We are seasoned cruises and this was our 10th with NCL. We are a professional couple in our mid-50’s and have sailed multiple times with the other major cruise lines as well, specifically RCCL, Princess, Celebrity, Carnival, and Disney. I will rate and describe our experience with the Dawn Dec 1 sailing out of Tampa to the Western Caribbean. We were booked in a Penthouse Suite aft. Below are our impressions.
Embarkation – F
Pro’s – Our luggage made it to the cabin before we did. The crew did not have to work around passengers and had elevators and hallways to themselves for hours.
Con’s – It took 3 to 4 hours to board the ship due to immigration issues. This itinerary picks up and drops off 70 non-US citizens in Cozumel (Friday’s stop) and because of that, EVERYONE has to go through immigration. And it’s SLOW. The ship cannot take on passengers until all previous passengers have cleared. We heard the last passengers from the previous cruise got off the ship around 1:30. We were told by security in Tampa that this is the only ship experiencing this, and it is because they are picking up passengers in Cozumel.
We were the third sailing of the season for this ship out of Tampa and it happened to guests of the 2 previous sailings. LONG LONG lines of folks standing in the hot sun and the cruise line only offered water. One guest rushed a candy bar to another who may have been having a diabetic reaction. The elderly male rent-a-cops directing the crowds were rude, impatient and uninformed. They had a lousy job with all these weary passengers, but could have been more pleasant. VERY BAD first impression.
To add insult to injury, we supposedly had priority embarkation for booking a suite. When we finally got past the security, the male rent-a-cops curtly told us to follow the masses. When we asked an NCL shore worker about where the priority embarkation for suite passengers was, we were told to basically sit down and shut up. We found the line for suite passengers but it was just as long as the other lines as it included passengers that were not in suites. So much for taking advantage of this perk.
After all that, we were actually taken by someone to a separate area for suite passengers where we met our butler. He escorted us on board. We finally got on board at 4:30, dropped off our carry-ons, used the bathroom and headed the mandatory lifeboat drill. The butler normally would describe the various amenities but didn’t have time, and never came back on his own to finish the job. Then off to Le Bistro for dinner getting there around 5:30. We were starving. Since the ship was still in port when we started our meal, we were charged tax.
Ship – A
Pro’s – Very well maintained and pretty ship with a nice layout. Having been on many ships, they usually start to look the same. But this ship had a different feel. The best way to describe it is that it seemed to be built in “layers”. There were lots of areas to sit and escape crowds but also very nice public areas. Even though she is one of NCL’s older ships, she is actually very nice. She was clean and we did not notice anything worn or tired-looking. Maybe a carpet stain here or there but nothing that made me feel the ship was not in tip-top shape. A tip - For shows in the Spinnaker Lounge, get there early as there are pillars that can block views for those sitting on the sides towards the back.
Con’s – nothing
Cabin – B+ (We were in a Penthouse Suite 10726 – aft).
Pro’s – Very comfortable bed with good pillow selection (so often a lousy pillow can ruin a night’s sleep). Slept well every night. Cabin did not squeak at all. LOTS of storage, two safes and quiet. Espresso machine makes strong but good coffee.
Con’s – TV is lousy. Tinny sound and unclear picture. Not that I go on a cruise to watch a movie (you can check out some DVD’s) but it would have been a nice option. No brand name on the TV which is strange. Prefer a bar of soap rather than shower gel. Had to use a lot to work up a timid lather. Fridge does not get that cold but did not check to see if it could be set lower (probably could).
Dining A to F
Venetian- Main Dining room – C
Ate there one time. Food was good, nothing stellar, but service was horrible. Waiters rushed and not attentive. Had to ask 3 times each for bread and iced tea. Main entrée came before the appetizers. Took 20 minutes after order was placed to even get bread. Pretty setting but noisy and hectic.
Aquis – Main Dining Room – B
Ate there one time, last night of cruise. Service much better than in Venetian. Never had to ask for iced-tea refills and food came out hot and in a timely fashion. Food was good but nothing stellar. Lower ceiling, less noisy and seemed much less hectic.
Cagney’s – Steak House - B
Ate there one time. I had a filet mignon and it was great. My husband had the NY Strip and it was somewhat dry. Service was just OK. Setting seemed like an afterthought. Not an upscale feel to the place but they have lots of windows overlooking the water as well as the glass elevators.
We had breakfast here every morning, a suite perk. They serve lunch to suite guests as well. Food was generally good but hard to get the coffee hot (they use a French press) and it’s not very good. Tip - if you are in a suite, bring a mug and make coffee with the Lavazza machine to take with you. They charge extra for the same Lavazza coffee that’s free in the suites. Go figure. We had a fish sandwich for lunch delivered to our cabin from this same dining room and it was fantastic. Wish I discovered it before the last full day of the cruise…
La Cucina - Italian – A
Ate there twice. Setting was romantic (it was formerly the Le Bistro dining room). We sat at one of the big horseshoe-shaped booths one night and really enjoyed it. Service was top notch and so was the food. We tried a pizza one night and it was really good, more gourmet than served elsewhere on the ship. The soup and salads were all good. Calm, friendly and attentive service. Really a gem on this ship. Unfortunately, the manager is being plucked to the Getaway and was flying to Germany at the end of this cruise. Always the best ones help open a new ship. Turns out, this dining room was the original setting for Le Bistro.
