EMBARKATION -- We live near Atlanta, Ga. and my sister and her husband live in Fl. So we planned to add a few days to the beginning of our vacation. After meeting with them, we drove to the Port and arrived around 11:00am. We had our luggage unloaded and our vehicle parked by 11:30.
There was no line to check in, just a MOB gathered in the Lobby of the Terminal (trying to form a line to go through security). We stood in the Lobby for an hour before we were told that the "hold up" was because Customs had not yet cleared the ship...then we were allowed to start moving toward the Security check-in. After security we just stood in another long line that wound through another set of retractable barricades. I didn't mind the waiting so much, (face it...it takes time to process over 3,000 people!!) but when we were finally allowed to move towards boarding the ship itself, (upstairs) there was a huge room with chairs, resembling an airport terminal, completely empty!! Why they don't utilize this space is beyond me!! By this time, we'd been standing in lines for about an hour and a half.
We got past the Registration Desk and were pointed to the S & S Card Desk; where we were to pick up our cards...but they weren't there! The envelopes were empty! The Carnival Rep. just instructed us to have our cards made at the Purser's Desk once we boarded. When we approached the Rep. that mans the machine taking your boarding pictures, he used a blank card to take our pictures...which left us wondering if we aren't going to have problems somewhere down the road with our cards!?
We were onboard before 1pm, which, I think was good...since boarding isn't really supposed to begin until 12:30 anyway. Besides, we were some of the first passengers onboard...you should've seen the lines behind us!! We immediately proceeded to the Purser's Desk to have our cards made (which was a short line) and put cash on our accounts...then went up to check out our cabins.
They had Lido Deck #9233 and we had (a triple) Panorama Deck #1027, both are balcony cabins on the starboard (forward) side...and both were ready!! We took some pictures, dropped off our carry-on bags and headed up on deck. Took more pictures of the ship then headed up to Rosie's for a bite to eat, then outside on deck to have a few drinks. The lunch buffet was very good (I had the mahi-mahi and it was delicious!!) and the drinks weren't "watered down" as some reviewers have suggested (in my opinion). TIP: Get "the Special" (drink of the day in a plastic Carnival glass), then keep the glass and get "refills" to save some $$ It was time to head back to the cabins to wait for the muster drill. After the drill, which took all of 15 - 20 minutes, we headed back up to the Lido Deck for sail-away. I don't know why people make such a stink about having to go through the Drill...if they would just listen to, and follow the instructions...it takes very little time to complete...and then you are on your way!!
THE SHIP -- Carnival Valor is Carnival's third Conquest-class ship and is nearly identical, layout-wise, to it's sisters, the Carnival Conquest and Carnival Glory. At 110,000-tons, this (nearly) 3,000 passenger vessel is definitely a "City-at-Sea". It has 22 bars and lounges, 7 whirlpools, a 13,300-square-ft. spa and fitness area, and a "Reservations Only" restaurant (in addition to the 2 main Dining Rooms, Rosie's, the Deli, the Pizzeria, Fish and Chips, etc)
Upon exploration of the ship, it's hero and heroism theme began to transcend that of the United States ("One Small Step", "The Lindy Hop Bar", "The Bronz Bar", "The Capital Room" and "The American Atrium")-- the Ivanhoe Show Lounge celebrates the classic tale by Scotland's Sir Walter Scott, Shogun Casino with it's Japanese warriors, and Winston's Cigar Bar is named after British Prime Minister Winston Churchill. Still, the emphasis on American heroes and history is obvious.
THE CABINS -- Carnival Valor, like its sister ships, has the usual range of staterooms. Over 60 percent (910 to be exact) of the cabins onboard the Valor have an ocean view; 555 of these have balconies. Inside cabins through "Verandah" category cabins are average in size and are equipped with shower-only bathrooms, twin-to-queen beds, decent closet space (two cabinets with hanging bars and one with wide shelves), a vanity, a television with remote, phone and a mini-fridge. There is a hair dryer in the top drawer of the vanity. TIP: There's only 1 outlet near the vanity, and an outlet for elect. Shavers ONLY in the bathroom...so bring an additional outlet if this will be an issue for you.
Showers have a wraparound curtain (as opposed to tight-closing doors)... be sure it's pulled closed all the way! There's also a retracting clothesline inside the shower (to hang up wet bathing suits, etc), as well as liquid soap and shampoo dispensers. Other nice touches are the little amenities basket (full of disposable razors, dental floss, toothpaste, etc) and the bathrobes hanging in the closet. The best "nice touch" is the new bedding! In one word....Wonderful!! Not only are the new duvets more subdued (a far cry from the bold patterned bedspreads from the past) but they are extremely comfortable!
