My husband and I cruised Carnival Valor on its Western Caribbean route - Grand Cayman, Isla Roatan, Belize and Costa Maya, Mexico. This was our 4th cruise (2nd on Carnival), and we cruised with two other couples who had never cruised before.
I booked the cruise through a Carnival Personal Vacation Planner (PVP) who was GREAT. I booked in February, and in the six months between booking and sailing, the price went down twice. Both times, he adjusted our price. Because we were past Carnival guests (1994, believe it or not), we were upgraded from an 8A to 8E. He upgraded our friends to 8D because they were cruising with us.
EMBARKATION: We had a rental car in Miami, so the agency took us to the port around 9:30 am. We did have to sit around for about an hour, but they checked us in and moved us to another waiting area. Long story short, we were on the ship by 11:00 and eating at Rosie's by 11:15.
THE SHIP: The Valor is a huge ship, and it was spotless. Very rarely could we walk from one place to another without seeing someone cleaning something. Handprints on the glass portions of the ship were non-existent. Empty drink glasses disappeared quickly. I never saw cigarette butts or matches or bits of trash anywhere on the ship. KUDOS!!
Most of the artwork on the walls was from the Park Lane Gallery that does the Art At Sea stuff on cruises. Those pieces were okay. The larger pieces that are on the walls in the stairways are not that great. . .I found them pretty average, actually.
DINING: We cruised RCCL last year, and we were worried that the Valor's food would not be as good. WRONG! The buffet offerings on the Valor were much better than those on RCCL. The food in the dining room was comparable. The midnight buffets were okay. . . We didn't partake, although one of our friends did. Actually, he loved the fact that there was pizza available at all hours. The one negative comment that I have is that they need more than one person working the pizza counter at peak hours (and they should be a little less surly with people).
We ate in the Washington Dining Room at 5:45. Our waiter was from Nicaragua and was very nice although we could not hear half of what he said. Since I speak Spanish, he and I spoke quite a bit.
The shows every evening in the dining room were a bit much. That's just a personal thing with me. I know that others enjoyed seeing the waiters sing and dance every night.
SHOWS: Speaking of shows, the production shows on the Valor were a lot better than we expected!! The female and male singers were great, as were the dancers. The fly-on comedians were okay. We really enjoyed the ventriloquist but could have done without the hypnotist. Again, this was just a personal thing. Others loved the hypnotist.
The cruise director, Darcy, was fine (though a little daffy). Ronaldo, the assistant cruise director and Latin dance teacher, was a hoot! We didn't partake in any of the ship games or anything, but those who did seemed to have fun. My one comment about Darcy is that she needs to learn an adjective other than "amazing."
PORTS: Having done the southern Caribbean last summer, we wanted something different, and I picked this cruise for its ports. I'm pretty sorry that I did. I own a store and have a store-sponsored cruise in the next few weeks. I'm very happy I chose the southern Caribbean route for it!!
GRAND CAYMAN: This was a tender port, and getting off and on the ship was pretty easy and quick. We did the Stingray Snorkel and Island Tour. GC is a lot like islands in the southern Caribbean with clear, blue water surrounding it. The Turtle Farm and "Hell" were okay. . .nothing spectacular. However, the stingray snorkel was GREAT. We went the day after Steve Irwin was killed by a ray in Australia, so there were cancellations, and our friends were a little scared. It was fun!!
ISLA ROATAN: We didn't do an excursion here, preferring to walk the main street. We lasted about 1 hour off the ship. There is NOTHING to do except shop in tiny, dirty shops. We did take a side street up a little hill and ended up on the property of a private Methodist school. We talked with the minister's wife and children. That was the best part. We went back to the ship while one of the couples with us continued walking down the main street until almost 4:00. NOTE: If you don't like shopping, take an excursion here!! You can get a tour of the island via taxi right near the pier.
BELIZE: It's a good thing someone warned me that Belize is poor. I had no idea, however, how bad it is! We took a tour of Belize City with a stop at the historical museum (where we all got horrible bug bites). It was interesting to see all of this, but I will again say that those who did the water excursions were smarter. We heard a lot of great things about the cave tubing and canopy tours.
COSTA MAYA: We did the Beach Snorkel in CM, and it was fun. After a 40-minute bus ride, most of which was over a one-lane beach road, we snorkeled in rather shallow water off a Mexican beach heaven-knows-where. The floor of the ocean that didn't;t have coral reef on it was covered with sea grass. . .not exactly pleasant. The guide was great. I was quite put back by the bus driver, however. When we were getting off of the bus, I said, "Thank you!" He replied, "Put your thank you in the box by the door." In other words, TIP ME.
The shops at the pier are pretty expensive. I checked out jewelry at a few places and was appalled at the prices, even at the "recommended" places. Having lived in Mexico (inland), I knew that the prices were ridiculous. I saw a brooch similar in size and quality (same stone) in a store after we returned home. The Mexican price? $200, but for me, he would make it $110. . .unless I told him what I wanted to pay. The price at the store in Nashville? $20. Hmmmmmm.
DISEMBARKING: We chose to self-disembark and were off the ship by 8:00 am. It was rather easy and very quick. The only glitch here was that the shuttle to take us to FLL did not arrive. However, we were able to get on another shuttle at the same price ($20 pp), so all was fine.