Wanted to start off by saying that this was our first cruise, so I have no basis of comparison.
My husband and I just returned recently from our seven-day trip to the Mexican Riviera aboard the Dawn Princess. I had read some negative stuff on the boards about this smaller ship and I have to admit I was a bit nervous about how our cruise would turn out. However, we had a fantastic time and the trip exceeded our expectations!
Cabin We selected an unobstructed ocean view room at the VERY front of the ship (Dolphin deck). The location was not ideal for several reasons: long walk to and from elevators/stairs, lots of movement when the ship hit rough water, noisy when we entered and left each port. The room itself was perfectly comfy. Good size, lots of closet space, comfy bed. I loved having a vanity by the window. The comforter needed to be replaced (a bit faded), but the rest of the room was in tip-top shape.
Food The dining room was delish and definitely went above and beyond expectation. The only night I did not enjoy was Italian night as I thought the food a bit bland (my "fiery prawns" weren't spicy at all). Other than that, each dish was splendid and I now have an appreciation for chilled soup. Each dinner is five course (appetizer, soup, salad, entrée, and dessert) and you will walk away stuffed.
The Horizon Court Buffet was disappointing, but we only ate breakfast and lunch there. We've been to many buffets and this was not up to snuff, however, I did manage to find something each meal to enjoy. The pile of lox at breakfast was a definite highlight as was the fresh fruit. The hash brown "pucks" were just plain odd tasting. Not sure that they were actual potatoes… But overall, it's hard to mess up eggs, bacon and oatmeal. Lunch was unspectacular and the so-called sushi served at one meal was pretty dreadful. I do have to say that I was thrilled to find that I enjoyed the coffee.
We ate at the Sterling Steakhouse one night ($15 ea. cover charge) and we were not disappointed! HUGE, perfectly cooked cuts of steak. We each had a 17 oz. rib eye, but the cuts went from a petite fillet all the way up to a 22 oz. porterhouse that was massive. Delicious chocolate pecan pie!
We ordered pizza the last night of the cruise from La Scala and weren't impressed. The pizza was thin and bland. Not what we expected.
Ate once at the Balcony Grill -- pretty basic cheeseburger and fries.
Drinks OK, here is where you will want to keep your cruise card in check. Drinks are pricey ($4.75-$7.00 for mixed/blended drinks) and rather weak. The massive pina colada I had the last day of the cruise was more fruit smoothie than drink. I did enjoy a rather good lemon drop in the Atrium Bar, however and I heard their Bloody Marys were to die for. Next time I am buying a very reasonably priced bottle from room service and making my own drinks.
Activities Fun show ("Piano Man") and the performances were good. We frequented the nickel slots in the casino most nights. During the day, we just lazed around the pool or enjoyed excursions and didn't participate in bingo or trivia. There is always next trip…
Miscellaneous The photos are spendy ($25 for one 8x10) and some of the backdrops did not photograph well IMO (the plain blue and plain white seemed to wash people out), but we did buy one photo of each formal night (one Titanic backdrop and one on the stairs). If you have the time and are inclined, get your pic taken at each stop so you can pick and choose your favorites.
The onboard shops are not open during port time, so if you run out of sunscreen, need some Pepto, or want to buy a hat, don't expect to do it on the ship. I did not find the fragrance or cosmetic prices to be any better than in the US (but, they were sales tax free).
Overall The ship is in great shape and the service was excellent (Adel, our cabin steward, was awesome)! The fabulous food in the dining room far made up for the lack of excitement of the buffet. No, we didn't have a rock wall, mini golf, or a massive tropical pool, but we had a blast and are definitely looking forward to our next cruise. Princess treated us very well and we will definitely be cruising with them next time.