We are a couple in our mid sixties, and NCL is our cruise line of choice because we prefer a casual atmosphere when cruising and for the most part, feel that NCL delivers good value for the cost of the cruise. We made the mistake of opting for thrift over being sensible and got up at 1:00 a.m on the day of embarkation to fly to Tampa and board the Dawn by 3:00 p.m. Not the best way to start a cruise & we won't make that mistake again, and next time will spend the night before the cruise in the port of embarkation.
Embarkation was a breeze. Got on very quickly, though perhaps that was because of our relatively late arrival at the ship. Similarly, disembarkation was the easiest and quickest we've ever experienced. We've sailed on four other NCL ships - this was our first time on the Dawn. The ship was very clean and well kept up. However, our balcony cabin was tiny compared to other NCL ships we've been on. Very cramped - there was a run down love seat with a small table in front of it. There was also another small table accross from it under the TV, leaving an 18" gap to walk through to get to the balcony. Next to the TV table, there was a chair, which was impossible not to keep stubbing one's toes on since it was so close to the bed. On cruises with many sea days (which we prefer, as one has no choice other than to relax), we tend to spend quite a bit of time in our cabin, enjoying our balcony. The size of the balcony was similar to the other NCL ships we've been on, but there was only a postage stamp sized plastic table on the balcony, which was barely big enough for two cups of coffee and an ashtray. We usually enjoy getting a snack with coffee in the morning and enjoying it on our balcony, but the tiny table prevented us from doing so.
Though we were extremely dissapointed over the size of our cabin and won't cruise on the Dawn again for that reason, the cabin was otherwise fine. The bed was firm and very comfortable. The bathroom was well laid out, and we appreciated the sliding door for the shower - no wet shower curtain to deal with. The shower was relatively large compared to showers I've experienced on other cruise lines. Unless you are a clothes horse, there is ample room for clothing. In addition to three drawers, there are shelves in the closet, too, though they are not easily reached, but functional. The TV had enough channels to keep one up to date and entertained.
Our cabin attendant did a very good job, and was one of the few cabin attendants we've had who cleaned our balcony 2x a day. Since we consider the balcony the best part of cruising and spend a lot of time there, it was nice to have a cabin attendant who treated it as part of our living space. The crew in general seemed happier than the crews on most of our previous cruises. Perhaps that has something to do with the ship's officer who is the Hotel Director - Alain Magnier. He was THE most visible crew member on the ship. We saw him several times each day, always busy and keeping an eagle eye on what was going on. Once I even saw him removing "wet paint" signs, so it seems that he is the type of boss that does not think that certain jobs are beneath him. He could have easily asked a crew member to remove the signs, and I respected him for doing it himself. Maybe the crew respects him, too, hence the relatively happy crew.
Dining - what can I say? I don't like cruise food and after 12 days I was happy to escape the fare that was offered. It wasn't bad, just average, but not good enough to look forward to the dining room in the evening, either. We ate more dinners in the Garden Buffet than in either Aqua or Versailles. In my experience, cruise food is cruise food. Either you like it, tolerate it, or hate it. I don't cruise to eat, and the cost of an NCL cruise does not warrant gourmet food, so I can't complain. However, I will mention that many of the desserts are primarily gelatin based and are not worth the calories, not to mention tasteless.
The most obvious difference between this cruise and prior NCL cruises is that NCL is really cutting back, probably because of having just built two new ships with two more being built. We used to get a folio with writing paper and a pen in our cabin. A few cruises ago, the paper was no longer offered, and on this cruise, not even so much as a pen, which prevented me from filling out the comment cards that were given to us when we ate in the dining room. On all other cruises, our dining room servers had an assistant. Not so on this cruise, though except when one went to the dining room when there was a very long line, the lack of an assistant did not seem to impede good service for the most part. Also gone (but not missed!) were the little NCL pins we've always been given. We always left them in our cabin, so that was a reasonable cost cutting measure. There were other little things that were missing/lacking, but not enough to make our cruise significantly less enjoyable.
The entertainment was so-so. We saw "Elements' for the second time. I found it cheezy the first time, and liked it less this time. However, most people seemed to enjoy it. My favourite entertainment on every cruise I've ever taken is always the crew talent show.
On this cruise - our 4th to the Caribbean - instead of opting for beach/snorkel shore days, we decided to take tours to see other parts of the islands. An illuminating mistake, in a way. On most islands we saw many stray dogs. It was sad and disheartening, and I don't think I will take another Caribbean cruise and spend my tourist dollars in countries that do not address the problem of neglected animals. On the bright side, all of the dogs I saw on St. John were leashed.
Will I take another NCL cruise? Certainly, unless NCL increases their prices in order to keep up with the cost of building new ships. If they do, then I may opt to try someone new, but for now, I'll stick with NCL because for the most part I've always had a pleasant cruise on their ships.