We had a fantastic cruise, overall beautiful weather, great ports of call, wonderful crew & staff and surprisingly good meals. We took our parents on this cruise for their 50th Anniversary and we were celebrating our 14th Anniversary on Valentines Day. We were worried after some of the reviews but if you're booked on this --don't worry. You're going to have a great time! The only real negative was an NCL corporate decision that ruined our Samana stop that hopefully won't impact any other cruises. Read below under ports for more details.
We flew in a day early and stayed overnight at the JW Marriott. Very nice hotel-we were using points but they gave us beautiful corner rooms. Good location, very close to the port, great French bakery across the street for breakfast & coffee and we were able to walk in the morning on a nearby jogging path along the water.
Embarkation went quickly, we got settled in and had a wonderful 1st dinner. We lined up for Aqua but to accommodate everyone they seated us in a cozy booth in La Cucina. Lobster was on the menu and the guys ordered surf & turf (Ribeye's) and Mom and I had 2 lobster tails (they're the smaller Caribbean lobsters). The server Joanna could not have been more accommodating or professional and everything was delicious. This was the best meal we had in the main dining rooms but all meals ranged from good to very good. I think 10 nights would have gotten a little repetitive but we also ate in Le Bistro, Cagneys, Bamboo and La Cucina. Le Bistro and Cagneys were excellent but Bamboo and La Cucina were a nice change of pace. We really like the freestyle option of eating when we want, where we want. My parents ate in the Venetian every day for breakfast and really enjoyed the quiet, the service and how accommodating the servers were. We mostly ate in the buffet for breakfast. By the time we got up, had our coffee on the balcony and worked out & showered it was towards the end of the service in the Venetian. We liked the made to order eggs & omelettes in the buffet and overall variety offered. But it was always very crowded and hard to find tables. They had an outside BBQ for lunch which was great but again, very long lines and hard to find seating. We did really miss having the aft dining that's offered on most other boats.
Entertainment was overall very good and Claire Maidin was OUTSTANDING! Fabulous voice and amazing pianist. She's a vocal mentor for X factor and Britains got Talent. We were lucky to have her on our cruise-she was flying back to London after her show. Really enjoyed Bollywood. Extreme Vegas was also very good but scary as we had a really rough sea day (the only one) on their night and the acrobatics tricks were not meant to be done on pitching seas. The guy took a fall at one point-TG he was ok. Really gutsy of him to continue. We went to see the mandolin player not expecting to stay long and really enjoyed it. Talented, charming, great stories. Only must miss for us was Dave Heenan the comedian. CD was Paul Scally-we thought he was hilarious and a lot of fun. He did a brief standup routine and that wasn't his best moment-he's better when he's ad libbing. We normally don't even notice who the CD is but really thought he did a fantastic job.
Our 1st stop was Samana in DR. We had read that NCL had begun offering the Caya Levantado beach excursion for free a couple of months before we cruised. We wanted our 1st stop to be a beach day so I called NCL to verify they would be offering this on the 2/5 cruise, she put me on hold and was able to confirm they would be. When I got the Freestyle the night before they didn't specifically mention the tenders to Caya only to the shore. Thought this was odd so called down to the front desk. That's when I was informed that the NCL Pearl had chartered the entire beach for their personal use and no one on the Dawn would be allowed to go to Caya! And this had been booked a YEAR ago! She said an announcement had been made that aft....no one in our group heard it. I tried to go to the shore excursion desk the next morning but they were as frustrated as we were-sounded like they had been told the day before also. The poor couple in front of me had booked the whale watching/Caya tour way in advance & they got cancelled with no notice. They tried to get on the whale watching tour but it was full so they were out of luck. REALLY poor decision of NCL corporate to allow this and even worse was the lack of communication. It truly was like they were trying to hide it vs. at least being up front about it so their customers would have time to make another plan. We wound up staying on the boat due to the last min. notification-wasn't a great way to start our trip but we put it behind us.
