Having read an insane amount of reviews before sailing, I won't lie, I was becoming quite nervous. However, Carnival Valor not only met my expectations, it exceeded them. I had a fantastic cruise and was sad to come home!
Here are some notes:
If doing a shuttle from the airport to the port, or arriving the day of sailing, check in at Miami Airport! By the Delta baggage claim, they have a Carnival desk. We arrived the day before (from Wisconsin), but had to take a free shuttle from the hotel back to the airport to catch the port shuttle. At first I was annoyed by this, however, they checked us in at the airport, took our pics, gave us our cards, everything. At port, we tipped the porters, went into the VIP line, walked through a metal detector and went onto the boat. No waiting! Highly suggest the airport check in if available!
Once onboard, we did buy the Cheers! program card, $50 per person, per day. Yes, the total of almost $700 is a bit shocking on the bill, but at $9 martinis, we do think this saved us a few hundred. We felt this was worth the money. We are not alcoholics by any means, but by the time I had a bloody mary with breakfast, a couple sodas and drinks around dinner, we had used up the initial fee.
We had a balcony room, our first ever, on deck 8 and it was wonderful! It was great to walk up a flight of stairs and get food, then walk back down and eat on the balcony. Also great for sailing away and pulling into ports! Our room steward was great; cute towel animals! My only suggestion; if on deck 8 bring ear plugs. They start rolling around for breakfast around 4 a.m. The first night, this startled me, but by night 2, putting in cheap foam earplugs blocked it enough I slept through the night.
The food: Yes, the eggs on the buffet line are powdered. They are feeding 3000 people and trying to keep the food warm on a steam table. If this is not your thing, wander over to the omelette station for a fresh batch. =) Everything else I ate from the buffet was pretty tasty. The pasta was good and I enjoyed the salad bar. The deli is fantastic and makes a great tuna melt! The burrito bar was good too. Mongolian Wok was also very fresh and popular. We had the BEST dining room staff, (Washington, late). Nelson and his crew were incredible, constantly taking care of us. One night I left dinner early due to a headache (nothing Carnival related!) and I got an order of soup, bread and crackers delivered from room service that Nelson ordered for me. Food in the dining room was always hot; I burned my mouth a couple times. We also did Scarletts one night and that was wonderful. Very, very good french onion soup! A little odd being under the basketball court, as we were serenaded by thumps. Not going to ruin it though, just a bit odd.
Jeanne's wine bar is a very nice place to sit and relax and MaryAnn makes a great martini! Also Jerome, the bar waiter is a very, very nice guy. Knew my drink order and name by the end of the 2nd day.
Comedians were hilarious and the 80s show, Far From Over, was amazing! I sang along like a giddy school girl!
There is plenty of deck space on the Valor; never had a problem getting a chair. The staff was also very friendly. I am by nature a very bubbly person and usually did have to greet them first, but I always got a smile and a hello back. They work very hard. Staff is constantly cleaning the ship: I even saw one guy polish the chair legs in Rosie's and a girl along deck 5 was cleaning the eagle statues. =)
We really did not have any snags on this trip. We were unable to dock in Grand Turk due to high winds, and I heard a lot of complaining. I know it was disappointing, but also understand it was for our safety. There was nothing anyone could do about it, and complaining certainly wouldn't help.
Having only cruised on Carnival, I guess I am still surprised that they get such a bad rep. I think a vacation is what you make of it, and if you let little mundane things ruin it, that is on you, not the company. Carnival may be the "budget" cruise line, but both of my cruises with them have been nothing but perfection. I think if you go into it with an open mind, and control your own happiness so to speak, nothing will ruin it! A day on a boat in the Caribbean is still better than a day at the office! I spent a week with my love getting a tan, having a few fruity drinks, eating tasty food, meeting great people and was very well taken care of by the staff. I have absolutely no complaints and look forward to sailing with Carnival again.