If you are reading this be forewarned: it will contain more criticism than positive. But I am going to give it my candid assessment.
This was our fourth cruise, the third with Carnival. Although the opinions contained herein are my own, my travelling companion echoes the same sentiments.
First, our cruise was an 8 night Southern Caribbean from May 26 - June 3. We flew into Fort Lauderdale the day before because this was the closest airport that had a direct flight from our home airport. We arrived around noon and hailed a cab to take us to the Coconut Grove Marriott in Miami. Travelers on other reviews said the trip should cost about $65, give or take. Our cab driver took an extended route (I was following the route on my iphone's GPS) and the fare came to $120! I called the cabby out on it during the ride and we eventually agreed on paying $85, which included his tip. Geesh, do the cab drivers really think all visitors are stupid? This Marriott was a glorious hotel and there are no complaints with it. It had a fine restaurant and a lobby bar to relax in and enjoy a cocktail.
The next morning we arrived at the port of Miami (a 10 minute cab ride) around 10:30 a.m. and proceeded through Embarkation. What a breeze. Because we pre-registered on-line we were able to get through the entire process within 15 minutes. To my surprise, I witnessed people carrying onto the ship, in open view, bottles of wine and cases of soda pop. Lots of people! So apparently it's not an issue to BYOB anymore. We did pack 3 bottles of wine inside our suitcase and there they laid undisturbed when luggage arrived at the room.
Our room was 6438, a balcony room located above the Eagles Aft Lounge. From around 6:30 p.m. through 2:30 a.m. the noise from below permeated our room. And this was the first night. Not only could the noise be heard - and I was wearing ear plugs - but the room floor literally vibrated, shaking the bed. It was impossible to enjoy the room. We called the purser's desk to complain and all they said was that they were sorry. By midnight we couldn't take anymore and went down in person to complain. Again, the personnel apologized and said that a supervisor would get back to us the next morning. I gave her a doubtful look but she promised they would. So the next day we made it a point to stay in the room to wait to hear from a supervisor. No-one called or came to the room. We went down at noon and the attendant went back and got a supervisor. He apologized for our rough night and offered us a balcony room on the 8th deck. Evidently all the rooms on the ship were sold out but this was a last minute cancellation. We accepted and were in our new room by 1 p.m. To boot, our account was credited $50. Major props to Carnival for both offering us a different room, which is all we were looking for, AND giving the credit. That's how you treat a customer.
The room itself was standard for Carnival. Not overly spacious but not impossibly small, either. The bathroom was a bit cramped and the deck could comfortably seat two, but there was no room for two people to stretch out. If you wanted that then only one person could be outside at a time and the second chair would have to be brought into the stateroom. My only real complaint about the room was the fact there was only ONE electrical outlet, by the tv. So if you plan on using several things that need an outlet bring a power strip. Our room stewards (both on the 6th deck and 8th deck) were awesome and we have no complaints there. In fact when we asked our steward for a corkscrew he was able to get us one within minutes.
The food on the ship, in my opinion, suffered. The portions were smaller and tasted blander than my prior cruises on Carnival Triumph and Pride. So small that sometimes I ordered two appetizers and two entrees, and yes, two desserts. Additionally, service was very slow. This was NOT the fault of our waitress. She busted her butt! The problem was that she had several tables to wait on. Carnival must be downsizing its staff because we never had a service issue before. Also, the "entertainment" from the dinner staff was pathetic. Again, on prior cruises there was singing and dancing and parades throughout the dining room almost every night. On this ship there was singing but the staff just stood in place by their assigned tables. This is a reflection on the Maitre 'D. It just wasn't as special as on past cruises.
Eating lunch in the dining room was limited to sea days. Another disappointment since on past Carnival cruises you could eat every meal in the dining room. Carnival regrettably has closed the dining room on Port days which again reflects that its standards have gone a bit down. Don't they realize that not everybody gets off at every port or that maybe those who do are back on the ship by lunchtime? Some people prefer to have a service lunch in quiet environment instead of a buffet with a bunch of noisy kids and people in wet swimming suits milling all around.
