Canadian snowbirds living in Florida, we decided after 11 cruises with Carnival, Celebrity & RCCL that we would try NCL Dawn out of Tampa for its convenient location.
After reading about frequent previous embarkation delays, we were pleased with the friendly, quick embarkation process and within 40 minutes we boarded and headed to the Venetian dining room for our first meal. Being able to start in a dining room rather than the chaotic Garden Café buffet was a nice advantage over our previous cruises.
Rooms were ready around 1 pm allowing us to view and drop off carry-on bags. The mini-suite was spacious with a nice size bathroom. However the disappointment was the storage area - limited space, with difficult access beside the bed and lacked adequate lighting. Otherwise very nice. Bags arrived within a couple of hours in time for muster drill. Ship departed on schedule.
Some other comparisons to previous cruises:
Considering the size of this ship we found the entertainment overall to be superior. Highlights included comedian Tim, the stage shows and even the lounge area entertainers. Good job overall - coordinated by outstanding cruise director Paul.
Dining overall was quite impressive. Freestyle dining was new for us but we kept an open mind. We chose the Aqua Dining Room once but had the majority of our meals in the Venetian Dining Room. Very impressed with the ability to request a table for 2 or 4 for any meal in Venetian for breakfast lunch or dinner - something the competition should strive for. We don't always want to sit at large tables with strangers!
We opted to eat at Cagney's Steak House, Le Bistro French and La Cucina Italian. All 3 were very satisfactory considering the additional cost. Food quality overall was very good. Portions are not large but always plenty available. Blue Lagoon 24 hour service is a big plus.
We were especially pleased and impressed with the food service staff - right from the hostess to the waiters - very friendly and helpful considering all the criticism we've read regarding attitudes of staff not relying on tips.
The big negative was the Garden Café buffet area. Compared to other cruiselines, this buffet lacked variety of food, sometimes difficult access, slippery floors and poor ambiance and lighting. Hamburg buns were a stale disgrace by mid-week. It did however have a unique children's dining area.
Although we didn't bring children the Dawn appears to have terrific facilities for kids including a wonderful exclusive pool area.
One other noticeable difference is the lack of public seating areas to read, chat or play cards/games. We were forced to use dining areas in off-hours.
Port arrivals and departures were on-time. Communication was effective regarding ports and time-changes. Disembarkation went reasonably well despite the lengthy customs inspection procedure.
Our first cruise with NCL was very satisfactory overall with probably the friendliest staff we have ever encountered.