This was our third cruise on the Dawn. We have also sailed on the Star, the Dawn's sister ship, but our all time favorite is the Sun. We prefer suites as the suite "package" as a whole is one of the best bargains in the cruise industry. My wife says I've turned into a "food snob" which I vehemently disagree with; I enjoy virtually all types of food from White Castle "sliders" to gourmet offerings. As a side note, we ordered the dining package which allowed us to eat in the specialty restaurants every night. For this review I'll start with the negatives and then move to the positive aspects of our trip.
Cagney's was just "ok", nothing spectacular. We ate dinner there twice. This first night was a ribeye which I found slightly tough despite being ordered rare and coming back medium rare to medium. The sides were just "ok". Don't waste your time on the exalted truffle fries, I suspected they have a atomizer and spritz the hot oil once just to be honest. The second night at Cagney's was one of the worst excuses for ribs I have ever encountered. The ribs were tough and I suspect were cooked too fast at too high a heat. When I smoke ribs I do them low and slow using either apple or hickory. I tasted no smoke flavor and couldn't find anything resembling a smoke ring. The sauce they used was some insipid concoction which didn't even come up to bargain brand sauce quality.
We made two reservations for Tepanyaki but after eating there the first night we had the concierge cancel our second reservation. I've eaten better at $9.95 oriental buffets. The miso soup was extremely salty and I like salt. The "show" was hokey and the shrimp and scallops were tough. Also, the venue was open to the atrium via the sushi bar and it was noisy and not conducive to leisurely dinning. It was like some hound dog howling to 3/4 time in the background. I wanted to toss a couple of dog biscuits out there just to shut them up.
The very worse dinner I've ever had in an NCL specialty restaurant was Le Bistro which I now think means "slop" in french. The service was as slow as humanly possible. The snails were rank and the famed mushroom soup was no better than Campbell's. The pork dish I had was bland, probably due to the extremely lean cut with little or no fat in it. Too many tables were crammed in a very small space. If NCL is going to do an upcharge, it should feel like a top tier restaurant. We waited over 20 minutes at our table with our guest cards on the table indicating we wanted to leave. Our waiter kept disappearing out the front door, we suspect to get drinks at the bar across the way. The people next to us came in after us, ate and were gone before our waiter finally came around to take our cards so we could check out. He never asked if we wanted coffee. As I was waiting for the check, I noticed my water glass seemed dirty. I first assumed it was from some grease or something on my hand. I wiped the outside with my napkin and discovered the greasy dirty "whatever" was on the inside of the glass. When the waiter came back with our check I said I wanted to speak with the manager. When he finally graced us with his prescence I pointed out the dirty glass. He assured me the food and beverage manager would contact me they following day: I never got a call a note, nothing. I wasn't fishing for a free meal as we had already paid in full for seven days worth, I just wanted them to know it was a rinky-dink operation he was running.
Because we book suites, we eat at Cagney's for breakfast and lunch. My wife likes steak and eggs, I'm not picky so a couple eggs sunny side up and toast are good enough for me. The "steak" has gotten significantly smaller; the 5 oz filet is now 3 ounces. I suspect on our next trip the wife will need a jeweler's loop to find it.
Next objection: Does NCL buy arugula by the pallet full of bales? It seems arugula is 24/7 if your want some greens.
In all fairness, the entire staff in Cagney's is exemplary, breakfast, lunch and dinner. Despite the limitations of ingredients and the equipment to cook with, they do a great job. Special requests are handled promptly. I only wish they would change up the breakfast and lunch menus, maybe offering a special of the day. To be blunt, the limited menu got boring, again I blame management in Miami, they call the shots.
For tasteless food, there's always Blue Lagoon. It is NOT the Blue Lagoon of 2009 which was a great informal place to get wonderful food--limited menu but what they did was good. On a whim, this time, I ordered fish and chips which were over breaded and slightly cool to the touch. My wife's strips made fast food chicken strips seem gourmet in comparison. No thanks NCL, I learn from my mistakes. I only sampled the buffet a/k/a "the trough" one morning when I walked through and spotted biscuits and gravy so I sampled one. It had the consistency of a hockey puck and the gravy brought back memories of a dare I took in kindergarten when I tasted the paper paste. I abhor wasting food and I sure saw a lot of it wasted in the trough.
The best meals we have ever had on any NCL trip (5) were in La Cucchini, the Italian restaurant. From past experiences we knew to ask to be seated in King Cesar's section. As a waiter, he knows his menu and what goes well together. His competence as a waiter is unsurpassed. Kudos to "Gil" (Vergil) the head chef, he's a master. That man could turn my shoe into a gourmet dish. The manager is top flight. The ambiance is also the best on the ship for dining--tables not squished together, soft music, and not overflow music from the atrium or other bars.
Big question - why are most of the upcharge restaurants open to other noisy areas? Put in glass walls if you want to keep sight lines open. Cagney's and La Cucchina are the only two venues with separate spaces on this ship. This is definitely something to consider when we book our next cruise.
To the good, both Patrick (the concierge) and Caesar (the butler) were extremely efficient, friendly and don't know the meaning of the word "no": Outstanding individuals, wonderful service. Priority tendering is a definite plus of having a suite.
Having a balcony with a couple chaise lounges saved us the agony of dealing with the chair hogs, the hogettes and the hoglets. Carnival is calling you. And why do American men seem to think ball caps are a necessary accessories to the consumption of food? What is that ball cap anyway, the cranial equivalent to a "spork"? You young faux rappers in backwards ball caps: Do you bow down daily and pray to justin bieber, your god? And the older guys, everyone knows you are just covering up your bald spot. And PLEASE take off the ball caps when entering an elevator with ladies present. Where were you born, a barn? Leaving your ball cap on is not going to give you any advantage when knocking down elderly women using a walker when you insist on exiting the elevator first. Also, do you even own a shirt with some semblance of a collar? "Wife beaters" with the obligatory mustard stain are not becoming, no matter what precincts you come from. Pull up your shorts/pants, what are you? Trying to impersonate a plumber?
All in it was a decent trip and we've already put down a deposit for next year's vacation. I'd even do the same trip, same week, same itinerary.