We had a group of 27 on the Valor this past week celebrating our honeymoon. My wife, Holly and I, wanted to make our family and friends take a vacation together. This is an amazing ship and we all had a great vacation. We arrived in Miami Saturday and stayed at the Holiday Inn Miami Airport. We booked the rooms through Hotelopia, paid $75 per room (1/2 of the standard rate). We had read previous bad reviews about this hotel but we found it very suitable for our needs, Hotel staff was friendly, rooms were spacious, parking seemed very safe and we were only 10 minutes from the port of Miami. Had dinner Saturday night at Bayside, plenty of choices and lots of shops and entertainment in the area.
EMBARKATION: We called the port ahead of time to see what time we could board the ship and were told they would begin boarding at 2:00pm due to disinfecting the ship. Needless to say we arrived at 10:30 in the morning and were eating lunch on the lido deck by noon. We figure that's their standard response to keep the masses from showing up so early. They really do a good job of getting you through line and onto the ship. Very painless and easy process, just make sure you fill out your fun pass online before showing up! We saw a very long line of folks who hadn't filled theirs out causing them quite a delay.
OUR ROOM: We were allowed to our rooms at 1:30. We had an L-shaped balcony on deck 6(room 6473) which is at the very back starboard side. This room had an extended balcony which we greatly enjoyed. Room is very spacious for a cruise ship, we had 4 pieces of luggage(one for wife's shoes). Our clothes easily fit in the drawers and closets, and there are plenty of hangers already there. The bathroom had plenty of shelf space for all my wife's stuff and she even let me have a small area. We heard very little noise from neighbors or from the floors above and below. This was the first balcony room for both of us and our future cruises will definitely be balcony's as well. All of our group was on deck 6, a couple of the rooms were directly over the Ivanhoe Theater and they did hear the entertainment at nights.
THE SHIP: For a ship with 3000 people on board, the Valor seems very spacious. We were always able to find tables and lounge chairs by any of the pools and never felt like we were in a big crowd. When you get on board go by the purser's desk on deck 3 and pick up a few pocket size ship layouts which show the location of everything on board. These make the ship much easier to navigate. We found the ship to be well laid out and quickly learned our way around.
FOOD & ENTERTAINMENT: The food on board the Valor was much, much better than we expected. We had the 6:15 dinner in the Lincoln room. Our waiter Savio was wonderful and all the women in our group enjoyed seeing him sing and dance during the dinner shows. We had a large group and everybody raved over the food. The Chocolate Melting cake is definitely the highlight of dinner. We mainly ate breakfast and lunch at Rosie's. Food was all exceptional. Try a cheeseburger and hotdog, they're a must. Pizza was a mixed review in our group, several of us enjoyed it while others could have done with out. Others enjoyed the Sushi and Deli, but I'm not sure if anybody tried the fish and chips. If you enjoy fine dining Scarlett's is a must. Holly and I wanted a night to ourselves and had a fantastic evening with dinner and the music at Scarlett's. Definitely a steal for $30 per person. Drinks were a little pricey upstairs but I guess it's what you get in upscale dining. We thoroughly enjoyed the entertainment. We thought the singers, shows and comedians in Ivanhoe were fantastic. If you enjoy comedy make sure to attend the adult comedy shows at midnight, we were rolling in the floor laughing. The Hypnotist was also entertaining although you could tell some of the people up on stage weren't really under and just there for their 15 minutes of fame. The Far From Over show was probably the best show of the week. We would rather have seen the performers do another show on the last night instead of the Legends show(which is what they take auditions for during the week and have cruisers do the show). Be sure to visit Doug in the Lidy Hop Piano bar. Tell him Dawn(my sister) says hello when you go. We had several nights of great entertainment in the piano bar. We never attended the Karaoke in the Eagles Lounge. The Cigar bar, Bronx sports bar, and the disco never seemed to have much of a crowd. We had several big winners in the casino in our group and there was never a dull moment during sea days and evenings.
EXCURSIONS: We booked all of our excursions from info that we received here on Cruise Critic and we THANK YOU ALL for the advice and input. We saved a ton of money and made memories that we'll always remember. We were worried about tendering at Grand Cayman and Belize since we weren't a part of a Carnival tour. The best way to get off early is to show up in Ivanhoe about 15 minutes before they start tendering and let them know that you need to get off early. The best thing to remember is to be Polite and let them know that you need off and we found them all very accommodating and were on the first tender each morning.
GRAND CAYMAN: This was probably our least favorite port. Grand Cayman is very expensive and commercialized, almost like visiting a coastal city in Florida. We did the Snorkel & Stingray tour and the Hell & Turtle farm tour with Captain Marvin. Captain Marvin himself actually guided our snorkel, stingray portion, what a great thrill, he's an amazing person. This tour was very fun although there were large crowds at the Stingray sight but it was amazing to be up close with these creatures. We did have one of our parents(who is on Oxygen) fall overboard while at the sight but Captain Marvin quickly pulled him in and told him that people on Oxygen didn't need to be getting in the ocean. We all had a good laugh. We did a little shopping before getting back on the boat but Grand Cayman was much too expensive, wait to do your shopping on the other islands.
