Getting to the port: Let me start by saying that this was a complete and utter nightmare! Since we are lucky to live in Florida we opted to take a bus service called Cruise Connection. It was only 69.00pp round trip to go from Ocala to Miami which is about 350miles. This was definitely the cheaper option, as putting gas in my SUV and paying 12.00 per day to park at the port would have set us back almost 300.00, plus we would have had to drive! That's the good part, here is the bad. We got up at 430am on Sunday morning to be at the bus stop, a local Waffle House by 530 because they recommend u be there 30mins early. 6am came and I called cruise connection, thank goodness I was smart enough to bring the number with me. They said they would call dispatch. 5 mins later I get a call from them saying that they were running 30 mins late and would be there soon. We were the only ones getting on in Ocala. 7am we were on our way. Well, come to find out we weren't on the list!! Can you believe this? If I hadn't of called, they wouldn't have come for us at all. Then after 4 hours of driving, they tell us we have to go pick up some people that were going to another port, as a favor!!! Here we are, already late, and we have to go get some other folks going to another port as a favor? Come on now!! Ok so finally we made it to Miami. Whew.
Embarkation: What a breeze. Got to the port about 2pm, should have been there at noon. Waited in the Fast Pass line about 15 mins, went and got our embarkation photo taken, my favorite and walked on the ship. Took about 30 mins if that total. Easy easy. Met our friends that we had met on cruise critic and started to explore.
Ship: Very pretty and nicely appointed. Some have commented that the dEcor is gaudy. Its not. Very tasteful and the colors flow wonderfully. The inlaid tiles and marble thru the ship make an elegant feel, then the colorful dEcor depicts a fun atmosphere. Only place I thought was kinda out of place was the Ivanhoe theater. It was decorated in medieval dEcor and didn't really fit in with the rest of the ship, tho I understand the Ivanhoe theme and that he was a medieval hero. There was/is something for everyone. Lindy hop for the piano bar lovers and also one small step disco for the club crowd. The eagles lounge for big band sounds at night and the Caboose which is a top notch video game arcade. Great air hockey. Lets you play unlimited for only a dollar.
Cabin: 7426 aft balcony cat 8b. Awesome cabin, wont cruise without a balcony again. We got a military discount because of my brother, but he didn't cruise with us. He originally booked and paid his deposit. We got carnival's friends and family rate, but 2 months before we were due to sail, he had to cancel due to not being able to take off work. Unfortunately he didn't get his deposit back. I was afraid that since we booked under his military rate, they would bump us into an inside cabin, or make us pay more for the balcony, but they didn't. no one ever said a word..shhhhhh!! its our secret.
Cabin was well laid out. We had a couch and a king bed, along with plenty of closet space and shelves and drawers. When I pack, I pack everything on the hangers so that I don't have to worry about only having 10. Yes, I am an over packer!!! Our luggage all fits inside of each other so we just stacked it up and put it under the bed. Bathroom is roomy and adequate. Plenty of little shelves for stuff like toothbrushes and hair accessories etc. We brought our own Bath and Body Works soap, as I don't care for bars of soap that they provide. Plenty of towels and stuff. Toilet paper could have been better lol.
Food: My biggest complaint is people complaining about the food. What cruise were you people on??? We ate the fish and chips, yummy. We ate breakfast in Rosies on lido deck a couple times, had room service on port days and rest of the time was in the Washington dining room. All yummy. We tried out Scarletts supper club. It was amazing. They offer both a 5 course and a 7 course dinner option, both for the same 30.00 fee. Food was exceptional. Atmosphere was not rushed, very laid back and we had 2 servers all to ourselves. We left a 20.00 tip, that's how excellent they were. Our normal dinner was in the Washington dining room 545pm seating. We like the early seating because it allows us to fully utilize all the nightlife, and be ready to eat again at midnight lol. We originally had a booth for 4 and sat there the first night, by ourselves, but next to each other in case someone else came to sit. The next night, formal night, we go to our table and there is another couple there. Now generally this wouldn't have been a problem, but they were sitting across from each other, not next to each other. They did move however, but right into the seats we were sitting at the previous night. The seat we originally were in faced the dining room, the seat that was empty faced a wall, which I didn't want to sit in. Now if you ask me, our waiter should have said that we were sitting in those seats last night and asked them to move to the opposite space, but he didn't. I was a bit angry at this inconsideration and promptly went to the maitre'd to request to be moved. He did so, to a nice table for two, aft by the window. Very nice table. Since this was our anniversary, it made it even more special.
