We just returned from the Carnival Valor, six day cruise out of Miami to Key West, Grand Cayman, and Ocho Rios Jamaica. There were 6 of us in our party. Two grandparents, two parents, and two boys age 14 and 11. This was the grandparents 4th cruise, parents 3rd cruise, and boys 2nd cruise.
We flew in on Delta to the West Palm Beach airport a day early. The West Palm Beach airport was cheaper than either Ft. Lauderdale or Miami even with having to rent a car. We rented a car and headed to Miami. Since it was too early to check in to our hotel we drove to Florida City and got a milkshake from Robert is Here. I decided to be adventurous and have a mamey milkshake. I should have been like the rest of our family and got a fruit that I know what it tastes like. Since it was time to check in to our hotel room we headed to the La Quinta Inn at the airport. The La Quinta Inn is what you would expect. Nothing fancy but a place to lay your head. The grandparents and kids decided to order in pizza which was way too greasy. My husband and I walked to the Bennigans. Bennigans was not that good. Maybe that's why they aren't around anymore. The next morning we had breakfast at the hotel. The breakfast was pretty bad. It was crowded and smoky. I think someone burned their toast. There was very little selection. The free shuttle to the port worked out fine. But I think next time I will spend the extra money to stay somewhere else.
We were finally at the port by 11:00, luggage given to the porters and off we went to check in. Lines were a little long but nothing unreasonable. We were on the boat by 12:00 and eating lunch on the Lido Deck. Our cabins were ready by 1:00. We had two balcony cabins, 8337 and 8441. The grandparents had a king size bed and a sofa in their room. We had a king size bed, a sign bed, and a drop down bed from the ceiling. Believe it or not, we had plenty of room for all our stuff. It got a little crowded when all the dirty cloths started piling up. The partition between our balconies was opened so we had a double sized balcony to enjoy. And enjoy we did! Our cabin steward was nice and kept the room clean. Of course, we enjoyed our nightly towel animals. Our rooms were near the back of the ship under the adults' only pool area. There was a good bit of noise every night from scraping chairs across the floor above. But what can you expect when you have a 24 hour pizza restaurant above you. The location of the cabin was very convenient to the Rosie's restaurant for breakfast and lunch and to the other Lido deck pools. Overall, I think it was a good room in a good location and can get over the noise.
Food on the ship was good. We had breakfast twice in the Washington dining room and the other four times in Rosie's. The Washington room breakfast was better than Rosie's but neither were anything special. We had lots of choices for lunch. Mongolian Wok was my favorite but the line was usually long. You pick your meat, vegetables and sauce and then they cook it in front of you. Fish and chips were my husband and oldest son's favorite. Pizza was good. My youngest son liked the deli. Someone in our party tried every lunch option except the burrito bar. Overall lunch was very good with lots of options. Several nights we stopped by the sushi bar for a pre-dinner appetizer. Each night was different and the sushi was OK. Not my favorite. We ate in the Washington Dining Room Early seating (6:00 pm) each night. My husband and I ate in the Scarlett's Steak House one night. This was an amazing meal and well worth the extra cost. We both had lobster bisque which is amazing. The Caesar salad was great without too much dressing. I had a rib eye that was seasoned and cooked perfectly medium. My husband had surf & turf. His filet was perfectly pink and tender. The two lobster tails almost melted in your mouth. We had seen the size of the desserts so we had one piece of cheese cake to share and another piece of cheese cake to go and share with the rest of our family. I was so stuffed after that meal that I couldn't do anything but go to bed. The meals in the Washington dining room were very good. We had lots of choices and the food was always served hot. There were always some tried and true choices and some adventuresome choices. I was very proud of my boys. They tried many new things and liked most of them. Desserts were always good. And what can you say; I love the Warm Chocolate Melting Cake. Our wait staff was great. They were very attentive and joked around with the boys all week. My oldest son loves lobster and was a little disappointed with the size of his one lobster tail. The waiter came over and offered him and my husband another plate. So instead of being disappointed he was thrilled. The waiters entertained us each evening and even made my boys dance with them.
Entertainment on the ship was good with lots of variety. We didn't take advantage of as much of the entertainment as I thought we would. We went to two of the main shows. The tribute to Night Club was good and something fun to do for the evening. Since I was a teenage in the 80's, I really enjoyed the 80's Tribute show. One of my favorite shows was the break dance show in the main lobby. Those guys were very talented. We sat in on some karaoke in the Eagles lounge and even played some trivia contests. We spent some time (and money) each evening in the casino. We had fun playing slots and kept our losses to a minimum. I'm a risk adverse person when it comes to money so I enjoyed all the penny slot machines. The daytime entertainment around the Lido deck on sea days was fun. The MC for the Hairy Chest contest was hilarious. He had such quick wit and kept the crowd going. The synchronized swimming contest was cute. The mixology contest was a little boring to watch but was probably fun to participate in.
Both our boys participated in the youth programs. Our 11 year old was in Camp Carnival. He liked the scavenger hunts, ping pong tournaments, and dodge ball. He loved miniature golf most of all. He even stayed up for the late night party until 3:00 am. He made friends quickly and got to see them around the boat, at dinner, and even on shore excursions. Our 14 year old participated in Circle C. He quickly made friends and they just "hung out" all day and night, running around the ship, up and down elevators. He was our late night child. He usually didn't get back to the room until around midnight.
