This was my 16th cruise, and my 6th on Carnival. Although this ship had many "pros" going for it, I think that after this cruise, I will take a break from Carnival for a while.
I flew down to Miami from New York with my husband, 2 children (ages 8 and 12) and my mother (who paid for the trip, bless her -- this was her 23rd cruise).
Arriving at the Miami airport, we had no transfers arranged, but were curious to know if we could "tag along" on the Carnival transfer bus. The (very honest) Carnival employee told us that it would cost us $15 to take the bus, but if we got outside the door and hailed a minivan, it would only cost us $10 -- so that is what we did.
Embarkation was smooth ... the lines weren't that bad, and soon enough we were on the ship. We had lunch at Rosie's Restaurant on the Lido deck and this is where we first noticed the lack of middle management on the ship. Usually, one will find the white uniformed manager strolling the buffet area, making sure things were going smoothly. Not once did we see this on the Valor -- and therefore, during the entire cruise, the buffet would run out of trays or silverware, or the clean plates would be dirty. Or ... the trays of hot food would not be replenished right away. Or ... they'd run out of ice cream in the middle of the day.
We chalked it up to the fact that it was a crowded ship -- which was certainly the case. In fact, I think the ship is too big and crowded for me. Along with the crowds came swarms of kids splashing unnecessarily in the pools, diving from the hot tub headfirst into the swimming pool, and walking up the waterslide (yes, up the waterslide) when it was closed. Not a security guard to be found.
But let's get back to the good parts! First,let me say that Carnival's new menu is excellent. I remember, on past cruises, complaining of the peppery and unsavory food, but on this cruise, there was not one bad meal to be had. Everything was excellent, with unique combinations of ingredients and outstanding desserts. Every day there is an egg special in the dining room that is outstanding and a complete meal in itself.At the first formal night dinner, the lobster melted in your mouth. Our wait team -- Mirela from Romania and Elena from Bulgaria, along with wine steward Robert from Serbia -- were attentive and kind, and always eager to please. (When we got back to New York, my 8-year-old was crying hysterically the she missed them.)
The ship is beautiful, and not as garish as other Carnival ships. Our room was comfortable with lots of closet space. The bedding was so comfortable, which is why the entrepreneurs at Carnival want to sell it to you. If it wasn't $40 per pillow, I would have bought it. Our room steward always magically had our room made up whenever we returned from breakfast. We hardly ever saw him, but I guess that's OK. Our room had a veranda, which was great to sit out on and just look at the waves. I noticed that, on more than one night, these flying creatures would encircle the ship, and I never found out if they were birds or bats.
The entertainment was very good -- 3 comedians, a singer, a hypnotist, a ventriloquist and 2 production shows. The production shows were the best I have seen on any ship. These dancers and singers work so hard, you've got to love them. One night, I tried stopping by the piano bar at 11:45, but the pianist was closing down for the night. It seemed that due to the "demographics" of the ship (his words), no one was visiting the piano bar and he had decided to call it a night.
The ports were all great ...
GRAND CAYMAN: We went to Sea Grape Beach, our favorite spot on Seven Mile Beach. A lovely day!
ROATAN: This is my new favorite port! I can already see that, with the condo and hotel building going on, Roatan is not going to be the same five years from now, but now it is nearly unspoiled and so beautiful, with its green hills and gorgeous beaches. We hired a taxi driver, who took us to West Bay Beach. Although the sand was hot, the water was outstanding. Our driver came back for us earlier than the appointed time, and then took us to a gift shop near the port area, stopping to let us take photos at a beautiful overlook.It wa a great day. If you have to shop for souvenirs, buy them in Roatan. They have wonderful carved wooden boxes that are far from junky, and you can buy a sack of Honduran coffee for $5 a pound.
BELIZE: We took the "Private Island Beach Break" shore excursion we had taken back in November. The private island, Bannister Island, is pure paradise, and the people there are so friendly; they can't do enough to please you. When I mentioned that I had been there back in November, they were so happy to see me, they even hugged and kissed me!
COSTA MAYA: Because we had 3 beach days, we were too sunburnt to go to another beach, so we shopped in this very touristy port and were happy we could take the trolley and not walk the long, long pier.
Now, here a few of my small complaints:
The ship is very noisy. The poolside band blasts its music, and when they are gone, the ship pumps up the volume of the canned music. Even in the restaurant at night, the music is noticeably loud.
The poolside calypso band did not honor my song requests, which I find very insulting, because my request was a common calypso song that is played on ships.
The backstage tour was cancelled, with no announcements. That was disappointing and a waste of time waiting for something that never took place.
The cruise director, Darcy Knievel, was not "out and about" as a cruise director should be. I never saw her except when she was introducing acts onstage.
The Carnival Vacation Club is a ripoff. My mom went to one of their talks. She only wanted to know what the catch was. She found out, 40 minutes into the pitch, that she had to pay $5,000 in order to receive special incentives.
Carnival is selling far too much. I do realize it is a business, but please! Every entertainer onboard wants to sell his DVD or CD, you walk through the galley and at the end they're hawking the cookbook, at Camp Carnival they'll sell you a mini Freddy the Funnel doll for $10 (and Freddy will autograph it) or you can purchase the Build-a-Bear dressed in Carnival garb for $17.
Too little management ... too many people. No wonder my waitress called this week "a disaster"!
Love & cruises, Debbie