This was my first time cruising and it will definitely not be my last! I chose the Norwegian Dawn based on the location it departed from (NY) as well as the itenary; Port Canaveral, Miami, and the Bahamas. Being I had never been to Disneyworld (deprived, I know:), how could I resist??
Prior to departing, I read every possible review about the ship and it's stops. While many of those I read had many complaints regarding the freestyle dining experience, I felt the exact opposite! I can honestly say, I don't think I would want to cruise any other way...I guess the people who did not like it were so used to adhering to schedules and did not take well to the change/freedom, but that was not me. I enjoyed the ability to dine when I wanted, where I wanted, and with whom I wanted. Plus with all the onboard activities, you never can be sure when you will have time to eat.
We took the advise of the reviews I read and arrived early-around 12:30pm for a 4:00pm departure. What a breeze!! Everything ran super smoothly and before I knew it, we were on board the massive ship (trust me, the pictures do not do it justice). If you are sailing soon, I would recommend getting there early to beat the last minute rush, so you will be able to tour the ship and your room.
The room (stateroom w/ a porthole) was roomy enough for two. There was plenty of space to place our clothes, etc, even with me packing way too much. The room was spotless and our attendants were awesome; very funny, friendly, and attentive. While I did like my little porthole, next time I am going with a balcony; even though you are not in the room THAT much, it would be nice to be able to sit and watch the sun set...
Now the food... we ate mostly at the pay restaurants and the buffet/poolside bbq. I don't know if the ship has recently made changes w/ their menus or chefs, but the buffet was awesome!! (Alot of the other reviews said the food wasn't that great, especially the buffet). We tried them all-Bamboo (Asian), Cagney's (steakhouse), and Le Bistro. One thing was right; Le Bistro was excellent. If I could do it again, I would totally skip Cagneys and go to Le Bistro again. The portions at Cagneys were nothing to write home about and the meal was only so-so. Le Bistro, on the other hand, was so good we went there twice! The chocolate fondue was very tasty as was the meals. I would recommend trying one of the 'fire starter' meals. Nice to look at and even better to eat. Bamboo was good, so was Salsa's although the portions at Salsa's were very very small. The buffet always had plenty of variety and tasted way too good to be from a buffet. Since I heard so much about the fish and chips, the first day, we stopped at the location to try them out. Apparently, they start serving them at 5:00pm, and we had gotten there over an hour early. Without hesitation, they cooked us up a fresh batch.
The stops were nice. I LOVED Disney and had such a ball there meeting my favorite mouse. The private island was also superb! Even though there was lots of people there, there was plenty of room and food to go around. The weather was beautiful and the ocean was a crystal clear. Lots of good shopping deals to be had there too, so make sure to bring some spending money. My only complaint was with Nassau... there just was not enough time! I would have rather skipped Miami to have extra time there.
The shows were really nice. Go see Bollywood!!! Awesome and is as good as everyone says!! We saw a magician, a comedy troupe, an "Iron Chef" cooking competition, a talent show, and the "Not so newlywed" game. The cooking competition and talent show were quite brief but were nice. The magician was excellent and another must see. The cruise director, Colin Kerr, was soooo funny. Everyone staffwise was extremely nice, polite, always smiling and saying hello. Getting off was a snap too. No horror stories here.
I could go on and on but I will try to limit myself here. Overall, it was a great experience and we had a wonderful time. Yeah, the pool on deck was a little small, but bottom line, there was enough room at all times to take a dip. My only wish is that I had more time-there was so much to do and even though it was a 7 night cruise, not enough time to do it. The ship is beautiful, the food superb, and service you just can't beat. I know others had complaints and maybe I just had an overly grand experience, but I don't think that's the case. I think that whatever bumps the Norwegian Dawn had previously, they were able to work out. My boyfriend and I are planning to go onboard again next year, this time on the Dawn's Caribbean cruise. Or maybe we will try the newest addition to the fleet. But either way, we will be freestyling with Norwegian!
P.S. A couple tips. Pick up some Downey wrinkle release before you go-it is a life saver and works well. Also do bring an alarm clock (if you forget, they do offer wakeup calls), plenty of sunblock, and be prepared to gain between 7-10lbs because I did! And, yes, I did make it to the gym onboard several times! Go figure.