First Time Cruiser: The Good, the Bad, the Ugly from my experience.

Norwegian Dawn Cruise Review to Caribbean - Western

Cruises: 1 cruise (first)
Review: 1
Helpful Votes: 27

Overall rating:

4.3 out of 5
Verified Review
Norwegian Dawn

7 Night Western Caribbean (Tampa Roundtrip)

Sail date: February 25, 2018

Ship: Norwegian Dawn

Cabin type: Balcony

Cabin number: 10528

Traveled as: Singles/Friends

Reviewed: 3 years ago

Review summary

Loved cruising, hated major inefficiencies/errors.


1 out of 5
I went in knowing from others the embarkation/disembarkation has the worst reputation of the cruise experience. This embarkation lived up to it's bad reputation & then some. From a former "efficiency expert's" point of view, Tampa's Terminal 2 is too small to handle the congestion of a simultaneous disembarking and embarking of the ship at least under the processes I experienced. However, the unforgiveable was the lack of wheelchair access until after our check in rather than at the time when porters took our bags as was explained to me. Compounding this unforgiveable process was the slow check in process of those with special needs. Then rubbing salt into our wounds, "our" wheelchair was "given away" by the staff person who made a name list of those needing them as we STOOD in line waiting for them (we waited longer to board then as we waited for another to return empty). Fortunately, we did not check the rolater walker as we had first thought of doing and both of us were having a "good" mobility day. Standing in place for extended periods often causes my friend and I to have problems with pain and mobility! Not a wonderful way to start the vacation of my lifetime.

Ship experiences

Food and Dining

5 out of 5
We ate primarily at the Garden Café Buffet because my friend and I are not hard to please about food, we like buffets, it was good with sufficient choices, it was closest to primary smoking area for me, the smoker, and it was close to pool, snacks, drinks. I do wish the wait staff weren't so quick to try and clear the plates/tables...sometimes reaching to take plates without asking if you are finished. I also wish they could make more coffee and beverage stations as they get pretty congested during high volume eating times. The topsider's bar and grill at poolside that my friend frequently got and often shared were great. We ate once at Aqua Main Dining Room and enjoyed it fully. I will the pasta with basil pesto was too dry for my taste. My friend enjoyed her New York Strip but said it was under or overcooked a bit (forget which direction). Hostess and wait staff were excellent. We had the coconut pudding that was light and very nice as dessert. We ate at Los Lobos Cantina and enjoyed our meals. The guacamole was excellent with a whipped (though not whipped) light texture made at tableside to our preferences of additions. The salsa was sweetish and not to my liking. We ordered the two different types of salads and shared them, They actually paired really well and enhanced their flavors! My friend enjoyed the Enchilada Verdes and I enjoyed the Alambre de Camarones with a side of tamales. The tamales were not much to my liking, but okay. Hostess and wait staff were excellent. We dined at Cagney's Steakhouse and enjoyed the 5 oz filet mignon and surf n turf entrees very much. We had sides of asparagus and broccoli that were good. I had the beet and goat cheese napoleon appetizer that was pretty and excellent! My friend had the baked potato soup and I had the lobster bisque: both were good. Excellent meal and service. Hostess and wait staff excellent. We dined at Moderno's our last night. Neither of us had never eaten at a Brazilian style steakhouse and loved the experience very much. Wonderful food and we had the strawberry version of the national drink of Brazil and loved it. The grilled pineapple is absolutely divine and wished I had not eaten so much meat that I couldn't have had more pineapple for dessert! The meats was awesome, the olive and salad bar was okay. Suggest you eat meats first and a little salad later if still desired (wish we had). Hostess and wait staff were excellent. The reservationist at the desk (for both Cagney's and Moderno) was the only person who was just and unsmiling....not impressed. The hostess and wait staff were excellent. The meats was awesome, the olive and salad bar was okay. Suggest you eat meats first and a little salad later if still desired (wish we had).

Onboard Activities

4 out of 5
I am really not the person to be doing a review here, because we did not do a lot. Loved being able to sit and smoke in shaded area (mostly) at poolside, but awfully crowded at times which could be alleviated some by different (and more comfortable) chairs and couches and their arrangements. It was easy to make friends (or not) here since smokers had few places to "be" while smoking and got to know each other (if chose to). The music was fine by me, but many were not impressed. My friend had a thermal spa pass which she absolutely loved. I was not thrilled with Casino at all... too small and crowded with a confusing process to upload and download charges to room and machine for me!...but I was tired both times I went and probably affected my appreciation of it somewhat. On the second occassion one of the "desk manager type staff members" was really rude when I expressed my frustration with the uploading/downloading process problems....that didn't much impress me either! The staff at shops were friendly and not aggressively selling to shoppers that I felt or saw.


