This was the third cruise for my husband and I, and the second for my parents. Always before we cruised with Royal Caribbean out of Galveston which was really convenient considering we live 45 minutes away. This time we wanted to experience something other than the Western Caribbean destinations that also fit our time period. We did some research and found that there weren't any Royal Caribbean cruises that fit all of our requirements. (being on the ship for Christmas, leaving after Dec. 22, and getting back before Jan. 3, and of course price is always a factor)So we looked into Carnival, who seemed to have more dates in our time period and the prices were flexible. We finally settled on the Carnival Valor, sailing out of Miami on Dec. 23 and returning on the 30th.
This was the first and last time I plan to sail with Carnival. They say you shouldn't judge an entire fleet based on 1 ship, but it wasn't just the ship that I had problems with - it was the crew. And you can't tell me they put all of their rude employees on 1 ship... Carnival just doesn't hold themselves to the same standard as Royal Caribbean, and once your used to the best, nothing less will do.
A good portion of the elevators on this ship were out of order, not to mention that we watched a little girl get her fingers stuck in the door of one! It was so sad! There was a lot of rust on the exterior of the ship, and our balcony was filthy with salt. I doubt it had been cleaned in the last 2 weeks. They finally cleaned it when we were in San Juan... but we only had a 2 days left! There was no order when exiting the ship, people pushing and shoving the get off at the ports; no prevention for the pushing and shoving for the sales on board. I asked a staff member after the sale if it was always like this and she said it was tame this time compared to others. She was even elbowed in the eye once and had a black eye for a while. That to me is outrageous! One of the guests this time had another lady grab her arm so hard that the next day she had fingerprint bruises. WOW.
One of my biggest complaints is that for a holiday cruise, there was very little holiday cheer. A couple of the staff wore Christmas hats, they made it snow for 5 minutes 1 day, and there were a couple of small trees spread out around the ship with some small wreaths along the wall, but they blend in with the gaudy decorations of the ship. And the layout of the Valor is awful! At one point I was stuck on 1/2 the ship because I couldn't find a way to get through the dead ends.
Anyway, here is my day to day review - enjoy:
We aren't strangers to traveling, so we decided to drive to Miami. We arrived the day before sailing and stayed in the La Quinta Airport North. Turns out the hotel offers a shuttle service to the port and a $40 fee to keep your car safe. After driving down to the port that night to check it out we decided that was our best option because we wouldn't have to fight the traffic and our day wouldn't start off stressful.
When we arrived at the port a porter was quick to help us with our luggage, and because my mother is in a wheelchair we were moved quickly through the lines and on board the ship in less than 30 minutes. I have to say it was by far the fastest and easiest we have ever boarded a cruise ship! And within the hour our luggage was already at our door. We roamed around the ship trying to figure out where everything was while drinking our 'welcome aboard' champagne.
After I took pictures of a retreating Miami Sunset, we unpacked and then went to check out dinner on deck 9, Rosie's Restaurant. The buffet wasn't great... The selection was interesting at best, and the taste was even less appealing. I ended up eating a salad and a piece of pizza. They had the photo ops set up all over the ship and we posed for some pictures just for fun. We were in the room kind of early as our first stop was at 7am! We spent some relaxing time out on our balcony then watched a movie as we fell asleep. Turns out there are no clocks in the room, so I set the alarm on my phone to wake us up.
Day 2: Nassau, Bahamas
Room service arrived at 6am with our breakfast, we thought it may be better than fighting the crowds at the buffet. Breakfast turned out to be worse that dinner, so we ended up at Rosie's after all and there were maybe 50 people there. Powdered eggs, greasy bacon, rubbery bagels and old toast... Sounds amazing doesn't it?
We booked a deep sea fishing excursion outside of the cruise line, so we were eager to get off and find the area we were supposed to meet them. We expected a crowd waiting to get off... again, there were very few people trickling out of the elevators. I was actually really surprised. I mean, your only in port for a few hours, you'd think people would want to make the most of it.
Anyway, we met up with the fishing charter and had a great time! In 3 hours we caught quite a few Wahoo and Tuna. There were 2 and 3 fish on the lines at a time. The guys had a great time catching them, I enjoyed taking the pictures and getting a little sun in the process. After we were taken back to shore we did a little shopping in the straw market, my Dad always gets a t-shirt at each stop. He's retired and he and his fishing buddies are always talking about the places they go and the fish they caught there. lol I suppose that's his way of proving he was there and it's not another 'fish tale'. I bought a pretty green and pink purse, something that I tend to collect on my travels.