Tortola-went to Virgin Gorda to see the Baths on our own and had a fantastic day. We'd originally booked a charter catamaran with Patouche but we didn't have enough people signed up by the time we sailed. If you're going to take a sail this is a great day to do it-the BVI's are so beautiful. We took Speedys ferry over (10:30a) to VG and prepaid for the taxi to the Baths. $3 to get into the park. Hiked down the path-its rugged but not bad. No issues for my 70 yr old parents. Exploring the baths is more challenging, you have to squat, waddle, climb small ladders & squeeze thru tight openings. I would not recommend flip flops. The day we were there the water was chest high in one of the area's and my mom doesn't swim so she wasn't comfortable. We just moved on to the next area. My parents did great but they are pretty fit so not sure all 70 yr olds would be ok with this. The beach on the other side was beautiful and we got some gorgeous photos. We hung out for awhile then headed up the path back up to the car lot (you don't have to go back thru the boulders, there's another path). Had a great lunch at the Top of the Baths restaurant, took the 3p taxi back and the 3:30 ferry back to port. GREAT DAY!
St Maarten-6 cruise boats in port UGH! Traffic is very congested when you have this many people so we decided this would be a shopping day vs. spending half the day in traffic trying to get to the French side. (we've vacationed on the French side so we didn't feel we were missing out-we did really love the French side of the island).The guys didn't last too long but Mom and I had a nice day and a great lunch at a little French bistro-wish I remembered the name.
St Johns, Antigua-we pre-hired Gordons taxis to take us to Long Bay. HIGHLY recommend! He was waiting for us when we got off the boat. Turned us over to Leon who was SO knowledgeable & professional and allowed us to make a stop on the way at Devils Bridge where we got some awesome photos. We had been in Antigua once before and had done a day pass at Pineapple Beach resort. Had a great day but we were leaving earlier and the cost of the day pass didn't make sense. Long Bay is the same beach, just a little further down. Its about a half hour drive but worth it-BEAUTIFUL! Rented chairs, umbrellas were limited but we found some shade. We were able to get sandwiches & GREAT pina coladas at the Beach Shack and with a purchase you can use their restroom. For a more upscale lunch there's La Tartuga. Another GREAT day!
Barbados-reserved a day pass at the Hilton which included lunch. GORGEOUS resort and beach and wonderful lunch. I got the fish taco's-SO GOOD! Chaise lounges with thick cushions and umbrella's. Another fantastic day in paradise.
St Kitts-didn't arrive until 1p-we booked GREGS SAFARI's on our own, the off the beaten path Plantation tour and cannot recommend this highly enough! Greg is a 5th generation St. Kitts resident and is so knowledgeable about his islands history and natural resources. St Kitts is a beautiful island with peaks covered in rainforest-we even had a green monkey sighting! We all LOVED THIS TOUR! I heard someone on the boat say there was nothing to see in St. Kitts-are you kidding me? This was our favorite day and we had some amazing days!
2 Sea Days-we signed up for the Behind the Scene Tour. Really interesting and impressive. The crew was terrific and most went above and beyond, including our great cabin steward Jason. Enjoyed relaxing and soaking up what sun we could on our last 2 days!
Casino-not big on this but my husband did drop some money on blackjack and won on slots of all things! My Dad enjoyed the poker tournaments, placing in 2 of the 3.
The Dawn-this is a lovely boat and we really enjoyed our 10 days. I do have to say I was surprised they didn't replace the carpet (showing its age) in the rooms when it went into dry dock. TVs were the only update I could see in our balcony room. Nice layout though and we were very comfortable. Spinnaker was moved to make way for the new family suites so its all brand new. Library still there but Card and game rooms are also gone to make room for the new suites. The Dawn lacks the interior space of other newer boats (noticeable when it rained) and we really missed the aft dining but this was a wonderful cruise. If you like the mega boats this will probably not be the boat for you but we like the more intimate feel of this sized boat and LOVED the amazing ports we were able to visit.