We cruised on the Carnival Valor on March 30, 2014. This was our first cruise with kids so I did a lot of research. My husband and I have cruised many times before kids, but it has been awhile. Our kids are both boys, ages 4 ¾ and 7. I did not find much research based on families with young kids so I hope this review helps others. I copied and pasted good reviews and made my own research document from other’s postings. First of all, I took our own lifejackets. Seems like a big waste of space in the suitcase but it was worth it. My younger one does not know how to swim so he wore it in the pools on the ship and at the beaches. My older one wore his, at times, at the beach. We flew into San Juan a day before the ship left and stayed at the Marriott. It has a great pool and plenty of beach space to hang out. We had a Walgreens located across the street and we bought some snacks, pop and bottled water to carry on the ship. They let you do that and ask your room steward to unlock and empty the fridge so you can use it for your own stuff. Our fridge was not very cold but we just went and got ice. You can also carry on 1 bottle of wine per adult. Bring your own corkscrew. We had some wine on our balcony while the ship was leaving a port or after the kids were in bed.
Some things to consider packing with kids: life jackets or floaties or even little life rings. Something they can float on in the water. We took some sand toys too and they were used but probably wouldn’t be missed if we didn’t take them. Most beach places we went to had toys for the kids. Plastic pant/skirt hangers that have the clips on them. We used these to hang our bathing suits on the clothesline in the shower to dry overnight. I recommend some clothes pins to space them out since they all wanted to slide together. Also pack a sweater or something for evening time in the air conditioning. It can get a little chilly, same with airplane. A power strip since there is only 1 outlet in the whole cabin. Definitely came in handy. Also bring your own blowdryer. The one supplied is very loud and not powerful.
The food was ok. We used to be wowed by the food on previous cruises but the quality has gone down. We had milk in cartons for breakfast and even though it wasn’t spoiled, mold was growing on the inside of the carton. Most of the buffet places had weird hours so even though they talk about how you eat all the time, you can’t. We opted to not go to the dining room one night and do the buffet. It was closed. Our only option was the 24hour pizza or deli.
They had lemonade, unsweetened ice tea, water, milk, and hot coffee/tea for free. Anything else is a charge.
We were unsure how well the kids would do with camp, being in different age groups = different rooms. They were fine and went every day. There was a schedule and I found things they would like to do and they happened at the same time for each of my kids. We took them every night after dinner from 7-10pm so we could do adult shows and hang out with the adult family we were with. By 10 pm we were all ready for bed. They did stay for 1 party that had a charge to it, $13 plus gratuity per child. They had fun every day. There was always some craft or something they brought back. They ate lunch and dinner once in camp and it was fine. They never needed to contact us for any problems. Overall, definitely glad camp was there so we could have our own time.
We were in cabin 8296. Deck 8 balcony with king bed and bunk beds. Pretty nice for the 4 of us. There was just enough space for us. Our suitcases fit under the bed so that freed up some floor space. I contacted Carnival prior to the cruise to try and find out how high the bathroom counter was to see if I needed to bring, or if they had, a footstool for my younger one. They did not have stools available or the height of the counter. I measured it myself and it is 31” from floor to top of counter. No foot stool needed.
St. Thomas - Turtle Cove Sail & Snorkel
We did this tour on March 31, 2014 with our kids, ages 4 1/2 & 7. I researched a lot to do with families and this seemed to fit. The boat is docked near the cruise ship so it was a quick walk. We were not a full tour so there was plenty of space on the boat. We sailed out to the turtle location and Brennan, Heather and Brittany went over the safety rules and instructions. Captain Chris was taking care of the boat. They had kid size masks and flippers or you can bring your own. They also had pool noodles if your kids wanted to use those as well. The kids did fine floating around in the water. They were afraid to put their faces in the water to see but a turtle did come to the surface for air so they got to see one. I personally saw 2 large turtles. Not sure about the others. There was also a lot of fish, and of course, coral to see. Since our group was not large, they also took us to a ship wreck right around the corner. That was very neat. The guides were also in the water with us to help look for things to point them out. Brennan gave us some info on the ship wreck. My older son did not want to snorkel at the shipwreck so he stayed on the boat with a few others and he was fine. Back on board we were served unlimited pop, rum punch or water and they had snacks,. It was a nice relaxing ride back to the ship. Overall, the 4 crew members were great. There was no speakers on the boat so no music, but the quietness was nice and made it more relaxing. Once back home I asked my younger son what his favorite was and he said the turtles.
