We live in Miami so have taken a lot of cruises-usually once a year-on a lot of the major cruise lines (Royal, Carnival, Holland, Celebrity, Costa, Dolphin) and have done the Caribbean, Alaska, and Europe on cruises.
This was our first time on NCL and we really liked it. We were scared about the Freestyle dining because we did not like it in Alaska on Holland but they only had the 2 regular dining rooms. NCL Dawn has 6 specialty restaurants, plus the 2 dining rooms, the upstairs buffet, and a 24 cafe.
We had decided to try all the specialty restaurants before we got on board. We like the intimate atmosphere of the smaller restaurants. Most nights, we would feed our kids in the buffet or 24 hour restaurant...then send them to Kids club from 7-10:30pm and then have our dinner/show date with a table for two...what a great end of a day after a day of sightseeing.
The food on board was average cruise food...not spectacular, not too bad. That includes the specialty restaurants which was a bit disappointing since you are paying more for them. On other lines, the specialty restaurants are much better quality but I did not find that on NCL. When I cruise NCL again, I do not think I would go to the specialty restaurants again. If I had to choose a favorite, it was Teppanyaki and the Sushi. We were not impressed at all with Cagney's steakhouse...in fact, all the beef on board had a very strong beef taste (not sure how to describe it).
We did love the spicy chicken wings at the Blue Lagoon (24 hour restaurant)...the Blue Lagoon was also a hidden gem for breakfast. There was a limited menu but was always empty and the food was prepared fresh (omelettes) so it was better than the buffet.
Yohan (Sr. Sous chef from the Garden Grill) was great with getting me information for my daughter who was allergic to eggs and nuts. He sent her special eggless choclate chip cookies to our cabin a couple of times during our cruise and she had a standing order of eggless pancakes for breakfast.
I loved the 9 night cruise and the itinerary. After five straight days of ports, the last 2 sea days really allowed you recoup and relax. We loved Antigua and Tortola (Virgin Gorda Baths), thought Barbados and Samana was OK, and was disappointed by the beach in St. Kitts. See individual reviews.
The broadway style shows were EXCELLENT...we really liked the Band on the Run show and Bollywood. The South Beach Rave was also pretty good.
We were not too impressed by the comedian and magician.
The cruise director Shona and Asst Cruise Director Ray-Ray were exellent (along with their staff).
My only comment was that the entertainment/music on the ship between 9-11pm was geared towards the older (60-70's crowd) instead of the (30-40's crowd that had kids on board) since the disco did not open until 11 or 11:30pm when kids were out of camp. We figured this out after the first couple of nights of going to the 7:30pm show so switched to going to the 9:30pm show and going to dinner at 8pm instead of 6pm.
Our kids loved going to camp. The counselors were amazing, they did an awesome job. Thank you Silver Star, Smile, Superfly, and Panda for taking such good care of our kids.
The facilities were awesome, they had a play structure like a mini-Chuck e Cheese with crawl tunnels and ball pits excepts everything was spotless clean.
The T-Rex kids pool was also a lot of fun with some small and big slides...we spent a lot of time there.
We purchased the cruise pass for the thermal suite (steam, sauna, lap pool, whirpools) which was $119 single and $189 couple. It was a bit too pricey but we did enjoy our time there since it gave you a nice place to relax. If you want to avoid being out in the sun, this is a great place. I do think the price should be a bit lower for the pass.
We loved this cabin, it was a handicap cabin so the room and bathroom felt spacious. It was located above Blue Lagoon and we were worried about being directly above the 24 hour restaurant but we did not hear a sound. We loved being at the back of the ship (close to the elevators/stair to get up to the kids club and kids pool, gym/spa, and buffet restaurant) and 1 deck down from all the entertainment areas.
If we had the choice, we would select this outside cabin again. The partial view was fine...you can see directly out but the top of the lifeboat is flush with the bottom part of your window...not a problem for us. A plus is that your window is protected so you do not hear the water or rain pounding on your window as we learned when talking to other passengers about the storm the first night.