This cruise was a Cruise Critic group cruise for the Scuba Group. I booked this cruise 1 ½ years ago. Seemed like it would never get here but it did and I had a wonderful time. This is my 5th cruise overall and my 3rd cruise with Carnival. I sailed on the Sensation in 2002 and the Paradise 3/2006. My previous cruises are with Princess (1) and Norwegian (1). I'm a pretty easy going cruiser so not a lot upsets me. My group was 5 people. My regular cruise buddy and her friend in 1 cabin and a friend from work and her husband in another cabin. Of the group of 5, 3 of us are divers. The other 2 are not.
I booked the Red Roof Inn for our hotel stay on Saturday, December 9, 2006. I had seen less than stellar reviews for this hotel but I thought it was a very good hotel and a great price. We had a room with 2 double beds as did my other friends. Their room however had water damage on the ceiling that had not been painted. Cosmetically it looked bad. Otherwise the rooms were very good. Too me, the only thing missing was a hot tub. They have a nice pool. A restaurant next door. But if you talk real nice to the desk clerk and mention dinner, you might get to go to Paseano's It's a hotel in South Beach and you need reservations. Our guy made those reservations and this restaurant provides a limo for transportation for no charge other than tipping. The restaurant was excellent and you can walk around South Beach also. It was excellent. This hotel also has a shuttle from the airport to the hotel and from the hotel to the pier. Made this all easy.
Sunday was embarkation day. We left via shuttle around 12pm. Arrived at the port of Miami without difficulty. We got in the line for embarkation and it was quick/easy. Got our sign/sail cards and off we went. We had our embarkation photos done. Then off to our rooms which were ready for us. We had a category 8A balcony originally booked but it changed to a balcony assigned as there were 3 of us in the room. Our cabin had 3 closets, a decent sized bathroom for 3 women, 2 singles beds with a fold out couch/bed. And we had a balcony but to me it was small as our last balcony was a mini suite and much larger. But still good size wise. So needed the balcony for drying dive gear. We dumped our stuff and off to Rosie's to meet our friends for lunch.
Food: All I can say is Carnival had great food. I'm not used to that as Carnival is typically known for less than stellar food. But it was great. Rosie's- Great buffets.. Good selection. Great variety. Formal Dining Room-Excellent!!!! Our table all enjoyed the food. So much so, that many of them ordered 2-3 appetizers, 2-3 entrees, 2-3 deserts. We had Imade for our waiter and watch our what you request. He'll honor almost anything. Scarlett's- Did not go there, though heard great reviews from other cruisers. The menu looked awesome. Lido Bar/Grill- They had hamburgers, hotdogs, chicken breast sandwiches. All good. They also had 24 hour pizza. Sushi Restaurant-Excellent but wish it had more choices. But it was very good.
Entertainment: The productions shows were great. I can't recall the Lead Singer's names but the male & female singers were excellent. They also do a Legends production the last night and have auditions for roles of Aretha Franklin, James Brown, Frank Sinatra and Gloria Estefan to name a few. Cruisers audition for these roles. It was very cool as one of my friends won the role of Gloria. Loved it. The Comedians were good.. One better than the other. Micheal Macy was amazing. Bring depends if you go. I laughed so hard. Jim Brick was the next comedian I saw. Very funny also but not as funny. But good. The cruise director was Brett Allans I thought he was horrible. Does he not know that talking fast does not constitute talking well or being funny? I couldn't stand to hear his voice. Though his little skit in the legends production was hysterical.. But he didn't speak or sing. The lido bar band was good. Wish they sang more. We went to the Paris Hot club and the band there was excellent. They are an Asian band & are very good. We really enjoyed them and danced a lot. We also went to the One Small Step Disco. Though a lot of the music I couldn't quite dance to, there was a lot we could. Really enjoyed it there too.
Spa services: Did not use them at all. The prices were outrageous. I had planned a massage but I'm not paying those high prices.
Pools/Hot Tubs: I wanted to use the pools but they were very cold. We had medium to hot weather and they did not warm up. The hot tubs everywhere but the Spa were medium to hot temp. I'm sure it's because of the kids in them, they can't be too hot. And the kids were pretty cool. The hot tub in the Spa was great. Much warmer and no kids. But they have a small whirlpool which is nice but they jets are quite hard. A lot of people left the whirlpool due to that. Never really saw an issue with chair hogs. Part of it I'm sure was the weather. A couple of days were showers and the last sea day, pouring rain. Everyone seemed polite enough.
Excursions: All of our dive excursions as this was a Scuba Diving group cruise were booked with an outside agency. Not sure if I can mention the agency here. They were excellent and will book with them again. I did one Carnival excursion on Roatan. It was the Coral Cay beach break. It was supposed to be 11:30am-4pm but it was cut short. The President of Honduras was coming to sign some tax legislation and we had to leave. They wanted us to leave at 2:30pm but we ALL negated that and they had us leave at 3:30pm. It was a great little beach break. For those that snorkel, there are many things to see. Loved it. The only downfall was it started of raining. Not hard but enough to be really wet. So we got the beach and off the water I went. If I'm going to be wet, get in the ocean.
