Myself, my sister and my daughter (ages 50, 44 and 20) just returned from the 9/17 - 9/27 Carnival Valor cruise to the Western Caribbean as the annual girls vacation. Let me preface this review by saying that this is my 7th cruise, and 6th with Carnival, so I'm not a 1st time cruiser and I've never had complaints about any previous cruises, mostly because I'm just happy to be away from work and it would need to be pretty bad for me to complain.
Being from Fort Lauderdale, I'm spoiled when it comes to cruises. Only had about a 40 minute ride to the Port of Miami on Sunday morning. Arrived approximately 11:30 am, and the embarkation process was the fastest I've ever experienced. We were on the ship, sitting in Rosie's restaurant with a drink in hand by 12:30. We wandered around the ship a bit, although all the CCL ships have basically the same layout, so we knew our way around. We got to our cabin around 2:00 pm, and lo and behold, all of our luggage was already there! This was awesome! We were totally unpacked in plenty of time to go back up on deck and have a couple more drinks prior to sailing!
We watched as the Carnival Miracle passed us by, and their ship's horn could be heard until they got out of the port. Funny, but I never heard the Valor horn at any time during the entire cruise. Thought maybe it was me, being that I was celebrating my 50th birthday and figured the hearing is the first to go, but after chatting with several other people, came to the conclusion that I think our horn was broke!
We were scheduled for the late dinner seating in the Lincoln Dining Room. It's like dying and going to heaven to have appetizers, salad, main course and dessert served to you every night, and then not having to do dishes! That in itself is usually enough to keep me happy. However, this is the first time that I have been disappointed not only with the food, but the service as well. The waiter and assistant waiter were to put it politically correct - drastically inept at their job. They did not work well together, and one evening had a yelling match between them because the head waiter did not know that the assistant waiter had brought over our meals and put them on the tray. It was very uncomfortable, especially because we knew what they were fighting about. People at the table behind us heard it also, and made eye contact with us and rolled their eyes.
The food was disappointing. It seemed that whoever was cooking the beef (whether it was sirloin, filet or prime rib) had no idea what the difference was between rare, medium and well done. At one point, my daughter had sent her filet back 3 times because she originally ordered it medium, and when she got it, it was so well done that the ends were curled up! The 2nd filet she got was red and still cold in the middle. She received a 3rd filet, but sent it back because there were fingerprints all over the dish that appeared to be tomato sauce. The waiter brought the dish up to show the maitre'd. The maitre'd asked her if she wanted to place a special order for the following evening. She told him it wasn't a matter of placing a special order - it was a matter of cooking it the way she asked for it and getting it on a clean plate. This happened more nights than not, and it wasn't only our party. The others at the table also complained and sent their food back several times. One night, we never even got the baked potatoes that went with our meal until we were just about done. I can't comment on any of the desserts, because just about every night we were so frustrated with either the food or the service, that we headed out immediately without the dessert. However, Rosie's did have a killer pistachio cream cake that was worth gaining a few pounds for!
The Cruise Director was hibernating most of the week. We saw her on stage only at night to say a few words, and that was it. Other CCL cruises that I have been on, the CD mingled with the crowds at night and during the day on deck, but I never saw her. I was not impressed with her at all. On a scale of 1 - 10, she was a low 1. One of the nights she was dressed in a black skirt and black nylons, and her nylons had more runs in them than a senior citizen on a prune juice diet! Very unappealing.
The entertainment was mediocre, at best. The first night, I am used to seeing an Introduction Show to kick off the cruise. On the first night, the dancers came out, kicked their legs up once or twice, and got off stage. Never saw them again until Friday night. Most of the shows were either a solo singer, or a comedian. One night, there was a comedian/magician, and she really wasn't too good at either. One of the comedians was hilarious when I saw him last year on my CCL vacation wasn't too funny this time around because most of his dialogue was the same. The best show was the hypnotist -- it was a riot, and even now when I think back to some of the stuff that he did, I have to laugh. I watched his show over and over on the TV back in the cabin.
