We (8 friends) were on the 8/27 Eastern Caribbean sailing of the Carnival Valor. Overall, it was a fantastic trip and, if I had to pick a vacation for this year all over again, I wouldn't change my mind. I would highly recommend both the itinerary and the ship to anyone looking for a fun Caribbean cruise.
Pre-cruise: We stayed at the Hampton Inn & Suites by the airport. It was clean and nice definitely a fair price. Their airport shuttle and complimentary breakfast is convenient. We rented a car from Hertz and took their shuttle from the downtown drop-off to the port very convenient. My husband and I did the 8:30 am dolphin swim at the Miami Seaquarium on Sunday morning, which was fantastic. I just cannot recommend this enough!
Embarkation: Not a huge deal. It was hot while we were outside for the first 15 minutes. The lines were long and it took us almost an hour and a half (we got in line a bit after 1 pm). The lifeboat drill was a tiny bit miserable, but it was fairly short. No biggie.
Ship: It's gaudy but beautiful gaudy like Vegas. I enjoyed it. The dining rooms are nearly fluorescent pink. I loved that too. It's a bit tricky to figure out how to get to some spots from other spots, especially if you want to avoid Winston's Cigar Bar, but it's not that big of a deal. There are signs and maps that make things fairly easy. Don't stress pick up a little map as soon as you step onto the boat (purser's desk on 3).
Cabin: We had a balcony cabin 6221. We found it spacious and had no trouble storing our stuff. I was glad to stash our empty suitcases under the bed so they'd be out of the way. I think I'd choose the cabin again because we couldn't hear anything from below (why I'd avoided center ship). I'd definitely take ginger with me because the motion of the boat is definitely felt there than further center.
Staff: Other than the DJ in One Small Step, everyone was fantastic. Our cabin steward slipped in and worked magic at least twice a day (breakfast and dinner). Our favorite towel animal was the hanging monkey too cute! Our dining room people were terrific. The cruise director and social hosts ranged from mildly annoying (too many announcements, Darcy!) to fun and funny. The DJ at One Small Step on Tuesday and Friday nights was a piece of work. It's like he didn't want anyone to dance. On Tuesday, I requested some popular dance music around midnight, but he told me he wouldn't play it until later because no one was dancing yet and he didn't want to repeat songs. Friday was supposed to be 80s night, but he decided that meant just the first hour while the kids were allowed in. After a bit of arguing with me, he finally agreed to play some 80s music. His selections were not very good. Other than that DJ, everyone we encountered was so pleasant.
Activities: My husband did Survivor that was funny. The other things like that (passengers as the stars) were always good for a laugh. Legends was& entertaining. Some people were decent, others were terrible but they definitely all had guts. The singing/dancing shows by the Carnival employees were pretty bad. The singing was tolerable, but the dancing was kind of awful. Karaoke was fun the first night in the Eagles Lounge, but then they moved it to Winston's for the other nights. Tons of smoke is generally considered bad for singing. I'm a little allergic, so I couldn't stay in there long enough to get to sing. The big band music on the last night was great they should've done that for longer or more often. Went to part of a comedy show one night not bad. My husband really enjoyed the blackjack tournaments. As for the talks, definitely skip all of them. I just watched them on tv while getting dressed or trying to talk myself into getting up and got all the info I needed in just a few minutes.
Food: We had dinner at Scarlett's on Tuesday night fabulous! The only problem was that the rocking of the ship made me a little ill so I had to run out before I got to finish dessert. I'd recommend booking later in the week for smoother sailing. But we loved every bit of the food we could fit into our stomachs that night. Well worth the surcharge. We had dinner on the first floor Washington dining room at 8 all the other nights and it ranged from decent to pretty good, depending on what you like and what you order. The only truly incredible thing was the bitter and blanc dessert. Even though it wasn't gourmet, it was definitely good no complaints here. We did the dining room for breakfast a few times and had good experiences there. Rosie's wasn't as good for breakfast as the dining room but still good. Rosie's was great for lunch so many choices! The hamburgers were my fave juicy and fresh.