ROATAN: This was a great port. We did the island tour with Victor Bodden. He is a great guide and this is a beautiful island. We started off doing a zip-line tour. What a blast, even though we did have a lady in our group fracture her ankle doing this(she already had a hurt knee before the vacation and we tried to talk her out of doing the zip-line, she tried putting all her weight on her other leg and just landed bad). Don't let this scare you, these guys were all very professional and this was a great adventure. Victor took great care of our hurt member, having somebody come pick her up and take here back to the ship's doctor. Victor actually emailed us when we got home to check on her which meant alot to us. Back to the tour, next we rode by some shipwrecks, toured Fantasy Island(no, the show wasn't filmed here). There are wild monkeys roaming at Fantasy Island and they'd come right up to you, climb up and sit on your shoulder and take food from you. Victor actually stopped on the way and bought a bag of leeches(a fruit) that the monkeys like. Some in our group thought the monkeys were the highlight of all the ports. We also spent some time at Half moon bay. We did have a flat tire in our van but Victor never panicked and had us up and going within 15 minutes. We were back at the port in plenty of time to do a little shopping and got a few great deals. Victor Bodden is definitely well worth it if you can book him, he cares about giving his customers a great tour. We also had a few people do some Scuba diving here and they also had a great trip.
BELIZE: This might have been my favorite port. We did the Cave tubing with Yhony at CaveTubing.com and this was a wild adventure. They are very organized, within 10 minutes of getting off the boat we were in a bus and on our way. The Carnival excursion only does 1 cave and is very unorganized. Cavetubing.com goes through 2 caves and it is a blast. We passed many Carnival tubers stuck on rocks with no guides, we had a guide for every 8 people which really made this a great trip. This is an awesome tour, they even stopped at Amigo's for lunch which was a great taste of some local foods. Carnivals video people were at the caves and got us all on tape yelling CaveTubing.com. We had a blast. We also did most of our shopping here in Belize and got some great deals. If you like Pina Coladas, Belize makes their own rum and have great drinks. There are restaurants along the pier that are inexpensive and have a great local feel.
COSTA MAYA: I take it back, this is my favorite port. We did the Chocchoben Ruins tour with David and Ivan. This is a must do tour!!!! These ruins have only been open to the public for 4 or 5 years. Ivan, our tour guide was born and grew up playing around these ruins. These ruins are very personal to him and it shows throughout this tour. He and our other guide Silvana made this a memory I'll remember forever. We got to climb some of the pyramids and saw many that haven't even been uncovered yet(they were still under dirt and growth and trees) They say it takes approx 8 years to uncover 1 pyramid and they've only uncovered about 3%. They think it will take approx 250 years to completely uncover the sight. It's hard to believe these ruins are over 2300 years old. I'll repeat again that this is a once in a lifetime tour. The Mayans skills at Math and the way they built these pyramids is unbelievable, Ivan will also give you some amazing history about this area. We also got to tour a local town to see how the locals live, they still have no electricity, and their kitchens are outside and it's a culture shock to see how others live in different places in the world. Several people in our group stayed at the port and just relaxed, and others booked the ATV excursion through Carnival. Everyone loved this port. Once we got back to the pier we still had time to shop some and hang out around the pier. This is also a great place to get good deals shopping. We had a few do Scuba Diving and snorkeling here and they all said it was fantastic.
DISEMBARKING: This was the only aggravating part of our vacation. If you have enough luggage that you can carry yourself, self-disembarking is definitely the way to go. Some of our group did it and were off very quick. We waited to exit with the masses. Carnival really tries to get you off the ship quickly which I understand so they can get the ship ready for the following cruise. We got up and had breakfast at Rosies and our color was called by 9:30 to get off the ship. We got off quickly then had to wait in a long line to clear customs, the wait seemed longer than it was. We were in our car pulling out of the garage by 11:00 so it really wasn't too much of a hassle.
SUMMARY: Is our vacation really over? Do we really have to leave this marvelous ship and wonderful ports? Our group had the vacation of a lifetime.If you're traveling on the Valor, I'm jealous and get ready for a great vacation. Please feel free to ask myself or my wife Holly any questions. I'm sure she'll be back here posting info that I forgot to include. We received so much help here on Cruise Critic before our cruise, we definitely want to return the favor. I think of life as a long journey and this was definitely a great adventure along the way. With my new wife with me I look forward to our next adventure on a cruiseship and destination yet to be determined! Best wishes to you all for a great vacation!