Le Bistro – French – B
Ate there once. Dining room seems cramped. If you go, sit outside in the “Wine Cellar” and you can be serenaded by the musician right outside the restaurant. Much nicer setting in my opinion than sitting inside. Food is pretty good. Service was not great. Had to send back the soup as it was not at all hot, just barely warm. Had to ask for things that should have been a no-brainer (salt, Splenda, refills,…). But food was really good. Coq au vin to die for.
Bamboo – Asian – F
Ate there once. They ended up refunding my $15 cover charge but not for my husband as he ate most of his meal. Save your money. Service was bad and so was the food. The try to sell it as “Asian Fusion” but it is Chinese food, plain and simple. We were 1 of 5 couples in the restaurant and they seemed harried. We waited 20 minutes after placing our order for any food to arrive. And it was cold so I sent it back. I asked for a pot of green tea and it’s readily available but served in regular coffee cups and not those small ceramic ones you see in Asian restaurants. My entrée (shrimp) was heavy and swimming in tasteless oil. It was described on the menu as having some flavored oil added after cooking but wow, that much? And it was bland. Rice was cold and chewy. I didn’t eat it. My husband got Kung Pao chicken and thought it was bland and lacked a strong enough peanut taste. His opinion was that any run-of-the-mill Chinese restaurant in the US would make it better. The desserts were good. They have coconut ice cream and I liked the tapioca pudding, something I don’t normally eat. They got busier as the night wore on. We did not eat at the sushi bar but one of the spa workers told me it was good.
Debarkation – B+
Pro’s – much faster and more pleasant than the embarkation. As suite guests, we had priority here which was greatly appreciated as the line to disembark was super long and very slow. Luggage pick-up was easy with clearly marked and well-spaced rows and lots of porters. However, folks that weren’t in suites looked like they were in for a much longer wait in line to get off the ship.
Con’s - Because of picking up passengers in Cozumel, we had to go through immigration where they actually look at your passports. It’s set up just like immigration in the airports. We hadn’t realized it before but in most other cruises one doesn’t go through this step, only customs after picking up luggage. We had to wait about 45 minutes to get through immigration that had a total of 6 agents and 2 were dedicated to non-US citizens. So that left 4 for approximately 2200 US folks. Very slow as you waited to have your passport stamped and walk by a 4-legged agent who was sniffing luggage. The dog (beagle) was really cute by the way.
Ports of Call (all excursions were through the ship)
Roatan – A
Loved this place. Heard it was not that nice and we were very pleasantly surprised. Took a well air-conditioned van driven by a great driver with a wonderful tour guide. We headed to Tebyana Beach for snorkeling and lunch. They had a two person band that was much better than the Caribbean band on the ship. Beautiful clear water, easy to reach good snorkeling from the beach – some of the best in all our cruises. Nice setting. Lunch was OK – chicken and coconut rice with slaw and fresh fruit. What made this place for me was the setting and music – just a perfect beach day.
Belize – C
We did the Crystal Cave tour with zip-lining. The thing that really was bad was the long, bumpy bus ride on a modified school bus with poor air-conditioning. By the way, it appeared to us that ALL transportation to this site was via school buses whether booked on the ship or on your own. Our bus was packed and it was a long ride. Plus we had to tender in this port. I strongly dislike tendering and long, hot, bumpy bus rides. Take your Dramamine with you for this excursion.
The caves were interesting and something to see once. More of a “bucket list” excursion if you’re into that. I’ve never zip-lined before and the workers seemed to be in a hurry to get us through as they had nine buses of folks that booked excursions to this site. Lunch was chicken and rice, not very good.
Costa Maya – C
Went to a beach with an open bar. Setting was pretty but beach had a lot of seaweed and thus was not a pleasant swimming experience. Bar drinks were just OK – you could get frozen drinks but not a frozen Margarita. And we’re in Mexico. Go figure. Liquor was not top shelf. Beer was only Modelo. Got a massage on the beach and they did a good job. It was $30 for a half hour ($55 for 1 hour). Lots of people roaming around asking us to buy silver, bracelets, etc… Lots of “we want you to come back to our country”. Seemed like a cry of desperation.
Cozumel – no grade
We’ve been here many times on cruises so did not do anything except to get off the boat and order a drink at Hooters so we could take advantage of their free Wi-Fi to check e-mail. The drink was excellent and the Pina Colada actually had a coconut taste. At Hooters. I was surprised it was so good. Free Wi-Fi can also be found at the Starbucks next door but it was packed. There is also a pool among these restaurants with lounge chairs.
Overall cruise experience – B
It would be an A- if the embarkation had not been such a nightmare for so many passengers.