BACKGROUND: My wife and I are both retired and have cruised Princess, Carnival and Celebrity multiple times. We did the NCL Dawn repositioning from Boston to Tampa last November and decided to do the reverse this April. We booked an aft balcony on Deck 10 just 2 decks below the Garden Café & Fitness Center and 3 decks above the Venetian Restaurant. Since I spent 5 years as a teacher, I decided to give letter grades for each component I reviewed.
ARRIVAL + TAMPA: We booked our American Airlines from Central New York State (Syracuse) to arrive the night before the cruise. The complimentary shuttle to the Quality Inn picked us up around 11:00 PM and had us at the hotel by 11:30 PM. Check in was a breeze, we set up a shuttle run ($8 p/p) for noon the next day and we settled in for the night. The next morning we enjoyed the complimentary breakfast and later took the 1:00 PM shuttle to the pier. The Quality Inn staff was helpful, professional and friendly and the price was a real bang for the buck. We’re planning to stay there for out next post cruise stay in early 2015. Hotel + staff = A
EMBARKATION: By the time we got to the ship, the lines were gone and we breezed through with no problem. The cabins were ready so we dropped off our carry-on bags and had lunch at the buffet. Easy peazy (if there is such a phrase) Embarkation = A
THE CABIN: We were on Deck 10 aft cabin 10706 – two decks below Lido. The balcony cabin was a little tight compared to a mini suite but there is enough storage space on the closet shelves and in the closet itself BUT the closet doors open toward the bathroom door so you have to maneuver around to get stuff out. The shower had great water pressure and sliding glass doors which were a nice touch but the toilet area was a tad small. We had no noise or cigarette smoke problems and there was no heavy elevator traffic or young kids running in the hallway. Our room steward Pablo Risco was very pleasant, helpful and never showed any sign of negativity (we gave him extra money on day 2, day 7 and day 12). We didn’t make many requests of him but when we did, he was quick to oblige. He also spoke English well so there were no communication issues and we even spoke at length about his home country of Peru and his future plans. Cabin = A-, attendant = A+
THE FOOD: We like the Freestyle dining so we can eat when and where we want.
Venetian Dining Room: One side of the menu varies and one stays the same but that’s not necessarily a bad thing since I could enjoy the daily special one night and then order from the “usual” side the next. We had a great Surf & Turf dinner and the lobsters were full lobsters (not halves) and we were given two lobsters each. YOWZA!! A
Aqua Dining Room: This is the more “casual dress” dining room where we had a couple dinners. The menu is pretty much the same as the Venetian and the food & service was of good quality. A
Blue Lagoon: This 24 hours casual dining room in the Atrium area always has the same menu but it serves up some good breakfasts, fish & fries, chicken sandwiches, chef salad and a host of other food items. In addition, you can enjoy the entertainment in the Atrium while you eat. A
Bamboo: We decided to try Bamboo specialty restaurant on this cruise ($15 p/p). We ordered scallops and the pork dinners and definitely didn’t go away hungry. A
Garden Cafe: Once we found the best times to eat, things were fine. Sometimes you have to hunt around for what you want since not all drink machines are available all the time. BUT once you found out where stuff was, it was pretty much a certainty it would always be found there. The pizza on the buffet wasn’t that good but seafood, veggies, salads & fruit were my mainstay anyway and I never walked away hungry especially if there were sweet potato fries available. B
Bar service: Mostly frequented the Spinnaker Grill. The bartender (Nyuman) was friendly & made good drinks - I tipped him extra each time. A
Room service: Never used it. No grade
Other Specialty restaurants or Bimini Grill: Never ate there. No grade
Soda/drink packages: Never used them. No grade
SHORE EXCURSIONS: More info for each is in the Shore Excursion Reviews
Grand Cayman: Our Tiki Beach & snorkel excursion was a mixed bag but the beach portion of it was enjoyable. B
Aruba: We booked no shore excursions and when we left the ship, we found out that all the stores close to the dock (even Diamonds International) were closed because it was a national holiday. The joke was “we went to Aruba but it was closed..”. No grade.
Curacao: We didn’t book an excursion but shopped for souvenirs and had a couple beers at one of the open air restaurants. No grade but a good time.
St. Maarten: More souvenir and alcohol shopping. There were some great prices away from the City Pier. No grade but a good time.
St .Thomas: Our snorkel excursion was rescheduled and then eventually cancelled so I booked the Coral World SNUBA excursion. A
Internet: We opted for the 100 minute plan + 10 minutes free (~$60 including activation) just to check e-mail a few times during the week. BE AWARE ----- the service is painfully S-L-O-W. On the last day when everyone is working on confirming flights, the system w/b really slow. There is Wi-Fi available but I don’t know how well it works. C
We didn’t use the Spa although I used the gym in the early afternoons so I had no issues with finding an open T-mill, elliptical or life cycle. The treadmills, elliptical and pedal machines were in great shape and the weight machines were primo. Gym = A-
We didn’t buy any photo packages and ignored most photographers who tried to snap our pix. No grade
We didn’t go to the casino. No grade
Cruise Director and staff were often seen before shows in the Stardust Theater and around the ship. Nice people without being annoying. A
We used Passengers’ Service desk to get printouts of our charges and the staff was courteous and professional. A
The boutiques/stores had their usual “sales” which were mostly for jewelry, old stock and watches. We only bought a couple of small souvenirs. C
We didn’t go to any of the clubs at night – not enough time it seems but we did listen to Jose & Patti in the Atrium on a couple occasions. The Stanley cup playoffs were broadcast on a large screen in the Atrium during the last week. A
We attended some of the Stardust Theater shows “Oh What A Night” (Part 1 + 2), the juggler, and a 60’s tribute featuring the show band along with Jose and Patti. Overall a grade of A
DEBARKATION: We ate our breakfast in the Garden Cafe and then waited inside our room until 9:30 AM. We moved down to deck 7 and waited in the photo area until ~10:30 AM when they called our tag color to get in the final line which snaked around until we finally left the ship. It wasn’t a nightmare by any stretch but just one of those unpleasant things you have to do. The real surprise was the customs area where we handed in our customs form ………and then that was it. No standing in line, no talking to a customs officer or anything – we just picked up our bags and left the terminal. After that we took a shuttle to Logan Airport and got the shuttle to the Holiday Inn in Saugus. B
OVERALL: What a great time – good weather, calm seas, lots of food, good value for the price but it ended all too soon. It was also great to start off with $200 OBC which we spent on the mandatory tips, shore excursions, drinks, specialty dining and internet. The ship never felt crowded. Just don’t wait until “rush hour” to eat or go to the shows. We’re already booked on the NCL Sun for a seven day cruise in April of 2015 but we purchased another $250 Future Cruise Certificate to use in the 2nd half of 2015. I would recommend this ship & itinerary and give it an overall grade of an A