Carnival Valor Review 4/28-5/6/12
This is my first review and I really just want to pay it forward for all the help I have had from this large and very knowledgeable cruise critic family. Thanks everyone who has answered my many dumb questions. Little back ground on us we love cruising this was number 7 since 2008 and we are both pretty laid back. So I will tell you about the things we did but no real rants because or view is we are on a cruise and lucky to be and there wont be anything to drag us down. Please feel free to ask questions and I do have the fun times and a scanner but don't know how to work them so I will get the DW to help at some point this week. I will be walking back into 6 twelve days this week at work so please stick with me even if I don't finish in 2 or 3 days. Thanks for reading and I hope you enjoy!
We drove over Friday from Ft. Myers. Stayed at the Miami Hilton Downtown and had a wonderful view of the port. Not to sure of the cost per night because I used credit card points but I would highly recommend this hotel for a pre or post cruise stay. It had a great lobby bar and the breakfast buffet was one of the best i have had at a hotel. There was a fee for breakfast(8.00 I Think)but again this was included with our credit card points. Cab fare from the hotel was pretty cheap. It was only 9.50 plus tip of course. It seemed like everyone in Miami got a tip from me! Forgot to mention I said we drove over so why did I use a cab? We rented a car and drove over because the price of parking is ridiculous. Rented from avis and it was only 27 dollars each way and with cab fares and gas refills in the car I only spent about $80.00 which is still cheaper than driving my V8 truck over. The rental was a ford focus and it got sick mileage. Less than a quarter tank each way. Dinner pre cruise i had done a bit of research on and the boss(wife) decided on a restaurant called Area 31 inside if the Epic Hotel. Great views as it was on the 16th floor and we opted to dine on the outdoor terrace which was nice because the weather happened to be great that night. Great atmosphere and the food was good too! DW had the scallops and loved it. I had the sirloin and it was good but not great. I had originally wanted the pork bellies(reviews said they were best thing on the menu) but they had ran out that night. Overall I would say try this place but it is a bit pricey sirloin 32.00 and the scallops were 28.00 but a great time. Where they get you is on the drinks. I love me some Jim Beam and its only 5.50 on the ship so I figured maybe 6 or 7 tops so I continued to indulge and when we got the check the meltdown began a little 6 @ $10.00 per plus the DW drinks so the total bill was $180.00 and over half was drinks. After dinner back to the hotel bar to catch the end of the Tampa Bay Rays game and a few cheaper drinks.
Woke up crazy early(4:00) the watch the Liberty & Valor come into port around 5 a.m. It was nice Liberty came all the way down the harbor to turn around but not the Valor. I did get a few good pics(432)which I am working on and will do my best to post as many as I can as soon as I can. From there the norm got the DW up at 8 a.m., breakfast, shower, pack the little we unpacked, and off to the port @ 10:30. I dont remember the terminal number but it was not the usual carnival location. Upon entering the terminal there was a good sized line waiting to get in through the initial security screening. Kind of a cluster and it seemed as if no one knew where to go. Once inside I realized we were in the NCL terminal and anything with the logo was covered up with paper and tape. So i did understand the slight delays with everything. No worries I am on vacation. Once checked in with the agent we did not get our sign & sail cards and were told to go upstairs to get them. There was no real direction so we wondered to the opposite side of the terminal and we saw some people lining up and figured thats where we needed to be. We had zone number 6 and were on board by noon. So total time to check in and wait was an hour which was not to bad. I am not a big fan of Miami and much prefer ft. Lauderdale or Tampa but really wanted to be on the Valor so you work with what you have. We went right up to the lido for lunch and the line at the wok was already crazy so we settled for some salad which always seems to be the least populated line on the first day and we tend to always go there. As standard rooms ready at 1:30(Balcony 8225 forward) muster at 4 and sailed at 5. All luggage had arrived by 5. We got cozy on the balcony and enjoyed sail away. I had been a little nervous know that we would not have Goose as CD and boy was I wrong Matt Mitcham was great. In my opinion he has been the best CD yet for us. He and the asst. CD were both young and full of energy and that energy seemed to run through the ship. I have never seen so many people participate in every activity. First night dinner was at the steakhouse and there is still free wine. Server came up and asked if wanted the red or white. It was painless and we were happy. Thanks everyone who had threads about the free wine. The dinner was excellent ribeye for me surf and turf for the DW. The chef came around and spoke with everyone dining that night to make sure everything was perfect and it was. Reluctantly I went to the welcome aboard show because it is the same on every ship but we did and after called it a night.