In Grand Cayman, we did a relaxing day and just hung out on Seven Mile Beach. In Honduras, we did the Canopy/Tabyana Beach tour, and it was a blast! We rode on a zip line through the trees, and ended up down on the beach. This was a Wednesday, and a GREAT way to celebrate my 50th birthday! What a rush! Recommend this excursion for those with a sense of adventure. In Belize, we did a snorkel excursion which ended up being a very physical activity because the water was choppy and the current was strong. I didn't think I'd make it, but I did. One of the other snorkelers began to panic with the high waves and began swallowing water and was screaming for help. Luckily, my sister who is a rescue diver was right there and held him up until the guides came and assisted him. The snorkeling was great, with much to see in the crystal clear waters. In Costa Maya, my daughter and I had booked the Xtreme Speedboat ride. However, upon seeing the waters in Belize - again very choppy - I gladly gave my pass to my sister and told them to have fun! I walked around the pier and went down to the fishing village, where the prices are about half of what they are on the pier. In my opinion, the shore excursions that we booked were all loads of fun and worth the value.
The activities on ship are, for the most part, basically the same - belly flop contest, hairy chest contest, towel folding, etc& They are all enjoyable and fun to watch; however, there was a group that thought they were on a au natural cruise and kept untying each others bikini tops or pulling down the guys swimming trunks. Security was getting pretty frustrated after a while. The one activity that I think needs some improvement is the bingo game. It is a pretty hefty price to pay ($20) for one game of bingo. That's it - one game. They need to reformat the bingo game and if they are giving away $1,000 - make it 3 or 4 or 5 games and if people don't win 1 game, at least they have another try. This is one activity that I gotta admit I like better on NCL. I'll also say that I played every game, even at $20!
The cleanliness of the ship was A+. Tables were cleared and cleaned quickly, and workers were constantly cleaning. The food in Rosie's, the pizzeria and especially the fish & chips were awesome! The drinks were very strong (but my daughter told me to keep this complaint to myself - that is was my fault because I was old!). I always had to ask for more ice or more juice to dilute the alcohol!
Our cabin was an ocean view, which isn't what I originally booked. I had booked an interior guaranteed, but when I added a 3rd person, they upgraded us from a 1A to a 6A. The cabin was spacious and clean, and the cabin steward was okay, except he needs to learn to make towel animals other than an elephant. By the end of the cruise, it was getting old to be greeted by a towel elephant every night! The one thing that did surprise me, though, was that every night the steward left the 3 chocolates on the bed. None of us like chocolate, so I was saving them every night to bring home to my son. On Saturday night, I had a pile of 18 chocolates to bring home, but after the steward did the nightly turn down, all of the chocolates were gone. I'm assuming he must have figured we didn't want them and he took them all back? My fault for leaving the pile of them on the nightstand. Next time I'll put them away.
We did the self-assist, to get off the ship early because I had to drive my sister to the airport (she's from Boston). It went easy and fast. We went to the Ivanhoe Lounge at about 7:45 am and were off the ship and out of the building by 8:30. The final disappointment came as we went through customs. A gentleman (?) was in the wrong line (he was in non-citizens instead of \U.S. citizens) and when he was told he was in the wrong line, he came over and tried to cut in front of my sister. She didn't let him, so he tried to cut in front of my daughter. She told him to go to the end of the line (which was only about 5 people behind me because there was a break) and he proceeded to push in front of my daughter and claimed that he has been waiting for an hour to get off the ship and she replied we've all been waiting to get off the ship - my aunt is in front of me and my mom is behind me you need to go to the end of the line and he said XXXX! I couldn't believe it - this 65+ year old man said this to a young girl. My daughter told him to act his age, and then the customs agent broke in and told them both to quiet down. My daughter let him cut in front of her, so that he would be on his way. It never ceases to amaze me how some people are.
We had a great time, and it was wonderful to spend quality time with my daughter and my sister, and great to be away from work. But the dining room service and quality of food was a major disappointment. Does that mean I give up on CCL? No, because I've had other cruises with them that were superior, and those are what made me keep coming back. But when it comes to booking my next cruise, I may just shop around and give someone else a try.