Booked on the Valor with much hesitation as we're usually RCL cruisers, but the price and southern Caribbean itinerary was just too good to pass up.
We arrived in San Juan the day prior and stayed at the Marriott Courtyard Miramar. Good hotel for a short night. Our flight arrived late so we slept in and got a late check out courtesy of my MR Platinum status. The hotel recommended lunch at Los Pinos down the street for some traditional Puerto Rican food. Great late lunch and very reasonable priced. We left the hotel at 2pm for the port via a taxi. We arrived and immediately handed over our bags to one of the porters and proceeded through the maze. The lines were long but since we had our infant son in tow, they shuttled us through the special assistance line. We felt bad getting to the front of the very long and slow moving line, but since traveling with an infant is not the easiest task, no one seemed to mind.
Sail cards in hand and through security with our bottle of wine per adult, we were on board within 15 minutes of pier arrival. My guess is the regular line probably would have taken an additional 30 minutes.
Our initial impression was of a clean, modern, and well kept ship. It's not the newest and flashiest ship in the fleet, but it is very nice. We bee lined it to our cabin (6289) on deck six. We were concerned that our crib wasn't going to be in the room as promised and we were right. Good thing is Patrick our room steward was on top of it and promised it would be in the cabin when we returned from our day in Old San Juan. It was. As for the cabin, we were very happy to have booked what looked like a funny shaped room on the deck plan because it was laid out perfectly for a crib and gave us extra room. Our nanny was in a regular inside room and she did not have the space we had. The beds were comfortable as was the bedding and robes. There is a refrigerator in the room used for the paid mini bar, but Patrick emptied it for us so we could use it for all of our baby needs. The dated tube TV needs to be updated, but we honestly watched very little of it.
We returned to the ship from a nice day strolling around San Juan and had a nice dinner in the Lincoln dining room. We elected for my time dining and it was a good choice as with an infant, it's difficult making it to anything on time. We only waited for a table on the first elegant night (Tuesday night). I must say the food on the Valor was above average in the dining room compared to RCL. The Flat Iron Steak cooked to order was great and the soups and salads were fresh. The warm bread is also outstanding. The highlight of our week dining in the Lincoln was the service we received from Corina. Ask for her section, you will not be disappointed. She always addressed us by name and made a little napkin animal each night for our son, which he absolutely loved.
First stop was St. Thomas. We went scuba diving with an outside vendor and thought the diving was decent but not great.
Next was a Fun Day at Sea on our way to Barbados. Elegant night was that night. Most wore ties with jackets. Very few tuxes. But it was the right amount of elegant and a good time had by all. Food was surf and turf which was excellent.
Barbados was ok. We took a taxi to a local beach and we were back on board by 2pm. Not much to see. The taxi drivers inside the port were really aggressive. One even tried taking the stroller from my wife and forcing us to a cab. We resisted and walked outside the gate where we got a taxi for half the price and had a really nice driver.
We dove St. Lucia with the Carnival excursion and it was outstanding. Did Superman Flight and another dive at the Pitons. Do it through the ship and enjoy. Really a great operation.
The second elegant night was Thursday night. It was my wife's birthday so we left the baby with the nanny and headed to the Steakhouse for a perfect meal. The steaks were grilled to perfection with a great service. We brought our own bottle of wine and paid the $14 bottle corkage fee, but it was worth it since we had a better wine for about $40 than the shio could have offered for that price. Since the second elegant night came so quickly after the first one, there was a definite dressed down feel to the second one. We think Carnival should move it to Friday night to give some space between.
Friday's stop was St. Kitts. We took a local taxi to Shipwreck Beach and had a nice snorkel and were accompanied by wild money's in the brush behind the beach bar.
Saturday brought us to St. Maarten. Instead of a $30 taxi ride to Maho, we took a short ride to town and hoped on one of the local busses for $2/person. It takes you directly to Maho. The buses in St. Maarten look like taxi vans. Just look for the sign in the front window - Maho or Philipsburg and wave the driver to a stop. Open the sliding door, hop in, and pay the driver when you exit. Just be careful there is a drawbridge separating the road back to the ship and Maho. Leave at least 2 hours to ensure you don't get stuck in the bridge traffic. Most of the heavy jets land between 11-2pm so you will have plenty of time to swim under the planes, have a drink, and bus it back to the Valor.
Debarkation was very smooth. We were giving zone 15 which was a 945-10am exit. We had breakfast at Rosie's and then headed out. The key to the exit is to have a porter take your luggage to the curb as they know which line moves quickest. We were in a taxi to the airport and at the terminal by 1045am. We easily made our 1230 flight.
Final thoughts: Do not hesitate booking the Valor. Understand that you pay a little less so you are going to get a little less in terms of entertainment, onboard activities, and wow factor of the ship. The crowd was a nice mix of American society and we met a lot of really nice people all there to have a great time. Carnival, as do most mass market cruise lines tries to get you to buy drinks, pictures, and everything else under the sun, but we didn't find their approach too pushy. Drink prices were very reasonable as were the $10 tee shirts in the shops.
Unlike RCL ships with the promenades, the Valor does have some movement issues. There seems to be a constant traffic jam moving bow to stern via the casino. The good news is that all the elevators were working and very fast. We missed not being able to watch the sail away on the bow but found the view on deck 10 to be perfectly acceptable.
Again, good food, ok entertainment, and an awesome crew will make your 7 days on the Valor fly.