Sea Day #1
Thought from the first day. The only thing I didn't like about going to the steakhouse first night was not getting to meet our table mates. Woke up kind of early around 7:30 open the curtain to a very dark gray sky. That tended to be the story of the day with rain all day. So just about all the outdoor activities were cancelled but not the master mixologist which was held in the atrium lobby kind of a fun place for it with all the people watching from three decks high. We attended fun aboard and shore excursion talk and then up to the steakhouse for the cooking demo. Cooking demo was nice they prepared a 4 course meal and you were able to sample the dishes. It was the mushroom soup, mushroom and feta(i think)salad, rosemary infused chicken, and tiramisu. Everything we sampled was great and I am not the biggest fan of mushrooms. From there we headed to the fun shops so I could annoy my DW by watch shopping. I ended up buying a great watch. It was one I have been looking at here at home for a while and I ended up getting 50% less than what I have seen locally. I was very glad I waited. If you are into watches they have a great selection of multiple brands and something for every price range. We ended up spending a great part of the afternoon in the sports bar. Sunday a great day for sports especially since the rain had not stopped. Nenad (liked to be called Ned) was the bartender and was a lot of fun, great conversation and poured great drinks. We visited this bar every night before dinner. Hung around the sports bar until about 5:30 while walking back and forth between the casino. This was also formal night and we had to head up to the room to get ready. Dinner was good I had the prime rib and the DW the lobster. A little upset we didnt get to meet our tablemates again tonight. Between dinner and the show we headed back to the sports bar to watch the Rays vs. Rangers. We are big baseball fans. The show for the night was Midnight Express. It was very similar to the one we saw on the Legend in October but I think a few of the number were different but the same theme. I didnt mind it was still very entertaining and it was defiantly a "vegas style" show. After the show we headed towards the piano bar. We give it a chance on every ship but have never enjoyed one of them. Around 11:30 we head in and the guy was good, played well and not a bad singer. At midnight it got fun he asked someone to close the door and proceeded to talk about almost being fired from carnival for a few of his original songs. He did a disclaimer about what you were about to hear and it was funny. His songs were great absolutely adult in nature but so much fun. If you are not offended easily please go see him he is so much fun. One of my favorite parts was when someone would come in the door he would say "look who it is" and the crowd would answer "holy sh*t" and that was what he used as the factor on whether or not they should be in there. It was so much fun and it would become a nightly stop!! Almost forgot to tell you his name Brad Alexander. Whatever ship you are on if he is there please see him. I cant say enough how much fun we had. We actually closed the bar down that night leaving around 2 a.m.
Day #3 Grand Turk
Up and out early headed to the beach! Just to the beach at the end of the pier though. The day started out a little dark with some light showers but we waited it out and it turned out to be a pretty nice day. We were literally the first 2 chairs at the end of the pier which turned out to be great for people watching and my DW is a professional people watcher. After a few hours at the beach we browsed around the shops in the area and had appetizers at Margaritaville. Margaritaville had a huge pool with a bar in the pool and a flowrider at one end. Pool was free even if you didn't eat there but I'm sure the flowrider had a fee. Headed back to the ship for an early sail away @ 2:30. Past guest party was broken up to early and late seating depending on your dinner time. We attended the 5:15-6 party. For those who have not attended a past guest party it is 45min of free alcohol and appetizers. The CD drew a name for free night at steakhouse then said "we know what you are here for so everyone get there drink on" then the live band performed. After we had more to drink at the Bronx Bar and ended up hanging out there till our 8:15pm dinner time. Finally we met our table mates and they turned out to be a great couple. After dinner they accompanied us to the comedy club. The two comedians were Al Romero and Donnell Grey. We didn't care for Al Romero at the Welcome Aboard show so we only saw Donnell Grey's adult show. We enjoyed it and found out there are drink specials only in the comedy club to include buckets of beer (don't remember price), only $3 more for a double and $2 more for a floater. After getting out of the comedy show we introduced the late night piano bar to our table mates. Another great time and plenty of laughs. On this night the only thing going on in the theatre was "The Marriage Show" which we skipped.
Day #4 San Juan
Sail in to San Juan has to be my favorite out of all the ports. The Forts are amazing whether you are sailing in or departing. This is our second time at San Juan and we didnt have anything planned. A couple we met the previous day invited us to go to them to the Bacardi Rum Distillery. This was very easy to get to and very inexpensive. We went to pier 2 to catch the water taxi over to other side of the island (name of destination started with "C" cant remember actual name) there is a sign on the pier that says Bacardi Distillery. Water taxi was $0.50 per person each way. Once off the water taxi they will immediately guide you to a parking garage where there is a bunch of taxi's. It is $3.00 per person each way. No entry fee for Distillery tour. Tour itself was ok but you never actually see the distillery. You watch a video, see a mock up of the original distillery, area where you can play a video of how they make the rum and can smell all the different rum's. From there they take you to a bar where they show you how to make a mojito. After the tour they give you 2 tickets per person for free drinks. They will let you try any of the rums including exotic flavors with any type of mixer (no frozen blends for free). For $10 you could buy either a Pina Colada or Mojito this includes the plastic souvenir glass it came in as well as a shot glass (see pic). Mojito made with real sugar cane and fresh mint. DW had Pina Colada said Mojito was much better (she doesn't even like mojitos). Total tour and drink time was 2 hours with water taxi total tour 3.5 hrs. Water taxis come every 30 min.