There are 42 suites and 10 penthouse suites. Penthouse suites measure in at 430 square ft. (the balcony alone measures 85 square ft.), and features a dressing area with vanity sink, whirlpool tub, twin-to-king bed, VCR and wet bar.
MEALTIME -- The ship's two main dining rooms both serve dinner on a set-time, set-tablemates basis with four different seating options...EARLY (first & second seatings), and LATE (first & second seatings) The Lincoln Room is Forward and serves the second seating guests (6:30 and 8:30) whereas the Washington Room (Aft) serves the first seating guests (6pm and 8pm) We had The Washington Room table #305, next to the window and were very happy with our seating arrangements and tablemates.
I heard some passengers ran into problems with room service...my own personal experience was fine though. It generally took about 15 - 20 minutes for an order to be delivered...however my sister was not as lucky. (On the eve of her Anniversary, the cake & champagne were delivered without a knife, forks, or plates. We finally made do with a leftover spoon from a previous room service, and ate with our fingers. Room Service finally arrived an hour later.) But, to be fair, this was also the last night of the cruise, and everyone was getting room service at the same time it seemed!
Room service is available 24 hours a day; the menu includes juices, breads and pastries, sandwiches, salads, veggie platters, cookies and brownies, cakes, yogurt, fruit salad and beverages (including bar service at regular bar prices). Full stateroom bar service is available 9 a.m. until 3 a.m. I highly recommend the BLT and the ham & cheese sandwiches, as well as the choc. cake.
The Lido Buffet (Rosie's Restaurant) is a two-level eatery done up like a classic diner with fabulous, flashy colors (tables and chairs are a bright neon green ...you just have to see to believe) and shiny metal. Buffet offerings here include salads and pastas, cold cuts, cheeses and breads, a variety of hot dishes and a carving station. Hot and cold breakfast items are available in the morning. During dinner-time, Rosie's is converted into the casual "Seaview Bistro." For round-the-clock snackers, there's a 24-hour ice-cream/frozen yogurt station and a 24-hour pizzeria.
Rosie's food was always good…and the room was spotlessly clean, as was the rest of the entire ship. I'd heard complaining about dirty dishes and trays laying around, which I only witnessed rarely. I'd also read that Rosie's always served the same thing, with ham constantly at the carving station. Again, not true. I had the ham, as well as the prime rib, and both were delicious…but, they also served fried chicken, broiled chicken, glazed salmon, mahi-mahi, beef tips & gravy, etc. The breakfast buffet was pretty standard, but hot and good. There was a good variety of danish's and cereals to go along with the pancakes, eggs, grits, bacon & sausage. The coffee was strong, but drinkable. The juices were good, my husband (NOT a juice drinker normally) was especially fond of the guava/passion/mango blend.
The Lido deck also features an Asian stir-fry station, a Deli (fabulous sandwiches!), and an on-deck grill serving up burgers and fries and such. The sushi bar (open from 5 - 8:30 p.m.), has a wide variety of delicacies and is located near the specialty coffee bar (The Java Cafe), which has several concoctions…sure to please!! I recommend the mochachino's and banana splits - they have shakes, cakes, pastries, strawberries dipped in choc., and a good selection of hot or cold drinks (latte's, etc) If you like oyster's, you have to visit the Fish & Chips located upstairs in Rosie's Restaurant. The only time we found them open was at lunch though…they should think about expanding those hours!!
The Fountain FunCard also worked out well for me. I purchased one for my daughter (age 13) and I definitely got my money's worth. Soda's are $1.50 per cup (not by the can), so if you drink more than 3 a day…the card will definitely save some money!! I did not purchase Bar drink coupons though (4 drinks for $19). Drinks are generally $4.75, so the coupons don't save you any $$…plus, if you get the "special of the day" in a regular glass, it's only $2.95. I'm not much of a drinker, but I thought the drinks were really good…not "watered down".
NIFTY AND NEW -- Carnival Valor is the first cruise ship to offer 100% bow-to-stern wireless Internet access. Unlike other ships that have "hot spots" in select public areas, Valor's ship-wide Wi-Fi signal allows guests with wireless-enabled laptops to access the Web and check e-mail anywhere on the ship. Didn't bring your laptop? You can use one of theirs or you can rent one!
Also, check out the "Carnival Vacation Club" Desk; which is new and only onboard a few, select ships so far. It's located on Deck 5, just past the Shogun Casino. They offer a variety of vacation deals at very fair prices. I will not divulge their "presentation", as I could not do it justice…but, if you are an avid cruiser/vacationer/traveler, you owe it to yourself to check them out!!
