Living just two hours away from Miami, we opted to hire a limousine service to transport six of us to the port. Dropped off, and on-board within a half hour.Those arriving by car face horrendous traffic congestion and expensive parking fees. If possible park off site and take a shuttle to the port. Offsite parking is around $7.00 per day, port parking is around $23.00 per day.
Nowegian's terminal makes embarkation a breeze. Lines move quickly and staff are friendly and helpful. We were on-board around 12:30pm and were told that room would not be ready before 2pm. Turned out that they were ready much earlier so we dropped off carry-on bags and found our luggage waiting for us.
We sailed the Dawn in February 2003, February 2009, and this trip in January 2012.
In 2009 we sailed with our granddaughter and her parents, and we got to see the children's program in detail. Norwegian has an outstanding children's program and little ones love the T-Rex Pool and slide. After a day or two the servers in the Garden Cafe knew our granddaughter by name and greeted her each time they saw her. Needless to say, that made a very big impression on her.
On the 2009 sail we noticed a slight reduction in staff and thought the service had suffered a little. I am happy to say that the 2012 trip found the ship fully staffed with friendly, helpful and caring people. While walking through various parts of the ship one might encounter ship staff performing repairs or walking to as station. All staff went out of their way to great us with a good morning or good afternoon etc.
Entertainment on this trip was excellent. Our recollection is that in 2009 there were more elaborate production shows, however we realize that things have to change. With two show scheduled nightly, passengers have a choice of attending a 7pm or a 9pm show.
Shore excursions are numerous at each port. Being seasoned cruisers we often opt to engage a local taxi driver to take us to the same places the excursions go, and at a cost of less than half the excursion price generally. A tip: when arriving in port you will be bombarded with taxi drivers looking for passengers.
Don't engage the first one that approaches you, talk to a few and you will get a feeling for a driver that you can be comfortable with and will not attempt to hustle you for more money. On our excursions we met some very nice individuals we actually enjoyed talking to, and wouldn't mind being friends with if the occasion should ever arise.
Ate at Le Bistro; service was impeccable and food excellent. Friends at at Gatsby's and offered similar reviews. Another group of friends ate a Bamboo, and raved about the choice of dishes and service. I regret my intention to eat at La Cuccina was unrealized, however I did manage to have Penne pasta with a delicious pesto sauce in the Venetian Restaurant. An acceptable substitute!
Disembarkation is also a breeze. Norwegian allows passengers who opt to carry their own luggage to exit the ship at any time they choose. Others can opt to have their luggage transported dockside, and disembarkation is by a colored luggage tag system. Each colored tag has a debarkation time announced and the process makes finding luggage in the terminal much easier than a mass exodus. Unfortunately, what always seems to spoil the mood of returning from a fun and restful cruise is the rude, pushy, and loud porters at the terminal. Almost before guests are able to realize they are on land, porters are yelling loudly and grabbing luggage. Sailing from Fort Lauderdale is a more pleasant experience. The porters are not pushy, and there are signs all over that tipping is not necessary whereas in Miami, it is all about tips. Unfortunately, NCL does not sail from Fort Lauderdale, so enduring the porter created chaos is part of the trip.
While I often read cruise reviews on Cruise Critic, I take them with a grain of salt. It seems that some people just like to complain or perhaps see their comments in print. One review I read complained the noise in the dining rooms is too loud. Yes, there can be noise there but that noise is created by fellow passengers and is beyond the scope of Norwegian's control. Another reviewer complained about not receiving a robe. Some classes of cabins on the Dawn do come with robes; mine didn't and I didn't miss one! Another reviewer complained about not receiving a bar of soap. The stateroom are furnished with shampoo and body gel; if one needs a bar of soap, the options are (a) bring soap or (b) buy soap in gift shop.
The one review that irked me the most is the one that said Norwegian ought to eliminate Samana as a port of call. The Dominican Republic is a poor country and tourism is just becoming a way of locals making income. Having been in Samana once before, we opted to see the country side and did not walk in to town. Admittedly there are youths trying to sell conch shells, water, and other things all along the walk. Stop to consider they are trying to survive.