We returned to the ship for a late lunch and had steakhouse reservations for a second time. The steakhouse did not disappoint this time either. I cannot say enough about the food we both got the same meals as first night. After the steakhouse the main show in the theatre was Dana Tison Comedic Juggler. We have actually seen his show twice before this cruise. He is really good same act that we saw in October aboard the Legend but still worth seeing. Comedy club had no shows this evening and we called it an early night because we had an early excursion next morning in St.Maarten.
Woke up ready to tour! We had a 9:00am excursion with Bernard Tours. This was the first time we booked independently so we were a little nervous, but it turned out to be one of the best excursions. Started off by meeting at the end of the pier, met a couple our age while waiting that we ended up spending quite a bit of time with. First stop was an area where they had a bunch of Iguana's, the guide gave us lettuce to feed them and would hold them for photo ops. We spent about 20 minutes here it was a nice break from driving, def not the highlight of the tour. From there we went to a really nice lookout point (see pics), there was a guide grabbing sea urchins, star fish, and some sort of shell fish. Be aware the gentlemen grabbing the marine life did expect a little tip (standard seemed to be $1). There was a nice built up deck that had a great view of the ocean, def a great photo op. Spent about 20 min there and we were off to Orient beach.
Once we arrived at Orient beach we headed down and rented 2 beach chairs and umbrella for $10. Where we were located was just at the boarder of where the reagular beach turned into the nude beach. This meant we had a lot of onlookers from the Nude side wonder close to us. Great spot for people watching, but keep this in mind if you have children. Beautiful beach we lucked out with the weather it was actually raining in the distance but we never ended up in it. Where we rented the chairs they offered bar service, very cheap $2 for a beer and the guy would bring them down to you. Only complaint was that the vendors walked right on the beach across the lounge chairs with coverups, jewelry, and towels. It felt like a minute didn't go by without someone asking if you wanted to buy something. We had an experience with a local Reggae singer. He would come up with portable CD player in hand and give this story about how our marriage would last longer with his music. He wouldn't stop until you listened I refused several times but my DW is too nice and gave in and listened. After he realized we weren't buying into it he finally left. We spent about 2 total hours on the beach and then it was time for our next stop.
From there we went to downtown Marigot the French capital. The tour guide recommended some local restaurants and a French pastry Shoppe. We only had a half an hour but we didn't eat at Orient beach so we went to local restaurant and my DW had garlic shrimp with rice which she said was very good. We rushed to the French pastry Shoppe because we were short on time but it was well worth it. I got this amazing triple chocolate mousse pastry. There was a quite a bit of shopping to do there but we didn't have time. It was mostly local vendors with local goods.
From there we went to Maho beach where we spent most of our time at the sunset beach bar. This is the famous beach where the planes fly over before landing at the airport. It is a must see and the bar has the times posted on arrivals. On a side note at the Sunset Beach Bar topless women drink free. So beware with your children. We left Maho beach and headed back to the peir. They offered to stop in Phillipsburg for some shopping but no one in our group really cared to stop. David was our tour guide he was great and Bernards Tours is definitely someone we will continue to use when we visit St.Maarten. Total tour cost was $40 per person, which was very reasonable considering cost of cab just to Orient Beach was $20 one way.
Back on the ship we got cleaned up and headed to the sports bar to meet up with a group of people to watch baseball before dinner. Best deal in the bar was 120oz of Thirsty Frog beer for $25. This was poured in something that looked like a blender with a spigot on it. It poured about 8 glasses of beer and our group went through 2 of them for a great time before dinner. The show after dinner was "More than Magic" with Rand Woodbury. It was a David Cooperfield type show. Worth going kept us entertained for an hour. This drew an end to another night with another early morning ahead at St.Thomas. This was mega deck party night which got moved inside due to rain. They also had the Mexican Midnight buffet which we did not attend.
