My wife and I had sailed previously with Royal Caribbean. My son booked this trip as a family cruise. I must admit that reading some of the pre-cruise reviews can give you doubts. Some of them need to be taken with a grain of salt.
The embarkation in Miami was extremely efficient and painless. We boarded around 12:30, ate lunch and explored the ship until the cabins were ready at 2:00. Our luggage showed up in short order. My wife & I had an outside cabin on Deck 8. It was small but not cramped. It was clean and well furnished. The cabin stewards are friendly and do a great job.
FOOD: The buffet for breakfast and lunch was very good. There is a wide offering available with six different lines and it is continually updated. You can find anything from made-to-order sandwiches to sushi to standing rib roast beef. On cruising days they also do a cookout at the pool that is adequate.
We ate the first and last night in each of main dining rooms. The aft dining room is the larger one and there is a smaller one forward. Both have the same menu. NCL offers a fixed menu throughout the cruise with an added section that changes daily. The food was not spectacular but very good. I don't expect gourmet on a cruise ship.
Members of our party (5 adults and a two-year-old) tried some of the specialty restaurants on the other three nights. The steakhouse, Tex-Mex, Asian and Teppanaki were great. The extra charge ranges from $10 to 25.00 depending on the restaurant. The food and the experience were well worth the extra charge.
I must comment about the staff in all the food venues. They went out of their way with my two-year-old grandaughter. After the first day they called her by name. One gave her their NCL lapel pin, and the maitre-d at the Tex Mex gave her one of the maracas that was part of the decor.
The main advantage of "Freestyle Cruising" is the ability to eat when and where you want. We never had a problem with getting reservations when we wanted. The Teppanaki can be difficult since they operate on a fixed "show" schedule.
The pool on the Dawn is small. It was crowded especially due to the number of Spring Breakers on the ship. It is relatively deserted on port days. The children's T-Rex area on the stern was a great place for children. It also has a hot tub for the adults while kid play.
We would not hesitate to and probably will cuise with NCL again.