This was our first cruise and we are already booking another for next year at the same time. WE LOVED THE CARNIVAL VALOR! We are in our early 40's and travelled with our two boys ages 11 and 15. The ship was full since it was President's day week and many schools from up north have the week off. We rarely felt crowded on board, except for a few hours one day when the water slide and pool were closed. Once they opened it up again, things were fine. Don't expect to get a deck chair though unless you want to join the HOGGERS club and get up at the crack of dawn to HOG a deck chair. We didn't care since we are not sitters.
Almost every aspect exceeded our expectations from the painless embarkation and debarkation (using self assist) to the wonderful meals in the Washington Dining room. The service was top notch...I still miss my cabin steward who was so wonderful and attentive to us and our children. Also, our waiters (I still look for them at dinner time and miss them terribly!) These people give us so much of their lives to take care of us...away from their families for months at a time. How they can be so cheerful, I just don't know..but they were. And they make GREAT towel animals. Give them a little extra over and above the standard tips if you have great service like we did.
Entertainment and Food: The shows in the theater were a lot of fun, sometimes a little tacky, but really, a blast (although one comedian was just barely funny) but the other comedian, Jim Brick, was HYSTERICAL! My kids and husband almost hyperventilated they laughed so hard. We loved the Frank Sinatra/Sammy Davis Jr. show. The 80's music show was flashy, but not as good as the other nights, although we enjoyed all of the shows. The valor dancers are very talented as were the lead male and female singers. Men, you will enjoy the show since the majority of their costumes consisted of thongs.
We had early dinner (5:45) on the bottom level of the Washington Dining room and had a beautiful view of the water each night. We always stayed until almost the end for all of our excursions and never had trouble getting to dinner by 6:00. Then we went to the 8:30 show at night. After the shows the kids would either go back to their cabin due to exhaustion, walk around with us or go to the huge arcade and teen area. They didn't really participate in the formal kids club activities, although they really enjoyed playing basketball with the other kids on deck. I actually brought my 15 year old to the art auction with me one day...a new experience for both of us. We also had fun browsing the pictures in the picture gallery and spent a lot of money on the photos because they were really well done. We also had our own pictures developed right on board since they only charged .29/print. It had been 10 years since we had a family photo taken and we had 3 done on the ship. This was a GREAT benefit since I don't know when our boys will get that dressed up again (we dressed up for the two formal nights.)
We watched some of the "Family Feud" activities one day..you have to laugh at some of these people and give them credit for their guts. We didn't really do a lot of the other group activities since we were enjoying the water slide and excursions.
We thought the Yankees Themed sports bar was cool, but most of the bars were not very full. Lots of kids on board...that might be why.
My husband and I loved the piano player in the piano bar. It was wonderfully relaxing and a lot of fun.
As for the food, we thought the food in the dining room was great. Nice variety, well presented, moderate portions, but certainly PLENTY and several nights we couldn't decide so we got two entrees (lobster night was awesome!) GREAT dining room service. First class. Did I mention I still miss my servers? Nice guys, personable and really on the ball.
The buffets during breakfast and lunch were so so, although the pizza and sushi were quite good. The ruben from the deli is also very good. Breakfast was the same each day (your standard cold toast, eggs, crispy, crispy bacon, fruit, etc), but sufficient since you basically eat and leave the ship for excursions most days. The desserts were usually pretty good in the buffets. We never ate at the midnight buffet, but one night we went to look at it and take pictures (I know, now you think we are losers) but it really was spectacular to look at. The only problem was that since so many people were taking pictures, it would have been 1am before you could actually get at the food to eat it.
Excursion: Grand Cayman: We used Moby Dick Tours for Stingray City and snorkeling. I would recommend them. They had a nice sized boat (not too big, not too small.) Really nice guys. We cracked up over their demonstration of how to treat a stingray using a little stuffed stingray. We visited Stingray city then we went to another location to snorkel. They were also nice enough to drop us off at Seven Mile Beach after snorkeling. The weather was great, which helped. The only thing was that they never came back to pick us up at seven mile beach, so we took a shuttle for $4.00 each (no big deal since there are tons of shuttles there.) Grand Cayman itself was a zoo, but the stingray excursion was nice.
Belize: We used Cave-tubing.com. Would also recommend these guys, although the bus ride was a little hairy (narrow roads, cliffs, dirt roads, crazy drivers, etc). I spend much of it with my eyes closed. They did a GREAT job of keeping us all together on the river in the caves(we hooked up to each other in groups by chaining our feet and arms together...). We also did an extra cave from the carnival excursion. The Carnival excursion people were hitting walls and breaking up from each other. Our guys actually pulled us through some parts of the cave so we didn't hit the walls or get caught in currents and pulled apart. we really liked it a lot. Long walk though the rain forest, so be prepared. BRING WATER SHOES.
Roatan, Honduras: We did Carnival's Tabayana Beach Break. This was THE MOST BEAUTIFUL BEACH I HAVE EVER SEEN! Powdery sand, water was like pool water. Tons of lounge chairs to sit in. The snorkeling off the beach was also amazing. Better than Grand Cayman. Tons of fish and coral. Definitely would recommend this. I want to go back there.
Costa Maya: The best thing about this...it didn't cost us a dime. We got off the boat, walked the dock to the gorgeous pool with lots of shops, restaurants, a swim up bar, music, etc. We went back to the boat to each lunch. Came back out and swam some more (actually, my family swam. I shopped and shopped and shopped....) It is crowded there since the Carnival Miracle was also in dock that day, but we still thought it was fun.
CABINS: We had two cabins..8355 inside for the kids and 8357 balcony for us. Rooms were very roomy. Tons of storage. Bed was OK, could have been a bit more comfortable, but the linens were nice. We loved our balcony. Kids had bunk beds in their room. They liked that. We were on the Veranda deck. We heard no noise from the other rooms or walls, but did hear deck chairs moving around in the morning. If you like to sleep late and are not a sound sleeper, avoid this deck. We also like the fact that we were close to the laundry room for ironing. Hardly ever a wait for elevators since there are tons of them, but we mostly took the stairs for exercise.
Other notes: We heard some complaints from people on the main deck because of noise from the promenade deck (casino, bars, smoke, etc.) If you are allergic to smoke, don't walk by the casino...it is wide open and it seemed like every other person in there was smoking. The rest of the boat was smoke free.
Drink of the day is the way to go as long as you don't get the souvenir glass. It is under $4.00. Other drinks were comparable in price to a restaurant. We brought two bottles of wine on board to drink in our cabin.
Overall...we loved Carnival...we loved the Valor. Everyone was friendly. We also had PERFECT weather, which always helps. If you want a nice quiet, peaceful vacation with lots of quiet corners, don't do Valor (although early morning and sunrise time is like heaven). If you want a fun vacation and to be treated well, have lots to do and good food, by all means, visit the Valor. My kids want to go back on the same ship, and honestly, so do I. But, with so many choices...it is hard to decide.