Clubs/Public Spaces: Ok, here's my biggest issue. SMOKE!!! I love the casino. I don't spend to much money there, but I love to hang out and people watch. On previous cruises the smoke was tolerable. This time it was horrible. I asked the purser if there were any non smoking areas in the casino and was advised no. that when people gamble and drink they smoke. Just give me 5 slots in a non smoking area, that's all im asking, is that too much? You had to go thru Winston's cigar bar to get to the internet cafe, yuck!!! They had an afternoon tea, which I would have loved to participate in, but it was in Winston's! yeah, there was no smoking during tea time, but the smell of smoke still permeated the room. My friend hung out in the piano bar with Ron Bass, who was awesome, but once again, smoke smoke smoke. I can stand only so much before I have to come out for air. Carnival, you need much improvement in these areas. Chill on the smoking allowed places and make smoking the exception, not the norm. Walking down the hallway to our room you can smell peoples' smoke coming out of their cabins. On the balcony, it was better, only one cabin around us smoked and it was in back so when we were moving, I couldn't smell it. Yay for me!!!
Common areas were awesome. There were many very comfortable places to sit and congregate. The coffee bar was exceptional with a very good version of a frappuccino. The Ivanhoe theatre was very nice. It was very well set up with level floor seating on the bottom and stadium seating on the balconies. If you were in the balcony, you didn't have to worry about the huge bald guy in front of you, you could easily see the stage. Eagles lounge was great. It was very pretty, big dance floor and nice comfy couches. They should have had more to do in this lounge not just karaoke. The past guest party was here too, free drinks and they would make anything you wanted, not just the stuff they offered you, you could request anything. I recommend the Kiss on the Lips. YUMMYYYYYYY!!!.
There was definitely enough space for everyone near the pools. Once again Carnival employed stadium lounging. There were hundreds of chairs and kudos to Carnival, a smoking and non smoking side!!! I easily found a chair right next to the pools on all sea days, tho once I had to make my own. I had to grab one from somewhere else and put it where I wanted it lol, no worries tho.
Shops were great, tho there could have been more. I shopped every day as there was always a sale. Bought a great watch that I priced here stateside for 80.00 for only 10.00 on sale!!! Got the gold by the inch, and its guaranteed for life. Carnival will replace it if it breaks or tarnishes so I figured what the hay, might as well try it. Bought a necklace and got a matching bracelet free. Wait until the last day to buy your t shirts as they are 2 for 20.00 for select ones. Excellent quality too, not the cheapy ones you get in the ports lol.
Entertainment: The shows are good. Not great I wouldn't say, but good, definitely entertaining. The far from over show, excellent! We had a singer on there too, Yolanda, she was interactive and excellent. The comedians were only ok. Matter of fact, one comedian, Mark Hawkins, was our cruise director last year on Miracle. He was funny, but in a goofy kind of way. The legends show was only okay. I find it hard to believe that those people chosen were the best. Personally, I think my dog can sing better, but hey, who am I to pass judgement. Ron Bass in the aforementioned piano bar was superb! The games were fun and bingo was a blast. Watch your capers tho, they ran bargain bingo options where for the price of one card you can play 7-10 games. We played trivia, lost. We played the slots, lost tho one person on a different ship played the ship wide slot game and won 950,000.00. She was on another ship and apparently carnival has a fleetwide slot tourney and she won. Lucky her. There is always something to do. We did the galley tour on the last sea day. It was awesome! Got to see how its all done, how the food gets from one place to another. I would recommend this.