Photo Dept.: This is much better than my last experience on the Paradise. That was horrible. But the Valor has a much bigger area, up to date technology. It was a lot better. They need to pay attention to the photos they take though. One of our photos had a large shadow over 2 of the girls. This should have been noticed. And I still don't care for the fact you can only buy many of the photos in 8X10s. That's crazy. Not everyone puts them in frames. Smaller sizes should be available.
Staff: Overall this ship has some of the friendliest staff. They are very warm and seem to enjoy what they do. Our room steward was very nice. Didn't go all out but did his job and did it well.
Ship: The ship is beautiful and big. They had it decorated nicely for Christmas and yet recognized other faiths as well. Christmas music played periodically.
Ports: Grand Cayman: I went diving with Divers Down. Was supposed to do Stingray City dive here but it was canceled. Luckily I was up early to check on that so was able to join the rest of my group and go diving. Lots of pretty Coral and pretty fish. Great dive masters. Grand Cayman is beautiful. But becoming over commercialized. Meaning, traffic is horrendous. Luckily the dive shop is a short walk but getting back from the dive site was quite a drive. Didn't do any shopping.
Roatan: Did not do any shopping here. We went to the Coral Cay Beach Break. Loved the spot. Wish it had been longer. See excursion review above.
Belize: Again, we had a group dive excursion booked for this port with Sea Sports Belize. They were very cool. Our dive masters were great. Great diving. Saw Stingrays and multiple fish. Very cool Coral. Went shopping in the main building of shops after diving. Saw some decent deals.
Costa Maya: This is a very young port. It's still very true to itself. Lots of jungle and only single story buildings that I saw. But I'm sure with more cruise ships coming there, it will be overbuilt soon. That would be a shame. While it needs up to date roads, it doesn't need to be overbuilt. It would lose its charm. Again, we have a group dive excursion booked with Blue Ocean Safari. This is a young dive shop that is just getting going over the last 6-9 months. They have new equipment and great dive masters. But a very small shop. They pride themselves in small groups of divers and they split our large group into 2 small groups. Good diving. Would have been better if a storm hadn't come the night before. It limited the visibility, though still good. Lots of Coral, pretty fishes and Stingrays. Some in the group saw Turtles too.
Amenities: This was a Cruise Critic group cruise and I'm not sure which of the amenities were due to the group cruise or were due to being past guests of Carnival. We got several per cabins benefits- Champagne, Chocolate covered Strawberries.. But also had several group parties. We started with a Sail away party, group leader organized, not by Carnival. Then we had a Captain's Welcome party on Monday, the first formal night. Then on Tuesday, we had a past guests party. Then on Saturday we had a group cruise party hosted my Carnival. All I have to say is their parties rock. Never seen so much liquor in a long time. Loved it. It was all good.
Casino: Never went to gamble. Went through it a couple of times to get from point A to point B but can't stand the smoke, so I don't go.
The Web: Used this several times. Have a major issue with this. The actual computer part is fine. But it's located by the Cigar Bar. Number 1, trying to find it is an adventure in itself. And #2, you have to go through the Cigar Bar to get there. The smoke is horrible and no one, I mean NO ONE should have to go through that smoke to get to the computers. It's ludicrous. A terrible place to put The Web.
Shops: They have 2 shops on board. One is gifty/touristy type things, clothes and such. Then the other is nicer jewelry, purses and such. Both had nice stuff. A little over priced but typical. The sea day was crazy in there. Since it was pouring rain, everyone was in the gift shop. Only 1 girl for the regular register and 1 for the liquor register, yet there are 3 registers. The line took over 30 minutes to get through. That is crazy.
Debarkation: We all had flights after 1pm. So it was easy for us. No rush to get off. We had to be out of the cabin by 9am. We all then took what luggage we had and headed to Rosie's. We literally put off getting off the ship until the last announcement for EVERYONE to exit the ship. We were part of the last 10 getting off. Loved it. My complaints are few But if I had to mention something it's The Web located in the Cigar Bar, the Roatan excursion being cut short, the high spa prices and lack of smaller sizes of photos being available. And that they don't enforce the starboard side being the smoking side. The allowed smoking on the port side so you felt like you couldn't eat outside and get away from it. I wasn't happy about that.
But I had tons of fun on this ship. I traveled with great friends. The group I was part of was a wonderful group too. It's the 2nd best cruise in my list thus far. And make sure you go to the free liquor testing by the shops. That was awesome. Went back for 2nds, 3rds and 4ths. So enjoy this ship. It's a lot of fun.