We decided to go back aboard for lunch, hoping that the food would be better. No such luck, salad and pizza again for me. We went to the room with the intentions of taking a quick shower and going back out for some sightseeing. I suppose the sun and excitement took more out of us than we though because after my shower I laid down while waiting on Jon and fell asleep. When he got done he laid down too. We took an hour nap and woke up with enough time to watch them untie and sail away from the Bahamas.
We lounged in one of the hammocks for a while, and then I moved to one of the huge round chairs to soak up some more sun while Jon had his hair cut. After that we spent some time in the casino, the craps table was hot and he ended up walking away with $160. We ended up in the photo gallery and searched for all of our pictures. We found out really quick that we wouldn't be posing for any more photos... the pricing for pictures on Carnival is ridiculous! $22 for a portrait, and $12 for the 5x7's they snap as you get off at each port. If you were to purchase all of the pictures you took in 7 days it would add up to more than the cost of your room! We picked out a few that we liked and decided to only buy the port debarkation pics after that. We did however buy a really cute porthole picture frame that I couldn't pass up. Dinner was again disappointing, and we gave up hoping for anything better. Jon wanted another crack at the craps table, I warned him not to go back. If you leave with $ in your hand, you shouldn't chance fate twice. I was right, he lost $60. They made it snow in the lobby for a few minutes which was pretty cool. After that we checked out the arcade and played a few games and eventually found our way back to the room.
Day 3: Sea Day
Even without an alarm we were up at 7. My body is just so used to a work schedule. We met my parents for breakfast and spent some time with them. We went to the theater for Christmas trivia and did pretty well, we ended up staying for Bingo. I was a little disappointed in it. There was only one game, and it lasted maybe 20 minutes. Afterwards we went to the casino to cash in our $1 winner from the cash craze strip. We ended up back in the theater for Brandon's shopping show, and then met my dad for lunch. We went up to deck 12 for the bean bag toss competition. We were a little early, so we watched the hair chest competition while we were waiting. That was pretty gross! Turns out bean bag toss was for teams of 2, so instead of being a spectator, I ended up being Jon's partner. I'd never played before so I didn't have high hopes, but we came in 2nd and were awarded medals. It started raining during our competition and a full beautiful bright rainbow appeared over the water. I snapped a few photos of it and then we headed indoors for the gem stone seminar. It stopped raining and we decided to hit the pool area. Jon and my dad got in line for the slide - I on the other hand decided to just park myself in a chair and enjoy the sun. They chilled in the jazcuzzi for a while chatting with everyone while I wrote in my travel journal and sipped on a drink or 3. When they were done we all changed clothes and met back up for dinner. We showed my dad how to get to the 3 'secret decks' on 6,7,and 10. They aren't really secret, but unless your find them by accident or already know about them you'll never find your way there. We saw maybe 20 people out there the whole cruise! We spent some time in the piano bar (music was not very good) while we were waiting for the band to set up in the casino. We listened to Motown music for a while with our drinks and then crashed!
Day 4: La Romana, Dominican Republic
Again, up at 7! So annoying. Breakfast. Grabbed my camera, found my dad and were ready to get off. We arrived 10 minutes late, and it was a mad house trying to get off at this port! Being a 10am port everyone was up and trying to get off at the same time. They disabled the elevators from going to 0, so everyone was pushing and shoving down the stairs at the same time. There were quite a few rude people on this ship, both crew and passenger! Finally off the boat, we walked up the hill and boarded a bus to the Village Altos de Chavon. We walked around and took some pretty cool pictures. Jon braved a plate of nachos at Papa Jacks. After that we took a bus back to the port and hopped on a different one to the city. That was a mistake... it was one of the most uncomfortable places that I've been. There were SO many sales tents set up and the bus drops you off right in the middle of them. They are like vultures, swooping in for a bite. I can't tell you how many times I heard, 'Hey Lady, come look' or tapping me on the shoulder. It was awful, I was ready to go as soon as we got there! Jon bought a couple of things, and my dad picked up a t-shirt. This one guy was young, and less vocal than the rest, he was joking around with my dad while Jon was browsing, but he came to me with a necklace in his hand; he handed it to me and said, 'here, for good luck'. It was a simple black cord with a brown wooden turtle charm on it, but what got me was, he gave it to me. He didn't ask for money, didn't beg me to look at