Barbados – day at beach
I read a lot of reviews for this island and we opted to not book a tour through the cruise ship, partially since they were costly for a family of 4 and nothing seemed to be geared towards families with kids. We took a taxi to The Boatyard. Getting off the ship and going through the shopping terminal to the taxis was very well organized. The taxi was $5 per person, 10 minute ride from ship, and to get into The Boatyard was $15 for adults and $12 for kids. This included chairs, umbrella, drink for each person, taxi back to ship and use of their beach, water trampoline, iceberg with slide, rope swing and high dive platform. We went with other family who had no plans and it was the best thing we did. There was a bar/restaurant, bathrooms, a small pier to walk on and free wi/fi. They had announcements talking about the laws of the beach and about peddlers and would make announcements on when a taxi was coming/leaving. We stayed most of the day. It was so beautiful and we had a blast. The food was a bit pricey so we took snacks. We used the ticket off the kids’ wristbands to get our free adult drink so we each had 2. We then purchased the kids a lesser expensive drink. The sand was soft and fine and clean and the water was so turquoise you couldn’t photo shop the pictures. The pier gave you a great view of things. They did have kids and adults lifejackets available to borrow but we had our own. They also offered a turtle snorkel and jet ski rental there if you wanted. There was also a security office who patrolled the beach very often so we worried about nothing. Everyone was very friendly and hospitable. Definitely recommend and will go back if we go to Barbados again. They have a website theboatyard.com.
St. Lucia – Adrenaline Zipline
The ship didn’t even need to stop here. If it wasn’t for the Adrenaline Zipline, I would rather have a day at sea than go here. As soon as you got off the ship to go to the flea market, you were hounded by every single taxi driver asking if you wanted a taxi. The flea markets ladies all sold the same stuff at the same price and used your kids against you trying to get you to buy something. They saw my son looking at a hat so she put it on his head and then was asking which one he liked better. I don’t like that kind of selling. Because of this, we did not spend much time window shopping. We then put the kids in camp and went on our zipline tour. We booked the Adrenaline Zipline tour through the cruise. After reading reviews of all the ziplines on all the islands, this one had the most lines and great reviews. It was about a half hour bus ride there. I suggest taking Dramamine since it is hilly and turny and you could easily get carsick. I did feel queasy in the head. We arrived and you can’t take anything with you on the lines so whatever you had you had to rent a lock and put in a locker. The lock was $7 with a $5 deposit returned once lock was returned. Only took cash. The lockers are not very big so be cautious of what you take. We had a backpack and a camera bag and they barely fit. You can’t leave anything on the bus since it leaves. We waited in line to get our equipment put on and then walked a short distance to the first platform. My husband is afraid of heights and falling and getting hurt. He was not very nervous and after the first zip he was fine. Our guide, Lyndon was quiet but once we started talking he opened up and it was great. There was a total of 9 lines with 2 surprises along the way. We loved it. We had 4 family members with us and our group was a total of 8. I did take my small camera to do some video and pictures of the others and it fit in my pocket. I did notice on the reviews/photos that all of the workers wore pants. We wore pants but you probably could’ve worn shorts since the harness doesn’t hurt or rub your legs. I think they wear pants because of the mosquitoes. It was very fun and I am glad we did this. At the last zip, they take your picture and in the gift shop you can purchase it. A 5x7 for $18 or if you buy more quantities, price per each goes down. We did not buy since I took my own pic. You were also entitled to a glass of water or punch. We did not have much time in the gift shop or to sit with our drink since we were the least group to zip and the bus was waiting. They also did not like people who wanted to use a credit card/. They sell island made fudge for $9 a box but it is worth it. Take cash here. Luckily they also did not ask for tips. The bus ride back made me feel carsick. Highly recommend and would do it again. Worth the price. The port was ok and flea market was alright. Talked to other family members who were looking to take a taxi to a beach but it was a far drive and none of the taxi drivers had any signs or pictures to look at or suggest a beach. Not an island worth going back to, in my opinion.
