Carnival Valor Cruise Review by CruisingMommyT: Great Ports and a Wonderful Time on Our Anniversary
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Great Ports and a Wonderful Time on Our Anniversary
My parents offered to keep our three children so my husband could get away on an anniversary trip. We originally planned to take a cruise through Canada, but the prices were not quite to our liking. We had cruised out of San Juan once before, and loved the fact that there are so many stops. When the price for the ocean view cabins dropped to what we considered a very good rate, we booked a room on the Carnival Valor.
We live in Florida, but had been with family in Ohio, so we took a very early flight out from the Columbus airport on Sunday morning. Some people will fly out a day or two early and just stay in one of the many nice hotels they have to offer. By the time we arrived to the San Juan airport, it was around 1:00 p.m. It took a little while for the luggage to come around, and then we lined up at the taxi queue outside of baggage claim. When a younger couple learned we were headed to the Valor, they joined us and we split the cost of the taxi. It’s about a 20 More minute ride from the airport to the cruise terminal. After we paid the driver, the couple went in search of a place to buy drinks for the boat. I have read in several spots that there is a CVS pharmacy just down the street where people stock up on bottled water, sodas, etc. I actually saw a family taking a bunch of bottled water with them.
Embarkation went very smoothly for us. Our wait in the line was pretty quick, just a few minutes, and then we went through security in a breeze. It wasn’t crazy on the ship when we got on, either, and it was probably around 2:30. We checked out our room and got a bite to eat on the Lido Deck, then enjoyed the beautiful views of San Juan. We had originally planned to get back off of the boat and enjoy a couple of hours walking around San Juan but we were exhausted from being up so early, so we napped instead. Our luggage was to our room by dinnertime. Based on a couple of reviews, I had actually packed a spare outfit in my carryon, because a couple of people didn’t get luggage until late or the next day.
The public areas of the ship are very clean. Carpeting does not appear worn and things seem to be fairly recently redone. This ship has an American theme, and there are a lot of flags, pictures of famous Americans. It’s a tiny bit cheesy in a few spots, but, overall, looks pretty nice and is quite patriotic. The casino reeks of smoke when the ship is in motion, but I didn’t smell smoke elsewhere.
I really liked our cabin. It was 2475 and was WAAAAAY in the back of the ship n a very quiet spot. There is no cabin below it, and the dining room is above it. When the ship was coming into port, I could hear noise as they used those things to slow down the boat and steer it. I could hear it from there as we left. Otherwise, it was quiet. Well, with the exception of when the waiters were singing and dancing at dinnertime. It was really quiet and brief though. The room was kept very clean and had plenty of space for my husband and I. It might be a tiny bit smaller than most of the ocean view rooms, but with its angle, seemed very comfortable to us. We had plenty of room to store our things, and put the suitcases under the bed. The bathroom was small, but worked perfectly fine. The room has a lot of privacy since it’s back in the corner. There’s even another door closing this room off, along with the one next to it. It would be great if you are travelling as a couple with older kids.
They have a nice gym facility, but I didn’t use it. There is a track, but it’s pretty windy. My husband and I just walked around the ship a lot. Some of the things they offer, such as Pilates, have an extra charge. I am a very active person, but did not come to work out. Instead, we swam a lot on shore, and walked a huge amount. There are (I think) three pools. One is for adults only, but it often seemed crowded. We used a different one once, and it was nice. There are a few hot tubs, but they were typically very full. The poolside games were totally corny but funny, such as the drink making contest and the hairy chest competition. They are slightly tacky, and almost family unfriendly, but were funny to watch from the pool.
I don’t really think of Carnival as the type of cruise line that provides a lot of enrichment activities. There is a library. It’s not big, but has board games, tables and a good selection of books. I read a couple on the trip while at the beach. It is only open (where the bookshelves are unlocked) one hour a day. Typically that hour is when we are on shore.
The rate was excellent for the two of us. If you book a room through Carnival, and the rate drops, you can get the extra money back. The price didn’t drop from when we booked it, though.
The Lido dining is good. Each day, the buffet offers a different theme of foods. One day was Caribbean, another was French, and another American. We only eat there during lunchtime. The food selection is somewhat narrow, but the quality is pretty good. The Mongolian Wok is very good, but not worth the very, very long wait. The pizza is excellent compared to other cruise lines I’ve been on. It’s a thin crust with very good sauce. The line for the pizza gets long because they make them to order. It would be wise if they were to make a bunch and keep them behind the glass. I’m not sure why they don’t. Just be nice to the pizza guy because they work really hard and very quickly, but they get behind. My husband was friendly to him and I could tell he appreciated it when we went there once and he even remembered my husband’s name. The Lido desserts tasted fresher than I recall from a previous Carnival cruise. There is a burrito bar and their service was quick. The burritos are very filling and similar to some of the places you might frequent at home. We had sandwiches from the deli, and those are made to order, as well, and are a nice lighter lunch. Then, there’s my husband’s favorite, the 24 hours soft serve ice cream. I was pleasantly surprised at the chocolate ice cream. There was a nice chocolate buffet on Saturday during lunch time.
