This is my second cruise, the first with Carnival. We sailed on October 16th with a group of six. We flew into Ft. Lauderdale on Friday and drove to Miami to stay at the Holiday Inn Port of Miami. If you are expecting luxury, this is not the place for you. However, I recommend that you join their preferred guest program in advance - otherwise, you might not get a room overlooking Biscayne Bay and the cruise ship port. Also, the hotel is across the street from the Bayside Market place which is an open air mall. They have some great restaurants, including Bubba Gump Shrimp.
Embarkation - We did the smart thing on Saturday and drove over to the port to see where exactly the ship would dock. If you do this, do it late in the afternoon, otherwise, it's pretty crazy there on embarkation days!
On Sunday, my husband dropped everyone off at the terminal and took our rental car back to the airport. He then took a shuttle back to the terminal. Two things to note - There is NO rental car drop-off at the port! Also, the earlier you get there, the faster you get your check-in taken care of and get on the ship. Everyone in my party was on board by 11:30 - 12:00 and we were on board by 12:30 or so. Also - don't take pictures or use your cell phone in the port!!! That's a big no-no! We were yelled at AND they stopped the embarkation process because people wouldn't stop doing it! But overall, it was pretty painless.
The Ports - We were scheduled to sail the Western Caribbean, but alas, Hurricane Wilma had plans there first, so we were sent to the Eastern Caribbean. Now, we were a little disappointed but we were very happy because this meant our cruise was not cancelled or shortened. Plus, since the Western itinerary has 4 ports, they added the port of San Juan, Puerto Rico for us as well. Unfortunately, we arrived late in the afternoon and it was a quick run through the dark streets for us before getting back on the ship.
Also, since all our excursions were cancelled, we made sure to book new ones right away. We booked Shipwreck Cove snorkeling in St. Maarten and the Pearl Island Stingray Encounter in Nassau. Shipwreck Cove was a great experience. The water was a little choppy so it was cloudy, but for a first timer, this was an amazing experience and our guides were great! I recommend this for all first time snorkelers!
Our ship was late getting in to Nassau due to a dock slot issue, so our time at Pearl Island was shortened but we still had a great time. On the way to the island, we got to see several celebrity homes, Nicholas Cage, Oprah, Tiger Woods, etc. The island itself was very small with limited amenities, but my group had an awesome time feeding and petting the stingrays!!
In St. Thomas, we grabbed a taxi and made our way to Magens Bay. I highly recommend this beach!! Beautiful water, clean sand, lots of shade and if you just rent a raft and float, you will have a great time! Plus, the taxi ride is an adventure in itself!!
One last comment about the ports - make sure you know the prices here in the U.S. before trying to buy jewelry or perfume. They are not cheap! There are some good deals out there, but you must be a savvy shopper!
The Ship - Overall, we really enjoyed the Valor. We all had balcony rooms and the ship was completely full, so no upgrades were available. One thing - being on the 8th floor beneath Rosie's and the pool isn't the quietest area. My main noise complaint was the scraping of chairs on the deck above and my neighbors. I cannot tell you how annoying it is to have your neighbor slamming the balcony door!
All the public areas of the ship were very nice, even the pink Washington Dining Room and the green Rosies. Our room steward, Sittirath was so sweet and helpful. I wanted to bring her home with me! Ramone and Jaspie in the dining room were very nice and their service was exceptional. They had no problem accommodating any changes to our dinner choices. Everyone else we met on the ship was pretty friendly but the bar service was a little slow. Although, these were some of the strongest drinks I have ever had so you got your money's worth!!!! The bar in the American Lobby was the best. David from Jamaica was the best bartender there.
The food - I was completely unimpressed. I ate a salad every day, but the rest of the selection was not that great. And the cheesecake was the worst! We did have dinner in Scarlett's one night and it was a nice time, but I have had better. Several times the staff dropped things and several times, I had to cover myself before I got food dripped on me.
The pool area was very nice, not too hard to find chairs, the disco was fun, and Ed Rocks in the Lindy Hop piano bar really does rock! Josh Riffe was a great cruise director - very entertaining. I didn't spend much time in the casino so I only lost $20. My husband and his friend watched all the baseball games in the Bronx bar.
There are only three stores on board and they are your usual resort type stores. Personal items are very limited as were the sizes of the clothing.
The two main shows, Night Club Express and Far From Over were good. Even though we're '80s kids, we enjoyed the first show better. And the comedian, Michael Macy's R-rated show was hilarious!!
Disembarkation wasn't too painful and we were out of there early. Actually, we got to sneak off with the early flights - but that was purely by accident! We just happened to be in the right place at the right time.
Overall - considering the hurricane and changes, we really did have a great time. I would definitely cruise Carnival again as I've heard other ships had better food (LOL) but a cruise is really what YOU make of it and we made the most of our time and had so much fun that we really didn't want to leave! I hope this review helps and Bon Voyage!