The day prior to the cruise we took Amtrak from Tampa to Miami to avoid driving in Miami and just because we thought it would be a fun start to the cruise. We stayed at La Quinta in Miami Springs and it was clean, reasonable, had a breakfast bar and a free shuttle to the Port of Miami. At breakfast the next morning we met several of our Cruise Critic/FB members and it was fun to put names with faces. It was an excited bunch of cruisers as we headed toward the port. The first view of the Dawn was wonderful as it is anytime we take a cruise. We turned our bags over to the porters around 11:00 and got in the long line to begin embarkation.
We waited about 20 minutes in line, going through the checkpoint, having documents reviewed and then received our NCL cards to admit us to everything on the ship. Only one small error, my husband was not listed as a past cruiser but that was easily taken care of at Guest Services by friendly staff. We waited in the waiting area for about 35 minutes and were on the ship by around 12:30. Kudos to Norwegian for having orange juice and cold water for us in the waiting area.
Another Kudo for Norwegian because they have carry on baggage check to use until your cabins are ready. We went to the pool deck for a DOD and to relax for awhile before having lunch. Every staff person you saw were smiling, friendly and helpful. Food in the Garden Cafe was plentiful and tasty. We did not feel stressed by the embarkment process and were ready to have fun.
When cabins were ready, we checked out our home for the next 11 days. The balcony cabin is cozy, smaller than some we've had but very organized. We loved the sliding door to the balcony and feel it makes the space more roomy. The bathroom arrangement is great and the sliding door on the shower is such an improvement over the "sticking to your leg" shower curtain. The size of the shower was wonderful, too. Small complaint, though about the bed and pillows being too hard. We could have asked for an egg-crate type cover, but we didn't so we really can't complain about the bed. The cabin, bath and balcony were spotless throughout our stay. This is because of our wonderful Steward, Delma. She always remembered our names, smiling and very helpful. She made cute towel animals each night and left them in the room to enjoy during the cruise.
The Norwegian Dawn is a beautiful ship and is tastefully decorated. Christmas decorations added to the decor and the Gingerbread village in the atrium was charming. The ship is in excellent condition and was spotless and attractive. The ship is a little difficult to navigate because all elevators do not go to all floors and the Venetian and Aqua dining rooms cause some confusion in getting to the right floor. We did not see this as a problem and made a joke about getting lost several times.
We dined in the Venetian the first night and several others. We found the food to be very good except the deserts. We dined one night in the Aqua but did not like this restaurant because of the noise level and feeling crowded. The ceiling is low and this contributes to the noise level. We tried two of the Speciality restaurants Bamboo and Le Bistro. Bamboo was excellent and does not receive the praise it deserves. Service was excellent and the food was flavorful with a nice presentation. The desert, cream brulee, is one of the best we have ever had on a cruise ship. Try Bamboo, you will like it. Le Bistro had very good food but the service was not what we expected. There were only 2 to 3 other tables in use but we were put in the middle with little privacy to enjoy our meal. We enjoyed the evening but really liked Bamboo better. The Garden Cafe was enjoyable for breakfast and lunch. Food was tasty and varied. Omelettes were great and breakfast breads, muffins & sweet rolls were good. Loved the fact there was so much fresh fruit to choose from.
We also enjoyed a Cruise Critic dinner in Venetian and the service for our group of around 22 was excellent. The staff were very accommodating in arranging this and the evening was so enjoyable.
Entertainment and Activities are varied and we found all to be enjoyable. We usually do not attend many shows but we did on the Dawn. We enjoyed the welcome show except for the comedian who is kind of out of date. We attended both Band on the Run and Bollywood and feel the performers are professional and very talented. The magician provided some very good illusions (Where did he get that helicopter?). The hypnotist was also fun to watch. We participated in a few casino activities that were fun but we were not winners. The White Hot Party was quite different and we are glad we attended. The New Season Band on the pool deck is great. Wish we had a CD of their music.
We really enjoyed the Cruise Critic meeting that Norwegian set up for us when notified by one of our roll call members. Staff provided coffee, rolls, juice, name tags and a room for our use. The Captain and Officers attended and were available to answer questions and for pictures. Kudos to Norwegian for being so friendly and accommodating. We had a great time meeting everyone and have many new friends. After the meeting we had a Round Robin gift exchange where we laughed and had so much fun as gifts were chosen and then taken away by each other.
We loved all our ports except Antigua where we did not feel comfortable and the tour was rushed and not very interesting. Samana was our first port and we were provided an "early Christmas present" because NCL did not charge for the tour to Cayo Leventado. The beach there was beautiful and there were plenty of chairs and shade, too. Shops were available to browse and had some nice items for reasonable prices. We really enjoyed the day and it was a relaxing start to prepare us for our other tours. In St. Maarten we had a non-ship tour that was especially fun because we had the whole tour bus filled with Cruise Critic members. What happens in St. Maarten, stays in St. Maarten we all agreed. Kidding but we really enjoyed spending time with these new friends.
Norwegian Cruise Lines hire the most friendly crew who are skilled and professional. All seem enthusiastic about wanting their passengers to have a good time. This philosophy is found from the Captain down to the crew cleaning off tables. We really appreciated the excellent service and also the time crew spent talking to us about their lives and homes.
Disembarking, sad as usual, was relatively easy. Kudos to NCL for letting you choose the time you want to leave rather than being told you are scheduled for a certain time. We did have to wait in a line for 10 to 15 minutes but that was not bad at all.
In summary, we really enjoyed our cruise on Norwegian Dawn. We did not, at any time, feel rushed or stressed. We enjoyed the free-style concept of being able to eat when and where we wanted. We are definitely fans of Norwegian and plan to cruise with them again and again.