I will say there was more good than bad. And I think if we hadn't sailed RCL and Princess before, it might have been all good.
I'll start with Dining. We were leery about trying Freestyle Dining, because we really like getting dressed up for dinner, and we really like the impeccable service on Royal Caribbean. But we have done all the itineraries on RCL out of Tampa so we decided to give NCL a try. I read plenty of posts on here, so we were prepared. And I must say it wasn't as bad as some people had said, e.g. waiting over an hour to be seated, and the service being so slow it takes 90 minutes to eat. That, luckily, wasn't our experience. HOWEVER, you do still have to stand in line to get a beeper, and I liked the glass of champagne for the trouble, but when your beeper goes off and you come back, you stand in line AGAIN! And we were not trying to eat at what I would assume is the prime time, 7:30 after the 6:30 show, but rather at 8:30. Still packed, had to get a beeper and wait 5 out of 7 nights. The maitre d' at the door was NOT friendly in the slightest, but then again, she does have a tough job.
Food: REALLY good. We had no complaints about anything we had. Portions are small, which is good. BUT we are used to more courses than two. I know...we're spoiled. We only ate in the Venetian and in the cafe, and that was only for breakfast/brunch.
Service: THIS was a shot in the dark. We had two waiters twice, and they were night and day difference. First off, I should explain my husband has celiac disease, which means he has to be gluten free. We had filled out the requested paperwork ahead of time, and had received a letter that we were supposed to give to the maitre d' the first night. Which we did. She showed no interest in it whatsoever. I don't even know what she did with it. On various nights our experience with various waiters ranged from a blank stare when we told him the situation, to "Oh. Okay. Have you already ordered with your personal waiter?" WHAT??? Apparently that was what was supposed to happen. Never did. Luckily one waiter, Moises, went above and beyond to fulfill this request, even though it apparently was supposed to be taken care of before we landed in his section. He was great. He even had the kitchen make a gluten-free sauce for a dish that we thought was gluten free, but it turns out it wasn't. Another waiter, Lincoln, was unsure of what to do for gluten free, but he definitely tried. He had a little understanding of it. He even told my husband, when he ordered cheesecake, that is wasn't gluten free. My husband reassured him that it was okay, he wasn't going to eat the crust. However, he also ordered vanilla ice cream, and it came with a wafer stuck in it. When he ordered vanilla ice cream from Moises, there was no wafer. He was great.
On RCL, you have an assistant waiter, a waiter, a head waiter, and a sommelier, if you request one. We had someone who we assumed was the head waiter stop by on two of our nights, and neither one of them introduced himself or even told us who he was. The other thing we didn't like was not knowing our waiters. The gluten free issue probably could have been taken care of the first night and then wouldn't have had to be re-visited every night.
On the other lines, we also enjoyed having table mates. We did sit next to a couple we enjoyed, and ran into them on other evenings, and on disembarkation days, so that was nice. The rest of the time we sat right next to people we never got to know.
I wonder why, as long as they have two restaurants, why don't they do one freestyle, and casual, i.e. Aqua; but have traditional dining in the Venetian? We can't be the only people that like traditional dining, because we talked to a NUMBER of people that felt the same way. We also never had anyone, waiters, steward, bartenders, except one, make an effort to know us, recognize us, etc. There was one blonde bartender in the Spinnaker Lounge that remembered what my husband was drinking on previous nights, but that was it. On THREE drink orders in the theater, they got his drink wrong. On the same night. Even though he emphasized sour not 7-up.
Entertainment: We felt the shows, especially Tim Kaminski, were maybe a notch above the RCL and Princess shows we've seen. They were excellent, not only Tim, but the Second City comedy troupe. We talked to most of them during the week in the bars when they were off duty, and they're super nice people too. The variety shows were very good as well, and of course "quest"! We didn't like the time of the shows though. Instead of an early show and a late show, there was one at 6:30 and one at 8:30. We like to eat at 8:30, then go to the late show. There were a couple of evening events in the Spinnaker Lounge that were fun, and a couple that were duds. And once they're over, there's not a lot to do.
Oh, and another thing, why is the music piped into the pool area when the band is on break, all hip-hop on a cruise ship where the average age was 60.1?? I can't imagine how many times I heard "Step to the left..to the left..now the right..." Really? They're still doing that??
Public areas: The ship is nice, clean, a little old, but still okay. The bathrooms weren't kept up that well, a number of them were out of order and one woman got stuck in one because the door latch wouldn't work! The paper towel was often missing or the trash cans were overflowing. Not awful, but not that nice either, like we've seen on other ships. We also didn't like the fact there wasn't any bar where people weren't constantly walking by. They seem to be afterthoughts, "here's a wide place in the ship where people walk, let's put a bar here". The only one NOT like that is the Star Bar, which we went to TWICE and it was closed!! We love love love the "Viking Crown Lounge" which all the RCL ships have. You can sit in a quiet environment on the very tip top of the ship and look down on the rest of the ship. What this space is on the Dawn we don't know. There was supposedly a basketball court on the very top deck, but we couldn't find it! And while coming back from one of the shore excursions, we saw the kids' area was outside on the almost top deck! What a waste! Kids don't care if they're outside or not!
Embarkation went well. Disembarking was a bit of a problem, but that wasn't NCL's fault, we got "fogged out" and couldn't enter the channel due to the fog. We docked at 11 instead of 8am. I felt bad for the people who missed their flights. We were renting a car and spending another day in Florida, visiting friends, and while we would have liked to get their sooner, it was okay.
Cave-tubing with "Butts Up"!! John was our guide, and he is GREAT! Can't say enough about him and his tour. These tubes have back rests, AND you get a longer trip than if you book on the ship. We floated past the ship people, they had to get out of the river further up shore!
We went to the Tropicante. I had emailed Steve Uhl the owner before we left, and he assured us he'd save a couple of loungers for us. We took a bus downtown, got out and found the place easily. Steve came over during the afternoon and we talked college football for quite awhile! His guys are quite as attentive as we'd like, we had to flag them down often, but they were very nice, and the place is cheap cheap cheap. We were there most of the day, had beers and chips and salsa, and our tab was $18!!
We booked a private tour here too, with "Black Hat Cozumel" off Facebook. We were sooo glad we did. We'd been to Cozumel twice before, but never got out of the touristy area. Our guide took us to a tequila factory, showed us around the island, and took us to the other side of the island which is breathtakingly beautiful. It reminded me of California, with the waves crashing on the rocks, but the water is bluer! We made a couple of stops, and our favorite was "Coconuts", on the highest point of the island. There we had the strongest margarita EVER, which was delicious, and then switched to beers. I don't remember what our tab was (imagine that) but I do know I tipped the guy the standard (here, anyway) 20% and I thought he was going to kiss me!!
We hired a personal guide through Victor Bodden tours. His name was Cardy Grant. He was great. He's got his own company as well, but he works for Bodden as a subcontractor when he's not busy and they need him. I would recommend him. His website is roatanislandtourplus.com
This island is really really poor. I would not recommend wandering around on your own.