The Dawn definitely met our expectations, and I would highly recommend NCL and the Norwegian Dawn. This was my 10th cruise and my fiance's first. We had a great time and would take this ship again. The highlights were Bermuda, the ship itself (beautiful!) and the crew.
Embarkation was decent - fairly well organized but we did end up in a line. Total time about an hour from the time we got to the pier to the time we boarded the ship.
One engine was broken, so we got to Nassau very late and didn't get off the ship. They offered us a $50 shipboard credit. Not a big deal to us, but I did feel badly for those who had planned activities in the Bahamas.
Great Stirrup Cay was OK. The tenders were large but there was still an awful line to get back to the ship, and it was hot, hot, hot! Definitely have water while in line. The beach was nice but crowded and so hot! There was a nice BBQ, some shopping, and rafts for rent.
Bermuda was lovely. The Dockyard is a cheap tourist trap, except for the Glassworks and Rum Cake Company...though you will pay $12 for a tiny cake. Most people took the ferry to Hamilton, where there is better shopping and eating. The ferry and bus tokens can be purchased at the dock, where you can also get a map. We were directed to Horseshoe Bay for the beach, as it's off the bus stop. This is obviously a cruise passenger spot, as everyone there had the matching NCL towels. The beach was free and very pretty but again crowded. If you are adventurous, I would suggest a less crowded beach. The beach plus lunch in Hamilton left little time for anything else. Bermuda has some great historic sites that we unfortunately missed. We found the people of Bermuda to be a bit unfriendly and stuck-up but still enjoyed it. Lines to get on and off the ship to Bermuda were minimal.
The ship itself is beautiful and kept in pristine condition. We were in an inside room, which was small even for a ship. However, it was well-equipped with a hairdryer, plenty of towels, coffee pot (instant coffee and tea only), and a mini bar. The room stewards were so friendly and accommodating. Any time we needed extra towels, they were there immediately, and they also made some wonderful towel animals. (One note: NCL is strict about pool towels. There is a set number per room, and if you lose one, it's $25. You can get extra towels by the pool for a $25 charge which is returned to you when you return the towel.)
Public areas were nice. The Stardust Theater was two stories and had a lovely balcony. There is an atrium that is several stories. Warhol prints decorate the stairwells. It is perhaps less tacky than other ships.
The gym and Mandara spa were exceptional. Gym had a lot of top of the line equipment but filled up early. By late afternoon, the gym would clear out. Exercise classes are either free or $10 for pilates, yoga, and spinning. Spa treatments booked early. Specials were offered almost daily but good only for the next day. Prices dropped on days at port. The best deals were "20-20-20" (20 minutes each of three treatments) and "25-25" (25 minutes each of two treatments) for $89. Otherwise you will pay $179 for a 1 ½ hour seaweed massage or $139 for a 50-minutes hot stone massage. For $15 a day, you could access the spa's indoor lap pool, hydrapool, hot tub, steam room, and sauna. There are comfy chairs lined up along the window. It's secluded, relaxing, and quiet - definitely worth $15!
One drawback was the pool area. It was always busy and filled with unruly kids. (We were disappointed that there were a lot of ill-behaved kids on the ship and parents who seemed to turn a blind eye to their antics.) There were four hot tubs, a main pool, and a small plunge pool. This is where the hairy chest contest, etc. took place. There was a small stage off the pool where bands played. Kids were always in the hot tubs. Lounge chairs were scarce. Despite NCL's "strict" no saving chairs policy, people would leave their towels on the chairs all day and never return. The best place for a little quiet was at the forward where there is an adults only hot tub. It is also quiet enough there that you can't hear the loud music by the pool.
Music was excellent. There were more bands on this ship than any other I've been on, and they played a great variety. The shows were also some of the best I've seen and a good variety. There was a dance/acrobatic show, Bollywood, magic by Greg Gleason (www.gleasonmagic.com), and juggling by Romano Frediani.
Bingo was a huge rip-off, with cards starting at $29. There were the usual leisure offerings - napkin folding, crafts, slot tournaments, etc. but also several golf lectures. There was a little too much hype for buying stuff onboard and in ports. I was quite disappointed that the ship endorsed a Bermuda jewelry store of questionable quality - I guess if the store pays NCL enough, they will endorse anything. The casino was nice.
The photos are a fiasco. It's hard to find them in the photo gallery, and prices fluctuate daily. Of course, the day there is a special, half the pictures seem to be missing. There are baskets containing thousands of photos, so if you are patient, you can sort through them. We had our portrait taken, but the quality was nothing special.
Food: NCL is obsessive with the idea of clean hands. There are sensor-activated antibacterial liquid dispensers throughout the ship and at the entrance to all restaurants. They do have a crew member at each restaurant ensuring that you disinfect your hands before you eat.
Service at all restaurants was excellent. Overall the food was good but not great.
The restaurants all had different and unique dEcor. Aqua was more modern, with blue glass and twinkle lights on the ceiling. The Venetian had paintings of Venice on the walls and ornate gold columns. These restaurants served standard cruise fare that was substantial and good - typical cruise food, no cover charge. The buffet, Garden Cafe, had food out nearly all day long and was very extensive (more so than other ships) but was nothing special. There was a nice poolside BBQ on sunny days. The 24 hour restaurant was kid-friendly fast food that wasn't too good.
The French restaurant, Le Bistro ($15 cover), had paintings by Matisse and Monet and beautiful Versace chargers that I spent the evening drooling over. Food was very good and my favorite on the ship. Cagney's steakhouse ($20 cover) had a good steak and ample sized portions but it was no Morton's. The Tex-Mex/tapas restaurant was good and overlooked an atrium. There was no cover. Bamboo had a $10 cover ($15 for sushi). The ambience was nice. Food was decent - thinly cut steak was thickly cut and somewhat frozen. Sushi was OK. In general, the fish on the ship was not fresh (but still pretty good).
Alcoholic beverages are rather affordable (regular prices). Wine starts at around $20 a bottle. If you buy a bottle and don't finish it, they will store the wine for you. You just present them with a ticket at any restaurant, and they will retrieve the wine for you. This proved to be simple and economical.