7 Night caribbean cruise on the Norwegian Dawn over the week of March 8, 2014. (classic spring break week)
Overall we enjoyed the cruise and had a nice time. We had nice weather, overall friendly passengers and the cruise ship is well kept with great entertainment.
Itinerary: Roatan Bay (Honduras), Belize City, Costa Maya, Cozumel. Costa Maya & Cozumel were beautiful. Belize unfortunately wasn't the "Belize" you envision, and Roatan Bay the water was amazing, but where you dock was a bit dicey (and I am 6'4 and not normally caught on edge by much).
Ship: the Dawn was refurbished in 2011. Overall it is a nice ship, holds roughly 2000 people. There are a lot of areas and nooks to get away from the crowds. There is only one central pool, which was very crowded on days at sea. (great if you came back a little early). There is a great kids area and honestly while there was a lot of kids on the ship, you didn't see them. Nice other facilities, big gym (older equip though).
Cabin: We had a balcony cabin on the 9th fl. Comfortable room, nice balcony, had everything we needed and was quiet.
Excursions: So if your travel partner is pregnant BE WARNED. There is very little she will be allowed to do. It made absolutely no sense either. Multiple of the "beach breaks" & catamaran snorkel trips she was not allowed to go on, but she could go on the Snuba adventure (40 ft under the ocean surface with a helmet on…) Further more the director of the excursions desk, who lived in Belize, when asked since we couldn't do any of the tours the cruise provided, what beach could we go to, couldn't be bothered and just said "I don't know of any" yeah right.
- Roatan Bay: Unfortunately this port was in Coxen Hole which is not necessarily a place you want to go and walk around. The port was heavily secured and the guards discouraged you from going out the gates without a tour. We did a Catamaran snorkel trip that started off a bit disorganized, but after a 20 min bus ride we boarded the catamaran and sailed out to the site (technically motored on the way out). The snorkel site was very impressive. Large sea fans, lobster, lots of marine life. Very beautiful site. The "tour" was a bit clunk as it was only one guide for 45 people in the water. Sail back was quite nice with lots of rum punch! (ok just for me, not my wife)
- Belize City - Again, not a port you want to go outside of the cruise port. No beaches in the vicinity and not much to see outside of the port. We missed a ferry to one of the Cayes so then hopped into a taxi to go to Old Belize. Old Belize is basically a very large salt water pool / beach area with a water slide. Cost was $10 USD per person. Cheap food (good food), nice beach, water slide so was a nice spot for the day. This is not a beach on the ocean though, it is on the ocean but it is on breakwater.
- Costa Maya - much nicer port area. Went on the Kohunlich Ruins tour. Well worth the 2 hour bus ride, and a very impressive set of ruins. Well run tour.
- Cozumel - very large port area (and for those that are coffee deprived a Starbucks). We went to the Playa Mia beach break. Very nice spot with pools, great beach, lots of water toys (you name it). It is on a large beach that is very scenic. We did this through the cruise company, but had to provide our own transportation. Had some issues with a taxi driver, but that was what it was. There are several beach resorts though that have the same type of facilities. Buying it through the cruise saved us $1 per person.
Dining: I need to split this into Service and Food as can't define it on both:
- Restaurants / Food: there are 2 "main" dining rooms, plus the Garden Cafe, Blue Lagoon for all around dining. There are roughly 10 other speciality restaurants. The Blue Lagoon was the find as for breakfast you could actually walk right in. The main dining rooms were fine, the food was what you would expect on a cruise. Lobster, steak options, lamb, good variety. Service was what really was an issue. The "Free-Style" concept leads to having longer waits at the dining rooms. Once you get in and are trying to eat at a busy time, means the service is designed to get you in and out, not provide the type of service standard cruisers may expect. We had a few cold dinners, and one breakfast my wife couldn't get her breakfast. Additionally the Garden Cafe, while having 6 stations, normally would only have 2-3 stations open, again causing lines at crunch time like breakfast. (Again note the Blue Lagoon, the real find on this even though a more limited menu). They did have a nice Crepe Station at night and a chocolate buffet.
- Other Service: Our cabin steward was good. Kept the room clean and was very pleasant. I did ask him to take some of the drinks out of the fridge so I could put my own in, he never did even though said he would. Pool side service was difficult. If you had a soda card, you were really had a hard time getting service. If you were buying their buckets of beer, well they wouldn't leave you alone. (There was some of a spring break crowd on board so maybe the attention) Overall service really was the disappointing aspect of the cruise.
- Entertainment - this really was a highlight of the cruise. The on- board entertainers were great. They had a on-ship comedian that was phenomenal and was very much about making comedy out of guests participation, not picking on people. The cast productions were very good, and they had an additional couple that performed a variety of aerial routines. Amazing what they did, especially given the nights they did there was somewhat of a swell. They had a second city group that was funny, but definitely the staff entertainment was better. Wide variety of the typical pool side activities at days at sea. There was a lot of music with other entertainers. Josi & Patty - were great with a variety of music from the Beatles, Neil Diamond, Country music etc. I would say their facility choice was sometimes poor though as multiple times they had events in the Sapphire Lounge and there would be no seats, even though the Stardust was open at the time. Josi & Patty were always in arboretum with limited seating, when other large areas were open.
Embarkation / Disembarkation: overall easy and I do like that you could pick which group you disembarked with. We sat on the pool deck for a couple hours to soak up the last bit of sun. Hard to get a taxi, but there were 3 other ships in Tampa at the same time. Embarkation we were on the ship quickly and into our room by 1pm.
Overall it was a very nice cruise. We got to soak up the sun, had multiple beach outings and warm water. The spring break crowd on board was very mild. While we criticized the service, it's also what you get with the "free-style" methodology where you don't have the same server every night.
Would I go on NCL again? With my wife only, probably not, would venture on RCCL or others for the slight price increase to have the increased level of service. But if we had a lot of people wanting to go and cost was a factor, I wouldn't think twice and happily go.