Ports Nassau: Did this on our own as we were only here a few hours. From our balcony we saw Starbucks and made a beeline for there. Used my Cingular 8125 for the free wifi at starbucks and sat there and shot out emails and pictures to my daughter at home. Walked around down to the Straw Market and haggled with the locals. Got a cute straw bag, small, hand made special for my daughter. A local with only one arm made it while I watched. I didn't bargain with her because I felt the 10.00 price was fair for the amount of work she put into it. Got an excellent Coach knock off purse and a couple shot glasses. Headed back to the ship but on our way back there was a little boat with some locals that had conch shells. They were taking out the conch and selling the beautiful shells right on the dock. We bought one.
St Thomas. Very beautiful port, yet poor. We took a tour thru Sunny Liston tours. He was excellent. For only 25.00 pp we got 2 hours of shopping, a 2 hour sightseeing tour and then 2 hours at Sapphire beach. We went to the top of the mountain, looked down at the beautiful Megan's Bay and had a banana daiquiri. YUMMY omg that was great, and I don't even drink. Sapphire beach was okay, but I would have rather gone to Coki. There is no food at sapphire, except a second rate store that sells sandwiches, but eww who knows how old they are lol.
St Maarten: Did a tour with Sunny Liston's friend Victor. Same type tour, but more in depth. Did a lot of sightseeing. He showed us both the French and Dutch side. French side he spoke about how the French government takes care of the people. If you are a woman with children and no husband, they will pay for your apartment, which of course is on the beach with an excellent view and give you free medical care and food. Women have no incentive to work. Dutch side is nicer. Lots of casinos. Went to the famous Orient Beach. Saw some ugly naked people lol. Water was extremely rough for the Caribbean. Husband, who didn't intend on going past his waist got knocked down by 2 huge waves and nearly drown. He also lost is Oakleys so he went sunglassless the rest of the cruise. Then we went to an awesome beach called Sunset Beach. We saw the dancers from the ship there. It's a beautiful area. You have beautiful beach, then the road then an airport. The planes come right in over the beach and land on the strip behind you. Incredible. If you ever make it to St Maarten, go to sunset beach for a beautiful yet thrilling experience. Awesome food in the restaurant too.
Staff: I can not speak highly enough of the staff of the Valor. Even tho they are at sea for months and months at a time with little time off, everyone is friendly. Cabin stewards that are not even yours say good morning and how was your evening. People you encounter on decks were incredible, always smiling and joking with you. Purser's desk the girls were a bit snotty when I asked for some motion sickness pills, but that was only one incident, and other encounters with the purser's desk were fine.
My cabin Steward, Rasa was so very nice. On the last night, you don't usually get a towel animal, but just for us, she made us a heart with about 2lbs of the chocolate mints inside because she knew how much I enjoyed them. She got an extra 25.00 from me above the normal tips.
Dining room staff, superb. Our head waiter, Jean Claude from Haiti was awesome. Always joking around and had my cappuccino ready each evening after dinner. I never even had to ask. Scarletts supper club was great, food exceptional and the servers were very good.
Debarkation: We ate a leisurely breakfast in the Washington dining room. We had set our luggage out the night before, we refuse to take it off ourselves, especially since I am an overpacker with 5 bags lol. That went great. Okay, this is of no fault of carnivals but the port is a mess. Got of the ship around 930 which was our choice. Had a wonderful breakfast and left. But there is ONE escalator for 3000 people and it took an hour to get out. What the heck are these people thinking? Then we get on our cruise connection bus and waited 2.5 hours for some inconsiderate people to get off a Royal Caribbean ship. I think we shouldn't have waited, but we did.
Final thoughts: Awesome. I would certainly sail on Valor again and again and Carnival has exceeded my expectations once again. Matter of fact, to beat the post cruise depression blues, I am researching our next cruise for spring and fall of next year. Keep up the excellent work Carnival.
Any questions, please feel free to email me.