This cruise included three ports. Our first port was Key West. We bought online the City View Trolley tickets for a discounted price. My father in law was looking forward to the Mel Fisher Treasure museum. It was OK but not much to keep the kids entertained. The trolley tour was good because we got to see most of the island and hear about the history. We were also able to look around and decide what we wanted to go back and see. After the trolley tour the grandparents and our youngest son wanted to go back to the boat. My husband, oldest son, and I walked to B.O.s Fish Wagon for lunch. It was good but eh Key Limeade was great. We then walked to Kermit's for the famous Key Lime Pie on a Stick. It was everything I thought it would be. We stopped in many t-shirt shops to look for the perfect t-shirt for my son. We relaxed at Mallory Square before getting back on the boat. Overall Key West was very relaxing but I think it is meant to be enjoyed in the evening without kids.
Our second port was Grand Cayman. We had booked the Rays, Reef, and Rum Point tour with Native Way. Despite some pre-cruise nervousness about Cayman time versus ship time everything went off without a hitch. Eldon picked us up and drove us to the marina to get on our boat for the day, "My Way". Our captain was Andrew and our co captain was JC. There were about 28 people on our tour. The boat ride out to sting ray city was a little rough and wet but they can't control the weather. Stingray city was cool. The water was so shallow and clear. There were sting rays all over the place. Andrew quickly caught us a sting ray. The females were the large ones. He showed us how to safely hold and pet them and then let each family spend a little time with the ray. JC was the photographer. All the petting, holding, and kissing was set up so JC could get pictures and then sell you a CD at the end. My mother in law was on the boat with my good camera and she was only able to get pictures of our backs. Once everyone had time with the rays we got on the boat and went to the coral gardens for snorkeling. The current was a little rough. I was worried about my boys since this was their first off shore snorkeling experience. They both did fine. The water was so clear, the fish were colorful and the coral was beautiful. I would have like more time to snorkel but a rain storm was coming. So we got on the boat and headed to Rum Point. I am a big beach bum. I love the beach so I was looking forward to this more than anything else. Lunch was good not great. I had the traditional jerk pork plate. The jerk sauce was not spicy and the red beans and rice were crunchy (undercooked). The corn on the cob was bland. However, the beach was beautiful despite the impending storm. I walked around and relaxed a little before having to get back on the boat. It rained hard on the way back to the marina so all 28 of us were packed inside the boat. We got back in time for the last tender but we didn't get any shopping time. Overall this was a good tour and I would recommend Native Ways again. They delivered what they promised and we all had a good time.
Our last port was Ocho Rios, Jamaica. My husband and I had been there 17 years ago on our honeymoon so we were excited to show our boys where we had been. We booked a tour with Peat Taylor tours to go to Dunn's River Falls and Mahogany Beach. We loaded up with Peat Jr. also known as Repeat (Peat Taylor's son). He took us to the Falls, told us about the island, sang to us and told us how to handle the merchants in the craft market. Once we got to the Falls, Ainsworth (Peat Taylor's son) connected us with a couple of guides and a photographer to help us up the Falls. Peat Taylor advertises that they get you there early to avoid the crowds and they do. We were the 2nd group of the day so we were not stuck behind a lot of people. The guides were very helpful. The photographer was making a video to sell and the end. He was entertaining and kept everyone having a good time. There were several photo op spots and the guides would use our cameras to take pictures of us. They did a great job. These guides were worth their tip. It's amazing; they run up and down the Falls all day without shoes on. Once we were done on the Falls and cleaned up we ventured into the craft market. We had instructed the boys to keep their hands in their pockets and not give out their name. Overall, this was not a bad experience. The merchants weren't too pushy. Maybe it was too early in the morning. Once we got through the craft market it was time to load up for our next stop. This is where different tours split off. There were 12 of us going to Mahogany Beach. As Peat Taylor promised, they got us there early so we got a good spot on the sand. Ainsworth stayed with us on the beach and hooked us up with a waiter and the water sports guy. We enjoyed a relaxing time at the beach. The water was not as clear as in Grand Cayman but it was still beautiful. We rented peddle boats and snorkel masks. We ate jerk chicken from the restaurant. And this was good & spicy jerk chicken. There was always someone coming around to try to see you something. I had lots of ladies want to braid my hair. I now regret not letting them give me a few braids. Once we were done relaxing we decided to go shopping. Ainsworth called and the bus came back to pick us up. This time Peat Taylor was driving. He was also very nice and informative. He took us to the shopping are near the port so we could walk back to the ship when we were done. My oldest son got the perfect t-shirt and my youngest son got a drum. I stopped at the merchants just outside the port and found a bamboo trivet. Of course, you had to haggle on the price but isn't that what you do at a yard sale?
Overall, this was a good experience in Jamaica. I've read many reviews where people were fed up with the pushy sales tactics and didn't feel safe. I was even leery of taking my boys on the island remembering our experience 17 years earlier. But I definitely recommend Peat Taylor tours as a way to see the island. I never felt insecure. I would book a tour with Peat Taylor again.
After a hot but relaxing day at sea we were back in Miami. We had one of the first disembark numbers called. We quickly got off the ship, picked up our luggage and went through customs. We got a shuttle to Hertz to pick up our rental and off to West Palm Beach airport. Now I'm home washing clothes and getting ready to go back to school and work.
This was a great vacation! Carnival did a great job of feeding and entertaining us for the week. Our shore excursions were everything we were expecting and more. I can't wait for our next cruise!