4 out of 5
I only saw the poolside entertainers/musicians (did not attend the later night parties) and was perfectly content with them. They could sing and play instruments or be a dj and that's more than I can do!!! I enjoyed the music.

Service and Staff

4 out of 5
Our room steward, Wayne (think last name was Comer, but not sure) was excellent and helped us with anything we needed, always with a smile on his face and kind words. The star staff of the cruise is Joannaline Marquez, assistant waiter, who we encountered in the Garden Cafe Buffet and poolside with the coffee cart. What a jewel she is...funny, sassy, smiling, kind, hardworking mom! Loved her and wish I could have adopted and taken her home with me! Irene Sandoval was (by my choice) my primary bar waitress...smiling and attentive to ask if I needed another drink...another jewel. The internet cafe manager has limited hours and was extremely helpful and re-instated our "lost" minutes due to not logging out properly...but the instruction sheet nor he pointed this out clearly when we first went down. He was the only shining star of "desk type" staff I encounted. Sorry, I forgot his name. The reservationist at the desk (for both Cagney's and Moderno) was just and unsmiling....not impressed. Didn't bother to get her name. On my second and last occassion of visiting the casino, one of the "desk manager type staff members" was really rude when I expressed my frustration with the uploading/downloading process problems....that didn't much impress me either! Didn't get his name. The other two rude people I encountered within minutes of each one were NCL on-board shore excursions "desk" frontline staff members. (I got their names, but forgot them). As a first time cruiser who knew I didn't know what the heck was going on (at least early on) and didn't want to feel more stupid and confused than I already did, I always preceded any question I had by saying, at the getgo "I have never cruised before and I have a question...." Well, apparently these two don't care if they make a first timer feel more stupid. Their kind of answering questions leads this first time cruiser to being angry (albeit silent anger...UNTIL SHE SPREADS THE WORD) and thinking she would never consider cruising NCL again because of their poor customer service. I am giving 4 stars because my daily encounters with "regular" staff was wonderful and would give them 10 stars if I could and their interaction with me was frequent while the others were very limited (and would stay that way!).

Ship Quality

3 out of 5
Really had no issues with cleanliness and design. However, there was an overnight situation where the entire ship (at least all that I know about) was without water for some time. Because I didn't want to wake my sleeping friend at 3:45am by calling guest services when I discovered our room had no water), I went up to poolside into Garden Cafe Buffett to see about getting some water there. One of the staff there said the whole ship was without (confirmed by other cruisers later) water. I asked if there was any bottled water there I could have. He checked with supervisor who told him no there wasn't. Water should be back on by about 4:30am. All I could think of is an outbreak out norovirus or somesuch thing (despite a plethora of sanitizers on ship...BUT NONE IN CABINS) and my inability to get anything to drink (all the coffee/drink machines in buffett operate with water) or to properly wash my hands (I did use sanitzer when I go to poolside). SO MAKE SURE YOU HAVE A SUFFCIENT AMOUNT OF SANITIZER and a bottle of water or two stowed away in your room..just in case!!!

Cabin / Stateroom

5 out of 5
The bed was very comfortable. The room was sufficiently big enough for 2...would have been too crowded with unless necessary (IMO). Always clean. Balcony was great. Bath bigger than I thougt it would be. All supplies kept well stocked by Wayne, our excellent steward. We did have the misfortune (not NCL fault) to be sandwiched between two separate families that were loud, fighting, using loud vulgar and agressive language on an onging basis. One side was first night with extended on and off over hours during eving/night/overnight...and then only very occassionally for rest of cruise. The side would happen on and off durng daylight hours primarily. Not nice to listen to at any time of day.

Ship tip

Go to Norwegian Dawn Fan Facebook page for help and helpful tips from cruisers. Also someone usually sets up a FB fan page separately for each cruise. I hope to write a note with hints for first time ever cruisers / NCL processes that may help.

Ports of call

Tampa, Florida

5 out of 5
If I could give a 0 for the embarkation and a 9 (for us, I know others had diembarkation issues) for disembarkation I would. I would give an 8 for the congeston/traffic that I saw while there (coming and going). After disembaking, we taxied (self-caught) to hotel I booked through for overnight. We had an awesome taxi driver, Otes to The Wingate by Wyndham USF/Busch Gardens. No, it's not downtown and probably not "uptown" either, not new and some outside door lock issues, and only one of the two elevators worked, but no big deal. They were great to/for us. Arrived 3 hours early and they accomodated us on the spot with our reserved king size suite with jetted tub. It was really nice to have so much room after cruising! They have it all. But no shutte to airport...but we didn't need as we had had someone coming to pick us up next day. They have a free shuttle that will take you anywhere within a 3 mile radius and come back and get you when you call (we did not use this). A sweet member of the kitchen staff helped us take up the luggage on the large luggage cart. There was a nice square tree shaded patio smoking area behind the hotel within the vision of the pool. We uber'd to Mr. Dunderbaks' German/American Biergarten, had a lovely meal, uber'd back. Our first uber driver was Tushar and second uber driver was Michelle...very very nice people! Food was great! Wait staff was wonderful. Shared a table with a family of three who were awesome. We enjoyed our almost 24 hours n the hotel and Tampa. I spent another 4 hours at the Tampa airport whiling away my time till my scheduled flight departed. Nice airport, but directions are a bit lacking. Enjoyed a large screen enclosed outside smoking patio located inside the gate area while I whiled away my time! We did use the whirpool that probably needed a cleaning of some type (maybe some recently had gotten in with deodorant or what not on) and my friend said the pool looked like it needed some skimmig and did not use.

