First, the positives: Check in was efficient. Cabin was very clean with reasonably good storage, steward was very helpful, music was much better than I expected, with lots of live performers rather than recorded tunes, shows were lots of ... Read More
First, the positives: Check in was efficient. Cabin was very clean with reasonably good storage, steward was very helpful, music was much better than I expected, with lots of live performers rather than recorded tunes, shows were lots of fun and very splashy with some excellent performers, Venetian and Aqua dining rooms were very pretty and comfortable, bartenders at O'Sheehans were friendly and funny. Buffet always had a kids line with hot dogs and burgers, and an alternative line with vegetarian options, like Szechuan tofu or lentil curry. There are lots of places to get a drink, although some are very small. (Bamboo Bar has maybe 8 seats?) Fresh fruit is nearly always available somewhere. The ship offers a wide range of activities, and provides reasonable assistance and variety for shore excursions.
We chose this trip at the last minute and got some nice incentives- we chose the 250 free internet minutes and the "unlimited" beverage plan. Both had issues. I accidentally used up 77 minutes within the first 3 hours because I was trying to download the NCL app while we were still in port. (Apparently you're supposed to download it in advance, but I never saw that instruction -- putting it in the "Prepare for Your Cruise" instructions would be a GREAT place.) Then my daughter used up another 45 because she didn't realize she had to log out in order to stop the meter running. So there went half our allotment on the first day, and we had to ration the remaining minutes - try telling a teenage girl that she can only access social media for 10 minutes a day! Fortunately we found free wifi in a couple places around the dockyard in Bermuda.
The "unlimited" drink plan didn't apply to any drink over $15, which wasn't a big deal for me but is certainly a limitation. Drinks were also very watered-down, and if you don't have the drink plan, you'll pay $11-13 apiece.
Other reviews have mentioned issues like the limited tv channels (is it too much to ask for a weather channel?) the constant announcements for bingo, the small pool, the inconvenient placement of items, the poor elevator service, and the many many extra charges (fresh juice?), so I'll focus on some other issues we observed.
Food - I don't like being nickeled and dimed, and we aren't big meat eaters, so we didn't go to the specialty restaurants, which all carry extra fees. Food in the Venetian and Aqua dining rooms was fine but limited, and the Garden Cafe buffet had the ambience of a school cafeteria with food to match. One day was roast turkey and stuffing, but the stuffing was disgustingly soupy and the gravy was straight from a can. Fish options were swai and tilapia - the cheapest fish available. Pizza was invariably limp and soggy. And why is the Italian dressing orange? I kept hoping for some good desserts, but they all tasted like gelatin and shortening. Even apple crisp had no flavor. O'Sheehan's menu (pub food) was reasonable, but it's hard to ruin a burger. Topsiders Grill had similar food options, but limited hours. Bamboo was okay, nothing special, although it was nice to get some variety.
Cigarette smoke was hard to avoid. Many areas outside allow smoking, so we had to keep moving as the wind shifted to get away from it. I had to avoid the casino entirely. There were also a number of fun activities at Gatsby's that we couldn't join because of the smoke from the cigar bar nearby.
Service - The crew generally seemed pretty stressed and not very friendly. At the buffet one time, my daughter walked up to the entrance of one of the lines, and a crew member looked her in the eye, and pulled the barrier cord closed right in front of her without a word or a smile. When we walked up to the hostess at Bamboo at 5:30 pm one day, the place was mostly empty, yet we were admonished that we should have made a reservation. It still wasn't full when we had finished. Bartenders at popular venues like Topsiders, Bimini, and Bliss frequently seemed annoyed at having to prepare cocktails with more than 3 ingredients and the same cocktail was prepared differently at different bars. Waiters were difficult to flag down and I saw people waving their cards in the air to get their attention. Service was better at Atrium bar and O'Sheehans.
The ship felt very crowded, and most of the public spaces were far too small for the activities in them.The performers in the Atrium were (rightly) very popular, and folding chairs were often set up in the traffic pattern to provide more seating, which created bottlenecks. Photo shoots were also set up here with the same problems. The Bliss Lounge lacks sufficient seating, so people often stood in the aisles during games and blocked the people sitting behind them. The Photo Gallery is also the path to the Bliss lounge, and in the evenings was jammed with people looking at photos and impassable for those trying to get to Bliss.
There are definitely some good things possible on the Dawn, but nothing unique. My take-away from this cruise: If you like heavy drinking, huge amounts of mediocre food, lots of extra fees, crowded venues, and a constant barrage of "It's Bingo Time!" on the loudspeaker, this is the cruise for you! Read Less