I used to be a fan of Carnival Cruises, but I'm not anymore. And, no, I wasn't a passenger on the ill-fated Carnival Triumph. In fact, I was so much of a fan of Carnival (based on past cruises) that I agreed when my husband went ahead and booked our vacation on the Carnival Valor IN SPITE OF the troubles that their ships seemed to be having lately. I wanted desperately to give them the benefit of the doubt.
But now, I cannot recommend a Carnival Cruise to anyone. Unless Carnival clears up the problems aboard, I wouldn't want to be responsible for causing the ruin of another person's vacation.
Troubles usually come in threes, but Carnival Cruises seems to have at least FOUR major problems. I hope that someone at the corporate level at Carnival is listening. Unless these problems are corrected, the Carnival "Fun Shipsâ€ will be reduced to remaining at the "Buffetâ€ level of cruise vacations. The four big problems are Crowd Control, Kids, Cuisine and Maintenance.
Let's talk about Crowd Control first. On ships as large as the Valor, the ability to peacefully and tactfully control the crowd of passengers is absolutely essential to the enjoyment of everyone aboard and to prevent the outbreak of disorder. Gentle tactics can be used, such as having staggered seating times for meals and shows, and using stanchions and barriers to direct people and prevent mobbing of areas. Crowd Control is essential to prevent the outbreak of any type of disorder that could lead to unpleasantness. There were differing seating times for meals and shows on the Valor and I did see a stanchion or two; however, I am sorry to say that on this Carnival Cruise, the staff frequently allowed the breaking of rules. At dinnertime in the Washington Room, a large crowd frequently formed in front of the entrance and this crowd was allowed to completely block the elevator lobby, creating an uncomfortable situation as people continued to pour out of elevators to join the crowd. When the restaurant doors opened, there was an uncontrolled rush. Staff were unable to check seating assignments to determine if some of the people even belonged in the Washington Room or to see if people were at the correct seating. Needless to say, this created confusion and some folks were forced to wait for seats. All of the problems could have been eliminated by having stanchions up to force diners to be in a line away from the elevators so that their "Sign and Sailâ€ cards could have been properly checked as to dining time and place.
Crowd Control was also missing at Rosie's Restaurant on the Lido Deck. Because of the lack of proper stanchions, people were line-breaking and bunching up in areas, and some people were allowed to place "ordersâ€ from large parties of people who were not in line (very often, different members of the parties in question would appear to interrupt the person placing their order with yet more orders). The result was long waits in the buffet lines, and other mayhem which I will discuss later. Once again, the strategic placement of simple stanchions and the establishment of rules for service would have prevented problems (such as informing people that all members of their party had to be present in the buffet line in order to be served unless such members were disabled).
Crowd Control as far as the enforcement of dress code rules was also not applied. The only thing I have to say about this is that Elegance Night really does not mean that one can enter the dining room in denim shorts and high heels, and that if one has open diabetic sores on ones arms and legs, dining room staff should at least insist that you present yourself in proper trousers and a proper long-sleeved shirt or jacket. Trust me, seeing weeping sores on a fellow diner will make you lose your dinner quickly.
The problem of Kids aboard is next for consideration, and walks hand-in-hand with the Crowd Control issue. The greatest contributing factor to the Crowd Control problems was the matter of uncontrolled children running about the ship. Sad to say, parents simply let their children have unsupervised free run of the ship, and staff did little or nothing to stop or prevent this. Children were frequently in the adult only areas, and at one point the adult only hottubs were brimful of kids. I even heard a little girl chide her mother for bringing her into the adult area by saying "mom, I'm not allowed in here.â€ The mad rush into the Washington Restaurant (late seating, mind you) was caused by tired and hungry children rushing to get their meals, and their parents rushing after them. This dash for food also included a great many infants who were being pushed into the restaurant in baby carriages, believe it or not, and crying babies did not add to the ambiance of the late evening seating. Running children were the cause of many "near missesâ€ where adults, especially the elderly, were nearly knocked off their feet. Children were even sitting on the stools at the machines in the Casino and trying to get into the adults-only comedy club. We were even on an excursion where the father allowed his teenage son to drink beer to the point of becoming falling-down drunk and picking a fight with another passenger. The most egregious and, frankly, worrisome Crowd Control incidents involved children who were ducking their entire bodies UNDERNEATH the sneeze shields at the buffets in Rosie's and using their bare hands to grab food from the serving platters. Carnival Cruises has done their best to prevent the spread of the Novo virus aboard ship, but failing to enforce any rules about children at the buffets defeats all of their efforts. It must be made clear to parents that they are to serve their children at the buffets and children must never be allowed to serve themselves. Rules about where children are allowed and not allowed MUST be enforced, and parents MUST be forced to be with their children at all times. Even though the ship is a closed environment, predators could be aboard and children need to be controlled to keep them safe.