The dining room food is excellent. We ate in the Washington Dining room. The dining rooms are very, very pink. Breakfast is served quickly in there, and that’s the place you can get lox and bagels, which my husband loves. The orange juice is quite watered down. We had brunch on the at-sea day and it was very good, but the portions were much larger than I had anticipated. We ate dinner there every night. If you like lemonade or tea, just ask and they will bring them. We didn’t think of this until the last night. They have a nice selection of food. Half the menu is what is offered every day and the other half has interesting choices. This ship still serves lobster tail and my husband got TWO and was pleased to do so. I am not a vegetarian, but don’t really like red meat much or pork, so I tried several of the vegetarian dishes. I was surprised at how good the enchiladas (or maybe they were small burritos) were. The spanakopita was really good, as well. My husband got his fill of very good seafood each night. Not too many desserts stood out, but we could always have the chocolate melting cake. The last Carnival ship we were on, they had a wide assortment of breads each night. This ship had only wheat bread, or French bread, or rolls. People dress very casually in the dining room. I saw men in shorts and even tee shirts. One guy had on a baseball cap at breakfast. On elegant night, however, a lot did dress up.
We did not go to any of the shows. However, we enjoyed the musicians who were playing in the smaller venues. They were quite good, and I’m a musician and teacher myself. The band in the casino was very good, and there was a guitarist/singer who did a really nice job. There were a couple of young guys (one played piano and the other guitar) who both sang, and they were talented, as well. They had break dancers one night, and we watched it, but the one guy was rather crass. Then, they had some audience members participate, and a young lady wound up falling and injuring herself. That was pretty sad and strange.
Overall, the service was excellent. Our room steward and his assistant would get things cleaned up very fast and thoroughly in our room twice a day. We kept our room very clean, anyhow. The servers in the dining room were very good. They called us by name, and remembered certain things we liked. In addition, they would bring our food when it came out, but wouldn’t rush us. We had requested a table for two, and were originally at a table for four. We had checked into this as soon as we got on the ship. By the time the first assigned seating night (Monday since we depart so late on Sunday) came, they had gotten us a table for two. When we went in for breakfast, we always requested a private table for two, and the hostess was very nice about doing this for us.
Typically, we got off the ship pretty early because my husband is an early riser. People seem to sleep in more than normal on this ship than others I’ve been on. If you are an early riser, then when you go on shore and find a beach, it’s much quieter and emptier. You can also get the taxis back to ship as those late risers arrive to the beaches. We only took one shore excursion. The taxi area in St. Lucia was nerve wracking, with them seeming to auction off their services. The guy wanted to charge us $100 one way to one of the nicer beaches there. After about 20 minutes, we got back onto the ship. There was still a shore excursion available that would give us a chance to snorkel, so we booked it. It was far less than $200 for a round trip taxi, and we had a wonderful time. At the other stops, we either walked or got a taxi to whatever beach was recommended for snorkeling. Every stop is different. Some of these islands appear to have a good bit of poverty. However, the people are really quite nice and friendly. In addition, there is beautiful scenery and you can find a lovely beach on each one.
The value for money is excellent. The only complaint that I have is how they now do the tipping. We used to put cash into envelopes for each of our assigned servers/stewards. We paid a little more than was recommended to them and were glad to know that they were actually getting what they deserved. However, it is now taken out of your folio, and is dispersed among who knows who. I don’t like that, but am sure it’s because there are people who otherwise don’t bother tipping their servers.
This was overall, a wonderful cruise, and we would do it again if we could. Next time, we might even take our children! Less
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Cabin review: 6B2457 Ocean View
The room was in the back corner and was very private. It sleeps only two. It was comfortable for the two of us and very quiet. There was plenty of space for storage. There is no cabin below it and the dining room is just above. You might hear a tiny bit of dining room music when they are singing, but that's it. There is some noise as the ship slows down in port or as it leaves, but otherwise that is the extent of it.
