This was our 9th cruise, 4th with NCL. After positive experiences on the Spirit and absolutely FABULOUS EVERYTHING on the Jewel, we booked the Dawn.
We booked waaaaay in advance and were pre-assigned our "balcony" room which appeared to be in the perfect location; midship forward. The pictures on-line looked just fine and it was an upgraded balcony room. Expensive, but we thought worth it since it WAS a 9 day cruise.
EMBARKATION: A breeze. Zip, you're on.
SHIP: We weren't prepared for a VERY WORN ship in need of MAJOR repair or replacement of elevator buttons, carpeting, pool tiles (color completely worn off), everything wood/teak, faded plastic palm trees (rather funny), etc. Generally good layout, easy to get around. Card rooms, plenty of lounges, theater big enough to seat everyone. Loved it. Pool area has tierd lounge chair areas so you always have a good view of the tiny pool area. There's not much room to dance on the pool deck and none at all if the lounge chairs are out.
STATEROOM: "Ugh, we have to live in this for 9 days? and look at .... that?????" We opened the cabin door and looked straight out at a huge, floor to ceiling, wall to wall steel plate with a giant window cut out instead of the balcony that was in the pictures both on Internet and in print. The paint was flaking off & had covered the flooring & dark blue fabric of the chairs, rust stains were streaming down the white paint, the light fixture was literally HANGING OUT of the ceiling. It was like a slum apartment.
Interior cleaning & maintenance of room so neglected that drips of some scary, unknown substance and dust were covering the walls, pictures & mirrors, hair filled the air intake on the blow dryer and the buttons on the safe were completely worn off. There were directions on the door but with no way to read the buttons, you couldn't use the safe!!! Let's not even talk about the carpet. We kept our shoes on.
BEDDING: Lumpy, hard pillows, a mattress of iron and pilled, crispy sheets. Go ahead, ask: How did we sleep?
BATHROOM: A bright spot. Clean and everything worked. YEAH! It was better than the room. But, forget any simple cheap "luxuries.". No, no no! No tiny toiletries for us! We spend almost $2,000 for a cruise but we no get shower cap, solid soap nor conditioner. I may not even use them, but the cheapest of hotels these days provide those things!!! Come on, NCL, make me feel just a little special!
SERVICE: We reported problems to the front desk and they just kept elevating it to another level, another person, another non-english comprehending nodding head. We gave up. There was only so much time we were going to spend to get things repaired and cleaned. No other balcony cabins were available, we were at sea, we were STUCK & NCL knew it so did nothing. They all smile and are very, very nice, but just NOTHING gets changed. You feel like your in the "Twilight Zone" at times.
DINING: The buffet is all you need. Really. We're food snobs from New Orleans and that buffet is so international and extensive we LOVED IT! Lamb, shrimp cocktails, hearts of palm, fresh crepes filled with chocolate, eggs benedict - YES! All on the buffet. For a little steak or one night of lobster, or if you like dressing up more go ahead and go to the main dining room but it's not as interesting as that international buffet.
SPECIALTY DINING: Save your money. The ambiance is really nice and we had a good time but the food was very bland. For instance: Bamboo - $15 upcharge. Unremarkable menu, shrimp fried in wanton wrapper with no seasoning whatsoever on a bed of lettuce, the sushi downright terrible and the desserts were not so hot. They did go out of their way to find a bottle of pinor noir for us when it wasn't on the wine list. It was the young, smart, energetic waitstaff that made it an evening, NOT THE FOOD.
ENTERTAINMENT: Really well done. CD was very energetic, fun and dedicated. He seemed to love people and his job. Dancing with the Stars was absolutely brilliant and the show dancers, musicians & singers were first rate. Nice that many of them are able to move about and interact with the passengers.
The singers were the best we've ever heard. They had a Tina Turner wannabe that sang and acted her heart out. The other full time band could turn out believable 40's to the current tunes; even did Led Zepplin. That was one talented, hard working band. Guest DJ's did their best to cater to the crowd and the white night disco dance had lots of energy. Outside Reggae gets monotonous. How much liberation and discontent music can you stand to listen to even if it is done with steel drums & a Carribbean beat???
ACTIVITIES: Lots of them really, But, they lean too heavily toward gambling. More dancing outside and interactive games would be nice. The seminars and workshops with the comedians were a step in the right direction.
PORTS & EXCURSIONS: Sun, surf & even a UNESCO site. Very good. You will always find something interesting to do no matter what your interests are. Samana is a challenge - not sure why they go there. Skinny dogs and dust?? We didnt' quite get it compared to the other FABULOUS ports of call.
SPECIAL ALERT: Everything's an extra: Want orange juice after 10 a.m. from room service? That'll be $1.95 per glass..... no I'm not kidding! Tour of the ship which used to be a free activity we all attended ... sorry, FEE APPLIES!! A 45 minute workout? $35 plus tip!!! This goes on and on ........
SUMMARY: Next cruise we'll go on Cruise Critic to literally see the balcony type & room position, check the age of the ship or time since a refurb and probably try another cruise line. NCL's cut back in a lot of areas to save money. Some understandable but not necessarily a good idea.
The crew are what brings people back to NCL, not the hotel. We're still cruisers but it'll be a while before we're ready to go NCL again.