Cozumel, Mexico

5 out of 5
We took the NCL Play Mia Day Pass & Transfer excursion. It is rated As Easy Mobility Activity Level, but you do have to walk down the pier and through a considerable shopping mall to reach the bus that then drives several miles to the beach and then same trek back. We primarily sat on chairs at a table (by choice) between the cash only bar, the sun loungers and then the beach and Caribbean waters! We only put our feet in up to near knee level as waves were fairly strong and water cool. Beautiful water and beach. We enjoyed the laid back style. Only vendors who approached us were the Massage vendors. There are only a few shops where we were. Stopped and browsed a shop and then had a starbucks as we waited to load back on bus. Browsed a few shops coming back through the mall, but do not recall any vendors hawking their goods, except maybe one jeweler/shop. The excursion operators were friendly and helpful.

Coxen Hole, Roatan, Bay Islands, Honduras

5 out of 5
I anxiously awaited this Maya Key Private Island Retreat excursion by NCL and it did not disappoint. Because of pier and docked ships we had to take a tender boat to disembark from the Dawn and then another boat to Maya big deal except the confusion waiting at the pier (once tendered) for the excursion boat itself. Could have been handled better. I had read a review somewhere about the monkey animal encounter on this excursion (no additional charge) where you actaully enter an encaged monkey area with the monkeys. The staff take pictures with your camera of you while the monkeys jump and play all over you and around you. When you exit the cage they give you a long branch and have birds sit on your shoulder and end of branch while they take pictures with your camera. No charge to take pictures either. Donations are welcomed and needed for all rescued animals/birds on thie island. The small island with beach is pretty and with a lot of rescued animals to enjoy. I loved loved loved this excursion.

Harvest Caye, Belize

5 out of 5
This is NCL private island and we did not do an excursion just partook of the island itself. Walked through the live butterfly encounter and through shops and hung at the beach. Walked in the beautiful waters, but the jellyfish were present so some swimmers decided not to swim. Not a great deal of shade and it was hot. Beautiful island.

Costa Maya (Mahahual), Mexico

2 out of 5
Did not do an excursion. NCL indicated on their port information pages of the freestyle daily newsletter distributed each night for next day that there would be complimentary open air transportation to the shopping marketplace at end of pier. They pier is extremely long and there was no transports, free or otherwise. Not good for limited or short endurance cruisers at all. Morever, FALSE/MISLEADING ADVERTISEMENT, again a slap in the face to those with special needs. Had we known before we exited the ship, we would have taken the rolater! We decided to tough it out since we had done really well thus far. All went well until I got foot and leg cramps with calf muscles turning sore rapidly while catching a pic of dlamigos in the shopping area. Rested and trekked it back, having to stop (not really supposed to) and sit on side barriers along with others. Caribbean waters beautiful here. A lot of shops with aggressive sales vendors willing to haggle some. Some took excursions into the town and surrounding area and were somewhat disheartened by the native living and transportation/road shortcomings.


5 out of 5
There was a delay in disembarking for many as all Non-US citizens had to disembark and go through Customs first: apparently many were dragging their disembarking. However, we were already in the last self-chosen/assigned group (10:45am) and NCL disembarked the final 3 groups at one time. I am pretty sure these 3 groups were called about "our" chosen time of 10:45 because we and our luggage were in a "hailed" taxi and on our way to the hotel by 11:25am. We had an awesome porter and then a great taxi driver.

Traveler Photos

Topsider's Poolside Bar Drink: A personalized Mudslide Irene, Bar Waitress, Poolside Joannaline, Assistant waitstaff Poolside and Garden Cafe Buffet Coffee Cart A small portion of Cozumel Playa Mia Beach The Dawn docked in Cozumel Tampa Hotel Smoking area Weinerschnitzel at restaurant Sides we chose at restaurant Flamingos Butterfly encounter Cabin 10528 w/ balcony  Closet to left. Bath to right
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