bambu restaurant which was very good, La Cucina was excellent and as usual, tried Moderno which was awesome... service in all restaurants was very good and quick, and even in the buffet I have to admit we had one of the best services we have experienced in garden cafe (considering it was always crowded). In general, food was good and tasty, but lacked a bit compared to other NCL ships like the Jade or Pearl, which were simply awesome when we visited.
A good point... our steward, Win, was AWESOME, he called the 4 of us by our names since day 1, had a different towel animal for the kids every night and made sure we had everything we needed all the time... very nice and hard working person... definitely he deserves the vacation hero badge!
A few days into the cruise the kids wanted to try the bath tub so we set it up for them. When we tried to drain it, all the water started coming out of the drainage under the sink, along with a very bad smell... we stopped it just before the flooding extended outside the bathroom... After a call to reception they sent someone to check, and he told us he would send the plumber as there seemed to be a blockage... the plumber didn't come until we told Win, our steward (another thumbs up for him), however although they told us the blockage was removed, the same happened again a couple of days later (at least without the bad smell part)... we just decided not to use it anymore.
We booked our shore excursions through NCL's website and had no issues at all. All were up to the expectations, very enjoyable and good quality... we went to the Maya Key Private island in Roatán, a nice place but a bit overpriced. We went to the Chacchoben Mayan Ruins in Costa Maya, a MUST, and then a dolphin encounter in Cozumel (which was a bit of a mess in the beginning but threre were 4 other ships in Cozumel that morning so it was crowded) This one was another great experience although picture prices there are outrageous. We didn't do anything on Belize but took the 15 tender ride to the Tourist Village which was fun.
The kids enjoyed the activities in the youth area, but unlike other cruises where we really had a hard time getting them out of the kids clubs, this time they just went 2 or 3 times in the whole cruise... maybe had to do with the fact that like 85% of our cruise mates were in retirement age and there were very few children to play with onboard... on the other hand, for them it was like traveling with a lot of grandparents... everyone had a smile for them, and we got to meet a few lovely couples that spent quite some time talking to us..
At the end of the cruise, disembarkation was a true nightmare... not sure if this is NCL or the Tampa Port, but for some reason, all Non-US citizens had to pre-clear immigration in the ship. We were asked to be in the Aqua restaurant at 6:45am and were told we won't be able to get off the ship until the last Non-US citizen had done the check process... I thought it may be an advantage since doing the paperwork first would allow us to do the easy walk off earlier... how wrong I was, Easy Walk Off proved to be the hardest disembarkation I've ever done... started with a long line of sleepy fellow passengers at 6:45am, and ended with another long line in the terminal at 10:30am... yes... almost 4 hours trying to get off the ship... NCL really has to do something about it... and if the Tampa Authorities just don't let it be any better, at least they should serve breakfast in the wait are as well...
All in all, I think I'm still a loyal Freestyle Cruising fan, just with a not so good experience under my belt... NCL should pay some attention to this ship since there is definitely something not being well cared for here. I'd still recommend NCL but would think it twice before repeating this ship.