THE SHOWS & ACTIVITIES -- Our Cruise Director was Josh Riffe. I have heard both good and bad comments about him…I found him to be very nice, and even down-right funny at times; however, I think (perhaps) he just lacks a little experience. I was disappointed that there was no familiar dance to "teach us" the first day out, except for some line dancing! (My kids loved learning "The Ketchup Song" last year on the Glory)
The "Vegas Style" shows were very good, although there were a few families with children that left. (Excuse me…what part of "Vegas style" & "R-Rated" do we not understand?) We also saw one of the "late night/R-rated" shows by Will Marfori. He has Cerebral Palsy and works that into his act, which is really quite funny…had us rolling on the floor a couple of times!!
There are the usual onboard activities, such as: ice carving demonstrations, The Hairy Chest Contest, The Newlywed ~ Not-so-Newlywed Game, the Horse Races, Bingo, The Survivor Game, Build a Boat Contest…just to name a few. All of which are just as exciting to watch as participate in!
PORTS -- In Nassau: We have been to Nassau several times in the past, so we decided to stay on the ship and grab a few lounge chairs by the Prometheus (Aft) Pool instead. We had a wonderful day, soaking up the Caribbean sun, drinking Pina Colada's, and dipping into the nearly empty pool until it was time for us to leave. Since this was also our 1st Formal Night, we called it a day early, and went to our cabins to get ready for dinner and photos.
If you decide to do any excursions, I would recommend seeing "the Digs" at Atlantis, or the "Blue Lagoon". There is a public beach not far from Atlantis, if you want to use a beach. All the great jewelry, Liquor, and Perfume shops are located directly across from the pier, and Senior Frog's is a great place to relax and do some people watching while you sip a frozen delight.
In St. Thomas: Going through customs wasn't a big deal…if you listen to, and follow directions!! We got in line about 9:00 and were through about 9:45. First, you go to the area where you're checked (the Eagle's Lounge), then they have you follow a path to the "Caboose" to receive your sticker (to get off the boat) and then you can make your way down to the gangway. Everyone must go through Immigrations, whether they plan to get off the ship…or not!! Remember we didn't have S & S cards ready when we first boarded, and I wondered if there would be any problems "down the road"? Well, the machines at the gangway didn't "recognize" any of us and wouldn't let us disembark! After about 15 minutes (which felt like 30) the computer was back up and running, took our pictures, and we were on our way!
Once we got off the ship, we met up with my daughter and her family (who are staying in St. Thomas also). We all went to Magen's Bay, and had a wonderful time. There's a food stand and a gift shop there, as well as bathrooms with showers (for changing). After eating pizzas and swimming, we were dropped off downtown to do a little shopping before heading back to the ship. My favorite jewelry shops are Cardow's and Beverley's right across from the pier, but there is so much more!!
St. Maarten: My favorite "Port-of-Call" by far!!! Last year, we went to "Divi Little Bay" and fell in love with the place…so, that's where we headed as soon as we got off the ship. They have chairs & umbrellas , jet skis, and banana boats available to rent. There's ladies that braid hair and vendors selling necklaces, sarongs, and pashminas…but they weren't intrusive at all. I highly recommend a visit here if you have kids…some of the other beaches are "clothing optional".
JUST FOR FUN -- We were the couple that brought our Gnome with us (his name is "Gnomeo"). My husband had a blast taking him all over the ship and getting pictures with everybody. (I have approx 200 pictures of people with Gnomeo!!)
SPECIAL ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS -- Some members of the crew make it especially memorable...so I'd like to give a nod to these great guys & gals: Enco (Lido - bar waiter), Olga (Prometheus Bar - waitress), Vidal (our waiter - Washington 8pm seating), Maiji (our Bar waitress at dinner,Alis (bar waiter - Shogun Casino) and Benjamin (our fabulous Cabin Steward)
SUMMARY -- All in all, it was a wonderful ship and the vacation was everything we expected, and MORE. The ship was clean, the crew was friendly, and the food & entertainment was everything we had expected, and more.
Embarkation definitely has a lot of room for improvement!! (It should be noted that Carnival is not at fault for the embarkation woes -- that is the Port Authority...they handle everything from the time you unload your luggage to the moment you step foot on deck.) I wish that Carnival would "lean on" the Port Officials and get some changes in action. They need to change to drop-off/pick-up procedures, as well as start to utilize all that space in the Terminal (between the Registration Desk and boarding area).
Carnival is "our kind" of cruise line …we LOVE the "freestyle-cruising" aspect. I am already starting to plan the next cruise…perhaps in May or June next summer (even though the weather DID decide to cooperate -- Thank you Emily and Franklin!!)