We had never been on a cruise before and chose this ship because we felt smaller would be better plus the ports appealed to us. Admittedly we were sceptical whether cruising would be for us and though we are still not convinced this is our ideal holiday it is not for lack of a great first experience.
Coming in from Western Canada we chose to arrive the day before via United Airlines and here we won the United lottery: no flight delays, missed connections, nor missing luggage. We stayed in Tampa at the Hampton Inn Downtown Channel District hotel because of its proximity to the port. A short walk away, which was good because it was pouring rain, was a very nice Italian restaurant, Cena. Both the hotel and restaurant were excellent.
The next day we took an easy shuttle to the dock from the hotel (part of the package) and boarded with the noon boarding. Yes, there were long lines but relatively little confusion given the number of people. Our check-in person was very nice but definitely not familiar with the process (the fact we were from Canada completely through her off) but thankfully there were more experienced people there to help. Everyone was nice and we were on the ship in about 1.5 hours from leaving our hotel.
Aft cabins, if you don’t mind the noise from the wake while on the balcony, are a great luxury. Reasonably spacious with lots of closet and cupboard space. Balcony is large enough for chairs, recliners and a small table. With the balcony door shut the only sound is the air conditioning. Some have written that there was little control of cabin temperature but we had no difficulty at all, keeping the cabin cool at night and warmer during the day.
Took a shuttle to a beach in town from the dock, which was easy enough ($8 one way) nice we found our way through the maze that is the tourist-trap (literally) port area. Hired a couple loungers right on the water with an umbrella ($20) in front of the Mazamao restaurant. The swimming was ok though the water was murky for snorkelling. Food and drink was not too expensive and good quality. Felt very safe with the staff overseeing the beach. Easy to catch a cab back to the port ($10).
Weather was miserable coming and going and the port itself had a terrible smell.
This is the caye owned by the Norwegian Line and when the Dawn is in port it feels half empty... because it is. The Dawn carries half the passengers of the larger ships so the caye doesn’t feel busy. The beach is nice with a long run of course sand and lots of loungers and umbrellas. Water was murky and you are not allowed to explore very far so not great for snorkelling. I almost swam into a couple jellyfish but saw them at the last second through my mask so something to be aware of.
Took the barrier reef snorkelling excursion. Area still has lots of living reef with a descent variety of fish. Even saw a yellow spotted ray. Guides were good; our group was only 6 people and descent swimmers so we covered a lot of area in the >1 hour we were in the water. One of the better snorkelling excursions I have been on.
The port is a dive and the people beyond rude and aggressive. Apparently there are some good excursions but otherwise stay on the ship.