Up early again for another shore excursion. We had an 8:30 tour booked for the St.Johns Champaign Catamaran through Carnival. It was a brief drive through many ridiculously steep hills, winding roads, hair pin turns and blind corners all in an open air bus (see pic). Once we arrived at the marina we boarded the catamaran, embarking on a 40min journey to St.Johns. There were about 25 people on the catamaran with a crew of 3. As we sailed to St.Johns we were offered non-alcoholic drinks and given snorkel gear. About half way there the tour guide gave us background on what we were looking at and where we were going. Very informative and intriguing. We anchored about 300yds off of Honeymoon Cove. This beach was very secluded only way to get there is to swim. Before we left the boat the guides pointed out the areas for best snorkeling and where to see the sea turtles. If you didn't want to swim/snorkel to the beach they had a dingy to take you ashore in. We enjoyed this very much my DW came face to face with a sea turtle and we got great pics. After about 30min the rain came. It started pouring but that didn't stop us it was actually quite fun. Total time on the beach was about 2hrs. As we headed back they tried to sail but because of the rain that had just came there was no wind. That did not stop us from having fun!! Alcohol started flowing at this point as well as some good music and finger foods. Nice assortment of beer, rum punch, and champagne for everyone to enjoy. This was by far our favorite excursion. FYI: no alcohol till after swim and snorkel.
After the excursion we went back to the ship for lunch and I finally had my first day of the Mongolian wok in the lido buffet. This was the only time the line was not ridiculously long. It was worth it. After lunch we went back into port and went around the local shops. Not very impressed a lot of jewelry stores, which is not what we were interested in. Other people that we talked to said that even downtown had majority of jewelry shops. Dinner in the dining room was good. After dinner show was Marcus Anthony a motown singer. This is the second time seeing him and we knew his show was not to be missed. He interacts with the audience quite a bit and entices people to come up on the stage and dance. So beware if you are sitting up front. After that we went to see Smiley Joe Wiley the late night comedian. This is also the second time we have seen him. Funny but act didn't change too much from when we had seen him on a different ship. Other comedian was Jerry Goodspeed he was an Ventriloquist and we weren't too interested so we skipped out and made our nightly stop at the piano bar where Brad was as good as ever.
Day#7- Sea Day
First of two sea days headed back to Miami. We slept in today not rushing to do anything in particular. DW loves cooking herself in the sun so she headed to the sun deck, while I went to the future cruise presentation. After the future cruise talk I spent about an hour and a half in the casino, shopping for another watch that I wasn't going to tell the DW about, and enjoying some drinks in the sports bar. We watched pool Olympics which was entertaining and then had lunch in the lido. After lunch we both ended up napping for a while. We really didn't do a lot during the day. This was the final formal night we headed down to take some pictures and headed to the martini bar. DW got Melon crush martini which she said tasted like a jolly rancher and really enjoyed it. After dinner was the 80's themed show "Far from over". We thoroughly enjoyed this show. Dancing singing and the costumes were outstanding. After the show my DW felt like dancing so we met our dinner mates at the One small step dance club. Had fun people watching and I noticed a lot of the Carnival dancers came in after their performance and the club seemed to be filled with employees. After we left the club our night came to an end.
Day #8-Sea Day
This happened to be Cinco de Mayo and Kentucky Derby day. They called it Cinco de Derby. Slept in again, DW continued to cook herself so I followed suit with casino and sports bar. We decided to meet in the main dining room for lunch. The menu was actually very nice but the service was below par. Maybe it was because we came in 15min before they closed. Last cruise nap before we went to the fun farewell party. This was held in the eagle's aft lounge and is a MUST ATTEND. Same as the past guest party free alcohol and show band performance. No appetizers served during this one but please know that they do not advertise that this party includes free drinks. This party always occurs on the last sea day whether it is a 6, 7, or 8 day cruise. The Cruise director and staff were there and really got the crowd involved. They were walking around thanking the passengers and making sure everyone had a great cruise. Matt the CD was going around and taking pictures as well. After that we went up to the lido deck to watch the Kentucky derby on the big screen. Once this was over we had a drink at the sports bar and headed up to the room to get ready for our final dinner. After dinner was the Carnival Legends show which we skipped. For those who do not know what this is it's a guest karaoke show to always the same famous singers i.e. Brittany Spears, Garth Brooks, Dolly Parton, and Madonna etc. Once you see it once that is enough, in my opinion. We met our dinner mates for a final showing of Bard at the piano bar. Tonight's theme was bathrobe party with brad. They encouraged everyone to wear the bathrobe from your cabin. We closed the piano bar down one final night and said goodbye to our friends as we headed up to the cabin to finish packing. The final night on the balcony is my favorite because you can always see a bunch of cruise ships either coming or going all light up at night.
We opted to do self-assist seeing as though it has been very easy in the past. Debarkation started around 7am. We were off the ship by 7:15am and in a cab by 7:30am on our way to pick up our rental car. Going through customs was the easiest we had experienced in Miami. We sadly picked up our rental car and realized it was the end to another great cruise and headed home.