We are a couple in our 20s, and this was our first cruise. We live close to the port, and the convenience of departing from NYC was a major factor in our selecting this cruise.
If not for the extremely stormy weather during most of our time in Bermuda, we would have very few complaints about our 7-day cruise. Our ship rescued a sailboat that was stranded in the ocean, which delayed our arrival in Bermuda by one hour.
To break it down in more detail:
EMBARKATION/ DISEMBARKATION: Very easy and painless on both occasions. We arrived at the port in Manhattan around noon, it took no more than half an hour for us to get through the lines and receive our key cards. We had changed our room since receiving our luggage tags, but one of the port staff simply put new tags on at the pier and there were no issues. Soon we were on the ship drinking our complimentary mimosas and heading to the Venetian for a delicious lunch. The rooms were available at 2pm and bags were delivered soon after, in time for dinner. We did receive a notice that someone's bag had been lost, but as I understand it they eventually found that bag. Returning to Manhattan, we chose the Easy Walk-Out since we could carry our own bags. We had a leisurely breakfast at the Venetian, then waited about half an hour after they first announced that passengers could start leaving. By this time there was no line and we were out of the ship in no time.
CABINS: We had a porthole cabin on the lowest deck. No complaints at all about the room - especially since we upgraded from an inside cabin. Small space, but plenty of closet and drawer space. We like the bathroom's division into three areas (sink, toilet and shower) with sliding doors to separate them. The porthole provided plenty of light, if not much of a view. Being on the lowest deck was convenient on port days, because we had only a short walk to the gangway (and were one of the first off the ship when we arrived in Bermuda). The only slight downside of being on the lowest deck was more noise from waves crashing against the ship (but we were not kept awake by it). The bed was very soft and comfy, though we were surprised that it took till the last night for them to replace our separate beddings with a single queen-size blanket and linens, since we had pushed the two beds together from the start. The cabin was kept very clean and tidy by the stewards, and although we weren't lucky enough to get any towel animals, we enjoyed attending their towel animal demonstration at the end of the week.
DINING: No major complaints about dining, we enjoyed both main dining rooms (Aqua and Venetian) and often had a great breakfast in the buffet as well. We particularly enjoyed the salads and seafood entrees. We wished there was more variety in the fruit offerings, and it would've been great if the fruit smoothies could be available for free at least for breakfast. We also sometimes craved more options in the buffet, since we often wanted a quick meal but with the same quality of food as in the main dining rooms. There was a Chocoholic Buffet one night in the buffet but the line was quite long, and we heard several passengers complaining loudly about the wait. We frequently ate at the Blue Lagoon since it was open 24 hours and a good place to snack between meals, but we noticed that service there was not as good as in the other dining areas (long waits, order mix-ups, quite the opposite of Venetian/Aqua). We saw other diners also complain about the slow service and order mistakes in Blue Lagoon. Of the specialty restaurants, we only tried the sushi one, and thought it was worth the $15pp cover charge.
ENTERTAINMENT: We were very happy with the night-time shows, especially "Bollywood" (with impressive acrobatics) and the crew show on the last night. Also greatly enjoyed the Second City comedy troupe - we attended both their scripted and improv shows. Shows were generally well-attended, so we learned that it was necessary to come to the theater at least 10 minutes early to get good seats. Compared with past land-based vacations, the entertainment and activities on the Dawn were far better than anything we'd experienced during any previous vacations, and we considered it the strongest aspect of our cruise experience.
FACILITIES: Having never been on a cruise before, we were a bit disappointed with the size of the pool, which was much smaller than land-based resorts and always crowded on sunny days. There was an indoor lap pool, but it was in the spa and only accessible by purchasing a spa pass (which we chose not to do). We cannot comment on the spa or fitness center since we never used those facilities at all. We did use the internet café one time, which cost 75 cents/ minute, plus an initial fee of $4. The internet café did not seem busy at all, perhaps due to the high cost of internet access.
ACTIVITES: With so much rainy weather, we spent considerable time in the small movie theater (which had a constant rotation of recently released films), playing board games in the Lifestyles room, and participating in the daily trivia games. We also signed up for the Murder Mystery Dinner, which was fun since we got to meet other passengers. The cruise director John Ibrahim and his team were very energetic and kept us well-entertained. The only thing that really annoyed us was the too-frequent bingo announcements. Also, the daily newsletters contained many ads which were immediately discarded – such a waste of paper!
BERMUDA: Even with awful weather, we could tell right away why Bermuda is such a popular destination. Not only are there beautiful beaches with clear blue water, the cheerful pastel-colored streets of St. George and Hamilton are a pleasure to stroll.
Despite pouring rain and strong winds on our entire first day in Bermuda, we bought ponchos on the ship and set out on the ferry for Hamilton, walking through town all the way to Fort Hamilton, where we were the only visitors. The Bermuda Maritime Museum near the Dockyard was also a nice way to pass the time, with many indoor exhibits that could be enjoyed even in horrible weather.
When the weather cleared up, we toured St. George, a beautiful town with quaint alleys and brightly painted houses. We also enjoyed visiting Crystal Caves in Bailey's Bay - both caves are interesting, and we had great guides to show us the formations. One lesson we learned is to be alert on the bus: we asked the driver to let us off near the caves, but he forgot about it, so we eventually got off and took another bus back in the opposite direction. Good thing we decided to purchase the unlimited transportation passes!
The one attraction we thought we could have skipped was the Gibb's Hill Lighthouse. When we arrived, it was sweltering hot and humid, and we didn't feel like climbing up the 185 steps. We did try to take photos from the base of the lighthouse, but in the morning, there was a lot of glare and views were not the best. Still, in different weather or time of day, it could be quite worthwhile to pay the lighthouse a visit.
On our last day in Bermuda, the rain and wind gave way to stifling heat and humidity, so we went to visit the famous Horseshoe Bay Beach and found the swim delightfully refreshing on the hot/humid day. There is a little cove all the way to the right when you enter the beach, and it's a great place to swim with the rocks protecting you from waves.
Bermuda is so easy to explore with public transportation, we didn't feel the need to book any ship-based excursions. With three days in one port, a guided tour didn't seem necessary, since we could visit all the sites we wanted at our own leisure.
OVERALL, we had a great vacation and would definitely consider cruising again. Compared with an all-inclusive hotel, cruising doesn't feel as luxurious, and some of the facilities (such as pools and rooms) were not as nice as what you'd find on land, but we felt our expectations were fully met and we had an enjoyable first cruise experience.