This is my 5th NCL cruise, and my first on a "freestyle" ship, and I am disappointed with the whole freestyle idea. Of course, you can do what you want when you want, but you have to pay for it! (Or as one performer at the show quipped, "Freestyle means a $10 cover charge.")
Let me start by saying that embarkation in New York was very smooth. They had a special check-in area for Latitudes members. All in all, the process went very well.
We're a bunch of traditionalists in my family, and we knew even before the cruise that we didn't want to do the freestyle dining. Rather, we wanted to have the same restaurant, same table, same server, every night. And it worked out well, since the 3 main non-paying restaurants have just about the same menu. (The other "alternative" restaurants charge between $10 and $17.50 cover.) We chose the Venetian Dining Room, and lucked out with Mario, our maitre d' and Iustina, our waitress. Originally, we were told we could only get set dinner times for 5:30, 6:00, 8:30 or 9:00 and that we should try a few restaurants before making our decision, but we persisted and requested an 8:00 seating every night ... and got it. Wow! Was it great to pass by the lines of people waiting for dinner at 8 PM, so we could get to the Maitre d' (who knew our name) and say "We're here!" Freestyle may be good for some, but we like to be on a schedule.
The food was very good, but not excellent. The rack of lamb was very good, but the lobster tail was tough. Also, as an enticement to get you off the private island, they scheduled the chocoholic buffet (the only grand buffet of the whole cruise) at 2:00 in the afternoon. This was really weird! And all the sand they had to clean up in the dining room!
Also, because there is no main or late seating, the wait staff doesn't serenade or dance for you. Otherwise, they'd be doing it 5 times a night. I kinda miss this fun part of cruising.
The food in the Garden Cafe (buffet) is good. I don't know why they offer Indian food every day. Does it have mass appeal? The executive chef is Indian, but still ... Also, the New York deli is nowhere near New York quality. Otherwise, the buffet food is good and varied.
I know I'm going from topic to topic here, but allow me to comment "freestyle":
The camp: The kids' camp was a big disappointment. Unlike Carnival, for instance, the ship charges for babysitting when it is in port. We only had 2 days at sea. The camp is becoming a nice profit center! Also, the area for the 2-5 year-olds was extremely small; the 6-9 year-olds get a much bigger room. There are not as many things to do as on Carnival either. I remember the Carnival kids' program having something new every hour, but on the Dawn, there was hardly anything planned!
The ship: The ship is new and beautiful. Everything is clean. The rooms are small. The bathrooms need more shelf space. The door separating the toilet from the rest of the bathroom is a nice feature, as is the sliding shower door. We had 2 kids in our room, so one used an overhead bunk bed and the other used a trundle bed that slid out from one of the regular beds. The walls between the cabins are thin, but the ride is very smooth.
The ports: Port Canaveral has a very nice port area. We skipped the very expensive shore excursions throughout this cruise, and did our own thing. In Port Canaveral, we went to Kennedy Space Center, and paid one-third what the ship was charging. For the $28 we spent per adult ticket, Kennedy Space Center was a real bargain!
In Miami it rained all day, and we didn't leave the ship. (Of course, those with the shore excursions got very wet!) My complaint is, the ship came up with rainy day contingency plans at 11 AM, which is really late! They ran a movie for the kids at the camp, and line dancing for adults, as well as a movie in the cinema. They should have had a schedule of constant movies in the cinema all day! Another thing, this ship will be running out of New York all year round. Why did it not build a retractable roof over the pool for rainy days, as well as for cruises during the fall, winter and spring? Rather, they have a lap pool in the spa, but they charge $10 per person to get in, and no one over 15 is allowed. Again, money, money, money!
Nassau: We went to Cable Beach. It was beautiful. Well worth it. Ask your cab driver to take you to the beach at the Wyndham Hotel.
The private island: As in the past, Great Stirrup Cay is wonderful, although it can get a bit crowded. My recommendation is ... get yourselves some extra hot dog or hamburger buns from the buffet to feed the fish. They come right up to you. It's very cool! On the negative side, every toilet in the ladies' room was unflushable. It was gross.
The shows: This was, by far, the best part of the cruise. The Jean Ann Ryan Company never fails to delight and excite. They put on three shows, a South Beach revue, the songs of Andrew Lloyd Weber, and the exotic Bollywood, which I really doubt anyone in the audience under 20 understood. Also, the Norwegian Dawn band was phenomenal, full of energy and great sounds! The cruise director, Rich Clesen, is very energetic. He used to be a stand-up comic, and it shows. One of the shows not to be missed is the crew talent show. Now, I happened to be in the Star Seekers talent show, but they take it far too seriously. Whereas passenger talent shows used to be fun, they now have a big audition process to weed people out, and the ultimate goal is that the winner could possibly get a contract to perform aboard NCL ships.
My disappointments: They are marketing this freestyle biz in your face a bit too much. They put the alternative dining venues' menus in your mailbox every day, or thrust them at you in the lobby. Even the waiters wear buttons that say, "Aloha. Ask me about cruising to Hawaii." Please ... don't these poor people have enough to do ... you want them to pitch cruises, too! The gift shop is all the way in the back of the ship, not in a central location. It was always empty, and the prices are horrendous ($97 for a man's Hawaiian shirt, $150 for a pair of shoes!) Basically, NCL is cutting costs everywhere: No more bar soap in the bathrooms, you have to pump your hand soap, shower gel and shampoo. No more free fruit punch or lemonade throughout the day, just water and iced tea. The bingo games are something like $19.99, $29.99 and $39.00 for the cards. A 5x7 photo is $9.99. If you want to buy your embarkation photo, you have to buy it along with a photo of the ship and a keychain, and the whole package is $19.99. You cannot buy the photo alone. The mixed drinks at the bars cost as much as they would in the city. The restaurant cuts costs by eliminating the bus person and wine steward (there is a server and a runner). No one comes around with a selection of rolls at breakfast; there is just a small basket at your table.
Well, I guess I've done enough complaining. Here's something good:
Debarkation: This part was really good. You can hang out in your room until you leave, so you're not stuck in some lounge with hundreds of others. Our orange tickets were called last, so we got off the ship at 11:30!
Would I sail with Norwegian again? I'm not sure. This is not the Norwegian I was on even 4 years ago.
Thanks for reading.
Love and cruises, Debbie