We drove to Miami from South Carolina the day prior to sailing. Since our daughter was scheduled to take the SAT that day, we could not drive all the way to Miami and instead drove to Port St. Lucie. We stayed at Homewood Suites, which is about a two-hour drive from the port. It is a very nice, new hotel with an extensive breakfast buffet. We parked at the port parking lot, which was full. We were forced to park along the side, not in an actual parking spot. We were nervous about leaving our car there, but there was no one around to ask about other lots. The only direction we had was from the porter who took our luggage.
It took approximately one hour to board the ship, most of which was waiting on the ship itself to have our picture taken for our ship id. We immediately booked a shore excursion, then had lunch at the buffet, which was very good. Our teenage daughters went to the sail away parties with the teen clubs, Club 02 and Circle C. They didn't like it because most of the other kids had friends or family with them. My kids are not shy; they loved the kids clubs on previous cruises when they were younger, but I think they would have been more comfortable if they could have been in the same club together. My husband and I went to Scarlett's on the first night since they offered a free bottle of wine. It is now $35, but is well worth the money. Everything we tried was delicious and was by far the best meal we had. My husband was delighted that escargot was on the menu.
We were in room 8296, which is very convenient to the Lido deck. We were concerned since we were a floor below the Lido deck and heard about noises from chairs being moved overnight. However, we never heard a thing. Our room was very quiet. This is the first cruise where we had a balcony, and I absolutely loved it. I found the layout of the ship difficult to manuever and never completely learned my way around the lower floors.
The ports we visited were Key West, Grand Cayman, and Ocho Rios. I have been to all of these before. In Key West, we rented bicycles from Paradise Rentals for $10 each. They are on Fitzpatrick St., near the pier, and service was great. It was very easy to get around and much easier than walking.
We all ate dinner together in the Lincoln dining room. We chose anytime dining, and service the first night was a disaster. We asked for tea and soda and never received either. Service was extremely slow; we left before we saw the dessert menu. It has been several years since my last cruise, and I noticed that there are fewer courses offered, and a definite decline in service. Not sure if it is because of the anytime dining, RCCI vs. Carnival, or something else. However, service on subsequent nights was somewhat better. We mostly ate on the Lido deck, but ate in the dining room for breakfast one day and lunch another. Both were good, and service was also good. The Mongolian Wok was delicious and worth the wait. The sandwiches are very good from the deli. Fish and Chips restaurant was good. Didn't get to try sushi. I am told the burrito bar was also good. We tried tea time, which I highly recommend. Very good desserts.
In Grand Cayman, we booked a tour through Native Way. We did the stingray city, coral garden, and starfish tour. I highly recommend this tour. They were awesome tour guides, and the stingrays are amazing. The currents are a little rough for snorkeling; even the stronger swimmers wore life jackets. In Jamaica, we booked the Dunn's River and Mystic Mountain tour through Carnival. It was a good tour. The view on top of mystic mountain is the best part. The bobsled is much faster than I thought it would be, but is fun. The chair lift up the mountain is very high, and I wouldn't recommend it if you are afraid of heights. I did Dunn's River many years ago on my honeymoon, but is much more difficult than I remembered and took one hour to complete. However, it is well worth it. My teenagers loved it. We walked through the market, but the sellers are not overly aggressive. I actually felt bad about turning them down because they looked disappointed, and no one else was buying. After the tours, our bus dropped us off at Taj Mahal, which is a shopping center. We purchased coffee and rum.
The shows we saw were ok, but not great. The best one was the 80s show. The comedians were not very funny. Matt, our cruise director, was funnier. However, he said it was his last cruise on the Valor, as he is moving to the Fantasy. It took quite a while to disembark. It was after 10:00 before we left port. All in all, great cruise!