After three years in a row sailing aboard our beloved Legend, we decided to try something new. We loved the Legend largely because it's very easy to navigate and there are fewer than 2,000 passengers. That, and our favorite port of call, Roatan, Honduras, is one of her stops. We chose the Valor based largely on it being an 8 day cruise, 4 ports of call, and 4 glorious days at sea! We approached it with some trepidation as she holds close to 3,000 passengers and some previous reviewers commented on getting from the front to the back of the ship easily. The Valor is a wonderful ship and we fell in love quickly.
We stayed at the Comfort Suites North Miami airport the night before we sailed. We picked this hotel based largely on recommendations and the fact that you get free transportation to the port of Miami. Wow! This place was incredible. You get a 5 star hotel at a 2 star price. Our room was easily as nice as any Embassy Suite, they have a bar downstairs (not free) and the rudimentary complimentary breakfast in the morning - eggs, bacon, waffles, etc. And, the shuttle to the port wasn't your typical 15 passenger hotel bus. Nope, they had a 33 passenger shuttle that pulled a trailer with your luggage. This was a first class operation. We left the hotel around 10:30 and by noon we were eating lunch on the Lido deck.
Embarkation was easy enough. Sure, there were lines, but you stand in one line, take care of an activity, then move to another. In Tampa, after security, it's one great big line to an undersized waiting/holding area. Here, there was plenty of space for all and the overall process was efficient. There was way more walking here than in Tampa, but from my perspective, if I'm moving, I'm making progress.
Once aboard, the buffet area was spaceous and we never had any problem finding a table for our group of 6. This prevailed throughout the cruise. One complaint I have with the Legend is you can nearly never find an open table for 6 on the Lido deck. Here, never a problem. They even have extra seating on the deck above - no food, but tables and drinks. Also, the feng shui of Rosie's on the Valor was far superior to that of the Legend. The areas we particularly loved were the Mongolian Grill (although, prepare yourself for pretty lengthy lines) and the Burrito Bar (beware, even without salsa, it's a little spicey - tolerable and tasty). There's als a fish and chips bar, but no one in our party sampled it.
The main pool area is typical and the center of most of the ships At Sea activities. We spent most of our time at the aft pool, which was adults only. I was concerned there would be kids running all around this area (on the Legend, the entire area is the Serenity Adults only and they're pretty good at enforcing it). On the Valor, Adults only mean the pool and hot tubs. There's the 24 hour pizzeria and ice cream/frozen yogurt, so, you're gonna have kids...but they came, got their stuff, then left. The pool is bigger than the Legend too and never really seemed crowded. Oh, and chair hogs that you read about? Never really saw that here...at the main pool, there seemed to be some hogging, but not out back. Now, you had to get there early, but you could generally find a place to park yourself.
Our room was an inside cabin on the 8th deck. This was our first time having a cabin at the aft part of the ship. One flight up to the Lido pool with Rosie's and five flights down to the main dining room. This was ideal. And getting to the front or mid ship was never a problem since all we had to do was go down 3 flights of stairs to the 5th deck, which runs front to back.
Now, here's where I pick some nits...the ship seemed to have a vibration that I only became aware of when I went to bed or I wasn't moving...it's probably just me, but it was incessant and made me feel jittery. My friends and family will agree I am typically jittery, but this was something I noticed, and, once I did, I always seemed aware of it. It didn't bother anybody else in our party. When we were cruising on the Legend, all three trips, Jen Baxter was our cruise director. Here we had Goose. Jen was everywhere and always making announcements telling us what was going on throughout the day, when we were cleared to disembark, where to disembark, etc. In all honesty, she made so many announcements, it bordered on annoying/harassment. With Goose, it was the polar opposite. Never saw him and never heard him. He would make one announcement a day, around 8 PM, and that was it. We discovered you have to read your Fun Times carefully to find out where to get off the ship (Deck 0, forward every time). However, you're pretty much on your own past that. We heard through the grapevine that the ship was prevented from making any announcements because we arrived early (7 AM most days) or we were too close to residential areas. Ok, fine, then make some announcements the night before. Anyway, those were the only things that I found unpalatable.
Our room, inside cabin, 4G, aft, was adequate. Our room steward, Errol, was sufficient without being remarkable. One day we were without chocolates, and one of our party's cabin only got one free Cliff bar and one free sample of toothpaste, but other than that, a room's a place where we change, shower, and sleep. We spend our time out and about, and save our money for other fun stuff.
Dining room was exceptional. Aleksander, Allyn, and Albert (AAA service!) were great. As with most folks who are regular Carnival cruisers, we have our favorite appetizers, entrees and desserts. We're no exception. We decided to have dinner at Scarlett's, the steak house, and asked Aleks which night was the best. He also told us his wife, Sandra worked up there, and we should ask for her. Well, the night he recommended, Scarlett's was booked (this happens a lot and for good reason), so went the next night. The down side was that was the night of one of our favorite appetizers and our favorite dessert, bitter and blanc. So, we decided to have our apps in the main dining room and hope they had the bitter and blanc in Rosie's. Well, imagine how surprised and thrilled we were when 3 bitter and blanc's showed up at our table in the steak house. Aleksander made our night and our cruise.
The entertainment was a cut above the Legend's and the overall condition of the ship was good. I didn't notice any undue wear and tear and every crew member we encountered greeted us with good morning/afternoon/evening. The friendliness of the staff was wonderful and completely what we've come to expect from Carnival.
The ports of call were St Thomas, Antigua, Tortola, and Nassau. Antigua was by far and away our favorite as we rented a 43 catamaran from Antigua Sailing (http://catamaransailingantigua.com/). Wayne and his daughter, Sim, showed us the time of our life!
I would sail with this ship and crew again tomorrow and can't endorse it enough. We had a wonderful time, wonderful weather, and an overall great cruise.