My sister (29 yo) and I (31 yo) were planning our very first cruise. We decided to book with a recommended Travel Agent. We booked our own Amtrak and flights, but he did the rest - down to recommending hotels pre- and post- cruise. We were very happy with his advice and help and would probably book with a travel agent in the future.
NOTE: We do not have children nor did we travel with any. So this review excludes anything for kids.
We flew in to Fort Lauderdale versus Miami because of the cheaper flights. Our shuttle driver noted that he has seen a lot of people doing that. We booked transportation through Prestige South Florida Shuttles. When we booked, they were having a promotion for, I believe, 10% off of fares. We were able to reserve round-trip shuttle service from Fort Lauderdale airport to our hotel, in downtown Miami, for $117. We tipped a total of $30 to the driver ($15 each way). Our driver was very nice, helpful, and we felt very comfortable with him. I recommend using them for future transportation needs. Oscar is awesome! SIDENOTE: SAS shuttle service is cheaper. However since we flew in late at night, SAS did not offer service at that time.
We stayed at the Holiday Inn - Port of Miami, downtown. It was recommended by our TA and we trusted him despite reading reviews, both on here and on Trip Advisor. We checked in at midnight and the front desk clerk was friendly and efficient. Our room was clean and had a nice view of downtown Miami. My sister and I had been travelling all day, via planes, trains, and automobiles, so we were beat!
The next day was my sister's birthday. We slept in and got going about 11:30. This hotel is located right next to Miami's Bayside Marketplace. It is an outdoor mall venue with shops, eateries, and entertainment. One of my goals was to have Cuban food on our trip, so we headed to the Latin American Cafe. There was seating both inside the little restaurant and outside. I had the Cubano sandwich with fried plantain chips and a mojito. Food and drink was excellent. Food was fairly priced, mojito was a bit pricey but average for the area.
After lunch, we decided to go to Miami's Seaquarium. We wanted to travel cheaply, but were unable to find the right bus/stop. I'm sure with more patience and inquisitions we would have found our way with public transportation, but we gave up and took a taxi. Taxi fare from downtown to Miami Seaquarium was $20 including tip. The Seaquarium is a smaller marine life attraction. The admission price was $39.95. We were able to save a few bucks using the AAA discount. At the aquarium, we saw dolphin, killer whale, and sea lion shows. The acts last about 15-20 minutes and were entertaining. In between shows, we walked around the individual exhibits. We spend about 3 Â½ hours there and thought that it was plenty of time. NOTE: We did not travel with children. We again attempted to take pub transport back to downtown Miami, again to no avail. We wound up taking a taxi, after much walking.
After we got back to our hotel, we walked to get wine and soda for our cruise. There is a CVS Pharmacy which sells wine and soda right down the street from the Holiday Inn. Also, there is a dodgy liquor store kitty-corner to the CVS. We decided to go back across the street to Bayside for dinner and entertainment. We chose to eat at Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. The meal was good. The Coronarita was amazing. This comes highly recommended from this girl! After dinner, we grabbed a drink near the band and enjoyed the ambiance of the entertainment. The band was mediocre but gave us something to listen to while we had a few drinks.
The day my sister and I had been waiting for was finally here! We woke up about 8:30, got ready, packed and brought our stuff down to the lobby. The lobby was chaotic, to say the least; luggage and people waiting everywhere. It was difficult to understand where to go next. My sister stood in line at the concierge only to find out that we had to check in outside with the valet. Once outside, it was more chaos. I think the problem was because many cruisers were with larger groups and were all trying to get transportation to the port. My sister and I walked a few feet to the end of the curb and quickly caught a taxi. Oh, the joys of traveling in two!
We arrived at the port at about 11:30. The porter took our luggage and we were on our way to check in. Carnival knows exactly what there are doing with this whole embarkation process. We stood in a few lines, none longer than 5 minutes and were on the ship by noon. We were very impressed with the boarding process. We had to wait until 1:30 to get into our rooms, which was not a problem. We grabbed lunch from the lido buffet and had a few drinks before wandering to check out the ship. Muster drill was announced around 3:45 and was quick and painless. We headed back up to the deck to watch the sail-away. Our excitement was building!
After sail-away, we went to our rooms and our luggage had arrived. We changed for dinner and headed to the sushi bar. We were pleasantly surprised by the sushi on the ship, the presentation was nice and the quality was good.
