Make sure you try the Teppanyaki Room in the Bamboo restaurant....it cost between $10 & $12 depending on what you order. It's like your local Japanese grill restaurant where you sit around the cooking surface and they entertain you while they cook your meal. The shrimp & filet mignon was excellent....the room (2 grill tables) only hold 18 people total and they have seatings at 5:30, 7:30 and 9:30 so reserve early!
LaBistro was excellent the escargot, the cream of mushroom soup served in a sour dough bread bowl....yummy....We thought the filet mignon was a tad better at LaBistro than at Cagney's, but both were good...The whole lobster at Cagney's was difficult to eat, and I feel you are better off getting the tails at LaBistro and getting chops or filet at Cagney's. The Caesar salads were good, different depending on the restaurant (a little garlic flavor in Cagney's)
For an afternoon or late night snack be sure to try the fried rice bowl in Blue Lagoon, it was very good. Also walking through the Blue Lagoon and grabbing the great cookies they always have out on the counter was a good bet any time (They are open 24 hours) ! Also, the grilled sausage by the pool was good, as was the stir fry and the ribs out there. The hot dogs up at the Bimini pool bar (deck 14) in the afternoon were a waste, no taste, don't waste your hard earned calories on them! Also, their pizza wasn't so great., but I'm a thin crust fan.......Salsa's (we tried it twice) was a big disappointment....we love Mexican food, and were really looking forward to eating there. The first time we had the shrimp fajita and it had very small shrimp and was quite tasteless. The poppers were fine and the chili was ok. The fried onion appitizer was a crispy on the outside mushy onion on the inside blob...I think I was expecting it to be more like a "bloomin' onion" from our local Outback chain! We had heard so many good reviews about Salsa's that we figured it must be us and we tried it a 2nd night.....not any better. (Maybe it is us) We enjoyed the Mexican buffet they had one evening in the Garden Cafe much more than Salsa's...it was great and they had a huge selection..
We ate in the Venitian on Lobster night and the Filet Mignon was good, the Lobster was fair (but I think the only decent Lobster I ever had on a cruise ship was on a Celebrity Cruise)......The service everywhere (except Blue Lagoon) was good, and somehow we didn't think it would be...we had heard bad things about the service speed and quality and we were pleasantly surprised...but we always had a table for two...I heard the large groups dining together complaining about slow service....
We ate at Aqua once (Pretty good) and never made it to Impressions or the Italian Restaurant (Actually part of the buffet area coverted in the evening to an Italian Restaurant) Impressions had the same menu as the Venitian and I liked the decor in Venitian better.....it seemed like a small scale of a tradition cruise ship's dining room. Aqua was a similar menu nightly to Impressions and the Venitian. Some nights I wasn't very impressed with the menus at those 3 locations, so we would go to one of the specialty spots that night. Go to the reception desk and ask to see the looseleaf binder that holds all the menus for the duration of your cruise. We did that, then decided which nights we didn't care for their offerings and reserved one of the specialty restaurants for those nights.
As far as tipping...I found that awkward. They add tips to your final room bill and the extra fee for the specialty restaurants (I believe) is supposed to be the gratuity for the servers there, but we always felt we needed to leave something everywhere we ate. Your servers will bring you your bar beverages also, so at the end of the meal you will get a check for that and we would add something to the bar bill for the dinner servers (the bar bills all have 15% added to your beverages already). When we carried our own drinks from another bar and didn't have a bar bill at the table we would leave a little cash for the server. We saw others doing that too...handing it to the servers. For better service some folks pre-tipped when they sat down and that always assured them the best service. Most places we left an extra $5 in cash and if the servers felt we were cheap we'll never know.......it made me feel better to leave a little something!
I know this will sound petty, but I did miss certain little touches that we've had on other cruise lines....like someone handing you your tray at the buffet line with your utensils and plate already on it...along with a linen napkin & place mat (NCL had paper napkins that would blow away and no placemats) and having the staff take your tray to a table for you.....Sometimes your food would get cold as you looked for an available clean table. A few times I would get a little way down the food line and realize I didn't have a bowl or soup spoon or something else I needed....On the Dawn I felt like I was in a High School cafeteria..... I told you this was petty..... I have rambled enough.....I'm sure this was more of a response than you bargained for!!!!
Enjoy your trip!
PS: When you are at the reception desk looking at the dinner menus be sure to order the map of your cruise for $10. It's the best souvenier, it's a map with your cruise charted on it and signed by the Captain. They will charge it to your room and deliver it to your cabin the last day of your cruise. Much better than the usual cruise keepsakes and easy to pack!