I almost don't know where to start. But before I do, I'll say that I've never written a negative review for a cruise, a hotel, a restaurant, or any establishment that provides service. We sailed as a couple and though we've only been on one other cruise, we regularly take vacations in Europe and the US including Hawaii and the Caribbean. We like outdoor activities like snorkeling, hiking, and scenic touring.
So, the start. We stayed in the Ciquala Suites in San Juan on the night before the cruise and it was a good choice and worth the modest rate we paid. Keep in mind that the Ciquala is off the beaten path, and you may have to give your taxi driver the address, but checkin was fast and the place was quiet. Breakfast was included and was pretty good; including the custom egg dishes. The taxi to the port was quick. We dropped off our luggage and spent the day walking around Old San Juan. Very very nice.
Embarkation was a long line; perhaps 30 minutes, but we expected that.
Our stateroom was an outside room with a balcony on level 7. It was big enough with a decent bathroom but the walls were paper thin and we could hear everything that was going on in the adjacent rooms. And we couldn't usually use the balcony because of the smokers on either side of us. I guess it's not Carnival's fault but I guess they draw a crowd which likes to smoke. So between the noise and the smokers, our stateroom was not a good experience.
For such a large ship, we were surprised at how much it rocked. We talked with people who claimed that they had never been seasick until this cruise.
The dining rooms were a joke. Each table was packed so close to the others that diners had a hard time not bumping into people seated. I mean, there wasn't as much as a person-width between most of the tables. We had to stop a couple of dinners and leave because I was getting bashed on a continual basis because my back was on an aisle. Come on Carnival; take a lesson from McDonalds and put some space between tables. And forget having anything close to a personal conversation. It was more like airline seating than dining seating. We opted for the "open" times for dinner and on a positive note, we rarely had to wait more than 15 minutes to get seated. But the cafe, where most people eat breakfast and lunch smelled like a cafeteria dishwasher (a job I had at 16). I mean, it was really nasty. I felt like holding my breath walking through it. Some of the food was not too bad, but some was just terrible. They served OJ that had to have been watered down 3:1 water to OJ. A joke.
We TRIED to spend some time on the main Lido deck, middle of the ship, but the music was blaring so loudly that I would have had to use ear plugs. I guess if you were drunk out of your mind you wouldn't notice. And speaking of drinking ... the prices for weak drinks were way too high. I'll gladly pay $10 for a mixed drink but I expect some liquor in the glass. Anyhow, you can retreat to the back of the ship for a fairly quiet place.
The service was a mixed bag. Some was great ... like our steward. Some of the dining room wait staff was likewise good. Others were really bad. We were sometimes waiting 20 or 30 minutes between courses. We had a disagreement with the internet service and I was called a liar by the troll who runs it on the Valor. Unfortunately, the Customer Service on the Valor informed us that Carnival is not responsible for services provided on their boats. Yeah, I'm not kidding.
The really surprising part of the cruise was how much you get pushed into getting your photo taken, and buy stuff on the boat. I have to guess that Carnival only makes money if you plunk a lot down for the extras. But there were times I felt like I was at a real carnival because of the "barkers" soliciting my business. I guess if you're going on the cruise to shop, you probably don't mind. But we can shop anytime; I don't want to be solicited every time we go from one end of the boat to the other.
We took one shore excursion and were not pleased. Half way through the trip to see turtles, the motor conked out and we drifted awhile until another boat came along and rescued us. I felt bad for the guys running the boat but I felt worse for us because we didn't get to see what we signed up for. After that, we just signed up with the local guys.
Disembarkation wasn't too bad, really. We got through the entire process in less than 40 minutes.
So in summary, we liked the weather and seeing so many ports (6), but we did not like the Customer Service, the noisy cabin, the smokers, the stinky cafe, the over-the-top music volume on the Lido, the slow dining room service and the lack of space in the dining room. Next time, we won't be so cheap and we'll pick a cruise line that caters to people who appreciate a quality experience. But hey, if you hold your nose and plug your ears, you might get what you want from Carnival. A cheap fare.