We chose the late-seating for dinner and, throughout the cruise, we were glad we had. Our tablemates were pleasant and our first dinner was good. I had the Atlantic salmon and thought it was done well. We called it a pretty early night that first night and I am not sure why. Maybe the excitement wore us
PORT OF CALL - KEY WEST:
We woke up early to get off the ship early. We walked down Duval Street to go to the Butterfly Conservatory. The walk was about a mile. We got there a little early and waited around out front. We were the first ones through. The Conservatory is quiet small, but allows you ample opportunities to see butterflies. The flowers and foliage were also very beautiful. We snapped a bunch of pictures and were happy with our time spent there. I think we spent 30 minutes, which in my opinion was about right. The cost of admission was $12.95, I think, for an all-day pass.
Next we had to walk back to the port to meet our Carnival excursion. We booked the Key West Pub Crawl through the ship. The cost was $39.95 each and included a guided walking tour, a drink at 5 different bars, and a t-shirt. I feel this excursion is adequately priced. We began our tour with our eccentric guide and made our way to the first bar. The tour guide and most of the bartenders made you feel at home. The bars fill up early in Key West, as the happy hour begins at 9:00am!
Key West was enjoyable and I would return here sometime for a vacation. It's quaint, laid-back feeling draws you in and everyone seemed polite. After the Pub Crawl, we headed back to the ship for lunch and to rest. We weren't quite prepared for the heat and sun!
We slept in and had room service brought to the room. Room service options were basic continental options. We got ready for the pool and headed up to the dock. We were well aware from reading reviews on here that there probably wouldn't be chairs left at 10:00. My sister and I are pretty fair-skinned so sun isn't our main attraction. We headed up to deck nine and found two chairs under shade. We read and visited for a bit before going to grab lunch on the buffet. We took a nap later in the day and got ready for our first elegant night dinner. Outfits ranged between cocktail dresses, khakis, polos, and summer dresses. I did not see anyone who blatantly broke the dress code. Our evening entertainment was Brad at the Piano Bar. We caught the tail end of his "everyday" show and then most of his "adult" show. It was pretty "adult", but fun. I ended up staying out until about 1:30am.
PORT OF CALL - GRAND CAYMAN:
No sleeping in today! Grand Cayman is a tendered port. We had booked a Carnival excursion which left at 8:00am. We, being first-time cruisers, were nervous about the tendering process. So we made sure we were in line to get off the ship by 7:15am. This seemed to be about right, as the line quickly filled in behind us. We got to our group in plenty of time and next time, I don't believe I would worry so much about the tender. I didn't realize that they would have two going and fit about 100 people each. Oh well, we made it in time and learned something.
Our excursion was a land and water tour of GC. For $79.95 we were able to see Hell, the Turtle Farm, Stingray City, and were able to stop to purchase Tortuga Rum cakes. Hell is a "phenomena" that allows you to say you had been to hell and back. There is a post-office from which you can send a post-card marked Hell. I didn't much care to see it, but it was included. Next, we stopped by the Tortuga Rum Cake outlet. The driver gave us some time to shop and taste. I'm not a rum drinker/eater, so again it was just another stop. From there we went to the Turtle Farm. This farm breeds, raises, and, slaughters sea turtles. Don't worry, it is not as cut and dry as that (whoa, punny). In GC, turtles are a delicacy. This farm raises turtles for their meat. We were allowed to see the breeding ponds, hold a 3-month old turtle, and see other turtles in various stages of their lives. Our driver/tour guide was very informative. The farm does have a gift shop onsite, as well. For the finale of our tour, we caught a boat to Stingray City/Sandbar. It took about 20-25 minutes to get out to the sandbar by boat. Once we got there we could see other tour boats doing the same thing we were. Once we got anchored, which took a bit since it was rough waters, our guides hopped in the water. We followed suit and soon we were swimming amongst the stingrays! Our tour guides showed us how to handle them and how to feed them squid. This environment was very intimidating! It took me at least 10 minutes to get brave enough to touch one. I am not a chicken, normally, but this was a crazy experience. One of the guides brought a stingray over to us and let us hold it and it gave me a "back rub". Once that was over, I was a little more at ease with the rays swimming around me. We were also able to feed them. They sucked the squid out of your hands quickly and with some power. Once the food was brought out, we easily had 8-10 stingrays swimming around us. Looking back, this was one of the big highlights to my vacation! I would return to GC and do this again! Our boat's steering went out on the way back due to the wind and rough waves. We had to wait about an hour for a rescue boat to come and get us. No harm done!
Due to the extra time spent on the boat, we weren't left with much time left on Grand Cayman. We headed back to the ship for a late lunch and then to our cabin for a nap. We got pretty used to the afternoon naps on the ship!
