I am a female in my late 20's who traveled with my husband of the same age. Last year we had the pleasure of traveling on Royal Caribbean's Adventure of the Seas, a fantastic ship for service, dining, activities, and sheer beauty. The Carnival Valor was my 5th cruise and my husband's 2nd cruise, the first time on Carnival for both of us.
We decided to book the Carnival Valor because of the price, the overall good reviews on cruise critic, and the exotic itinerary to places I have never been on previous cruises. I enjoy cruising and being on vacation in the Caribbean no matter what ship I am on, as I did on the Valor, but we will most likely book Royal Caribbean cruises in the future. For such a small price difference, our experience is far better on Royal Caribbean.
The Best Parts: I found this ship to be superior in both the live music in the bars and lounges as well as the spaciousness of the cabin. We had a balcony cabin on the 6th floor. The Supper Club was also worth the $30 pp extra, because I feel they save their very best food and only good service for that restaurant. Those are probably the only three areas that I rank this ship above others I've been on. The Western Itinerary was outstanding: especially loved the visits to Roatan Island and Costa Maya.
The Okay Parts: The size of the ship allowed for a lot of common areas to choose from. The decor of the ship isn't my style at all (all American, very "unique" color choices, fairly dark lighting, gold colors, etc), but after viewing a show in the cabin about the designer, I did appreciate what he was trying to do and the thought behind everything. I really did miss on the Valor what other ships I have been on have-- large, impressive dining rooms, lots of windows, big open spaces, etc. The entertainment in terms of the shows at night was pretty good-- comedians had late night "R" rated shows for adults-- very funny. Karaoke was always a hit and fun to attend, as was the piano bar. The casino was a popular area, especially for smokers (which I am not). Different than other ships, there was a sushi bar that opened before dinner. A good before dinner snack, and they really did it right with raw fish and everything, pretty plates, chopsticks, and even an option to buy sake.
The Not-So-Good parts: The service, activities, food, and disembarkation were all lacking. We were in the Lincoln Dining room (I highly suggest asking for the Washington when booking) for the late 8:30 seating, stuck in a corner in the back of the room. If not for the nice couple we sat with, we would have asked to move tables and probably to move dining rooms. Our servers never once introduced themselves to us, and trust me, we are friendly, approachable people who welcome getting to know people. They were just very functional-- bringing bread, filling drinks, taking our orders, bringing them, etc. They didn't offer recommendations, or ever understand our questions about dishes because there might have been a language barrier. We didn't even figure out who our head waiter and assistant waiter were until they stopped long enough one night while pouring water for me to read the nametag. I still can't tell you what their names were. So the interaction was minimal with them. Many times we got the wrong order, or our orders were slow to arrive. Service in other areas was hit or miss. Employees generally seem unhappy, even the activities coordinators, who were either dull or just awkward. Our best service was the housekeeping-- very clean room, done twice a day, and excellent towel animals. The activities on the ship were also minimal (I hate to compare to last year's cruise, but Royal Caribbean is outstanding for active people). I guess they think the best activity is this "Survivor" show that offers very boring games to a handful of participants. You'll watch it over and over on your cabin t.v., and it really wasn't fun or interesting at all. The love and marriage show was okay too, but not really good. I think a lot of this had to do with the activities directors being quite boring and unoriginal. The director, Brett Alans, seemed to only care about selling us diamonds, services, and anything else to make an extra profit for Carnival. He was really not a good host or director. Really, the focus on selling us extras was pretty ridiculous on the cruise. Shows would actually be interrupted with little narratives on how we should buy x, y, and z from Carnival. The ship itself doesn't offer many activities. It's really just a couple of pools, jacuzzis, a jogging track, a spa and fitness center, and that's about it. Of course there's bingo and all that. The Carnival Valor food was mediocre overall. The most memorable food are really basic things such as the melting chocolate cake at dinner, the burger off the optional menu at dinner, the 24 hour pizza, and the fish and chips upstairs from Rosies. Other than that, they try to offer original dishes, but really can't execute them well. Fish was often overdone, desserts were absolutely bland no matter how good they looked (is it possible to actually suck the flavor out of desserts?), and the buffet menus sounded good, but it was really just like college cafeteria food, no better. And my husband and I aren't picky at all. We still ate a lot because that's what you do on a cruise:), but never really said "wow" about anything we tried. The disembarkation process was a nightmare, but I can't really totally blame Carnival for that. We skipped self-assist because we heard it's a real nightmare, and opted for traditional. They called our floor fast enough, but the lines were crazy to get off. That's okay, though, I understand. However, when we get to the room with the luggage, it was a complete mess. They had it by floor, and we could only find the smaller of our two luggage bags. We searched high and low through this huge room and could not find the other luggage. To make a long story short, another passenger had taken it by mistake, blaming the luggage carrier for packing it wrong. Not Carnival's fault necessarily, but note to cruisers: mark your luggage with a ribbon or something to make it stand out. In summary, the Valor was just okay, although we had a great time because we were on vacation. For those who have never tried Carnival, but have sailed other lines, I say stick with the other lines, you might be disappointed with Carnival.