We arrived in FL on 12/6 and drove to Clearwater Florida to see the Clearwater Marine Aquarium (home of Dolphin Tale's Winter). I highly recommend the Aquarium. We chose to do everything from the educational boat ride to having a picture taken with Hope. Very educational. We ate dinner at the restaurant next to the Aquarium, I can't remember the name but the food was reasonable and phenomenal.
We took a leisurely path from Clearwater back to Miami over the next couple of days. We also toured Whooten's and took an airboat ride, viewed the rescue animals in their facility and took a swamp buggy ride thru the 'glades. Again, it was very educational and enjoyable.
The night before the cruise my BF contacted SAS transportation for a shuttle ride to the port the following morning. I highly recommend them, our driver was Lawrence and he was awesome. He would call the passengers at each hotel to let them know he was coming, what he would be in and what time they could expect him. He freely gives out his cell number if you have any questions before or after transportation. (I suggest making arrangements for the ride from the port on disembarkation. We called them as we docked and they said they would pick us up. As we waited among all the other people disembarking an SAS transport pulled up and my BF asked if he was there for us. This driver was pretty rude, ignored us for the most part. Our driver pulled up a few minutes later but it caused some confusion on an already confusing morning.)
I purchased the "Faster to the Fun" option and it is well worth the money. We arrived at the port approximately 11:45 and there was a a line. We didn't know where to go and we were directed to the Platinum/Diamond members line of which we were the 2nd in line. We were processed quickly and were on the ship in now time at all. We went straight to our cabin and the door was open for us. I needed to get my sail and sign card punched to go on my lanyard so we went down to guest services. Yep, there was a line and we got in it not knowing that yet again we could get service from the Platinum/Diamond line. One of the employees was asking people what they needed and took my card in the back to punch the hole. When he came back out he told us if we needed customer service to go to the Platinum/Diamond line. On a side note we did need to go to customer service, used the P/D line, we were immediately taken care and asked if we were happy with the Faster to the Fun service so far. It was really nice.
I get a little frustrated with the muster drill. The bulletin says "approximately 3:30pm". My advice? Wait until the alarm is called because if you are the first few out there you will be in the back 3-4 people deep and it's hot. One older woman passed out while we were standing there.
Our first stop was Nassau, Bahamas and I didn't really see any excursion that interested me nor did I want to wander the streets. I did my research and didn't feel it would be safe. A lot of people went to Atlantis however, I didn't think we would be in port long enough to do it justice.
Day 3 was a sea day. We were just plain lazy. My BF looooved the slide and must have gone down it 100 times in a row. It was a much bigger, faster slide than the Legend and it was never closed due to wind.
Day 4 was La Romana, Dominican Republic. The weather was partly sunny which to me means party cloudy with a chance of rain. We had an independent excursion reserved but opted not to go. I had a bad experience in Belize last year trying to snorkel in weather that Carnival canceled their excursions but the independent excursion still went and it was miserable.
Day 5 was San Juan Puerto Rico. I was on a mission to find the Coach and Dooney&Bourke outlets! Since Puerto Rico is a US entity we had cell coverage without roaming charges and were able to use the internet by having one of our cell phones as a hot spot. I didn't realize SJ was so big, from the pix online I figured we could just find the outlets. Uhmmm no. I ended up calling the store and they gave me directions. It was a bit of a hike, be forewarned. Plus it was overcast and raining. The outlet was awesome! I got a large tote, wallet, lanyard, wristlet, iPad cover and key chain for $300. It's a must stop for next year's birthday cruise. Next time I would probably visit Senor Frog's for a little local culture but due to the weather we went back to the ship.
Day 6 was Grand Turk. The weather was beauuuutiful!! Unfortunately, we had a Carnival excursion. The excursion it was worth the money to go snorkeling and for a beach break. But there isn't really a reason to do an exursion there because the cruise companies have made an awesome tourist center. They had plenty of beach chairs, no charge. Now I understand there were places that did charge for use of the chairs/umbrellas but I don't have that information. After we got back from the excursion we went back to the ship and ended up by the pool. In hindsight, again we would have just hung at the beach..... Grand Turk is always another of our must stops for next year's cruise.
Day 7 was a Sea Day. Laaaazy day. I packed us up early in the morning so I wouldn't stress about it later. We received our Zone 1 disembarkation tags that afternoon. We had 2 large suitcases, put them out after dinner so we only would have our carry ons.
Disembarkation - Your Faster to the Fun letter that we received with our luggage zone tags said to meet in the Betsy Ross room and we would be "escorted" off. Hmmmm, first of all we didn't know where the room was and had to ask an member of the crew and he took us there. When Zone 1 was called everybody in the Betsy Ross room just left there wasn't a crew member to escort us anywhere. That was a bit confusing and I'm not sure if that was what we were supposed to do. We did get our luggage immediately and were off the ship by 8:45 so that was well worth it.
Overall impressions of the ship. I really liked the Valor. Our 1st cruise was on RCI's Freedom of the Seas and I prefer the promenade on the Freedom because it pretty much ran the entire length of the ship whereas you couldn't go in a straight line to get from one end of the Valor without taking stairs or an elevator.
Spa - another passenger told me the in's/out's. You give your sail/sign card to the desk and they will give you a key for a locker. I recommend using a locker unless you want to be running back and forth between the spa and your room. I liked to do cardio then hit the shower/wet steam room. It was heaven. I didn't use any of the spa services because I don't like to be hard saled into buying their products which is what happens.
Lincoln Dining Room - Since gratuities are pre-paid I was concerned that service would reflect the fact that they get paid grats whether the service is worth it or not. Sidenote: we contacted Guest Services and had them reverse our grats off our account, we chose to pay in cash at the end of the cruise. I'd seen posts about indifference service from the crew however, I didn't see any of it. From the steward to the dining room staff they were top-notch. I was glad to see that the "dinner show" aka the singing was limited to a quick number and not the whole room conga as it was on the Legend last year. Dinner still goes nearly 2 hours but your on a cruise if you don't want to wait go to the buffet or one of the other food facilities.
Burrito Bar - Awesome! But their hours were very short.
Mongolian Bar - Never able to try it, always a line.
Omelette Bar - Good, the inside omelette bar always had a line but there was another bar off the pool area that rarely had a line.
Whew... I'm trying to make sure I hit all points I wanted to make about our cruise. Next year's birthday cruise will the Breeze and I am really looking forward to that. On a side-note the BF and I also go to an all-inclusive resort in Jamaica in the spring. He is very partial to the all-inclusive and I thought this would be our last cruise but it just a different experience and luckily we had a good one on-board the Valor.
Happy sailing to all !!