As far as the entertainment on the ship goes, boy have things gone downhill. The piano bar for example has long been my favorite cruise experience. In past cruises the pianists were entertaining and very good. On Valor, we had Brad, who was obnoxious and frankly not very good. I mean his repetoire consisted of the SAME lame songs every night. He didn't start until 9 p.m. but because we had the late dinner seating we didn't get to the piano bar until around 10:15 p.m. We'd generally stay until 11 p.m. when a late night comedy show began, but it was excruciating. I made three requests throughout the week and gave him $5 each time. On two occasions he didn't have time to play my request because he had a schedule and he didn't do ballads after a certain time and all requests ceased at midnight so he could do a strictly "adult" show. So if you were a kid - who paid good money to be on the ship and enjoy all its offerings - you were out of luck if you wanted to be in the piano bar because Brad insisted that no kids were allowed. On the one request that he did accommodate me he actually had his ipod play the song while he played chords on the piano. He literally was playing songs off his ipod through the speakers. How whacked is that? And he wouldn't let anyone videotape him because he said he didn't want it to go viral. For good reason! So the piano guy sucked. Brad should be fired and replaced by a real pianist who actually knows how to play a variety of songs and can keep a crowd entertained.
There was a latin-themed disco - the Paris Hot Bar - which probably had the best music on the ship. Unfortunately that was the only smoking lounge on the ship so it usually was insufferable to sit in there very long. The Atrium lobby's entertainment during the day was very good. A woman played the piano on a couple of days and a man played the guitar on others. Note to Carnival: replace Brad with that woman! She was so so much better. Every afternoon I would take a book to the Atrium and relax on a comfortable over-sized leather chair, enjoying a glass of wine and listening to great music. That alone was worth the price of the cruise. We did go to some of the shows in the big show lounge but were not as impressed as on past cruises. Also, the late night comedians were not funny. I was not offended by the vulgarity. Some comedians can really make me bust out laughing. Sadly that was not the case on this cruise. One of the guys was even shilling his CD for $10 after the show and not a single person bought one. That says it all.
We did go to the Art Auction all three sea days. Ignore the 1 p.m. start time as listed in the daily brochure. That's just when the doors open and preview begins. For the next 45 minutes you have the opportunity to walk around and look at the art. The "free champagne" that's pomised didn't arrive until the actual auction began. And on the first day it didn't arrive to my area at all. In past auctions we were able to drink and browse from the time the doors opened. I also don't understand why some of the same artwork was shown all three days when it was apparent from the first day that nobody was interested. They really pushed the Kinkade paintings... nobody was buying. Also, they showcased a lot of artwork where the opening bid was $10,000 up. NOBODY was buying those, either. So why waste everyone's time with big ticket items? The art gallery is open daily for people who want to buy these items.
Okay, some positives. The Fish and chips restaurant was outstanding. The bouillabaisse and cerviche were the best I've ever had. The pizza, deli, and burrito bar equally served up good food. My complaint about the Lido buffet - aside from the food tasting bland and that it looked like processed leftovers - was the way the food was set up: salad bar, entrees, desserts. So people only interested in entree items had to wait while the salad bar people got what they wanted. The set-up made no sense at all.
Gone are the famous midnight buffets (food and chocolate). Instead there was one late buffet, at 11:30 p.m., and it consisted of Mexican food. Sorry, but the last thing I want to eat before going to bed is refried beans and spicy and greasy food. What a disappointment. The only "late night", i.e., after 6 p.m., food that you could get outside of the dining room is pizza. I guess you can get sandwiches if you order room service but who wants to do that when all you want is a quick bite between shows?
