OK, here we go.
Background: I have cruised four times prior to this one and picked this cruise for my friends who have never cruised before and because of the itinerary so they could see as many islands as possible. My previous ships have been Carnival (over 20 years ago), NCL Gem, Emerald Princess and the NCL Epic.
We flew into Miami the day before the cruise and stayed at the Hampton Inn at Dolphin Mall. It was an excellent hotel with a free airport shuttle, free breakfast and a shuttle to the nearby mall which was great.
Due to a misunderstanding with the hotel we had to arrange our own transportation to the cruise port and didn't arrive there until after 1 PM. Since the ship had arrived empty from Boston, everything was all ready for us.
I was a little surprised that my friends got through their line-up before I did when I was using the Latitudes desk. It seemed there were more customer service people at the other check-in than at the Latitudes one. Anyway, we were on the ship within about 15 minutes. We headed to the Garden Buffet for lunch and then were able to go directly to our cabins.
My friends had an inside cabin opposite mine. I booked a mini-suite so I would have a bathtub and a balcony.
The cabin was very nice with lots of storage. For some reason there was only one reclining chair on the balcony with the other one being a regular chair. Everything was very clean but there were signs of wear on some things. The metal plug on the bathtub did not seem to work properly so the water slowly drained out unless you kept the water running and sometimes the toilet would not completely empty when flushed. I solved that problem by dumping a glass of water into it since it often seemed to have very little water.
THE SHIP: This is where I had the most problem. I guess I have been spoiled by being on larger and newer ships. There was no big screen on the pool deck and not even a regularly set up big screen in the atrium which was normal on all the other ships. The "fancy" things in the atrium were pretty sad. It consisted of a long aluminum spiral coming down where the elevators were and a couple of glass bead sculptures (blue/clear) along with some fake flowers and a water feature.
My favourite ship was the Gem because of the brilliant colours, the "beds" on the pool deck and in some of the lounges and the funky furniture and the bowling alleys.
ACTIVITIES: I go on a cruise to relax so I did not participate in any of the on-board stuff except to play shuffleboard a few times. There were the regular things to do but a lot of them had added fees (exercise classes, slot tournaments, bingo, etc). Of course there were the normal "seminars" about where to shop and so forth.
DINING - I had no real problem with the food on the cruise and there was always lots to eat. We normally ate in the buffet except for the first night when we went to Aqua MDR for the lobster. We also tried the Venetian DR for a couple of meals and I always seem to go away hungry because of the small portions of everything. I was not impressed that the mashed potatoes (in the buffet and the MDR) were instant and pretty disgusting.
The only other place we ate was Cagney's and the prime rib and desserts were excellent.
The ice-cream which was served on the pool deck was also not very good. Except for the vanilla the others that I had seemed to be whipped full of air and more like soft ice-cream than the regular type.
ENTERTAINMENT - The ship had the regular type of shows with a magician, a comedian, several variety song/dance shows and The Second City comedy group. I have been to the Second City show on other ships and I am not a fan of improv so I didn't go to this. The comedian was pretty good and he also did some shorter shows in the Atrium. The Bollywood show on the last night was excellent but I found all the music in the shows much too loud. I took earplugs after the first show and that made it tolerable. The piano players and singers in the bars were very good.
Paul Scally, the Cruise Director was wonderful. Very friendly and funny.
SERVICE - This was excellent in all parts of the ship. My cabin steward, Bernard was wonderful and always friendly and helpful. His towels animals were great. The front desk staff and all the dining staff were above average.
The ship was very clean and there were staff cleaning around the clock.
EXCURSIONS - We booked excursions through the ship on 6 of the 7 islands and the only one I had a problem with was St. Kitt's where the signage for the excursion was not the same as our ticket so most of the people were confused. We ended up being about 10 minutes late leaving because of this and it was very hot that day. I would like to see the decription of each excursion include information about how long the bus ride takes to get to your destination. The drivers and tour guides were very good except for one since he gave us little information and did not seem to be very fluent in English.
LIKES - The main pool was wonderful. Salt water and 82F. It was 5.5 feet deep at the shallow end so there were no children around.
Loved the service from all the staff. Everyone will understand when I say "Washy, Washy, Happy, Happy!" This is the charming lady who greets everyone as they are entering the buffet.
DISLIKES - The way the ship plans events so that the passengers have to wait for things. The two things that come to mind for me is the White Hot Party where we arrived and after 30+ minutes still hadn't seen any of the staff arriving with the famous "feather wings" which is why we went in the first place. The second was the lottery draw on the last day when you could win a cruise. Conveniently this coincided with their BINGO so we had to sit in the Spinnaker Lounge for over 45 minutes waiting for people to buy bingo tickets and then PLAY 3 games of bingo before they made the ticket draw. I guess they expected passengers to order drinks while they were waiting but I just found it really annoying because I would have rather been laying out around the pool but you had to be there in person to win so there was no choice.
Dis-Embarking: We chose the green tags for our luggage as I had done the "easy walk off" before and hated it. We were able to stay on the ship until around 10 AM and then just walked off and searched out our luggage in the large rooms they have on the dock. It is a little chaotic but we managed eventually and headed to customs.
SUMMARY - I had a wonderful cruise and loved seeing all the islands and getting to swim and relax on the beaches. I would not go back on the Dawn again simply because I like the extra stuff on the larger ships. I missed getting to watch movies and football on the giant screens at the pool and in the atrium as well as the bowling and mini-golf, etc.
It all comes down to personal preferences and this was a great itinerary.
Thanks and enjoy.