Pre-Cruise: We flew into Miami the day before the cruise and took a taxi to the Intercontinental Hotel near the Port of Miami.
The Intercontinental-Using tips from the Cruise Critic Ports Board we were able to get a very good last minute rate from LastMinuteTravel. Our total cost was less than if we had stayed at other hotels we were considering near the Blue Lagoon Area by MIA. This is a large hotel located on Biscayne Bay very close to the port. It is close to Bayside Marketplace which has many restaurants along with some shops and is the starting point for both land and water tours. We ate lunch at Bayside and did an afternoon and evening tour of Miami Beach. The next morning we picked up breakfast at the Starbuck's in the lobby of the hotel and after eating took a short cab ride to the pier. We were extremely happy with the IC.
Embarkation: We arrived around 12:30. Everything went smoothly. Porters took our tagged luggage right from our cab driver and we got in line to enter the terminal building. We were done with check in at about 1:00 and were ready to proceed through security. We had water in our carry on bags and this resulted in an extra step for an inspection of all our carry on luggage. It would have been much easier if we had just put the water in our tag bags that we gave to the porters. Even with the delay we were on the ship by 1:15. GRADE A-
Ship: The condition of the ship was much better than what we expected from recent reports. Sure it is need of it's impending refurbishment, but we did not let any minor age problems ruin our vacation. Seats are worn in the theater, televisions, towels and bedding need replacing in the rooms, and there are a few leaks here and there by so what? We had wonderful weather, met great new friends, and the itinerary was the best of our four Caribbean cruises. The ship layout was basically a scaled down version of the larger ships we had previously cruised on. Buffet and pools near the top, atrium with shops and most restaurants on middle decks, theater forward, and bars & lounges scattered throughout the ship. We thought that the muster drill on NCL was much better and quicker than on Princess and liked that no life vests were required.
GRADE BStateroom: We had an oceanview cabin on Deck 8 aft. I had done a lot of research prior to booking this cabin which was the last one before the suites in the back. We had other cabins above us and the Galeria Shops right below. The location was perfect and we heard very little noise during our nine days. The room itself is in need of refurbishment. As mentioned above, the bedding is worn, towels need to be replaced, and the television is in very bad shape. The room size was a bit smaller than comparable staterooms we have stayed in on Princess. One big plus however is the shower. It was much larger than those on Princess. One other difference is that all soaps, shampoo, and body wash come out of pump dispensers. There was no hair conditioner so make sure you bring your own. GRADE C
Dining: We enjoyed the concept of Freestyle Dining. We did not make any reservations other than one brunch during our nine days. Except for one night, we were always able to get a table for two at any dining location we went to. We did not eat at the specialty restaurants. Our meals were mostly at the Main Dining Rooms Aqua and Venetian along with some meals at the Garden Cafe and Blue Lagoon.
Venetian & Aqua-We found Venetian to be much better than Aqua in terms of service and ambiance. Entering the Venetian by going down an ornate staircase, being greeted by servers on the steps, listening to piano music while you ate, and having ocean views on three sides of the room made for a much more enjoyable meal. We also thought that actual table service was quite better in the Venetian. We were eating off of the same menu but the experience was just nicer and more relaxing in the Venetian. As for the quality of food, we thought appetizers, soups, salads, steaks, and most meat dishes were very good but were shocked at how few good desserts there were. Other than bread pudding it seemed as though a lot of the selections were jello like out of molds.Garden Cafe and Blue Lagoon-We found the foods at the buffet to be very average. Breakfast was good but lunch and dinner offerings were lacking. Most nights we would go up to the Garden Cafe, look at what was available and then go down to the Main Dining Rooms. Again desserts seemed jello like with the only bright spot being the Chocoholic Buffet that was offered one night. The Blue Lagoon had fish and chips, chicken wings, soups, hot dogs, and hamburgers and such but again we thought it was just average.
Jose' and Patti Brunch-This was the highlight eating event for us. It was held in the Venetian Dining Room and included a Breakfast, Bread and Dessert items buffet style along with being able to additionally order a meal off of a limited menu from the Le Bistro Restaurant. It was a great value for a cover charge of $15. We a grilled fillet with bearnaise sauce, tiger shrimp, potatoes, and broccoli along with the items from the brunch buffet. Chateaubriand, Salmon, and other items were also available on the Le Bistro Menu. For this occasion the desserts were fantastic (creme brule, etc.). In addition, you got to enjoy the great music of Jose' and Patti while you dined.
General food notes-Coffee was very good, soft serve ice cream was available in the afternoon at the Garden Cafe, hand dipped ice cream was available in three flavors at Sprinkles from 12-5 and pizza was also available at the Garden Cafe. There was a poolside BBQ on all sea days and you could get grilled items at the Bimini Bar & Grill two decks up from the pool. GRADE B
Entertainment: This is the area where NCL excelled. We attended all shows that were presented in the theater. Two of the three production shows were excellent, Band on the Run and Bollywood. The Cruise Director Matt Baker was the best ever. Also good were Comedian Dave Heenan, Second City, Magician Greg Gleason, Juggler Mark Angelo, and Hypnotist Brenda Kaye. Our favorite of all were Jose' and Patti. They performed throughout the nine days in various locations doing many different shows with a musical library of close to 1,000 songs. They are amazing. We also liked the final nights productions show that was followed by staff coming on stage and thanking you for cruising with NCL. They also lined up and thanked you as you were leaving the theater. A nice touch. GRADE A+
Cabin Service: We received excellent service from our cabin attendants on this cruise. The ice bucket was always full, room serviced when requested, and towel animals at turn down at night. Only negative was having to ask for pool towels some nights. We like NCL's use of a rotating sign built into the stateroom door. You can select Make Up Room, Turn Down Service, Do Not Disturb, or Welcome. GRADE A-
El Dorado Spa: We signed up for the Spa Pass for the entirety of the cruise. It was limited to 50 people of each sex. It included use of a coed lap pool, two hot tubs, and a quiet viewing area off the back of the ship. All the facilities were indoors and adult only. The woman's locker room included a sauna and steam room while the man's had a sauna, steam room, and Japanese hot and cold plunge baths. There were also separate woman's and man's quiet reading rooms. We enjoyed our peaceful time relaxing in the spa and met many new friends there.
Disembarkation: Very easy. NCL lets you pick your time to disembark. We had a set time because we were going on an excursion. We met in the theater and were led off of the ship, picked up our luggage, went through customs, loaded on a bus and were off to the Everglades and on to MIA. Very Easy. GRADE A
Ports: See Ports Review Section except for Samana. Wonderful time on Cayo Levantado. Did NCL Cayo Levantado Beach Escape with Seal Lion Adventure. Resort tenders take you right from ship to private island. Beach was beautiful. Spent time with female sea lion on land and then with male in water. Highly Recommend.
Overall: We truly enjoyed our cruise on the NCL Dawn. GRADE A-