The Cruise Director (Matt Mitchem) sucked. He acted like he was God's gift to women and he thought he was a comedian. Unfortunately, his jokes and quips fell flat and usually he was the only one laughing at them. At least that was how it was around my area. He should be replaced. John Heald was the CD when we were on Triumph and truly he has been the best CD of all the cruises we've been on. Every director should be forced to work alongside Mr. Heald before getting their own ship. It's a shame John wasn't the director for our cruise.
A peeve I had on this cruise was that they automatically billed your account $11.50 every day for the tips. I feel tips should be at the discretion of the cruiser because some workers deserve a good tip and some, I assume, do not.
We have always gotten excellent service on Carnival from all quarters and without exception. On this cruise we did end up giving the stewards and waitstaff (EVERY ONE) an envelope on the last night with large gratuities. My complaints in this review were not about the service we got but on this ship's cruise experience in general. I think that when the tip is automatically billed, the staff's standards slide a little because they know they are already getting a tip. The downside is that there is no incentive to work extra hard because most people aren't going to give something extra since it's already been billed to your account. I'm sorry but the tip should be completely left up to the guest. We added extra tips on the bar bills (which are automatically assessed a 15% gratutity) but we learned when we got our bill the last day that these were never added.
Another feature past Carnival cruises offered which were not around on this cruise were the classical trio and jazz quartet. They were delightful options that put you in a relaxing mood and helped pass the time. Nothing comparable could be found on the Valor. We also missed the afternoon tea and scones that were offered in the past but not on this cruise. I don't know if Carnival offers these on any of her ships anymore but I would suggest that they reconsider if they don't. They were BIG reasons why we picked Carnival this time around.
Well, as you can see, there were a lot of things on this cruise experience which diminished my image of Carnival. It certainly is known as being the Party Ship but I feel its image has been cheapened somewhat. Our two prior Carnival experiences were a blast and I wrote glowing reviews for those. But it seems that Carnival is so commercialized now that it doesn't care as much about the customer's satisfaction as it does just getting them booked and nickle and diming them once on the ship. The drinks are way overpriced. (A can of pop is $2; beer is $6+, glass of wine is $6.50+, a mixed drink was $9+). They take a million pictures of you every night, clogging up the promenade with the photo chute layouts. (Pictures are $20 each if you decide to buy). They push the promotions. (Put $100 down now on a future cruise and get an on-board credit). Daily spa "deals" which really aren't deals. Etc.
We did appreciate that they changed our room the second day - but that was only because there was a last minute cancellation. What about the surrounding rooms who had to have experienced the same frustration? Carnival's solution is to just credit the customer $50, but that doesn't change the fact that the customer doesn't get to enjoy a quiet night's sleep the rest of the week. Why not just put a quieter activity in that lounge and move the heavy music to a part of the ship that doesn't have rooms above? There's enough room on the ship to do this. We also got some good artwork - about 20 pieces total. And as I said above we had really good service with our room stewards and waitstaff. No complaints there!
One final note on Debarkation. This took longer than we hoped. We were up around 7 a.m. and were told to go to the Lido deck to await further instructions. We had to wait until our "number" was called, which didn't happen until almost 10 a.m. Going through customs was a little hectic but there were no issues really. We hailed a cab and went to our hotel in Hollywood Beach (near Fort Lauderdale) and the fare came to $60. This cabby got a nice tip! The hotel was gorgeous and it was situated right on the beach. Rooms were better than we could have ever hoped for and the restaurant/bar provided excellent food and service.
Will we go on another Carnival cruise? Not the next time. But if we do it will only be after thoroughly checking the ship out and reading the customer reviews. So far we have based our cruises on the ports of call but we think next time it will be on the cruise director and what exactly the ship has to offer by way of activities and entertainment. The piano bar was a big letdown for me this time whereas it was the highlight of my cruises in the past. (I am myself a piano player and love piano bars). I hope this review was helpful to others considering going on the Valor. I would strongly urge them to pass on this ship and try another Carnival boat. Perhaps one where John Heald is the Director. He will be one I am looking for if and when we cruise on Carnival in the future.