PORT OF CALL - OCHO RIOS:
We got up and going about 8:30am. We had booked a resort for the day through the company Jamaica for a Day. We booked into The Jewel Dunn's River Resort and our $79.00 reservation included transportation from the port. We got to the resort at about 10:00 and were able to enjoy all the resort's amenities until 2:30pm (that being the time we had to catch our taxi back to the ship). We had access to the pools, swim-up bars, beach, restaurants, snacks, and bar service. The weather was in the 80's that day, so the pools and beach were welcomed. We lounged, drank, and ate the day away. We thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. We were glad we chose this route in Jamaica and were able to avoid the people peddling their wares and substances. If I were to go back, I would like to see more of the island, but his choice was a good one for us for the day.
Once back on the ship, we napped and got ready for our second elegant night. We made our usual stop for sushi and promenade pictures. We were disappointed in all of our photos. We really thought we would have found at least one we could purchase. We took at least a couple a day. However, travelling as sisters, they make you pose awkwardly and all the pictures were cheesy. Next time, I would insist we just stand there and smile instead of hugging or standing back to back. We did want at least one nice pic. Oh well.
Last full day on the ship! We slept-in and had a late breakfast on the lido buffet. Breakfast items were okay. I did not get anything fabulous, but what I did get was edible. After breakfast, we went to Winston's lounge for pub trivia. My sister and I did pretty well, but no winners, here. The trivia was fun and I would have participated more often, had we not been so busy (or napping). After trivia, we hit the casino for the first time on the trip. We had checked our Sign and Sail card balance the night before and were pleasantly surprised at our totals. My sister and I played the slot machines for a while and I came out $20 dollars ahead. The machines were fun, but I'm glad we waited until the end of the trip to try out the casino. We aren't gamblers so I am glad we didn't waste our trip there, as we saw many same faces in there.
We caught a late lunch and went back to our room to pack (sad face). We packed up everything and made sure we had what we needed in our carry-on's for disembarkation.
Reading reviews on here mentioned to make sure to attend the Fun Farewell Celebration. We didn't know why but we went and soon realized why. Don't miss it! It is free drinks and the band for about an hour. It was fun! Afterwards, we had a great last dinner with our table and decided to really have a good last night, since we were primed with our Farewell drinks. We returned to the Piano Bar and had a good time, requesting songs and singing along. We were determined to dance so we headed to the dance club, One Small Step. At 12:00am, there were only a few people dancing and it wasn't our crowd. We ended up bumming around the ship until about 1:30.
DISEMBARKATION and POST-CRUISE:
We had put our luggage outside our door the night before and our luggage was gone in the morning. We slept until 8:30 and showered, got ready, and got a knock on our door from housekeeping at about 9:15am. They kindly asked us to leave our room. Our disembarkation zone was just about ready to be called so we went up to deck 3 and waited about 10 minutes to disembark. What a breeze. We walked off, got our luggage, and went through security/customs with zero problems. We went outside to wait for our transportation. We had to call our driver, but he was there in record time. He picked us up at about 10:00 and dropped us off at the Sheraton Fort Lauderdale Beach hotel at 10:45. We tried to check in; however, rooms were not ready. We had breakfast onsite, walked around, and wasted time until 3:00pm. Our room was finally ready and we were ready for a nap. After our nap, we headed down for dinner. The poolside bar was no longer serving food. So we went to the famous Wreck Bar, located in the Sheraton. It was used in the filming of the movie, Analyze This. The bar has an underwater view of the pool and on Fridays has a mermaid show. The food was decent and the beer was good. After dinner, we went out to the pool. It was closed but we were allowed to go in if we weren't rowdy. We promised we wouldn't be. Pool was ocean-side and beautiful under the stars. We swam for a bit and went back to the room. We packed and went to bed early since we had a 6:00am flight and needed to catch a cab at 4:00am. We just grabbed a shuttle at 4:00 from outside our hotel. I think it probably was more expensive than a cab, but we took it. We paid $27 with tip. Our flights were on time and we were in Minneapolis before noon. We spend the extra time before our Amtrak at the Mall of America. They have Jumbo lockers for $13 that we were able to get all of our stuff into for the day.
I really liked the Valor. She was our first ship and we found her easy to navigate. It only took about a day to get a hang of the ship's layout. The decor was Heroes and Heroics. The color theme was red, white, and blue and gold. There were statues and statuettes. There were gold eagles in the elevator area. Each bar/lounge area had a different hero/ine theme. The decor was bold but beautiful. I really enjoyed it and didn't think it was so bad. Rosie's (lido buffet) was a little cold feeling, but I'm not sure how you'd fix that on an older ship and it being such a vast food area.
