This is my 5th NCL cruise and my 4th time on the Dawn (3 other times were prior to the refurb) and I have to say that in almost every area NCL exceeded my expectations.
The embarkation in Miami was fast and we were onboard in less that 15 minutes even though we went at 12:00PM. Cabins were not ready yet, which was fine, so they directed us to the buffet and pool where we got to enjoy the Miami sunshine for about 30 minutes before we could head down to check out our cabin and put away our luggage. Our luggage came within 2 hours and we were unpacked before sailing.
The refurb helped clean up a few ragged carpets and for the most part helped the ship. The only thing that they changed which I didn't think was for the better was moving the Blue Lagoon (diner style) restaurant to a more formal space. It was odd to eat that kind of food in a formal setting but the food was good none the less.
Main dining rooms were good for cruise ship fair (some food was much better than others) but the staff and the overall dining experience was good. It was nice to have a few items as a permanent menu choice as well as nightly specials so you could order something you liked again. Breakfast buffet was far superior to any other cruise I have been on with Eggs Benedict, eggs and omelets to order and waffles every day. Lunch at the buffet was better than average with the only thing I didn't care for being the pizza. It wasn't really pizza, rather, it was thin bread (kind of pita like) with pizza toppings.
Specialty restaurants were outstanding!!!!
We ate in Le Bistro, Cagney's (twice), and La Cucina and would gladly pay the extra money for the food and service we received. I would recommend saving $100-$200 just to experience these restaurants. Even if you add it into the total cost of your cruise from the beginning it is 10000% worth it.
The ports we visited were wonderful as well. There was a variety of shore excursions ( although we didn't take any) as well as independent tours to take in each stop.
Pool area is laid out well with the tiers of deck chairs you can be quite far away from the pool and still hear/see everything. We had amazing weather so getting a chair was hard at times unless you wanted to sit in the shade 2 decks away from the pool. Get there early if you want a good seat! It was also nice that the pool was open from 5AM-11PM so you could take a dip or relax in the hot tub after dinner.
Entertainment was good overall. Cruise director Paul Scally was hilarious and did a stand up show that was outstanding! Second City was funny and the magician had some good tricks. Since this was a longer cruise some acts reappeared which I didn't care for but from what other guests said they were fine both times.
Only negatives I would say are a lack of activities during the days at sea. Other cruise lines offer more in terms of lectures, games, arts & crafts, etc. but NCL had the 1st Casino by the pool that I have seen which is pretty cool.
Overall, great cruise that I would recommend to anyone looking for an affordable vacation with good food and lots of options.