I'm not going to say much about Cuisine, except that it was generally mediocre, except for the fare in Scarlett's Steakhouse. The meals served in the Washington and Lincoln Rooms were the exact same menu served at Rosie's buffet, and the only difference was that the portion sizes in the Washington and Lincoln rooms were substantially smaller. In general, the food was fresh and plentiful, but the type of fare that one would find at any buffet restaurant or dinerâ€"there was absolutely nothing special or remarkable about the food at all. However, the so-called Chinese food served at Mongolian Wok was horrific; tasteless, unseasoned and dry. I can remember the days when eating in the shipboard dining rooms meant dazzling ice sculptures surrounding displays of beautiful Hors d'oeuvres and appetizers like Beluga Caviar served with Melba Toast Points and Vodka, or wonderful Shrimp Cocktails, and entrees were Rock Lobster, Filet Mignon, Giant Roasted Turkeys, Leg of Lamb or the Steamship Round of Beef, and deserts were flaming Crepes Suzette or Baked Alaska, but it is abundantly clear to me that those days are gone forever. Shipboard food is now simply designed to provide fillers of empty calories to keep the mass number of passengers from complaining. This means poor quality food. If you want to enjoy the same fare that was served in the glory days of cruising, be prepared to pay extra for it. If Carnival wanted to Kick it Up A Notch they would have a Level of Old School Cruising, where passengers could pay a little extra to experience cruise food like it was in the old days, maybe having a certain dining room set aside for these passengers. As it is, eating the same food as you can find in the local all-you-can-eat is really not worth your trouble of booking the cruise especially if the cruise is being booked for a wedding, honeymoon, anniversary or other celebration.
Unfortunately, we could see signs of the lack of Maintenance everywhere on the Valor. The ship's appointments were tired and "shopwornâ€ in many areas. For example, the carpeting in our cabin was stained in some areas and bleached out by sun exposure in others, as were the curtains and drapes. The makeup mirror in the bathroom was broken and the lampshades on the bedside tables were cracked. The wooden deck areas were badly in need of re-staining and refinishing. Many of the elevator interiors were marred by scratches, even graffiti. Marble floor tiles were cracked. Some of the banquettes in the Ivanhoe Lounge had seats that were compressed and even broken down by years of use. Chairs in the Washington Room were stained and scratched, and tiles on the walls in Rosie's were sun-bleached. The machines in the self-service laundry on our deck were very old and two of the washers weren't even functional . The elevators were often out of service in many areas, their disrepair aided by uncontrolled children who were pressing all of the buttons. If the ship shows this many outright signs of disrepair and neglect, one can only imagine what is going on below decks. The Valor desperately needs to be drydocked for maintenance and repair. Carnival needs to have REGULAR maintenance schedules for all of its ships.
The good stuff was that our cabin was nice enough, its location at the aft of the ship excellent. We had a nice wrap around balcony that afforded us privacy and we were in a fairly quiet location. The service of the Steward and the Room Service Staff was outstanding. We also enjoyed a wonderful dinner experience in Scarlett's Steakhouse, and would highly recommend it. Also, the food service staff at Rosie's and the Fish and Chips Restaurant on Lido did an outstanding job of trying to maintain cleanliness despite the challenges presented by non-cooperative passengers and children. Despite these good things, we absolutely cannot recommend Carnival Cruises until the corporation running this cruise line does more to correct and eliminate the Four Major Problems outlined in this critique.