his table, nothing. He just gave it to me for good luck. The crazy thing is, turtles are my favorite and I always pick up something on each trip with a turtle on it. Either a bracelet, or a key chain, but it's always something local and handmade. that really stuck with me, and I've worn it everyday since. It is my favorite item that we brought back on this trip! We took the bus back to the port and got back on the ship with 15 minutes to spare. We watched La Romana disappear and then went for a dip in the pool. Well, they swam, I laid in a chair and sipped on my drink. Jon and I had reservations at the steak house, so we showered and changed into our finer clothes for dinner. It was rather uncomfortable in my opinion. I felt like I was being watched and judged the entire time. If you moved your silver to a different place they would come and put back on it's proper side, and there was constantly someone at the table bringing food or taking plates away, asking if we needed anything, how everything was... the tables were really close together so we felt like we had to whisper so not to interrupt the other guests or so that they couldn't hear your conversation. On top of that the food wasn't very good, or at least in our opinion it wasn't. I guess you have to have a taste for the super fancy meals to enjoy it. Jon was served raw meat, but wasn't told that it was raw meat - she simply told him the technical name for it when she brought it to the table. I forget now what it was... The steak was delicious, but the other 10 courses, or however many there were I could have skipped. I mean I LOVE ceaser salads, but in the steak house it was a 'real' ceaser dressing made with anchovies, and hate fish. You could taste the fish in it. Gross. It was worth the experience, but after dining in the specialty restaurants on our last 2 cruises we know to stay away. And I can promise you if we ever win the lottery or somehow become rich, there will be no fancy dining for us. We'll stick to Olive Garden or Outback steakhouse. lol The environment just wasn't pleasant and I can't wait to get out of there, which was torture because dinner takes 2 hours! REALLY!?
Once we were finally done, we changed into more comfy clothes and went to the theater expecting bingo and instead found battle of the sexes in mid game so we stayed to watch. It was pretty funny. We played a couple games of pool, and eventually found our way to bed.
Day 5: San Juan, Puerto Rico
I set the alarm on my phone for 6 because it was a 7am port, but when it went off I hit snooze 30 minutes because we were SO tired. I got up at 6:30 and took pictures of the sunrise from our balcony and got dressed and ready for breakfast. I completely forgot that my phone automatically changes with time zones, and it turns out I got up at 5:30! Another reason they need clocks in the rooms... turned out to be a good thing though because I took some awesome pics of the fort as we were coming into the port.
When we finally got off the ship we encountered a street full of rude taxi drivers. They refused to take you anywhere and drop you off, they would only take you if you wanted a tour and to pay outrageous amounts for it on top of that. I would have booked through Carnival if I was interested in that! We walked a few blocks and then got a taxi there, he dropped us off in Old San Juan where the stores were. Jon bought me some gorgeous jewelry from one of the places Brandon suggested and my dad bought a t-shirt, and then we couldn't find another taxi and ended up walking all the way to fort El Morro, up hill! When I looked it up online, everyone said it was a short walk from the port... HA that's BS! It's a long hot walk. Anyway, we walked up and down SO many staircases in that place, and it was so hot! It took up about an hour and 1/2 to see it all, we did take some gorgeous pictures though - and we bought some post cards in the gift shop. We took a taxi to the other fort, Castillo de San CristÃ³bal. We went through this one a little faster because we were tired of walking by then. There were iguana's roaming around this fort, we got close enough to one to take our picture with it. We took a taxi to the US post office not too far from the port. We filled out the post cards and mailed them to friends and family. After that we walked back to the ship and waited in line to get back on, as it was nearly departing time! Because it is part of the US our phones worked, so we called home to check on our pets, and I caught up on my emails and what not until we sailed out of range again.
We had a late lunch once back on board and then hit up the pool again where I caught another gorgeous rainbow with my camera! We changed, and then went to do the scavenger hunt. It was a lot of fun. We were a 2 person team, and with the crazy things you had to find Jon and ended up in the same pair of pants while I was wearing his swimming shorts and he was wearing lipstick. LMAO We decided to try out the dining room because it was a casual night, and it was a little better than the buffet. We got some drinks and headed back to the room after that to enjoy some down time on our balcony before bed. We were exhausted and stiff!