My favorite bar areas were the casino bar and Jeanne's Wine Bar. We really got to know our bartenders and they made us feel welcome each time we went there. We tried the martini tasting menu and had fun trying the different kinds. My favorite was the Spicy Chipotle martini!
We really enjoyed the sushi. It was offered every night except one. The quality was good and it was fun to have that as a little before-dinner snack. I don't think many people knew about it or thought it cost extra, but it was included and pretty delicious.
Our Oceanview 6C cabin #2288 was much larger than we expected. We had twin beds, a couch, and plenty of drawer/closet space. The bathroom had plenty of room and shelf space and we didn't even need the over the door organizer that people on the forums suggested. We had a large window with a ledge for added storage. Our room seemed to be in a great location. It was close to the elevators and towards the middle of the ship. My sister did note that she heard elevator bells during the night, however, I did not. I loved this class of cabins and don't think I would ever stay lower than a 6C.
Our room steward, MadÃ¨, met us the very first night. He knew our names by the next time we saw him and we really didn't see him much after that. He cleaned our room twice a day. We left notes for extra ice and tipped him $20 for the week, in addition to our prepaid tips.
We had assigned seating in the main dining room and had the same wait staff each night. I cannot remember our head waiter's name. The team did a great job with our orders and they were happy to bring us two lobster tails when we asked! The dining staff performed a song and dance after each meal that was kind of corny but fun to watch. We enjoyed our time at dinner. Our barmaid at dinner however, Anett, was awful. She screwed up drink orders at our table at least once per meal. She brought the wrong receipts for me to sign, with someone else's name on it and found mine already signed by someone else. Also, two nights she charged drinks to the wrong Sign and Sail cards. She wouldn't smile and when we tried to joke with her, looked mad. I don't know if she was new or if it was a language issue. It didn't ruin our time, we were just laughing about how many things were messed up by the end of it.
We really tried to take part in as many things as we could. The second night we went to the Piano Bar and we enjoyed our time there. We went to the 80's theme show -- Far From Over and really had a good time. It was good music and the dancers had great dance numbers and the singers were good. The trivia staff was fun. We did go to a Murder Mystery intro. There were five staff members from whom we needed to get clues from for a few days and then turn in your guess. It seemed like a fun idea, if they would have had it like a dinner theater. We did not want to use our precious ship time running around looking for these people. So needless to say, we didn't crack the case! The karaoke was a little disappointing. We went to the Eagle's Lounge one night after dinner to sing karaoke. There were about 100 people there. I went and got a songbook and a group of guys came in and took it, literally, right out of my hands. The lady announced to pick a song and pass the book. She also said that there were 6 books. I was shocked. The lounge had a nice crowd and it probably did each night for karaoke, but with only 6 books, it was kind of lame. I sang one song and then we left. I mentioned the Fun Farewell party which was awesome and a fun surprise. The cruise director, Goose, was visible and audible. Every time we spoke, he reminded us we were on vacation. It got a little old, but who is going to complain about being reminded they are on vacation!
We had room service three of the mornings for breakfast while we got ready for the day. It got old by day three. The options were slim and everything was cold. We also tried the buffet for breakfast and had things like eggs benedict, ham, bacon, eggs, pastries and potatoes. For lunch we usually ate at the buffet and really liked the chicken strips, fries, pizza, Rueben from the deli, and soft serve ice cream. I had a cheeseburger the first day and it was okay. I didn't go back. We had heard good things about the Mongolian Stir-fry place; we tried it and were disappointed. The sauces didn't have any flavor. One of the days we tried the Fish'n Chips and liked it. I had the ceviche and fish and chips. Both were okay. Dinners were all eaten in the main dining room. We had good and not so good food, but never left hungry. My favorites were the salmon, lobster, roasted pumpkin soup, and the frog legs. I didn't care much for the Warm Chocolate Melting cake but order it most often and just ate the top! My overall consensus of the food was good. Not exceptional but it was good.
This was our first, but not our last cruise. We had more fun than we ever imagined and have already started looking for our next cruise. The Caribbean was beautiful, the weather perfect, and the ship fun. We will definitely book with Carnival again and hope to in the very near future. I wouldn't stick to the Valor but wouldn't turn it done if the itinerary and time fit. We are now cruisers!!!!
Thank you for taking the time to read my super, lengthy review! Bon Voyage!