St. Kitts – day at beach
We did not book any tour through the cruise. We planned on taking a taxi to a beach. Did not have much research done for this so I asked onboard. Our shopping lady said that taxi drivers will have pictures of the different beaches and you can pick where you want to go. We approached a taxi guy and looked at his pictures and told him what we were looking for. He suggested Cockleshell Beach. Our taxi driver, Daisy gave us some info on our drive, about 25 mins. She told us about where we were going and how much it was going to be. Taxi was $7 per person, one way. The guy gave me a 2 for 1 for the kids since they were small. The beach lady, Debbie had chairs available for $5 each with a free umbrella. She had some floaty stuff and snorkel equipment we could borrow and she sold some drinks and snacks. Nobody bothered you here. It was very secluded and the water was so clear. Very calm and there was lots of shells to collect. The sand was kind of black. They said it was from the volcano. We told Daisy what time we wanted to be picked up to go back to the ship and Debbie had it written down on a board. It was a very relaxing time. We saw fish and starfish right underneath us. For my family of 4 spending $52 to go the beach for the day was worth it compared to booking through the cruise at that same price for 1 person. On our drive back, Daisy stopped at a view overlook for photo ops. We saw the Atlantic one one side and the Caribbean on the other side. Best view ever! She didn’t do this on the way to the beach since she wanted us to get there and to get some chairs. The views were amazing. Shopping in St. Kitts was nice but the ladies working in the stores were not very friendly. Nice port and with stores and such.
St. Maarten - Family Boogie Boarding
We were trying to find a tour to do with our two kids, ages 4 1/2 & 7. I read a few other reviews about this and it seemed to be a good time so we booked it. The bus ride was about a half hour and we were led to an area on the beach where there was chairs and umbrellas for us to use. The guides, Natalie, Chris & JP all got us our boogie boards and went over how to boogie board. It was really windy and the waves were really big and fast crashing so it seemed intimidating for kids. Perfect for boogie boarding. The guides ensured us they would be right next to our kids in the water to help them. I was a little unsure since they did not have life jackets for the kids and I left ours on the ship. We got out in the water and they did help us, especially the kids. They made sure everyone was doing ok and constantly checking to make sure no one was under water. The waves were rough and I did get pushed under a few times. It is definitely a workout. My arms are still sore. I have a few good ones. It is all trial and error to catch the wave at just the right time to get a good run all the way up into the sand. My youngest son tried it once with the guide and he did ok but seemed to not like the rough waves., He stayed on the beach by our chairs and played in the sand. Natalie had a bag of beach toys so the younger kids (4 of them) on the tour all got together and played in the sand after they were done boogie boarding. We were served ice cream, choice of 3 flavors and got to either chill out on our chairs or go back in the water. The tour description through Carnival says we also get a refreshment but when I asked, the guides said just ice cream. Not sure about that discrepancy.
You are also approached by a lot of people trying to sell their wares but left after you said no. If was just a steady stream of peddlers. There are also older ladies walking around topless. The kids did not notice that. Natalie saw me trying to use my husband's large and expensive camera and she mentioned that she is a professional photographer and if we wanted, would take pictures of my family with our camera. She took some great shots and we are grateful for that. JP walked around and told everyone how much longer we had until we needed to leave. We had the option of the bus dropping us off in downtown to shop or back at the pier. St. Maarten's pier area is kind of under construction so if you are at the ship, they are basically making you take a water taxi $7 round trip per person, unlimited trips, to downtown to shop. Or you can walk 15-20 minutes. Half of the bus got dropped off downtown and the other half went back to the pier. We shopped and then just walked back. My kids were fine but tired of walking at that point. Overall this was a neat experience but not worth the price we paid for a family of 4 ($300) to do this when my younger son only did it once. They preferred to just play in the shallow water jumping when the water came up and playing in the sand. We would have rather taken a taxi to airport beach and hung out there watching panes land and take off.