We have sailed on NCL three times over the past 3 yrs, and while we have enjoyed it enough to return, we can see things declining. This is not a negative review because honestly we have enjoyed sailing NCL, more so, it is an honest eval of the good with the bad.
Pros: The Dawn - we have sailed twice. It is a large, spacious, nicely laid out ship with many places to eat with great variety. There is a huge atrium, nice library, movie theater, excellent auditorium for shows, and various places to get out an about on the ship. The Dream was a bit smaller and due for a makeover, but still okay.
Freestyle dining we LOVE, but did hear many people complain too. It does take some getting used to. On our first cruise, the more seasoned cruisers knew to book all the prime dining hours in advance so we were left with eating at 5 or 9:30. They have since changed it so that everyone can only book reservations one night in advance which is much fairer. The gym and spa were over-the-top second to none! State of the art equipment in tasteful well spaced out gym overlooking the ocean with private TV on each piece of equipment.
Rooms were spacious (we had a mini-suite one cruise, balcony the other and an ocean view on the Dream.) All were well laid out, and nicely furnished.
Cabin steward was second to none and bent over backwards to make us more comfortable.
Now for the CONS:
The disembarking for excursions was poorly planned and executed. Always running late, tenders broken down, takes HOURS to get off the ship.
Towels very warn and even stained. Considering the luxury of the rooms, nice beds, fluffy pillows... this was surprising. We did ask for new towels, but the whole lot seemed worse for the wear.
Soda program is a big rip off. They give you a tiny, slim cola cup, fill it with ice and about 4 oz of soda and good luck getting a refill. You must wait at the bar for everyone paying for alcohol drinks to be waited on before they will even THINK of filling your soda. Also, at certain times of am, early lunch, only one sports bar at the far end of the ship is the only place that serves soda.
True, as others have mentioned, they do try to nickel and dime you in a VERY aggressive manner. One piece of advice, don't buy the water for $2.50 before getting off the boat, pay $1 when you hit land. Also, excursions to the beach are often 3X cab fare and you only stay half the day. On several trips we hailed our own cab and stayed the whole day at the beach for about $10 each.
Food quality has significantly declined in just a few yrs. Two yrs ago I loved the afternoon tea with finger sandwiches, yummy cakes, fresh scones with cream etc. Food has always been small in portion size but the quality made up for what was lacking.Now, however, all desserts were waxy, sometimes unidentifiable and mostly low budget. People lined up 20+ deep for a choc chip cookie! In short, all the little extra snack times were gone and your only choice between meals was stale pizza or pre-made subs which were horrible.
In short, I have enjoyed sailing NCL but think it has gone downhill lately. I plan on cruising a different line next time or perhaps may look into an all inclusive resort.