Port and Shore Excursions
The port area is very industrial. There is a place for people to line up for cabs and the prices are posted. We saw a beach from the port, and decided to walk to it...crazy, I know! Several drivers tried to give us a ride but eventually they let us be. The walk is pretty along the water, but gets a bit dirty into the town. There is an interesting historical area you will walk by. We walked out to Carlisle Bay when we saw a sign for it. There are several little resorts where you can pay to rent things. We walked pretty far down the bay toward the hotels, got stuck in some rain, so we hung out under the green roofed gazebo for several minutes. Once it cleared up, we enjoyed the soft pinkish sand on Brown's Beach, a public beach and snorkeled with lots of sea turtles. Excursions come to this specific area to swim and snorkel with sea turtles. We just swam out several yards from the beach and snorkeled with them. Our walk back was nicer than the walk there and we saw a lot of cruise ship passengers in the town.
St. Kitts seems to have it all. It's beautiful. The people are very nice. They have expansive views. There's not a lot of squalor. I saw none. We got a taxi for $4 per person (we went with a group in a van from the port area) to South Friar's Bay Beach. There is volcanic sand there and the beach is narrow where you will find Ship Wreck resort. However, the views are amazing! The water is somewhat rough here and you cannot walk in some of the water due to sea urchins. My husband really liked the snorkeling here, though. I did snorkel, but had some problems with my mask due to the slightly rough waters. If you walk all the way down the beach, which we did, you will notice that the water gets calmer, and the sand becomes lighter. The sand in the water down here is very soft. The snorkeling is not as good, but my husband saw a couple of small sharks, which was cool. They have a nice shopping area, but we noticed that store clerks follow you very closely. We found free internet access, which was a plus, since we needed to check in with family.
Catamaran Day Sail
If you get an excursion anywhere, do it here. The taxi drivers charge a LOT of money to get you where you want to go. Plus, I heard that the roads are very rough to traverse, with some people feeling sick on them. In addition, the drives can be pretty long. We booked this the morning of the excursion. The catamaran met us inside of the port area. It's open air, and can get hot, so have plenty of sunscreen. The views from the boat are beautiful. They do have restrooms if needed. They provide free drinks throughout the time, in addition to sandwiches and bananas (after the swimming time. The people who run the excursion were very friendly. One lady will take pictures of you and your significant other if you'd like. This is a great way to see the bays (they will take you into Marigot Bay). In addition, we had excellent views of the Pitons and got lots of nice photos. This boat took us to Anse Cochon for swimming. It is NOT advertised as a snorkeling tour, but if you have the gear, take it with you because the snorkeling was very good. I loved it! The water is a bit deep where they help you off the boat (one woman was given a life jacket since she's not a good swimmer). However, I saw all kinds of cool things as I snorkeled. My only regret is we could have probably spent a little more time here. The ride back was a little hot, but was really nice. People danced around, drank rum punch and seemed in a very festive mood. The walk to the ship was very short. I would definitely recommend this trip.
We got a taxi at the taxi stand to Cul-de-Sac, then took the ferry over to Pinel Island. We probably could have been just as happy doing something else, but it was a pretty cool experience. Pinel Island is beautiful and has great views from every angle. There are a couple of topless sunbathers, but most of the clientele here was made up of Dutch, French, or locals, so nobody seemed to even notice. The sand is very soft and the water is calm and clear. It's perfect for kids. The snorkeling is so-so, but we didn't go on the snorkel trail, so it may be better there. If you walk across the hill over the island, you will be met with stunning views of a rough water beach. Strong swimmers do snorkel there, but I would caution you, though, because it's quite rough. It would be a nice location to enjoy a picnic lunch. There is some shade under a few trees on the calm side, but get there early in order to get it. We did. I was worried about getting a taxi back, but there was one waiting upon our return from the island (ferry costs $10 per person and is payable in cash). The shopping area was nice here, too, but prices were a bit higher since they use the Euro around the island.
In St. Thomas, you have to walk to the Charlotte Amalie or take a cab. We did neither. The town where the port is located is not very pretty. However, we did take a cab to Coki Beach and it was AMAZING! There is an area for the cabs after you walk out of the terminal and a dispatcher helps get people into different open air cabs. The price to take a cab there is very reasonable and the lady there at Coki Beach will call for a cab to come back, or you can get an empty cab for a return ride. There is no charge for Coki Beach, unless you decide to go to the aquarium, which we didn't. The beach was empty upon our arrival and is just beautiful. The view is lovely, the water is clear and the water is very calm. It is a great spot to snorkel, especially at either end of the beach. You will see lots of fish probably. This is a good beach for families, if you have small kids, too. We rented nothing here, but you can rent chairs, buy drinks, rent snorkel gear, etc. There are restrooms that are very clean and showers to rinse off the sand. I highly recommend this beach!
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