Day 6: Grand Turk
I woke up at 6. I have no idea why, I tried to go back to sleep but couldn't - so I sat out on the balcony until Jon woke up. We had breakfast, played putt putt, basketball, and shuffle board all before 9am! You definitely can't say I didn't get my exercise on this cruise! This port is was cruising is all about. I think the water here should be a requirement for all ports... beautiful turquoise blue with white beaches and green palm trees, and so clear you could see the bottom and each layer of the drop offs. GORGEOUS! Again with an 11am port we were fighting the crowds to get off. We signed up for an hour island tour, we saw the entire island, including the light house and old salt mines before being brought back to the beach where we walked down to Jack's shack. I could seriously live here, Jack's wife made me the best drink EVER, bent over the rainbow, skittles and vodka - I'm addicted. There should be a t-shirt that says, I want to go to grand turk and be bent over the rainbow. LMFAO We ordered hamburgers and fries, and it was the best food I had all week! SO GOOD! I had 3 rainbows, Jon had a Sandy Vagina (the drink. lol) and tried the local rum. We changed into our bathing suites in their bathroom and then walked back down the beach to rent snorkel equipment. The guys snorkeled while I stayed in shallower water and watched our stuff. The locals told us not to leave our stuff unattended because it would go missing, and the only few lockers are for the flow rider place. The lady at the snorkel hut said I could put it back there and she would watch it, so I put the bags there, but I kept my camera with me just in case. When they were done we walked around the shops and found my dad a t-shirt. We made it back on board with enough time to make it to our balcony to take pictures of the ship sailing away! It was a sad time, this should have been the port we had 8 hours at, not 6! ugh.
We had dinner, then played putt putt, but we were rained out 1/2 way through. We ended up in the theater for the 80's show. I didn't know 1/2 the music, but Jon did. We watched the 10 minutes break dancing show after that and then went to bed.
Day 7: Sea Day
Up at 7. Breakfast. I started packing our stuff up, I knew it would take a while. Jon wanted a new watch so what better place to do it than the watch sale, right? Wrong. I already knew there were tons of rude people on board the ship, but I think they all decided to attend the watch sale. The staff had it roped off until the exact time of the sale, so everyone was bunched up at one end of the store. Somehow Jon and I ended up in the very front which seemed like a good thing at the time, wrong again. I swear it was worse than an after thanksgiving sale. People were pushing and shoving, one lady hit the ground, I was jabbed in the back several times by watch boxes and pushed all the way to the back of the store with no way out! I got right behind Jon and he shoved his way through the crowd to the door. I stayed outside while he was brave enough to go back in and find something he liked. There were women in there with 9 and 10 boxes stacked in their arms fighting for a corner of floor space to put them down, and I swear I heard someone growl like a dog when another person got close. It was ridiculous! We took the watches to the room and then went to the casino to try our hand at the slot tournament. We didn't make it to the finals... We watched the ice carving show and had lunch. We purchased the rest of our pictures and then went up to 12 for the last bean bag competition. We expected to be a team of 2 again, but this time it was everyone for themselves. There were around 40 people playing, I made it to the top 6, Jon made it to top 2, which turned out the be the same guy that beat us the first time. Jon won this time though and got a trophy. We changed clothes and went for a swim, but as we got closer to the states you could feel the weather changing and it was chilly. I covered up with a towel while he was in the jacuzzi. We had dinner in the dining room again, not as good this time. We sat in the casino listening to music for a while, but I eventually went back to the room to get the luggage tags on and move our bags outside.
When I went back down to the casino I found Jon speaking with security because he had been cut off at the bar. This was surprising, and he was pissed. After speaking with the security officer, he took the bar tender off to his office to sort it out. Turns out they cut him off based on the drinks that were bought with his key card... well, he signed for all 4 of our drinks at dinner, and then he signed for my couple of drinks before I went to pack, and his own... they didn't even bother to see that he wasn't wasted, he wasn't making an ass of himself. Eventually the bar tender was moved to another bar and a different manager was brought to the one we were at and Jon was no longer cut off. What a way to spend the last night of your cruise huh? When we eventually made it to bed the wind had picked up a lot and the ship was rocking pretty hard, later I found out that it was 10ft + seas. The wind was moving the chairs on our balcony and even with the door latch locked it was pulling it open just enough to break the seal and cause a whistling noise. I had a hard time sleeping through it.
Day 8: Miami
Woke up at 7, got dressed finished packing our carry offs, check the room over really well to make sure we weren't forgetting anything. We didn't bother with breakfast, we just carried our stuff down to deck 3 and walked right off the ship! It was fast and easy, just like boarding. As soon as we got into the port a porter found us, helped us locate our luggage and wheeled it through customs for us. He took us right to a taxi that would take us back to the hotel where we left the car. Our official Zone was supposed to be called 10am to get off the ship - buy 10 am we had the car packed up and were sitting at McDonald's eating breakfast. haha
I hope this helps you in your quest for the perfect vacation!
Cruising is the only way to go - just not with Carnival, at least not for me!