This was our third cruise (the two prior were on RCCL's Explorer and Voyager), our first (and probably last) with NCL. Overall, we had an enjoyable vacation, but there were a significant number of things that were displeasing about our experience on the Dawn.
I'll provide the 'laundry list':
The itinerary itself - NCL left a somewhat garbled and cut-off message on our answering machine less than 48 hours prior to embarkation that the itinerary had to be changed due to 'engine repair'. Instead of going to St. Thomas on our first port day and Grenada on our last port day, we went to San Juan on our first port day and St. Thomas on our last day. Grenada was scrapped. This would have been OK, except that we were in San Juan for a meager 4 ½ hours - not long enough to do anything! Also, we received two free St. Thomas excursion tickets from our travel agent, for which we could not change the dates, forcing us to purchase NCL-sponsored excursion tickets. More
Embarkation - We arrived at the port (NYC) just before 11:30 AM. We did not get on the ship until 1:15 PM. We were corralled into a line, then watched other lines get built around us. All of those lines boarded BEFORE we did!
Our stateroom - There were three of us in the cabin (an inside cabin on deck 4). The cabin was designed so that when then 'bunk' is pulled down, NO ONE can see the TV. If the TV had simply been placed on the opposite side from the bunk, we would have been able to see the TV.
Our neighbors - We had four teenage boys in the cabin next to us. Every evening (or should I say morning?), they would arrive back to the cabin between 1 and 2 AM. They were very noisy (laughing, yelling, falling off the bunks, etc.). Each night, we called reception to complain, and generally after two calls each night, they would quiet down. It was not until the 9th night of the 11 night cruise that they FINALLY stopped their nightly ritual. NCL did very little to stop their behavior. It was on the 9th day of the cruise that we confirmed our suspicions with reception; there was in fact an adult over the age of 21 registered in the cabin, as is required, but there was NOT an adult over 21 actually sleeping in the cabin. The adults were down the hall, in an oceanview cabin!
The Garden Cafe (buffet) - Finding a seat at breakfast time was a near impossibility. We had to circle and circle until an empty but dirty table appeared. We would then 'park' our 9-year old son at the table, clean it ourselves, and take turns going to the buffet. The Venetian was a better option for breakfast.
Service in the restaurants in general - VERY SLOW AND INCONSISTENT. With only a few exceptions, particularly a very nice waiter named Asmui, we had very slow service, sometimes waiting as long as 15 minutes between courses at dinnertime. On one occasion, our waiter in Impressions stood staring at me, waiting for me to finish my appetizer, then my salad, so that he could 'pounce' to remove it. He needed a lesson in food service etiquette!
Excursions - DO NOT DO THE STINGRAY SWIM IN ANTIGUA! The bus ride to the other end of the island took at least 30 minutes each way, over some VERY bumpy roads. The stingrays are kept in a fenced-in area, in water no more than 5 feet deep. The excursion was listed as a Stingray swim and snorkel. There really was not much to see other than the stingrays, since we were snorkeling in a fenced-in area, in 5 feet of water!
Key Cards - We had to have our key cards replaced five times in the 11 days, as they continually stopped working, leaving us locked out of our cabin. We were asked the obvious question each time - did you have anything magnetic near them? My son carried nothing in his pockets EXCEPT his key card. Finally, on the fifth try they decided that maybe someone should check our door!
The safe - It stopped working twice, leaving us high and dry. One on occasion, it was just as we were leaving to go onshore. Since our wallets and cameras were in the safe, we had to wait 20 minutes until someone came to fix it before we could go ashore!
OK, enough complaining...there were some positive elements to the trip:
Excursions - We had excellent excursions in Barbados (Turtle Swim and Shipwreck) and St. Thomas (Castaway Girl Snorkel).
Dining - The food in both La Tratorria and Salsa was quite good, though service was a bit inconsistent.
Entertainment - The Magician (Tim Hill) and the Juggler (Romano Frediani) were very entertaining. Tim Hill did a magic 'seminar' in the Cinema which was very interesting. He remained afterward for quite some time, talking with the boys who wanted some 'one-on-one' time. A great example of going the extra mile! My son was VERY interested in learning about card and coin tricks.
As I stated early, we had a very nice vacation overall. There just seemed to be a number of things that NCL did NOT do well, that could have made it a much more enjoyable cruise.
Our next cruise will probably be on an RCCL ship. Less