Nassau: We did the Pearl Island stingray and snorkeling excursion through CCL. The boat ride over to Pearl Island was fun they pointed out homes of famous people. We snorkeled first. It was very rough where we entered the water I was so scared I almost got back out. But as soon as you get away from the steps, it gets much better. Lots and lots of fish. I'd recommend taking some cereal or something to feed them and a waterproof watch so you won't get out too early/late (check the time before you get in). Then we went to snorkel with the stingrays. That was really great. I was very nervous about getting stung, but they explained how to avoid it and we were off. The stingrays were very friendly and the guides were fun. When they ask for people celebrating birthdays or anniversaries, volunteer and hand your camera to someone. Excellent photo op! After paddling around with the stingrays, we dried out for a bit and then got back on the boat. I thought the excursion was just perfect for the short stay and would recommend it. It's also funny to see yourself on tv for the rest of the week.
St. Thomas: We went to Trunk Bay at St. John instead of hanging out on St. Thomas and don't regret that at all. We took an open air taxi from Havensight to Red Hook (people who get carsick should ask to sit up front with the driver). Then we took the ferry from Red Hook to St. John. Be warned that taxi drivers will come by and tell you the ferry has broken down and that they'll take you somewhere on St. Thomas. It's a scam. Standing in line was really hot (direct sunlight, no breeze), so be prepared. The ferry didn't have good A/C, so be prepared for that too. When we arrived, some in our group rented snorkel equipment near the dock thinking we might go to more than one spot. Then we got a taxi to Trunk Bay. Make sure to ask your driver to stop at the overlook to get the famous picture it's a great one. We snorkeled for a bit, and I was disappointed with the small number of fish we saw. We had some lunch and then went back out. The place had thinned out by then, and there were a LOT more fish great! We had a blast feeding them (not allowed oops!). We liked that there was a lifeguard out there making sure everyone was okay. Took a taxi back to the dock, ferry back to Red Hook, and taxi back to the ship. If you do it this way, don't underestimate how much money you need. You'll want around $75 per person to feel comfortable. But it's worth it to DIY so you aren't on someone else's schedule and can be in the water when there are fewer people around. If I had it to do over, I'd rent a van and go to more than one snorkeling spot.
St. Martin: I was worried there wouldn't be enough time to properly enjoy St. Martin I was right! We hopped off the boat, walked over to the rental car places and got a van ($50 + taxes & insurance, Hertz all the rental places will fuss over you, so be prepared). We went to Marigot first. It was an interesting drive. There aren't many roads, so we saw a lot of people. The roads aren't great, but aren't terrible either. Very hilly, which is entertaining. Marigot was great. We got some French pastries at a patisserie and then checked out the open air market for a while. Then we were on to Grand Case, the gastronomic capital of the Caribbean, for lunch. We were so bummed hardly anything was open! I wish I'd known so many places would be closed because of low season we might have stayed in Marigot for lunch (several places there looked really good). Fortunately, there were a couple places open and we picked an excellent one. They were grilling out in the open air and everything was fantastic and cheap. Although we were a little bummed at the small selection, it turned out well. Stuffed, we set off for Orient Beach. It was as promised beautiful. The water was clear and the chairs were plentiful. I had a great guava coloda before jumping into the water very tasty. My husband and I had our snorkel gear, so we figured we'd see what there was to see since I'd heard of some people having some luck. We saw three starfish and that was it. No big deal since we'd had such good snorkeling the other two days. Plus we hadn't seen starfish before. We drove through Phillipsburg with a quick stop at the Guavaberry Emporium before dropping the car off. I wish I'd had time to have another guava coloda the sample there was incredible! Since we had about 20 minutes until we had to get back on the ship, we stopped by a little open air bar right on the dock for one last Carib. That was a fun place to meet people.