We have had several cruises with other lines, but this was our first with Norwegian cruise line (NCL). If you have never cruised before, you will think that this is a perfectly respectable cruise line, a perfectly respectable ship with perfectly respectable food and service. But if you have cruised with other - even non luxury - lines, such as Celebrity, you immediately notice the differences and those differences start bugging you after a while.
In our opinion, the biggest draw of NCL - the so-called freestyle cruising that allows you to eat your dinner at any time - is their biggest mistake, their Achilles's Heel. in most other lines, you are given a time to come to dinner and you have a fixed set of servers, who get to know you and cater their service according to your taste. At NCL, you go whenever you want and therefore sit at wherever is available. Hence, a different server every night. Since the servers are not going to serve you again, and since the gratuities are fixed and billed to your stateroom, they have no incentive to go the extra mile, and guess what? they don't! To make matters worse, we were told that starting soon, NCL will not allow you to contest the gratuity, and it will be charged to your account no matter what. If that happens, then there will be no decent service.
Food: Completely uninspiring. Your standard American fare. If you want anything ethnic, you need to go to their specialty restaurants and pay extra - on top of what you have already paid! On celebrity, for example, there is a sushi bar where you can eat to your heart's content (and good sushi, too!). On NCL, you have to pay extra for the sushi... or the Chinese...or even the Italian for heaven's sake. Yes, you read that right, you have to pay for pasta! How about some more creative cuisines, such as Thai, Turkish / Greek / Mediterranean ...? Fuggetabautit!
Ship: Dawn is an old ship, as far as cruise ships are concerned. It has been refurbished in 2006, but still shows it age. In our cabin, the shower control dials were broken, and there was mold in the shower tank. Rooms are small, which are to be expected, but not as well designed. While the room size is probably similar to those of other lines of the same category, it feels like the room is smaller. The ship also has relatively fewer amenities. No rock climbing wall, no second pool, no mini golf or similar other activities.
Cruise Director: The Dawn has the worst cruise director we have ever seen in a ship. The guy tried too hard to make jokes, all of which were bad.
Staff: The most non-diverse staff of any line we have seen so far. In general, you will see a very rich diversity of nationalities among the staff. It seemed like 80% of Dawn's staff are from Philippines. Few were excellent in all respects, but some could not even speak proper English.
Itinerary: This was the biggest draw for us. The ship called in Samana, Tortola, St. Martin, Antigua, Barbados and St. Kitts in a 10 day cruise. With the exception of Samana - which has great potential to be an excellent port, perhaps in 10 years - all ports offered excellent beaches, history, vistas and shopping.
Entertainment: Their main stage shows were - with the exception of one comedian - were surprisingly good. However, a couple of them were guest shows and may not be on the Dawn the next time.