Let me start out by saying that we were originally booked on a Western Caribbean itinerary. Hurricane Wilma had other ideas. Instead of a Western itinerary review, this will be a modified Eastern review.
This was our third cruise in as many years. This has pretty much become a fall ritual for us. This time we convinced about 26 of our friends to join us. We have cruised the Western Caribbean before and thought that we had everything figured out for all the ports. We were acting as the tour guides for everyone else.
We arrived in Miami via the red eye from Las Vegas. I had been keeping a close eye on the weather situation in the Caribbean. For the two weeks prior to our departure, there was not a cloud in the sky. We were particularly aware because we got caught in Hurricane Ivan last year on the Inspiration. We flew Song airline on the way out. They have TV's in the back of all the seats that you can watch. I was watching CNN when I heard mention of a tropical depression named Wilma. I thought "great". By the time we landed in Ft Lauderdale, they were saying that it looked like Wilma could be a significant storm.
We had pre arranged transfers arranged through Carnival from the airport to the ship. This went very smoothly. We were on the bus and on our way by about 10:30 AM. We arrived at the port at about 11:15. The lines were quite long through the process, but kept moving. We were just about to the desk to check in when a Carnival guy started walking up and down the lines handing out a flyer. The flyer stated that due to the storm we would be changing to an Eastern Caribbean itinerary. I was bummed. I had diving arranged at three of the four ports including Cozumel, Grand Cayman, and Roatan. I also had tours arranged for the other members of the group at the various ports. I had not done any research on the Eastern ports. I figured that I wasn't going to let this turn of events ruin my vacation. We were on the ship within an hour of arriving at the port.
Sail and Sign:
Carnival has started issuing Gold and Platinum sail and sign cards for past guests. There is not any benefit to the cards that I could see except that they are cool to have.
As we entered the ship you could not help but be overcome with the patriotic theme. The interior is covered with flags, eagles and other patriotic themes. I absolutely loved the ship from the moment we boarded.
As we were settling in and unpacking there were at least three announcements letting us know of various itinerary changes. Within about 15 minutes they had figured it out. Our itinerary was as follows: Monday at sea, Tuesday San Juan Puerto Rico, Wednesday St. Thomas, USVI, Thursday St. Maarten, NA, Friday at sea, Saturday Nassau, Bahamas. I thought that it was great of Carnival to squeeze in the extra port of Puerto Rico because we had paid for a four port itinerary. Generally the Eastern Caribbean does not include Puerto Rico. I have to say that Carnival went out of their way to make it a great trip despite the las minute change.
We had the late seating in the Washington Dining Room. Jordan and Alvin were our wait team. I have to say that these two were outstanding, they made dinner fun every night. The food was for the most part great in the dining room. The menu has not changed in the three years that we have been cruising. The best part of the deal is that you can order as many entrees as you feel good about. If you want to order the lobster and the steak, by all means go ahead.
We general ate most of our other meals in Rosies Diner. Within Rosies is the regular buffet with all the usual items. There is also a deli, an oriental station, a fish and chips station as well as the usual hamburgers and pizza joints. The food in the deli, oriental, and fish and chips was cooked to order and was by far the best places to eat. The regular buffet was good quality but buffet food nonetheless. The wait staff in Rosies was great. Every time you set down an empty plate, they were there taking it out of the way.
There were two soft serve ice cream stations that were open 24 hours. I need to invest in one of these for my game room. I've only been off the ship for a day and I'm already having withdrawals.
We ate at Scarletts Supper Club one night. I had read all the reviews about the outstanding food and quality of service. The food was excellent. Hands down, that was the best filet that I have ever eaten. The sushi platter was outstanding as was the shrimp cocktail. The chocolate desserts were to die for. I have to say that I was disappointed in the service. Our water glasses were always empty. The temperature in the restaurant was also very hot. The hostess came and apologized several times for the heat. She also filled our water glass a couple of times since the wait staff were not doing it. Toward the end of the meal, one of our table mates found a hair in her steak. This was immediately reported to the hostess as she was filling our water glass. She didn't believe us. She went on to explain that the chef was wearing a hat and that all of the staff ha their hair pulled back and sprayed so that it would not happen. I saw the hair. It was about 6 inches long, black and curly. All of our wives have blond hair. The hair came from someone that was not sitting at our table. Finally the Hostess came and offered us a free bottle of champaign. None of us drink. We convinced her to change it to Dr Pepper. She did this and were were happy again. Overall, the food was the best that I have ever eaten. The service, not so great. There is a $30 fee for eating here. I think that it was worth every penny for the quality of the food.
San Juan Puerto Rico:
We pulled in to port at 5:00 pm and were there until 12:00 am. We took a cab to "Old Town". The cabbie drove us around for a while, charged us $2 per person and dropped us off in the heart of the shopping district. After getting our bearings, we figured that were were about a block from the ship. Don't get a cab from the pier!!!! We visited El Morro, the fort overlooking the harbor. We shopped in the area. I purchased a hurricane glass from the Hard Rock to add to my collection. We got bored pretty quick and headed back to the ship. I wish we would have been San Juan earlier in the day. I would have loved to explore this island, but there wasn't time.
We were able to arrange last minute diving with Blue Island Divers. They did a good job. We dove a wreck, the Kennedy and a reef dive. The diving here was disappointing. The water was not very clear. There was not much color to the reef. There was not the abundance of fish and critters that I have come to love in the Western Caribbean.
After getting back to shore, we took a cab to the downtown area and shopped. The locals were pretty friendly. Next time I will take more time to explore the island and beaches and not waste my time scuba diving. (I can't believe that I just said that)!!!
What a beautiful island!!! This island is split in two. Half is controlled by the Dutch and the other half is under French rule. We found a local guy that took us on a tour around the island. He showed us the small island just off the shore that Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston broke up on. He also said that Chuck Norris and his first wife broke up on the same island. I would suggest not taking your wife to that island. We visited Orient Beach. It was beautiful. As soon as we got there it started to rain. We didn't hang around long. We went back to the downtown area and shopped. All the stores are the same, Jewelry, t-shirts and booze. This is a place that I would love to come back and stay a week. It was amazing to see the difference in cultures on the same small island.
We only had a short time to spend here. We took a cab to Atlantis to check it out. What a beautiful resort. We would like to come back and spend some time here. We also shopped a little bit here. We had a guy offer us some cocaine. We politely declined.
Overall the Valor is a beautiful ship. One thing that was awesome was the Wi Fi access. I was able to get the internet from by stateroom. I had a balcony room. It was definitely worth the extra money. It was so nice to step outside for some air whenever you wanted and not have to worry about battling the crowds on the decks.
There was some talk during the week that we were going to stay at sea a couple of extra day to avoid Wilma. When she slowed and wiped out Cozumel on the day that were were supposed to be there, the Captain decided to go in to port on time. We were lucky, we started taxing down the runway as it started to rain. It got pretty ugly from here it sounds like.
I want to thank the Cruise Critic members who posted the replies to my cry for help in finding things to do in our new ports. We had a blast and ended up glad for the change. I want to thank Carnival for being concerned for our safety. Last year we spent the whole week dodging Hurricane Ivan. The ride was rough and we actually got hit with Ivan while in port when it changed direction. This year the ride was smooth and the weather great. The relaxed debarkation was painless. We were off the ship and back to the airport by noon.
One last thing that I want to comment on is the onboard entertainment. The shows are top quality and fun to watch. My favorite was the 80's review on friday night. It was a lot of fun. Josh and Dangerous Brian did an excellent job in the Cruise Director category, Over all the ship was in great shape. The weather was good. The ports were beautiful and most of all I wasn't at work!!!