I just returned from the March 18th sailing of the Valor. I thoroughly enjoyed the cruise and highly recommend it. Embarkation: This went rather smoothly. We flew into Ft. Lauderdale the morning of. Our friends we were cruising with picked us up in a rental car. We had lunch downtown in Miami and then returned the rental car (Hertz) and took their shuttle to the port. We got there between 2 and 3 and we didn't have to wait in any line for more 2 minutes. We got our cards and went to the room with no problems.
Cabin: We had interior staterooms on the Empress Deck (7) midship. I highly recommend this location. Its only 2 decks below lido and two decks above the promenade, so everything was very easy to get to and we didn't have to wait on elevators if the lines were long. The room was comfortable and pretty quite. Occasionally we would hear people in the rooms next to us, but not always. occasionally our friends in the room next to us would yell to us and we wouldn't hear them. Our steward, Song, was excellent. The room was always clean and the ice bucket full. Whenever we saw him in the hall, he would ask if we needed anything and inquire how our day was. :) Our only complaint regarding the room was that by day 6 the toilets started to get smelly. I guess that's the nature of the beast though.
Entertainment: The shows were ok and very cheesy. We only went to the Vegas style shows and one of the comedians. One show involved a talking couch....The dancers could stand a little more practice. Dancing in unison really wasn't their strongsuit. ;) Chris, the new cruise director, was excellent though and kept things entertaining. One night a headliner was too sick to perform, so Chris did a couple of songs for us. He's not the world's best singer, but it was enjoyable. This ended up being pretty long, but I tried to covers some things that I hadn't read in other reviews.
Food: We really enjoyed the food. We had late seating in the Washington dining room, which gave us plenty of time to enjoy the day before dressing for dinner. Our headwaiter was a little lacking in personality, but did an excellent job. We were always among the first to get our food. Our waiter was also very good, but had a slight body odor problem. I saw him busy busing tables on the Lido deck during the day a few times, so I think that by dinner time he had worked up quite a sweat... We did the supper club one night, which was also very good. The service was excellent and it was an enjoyable meal. We ate breakfast in either Rosie's or in open seating in the Washington dining room. Same food, but someone brings it to you in the dining room. ;) I would recommend bringing a mug or cup of your own for getting water, tea, fruit punch, etc from the drink machines in Rosie's. The ones they have are very small. I also highly recommend the low-fat frozen yogurt on the Lido deck. Very good!
Grand Cayman: Tendering for this stop was really easy. We were told that they would be using a ticket system for this, but ended up not using them. So we just walk down to deck 0 and right onto the tender. No waiting. We booked the sting ray and snorkeling tour through Moby Dick. There was some confuse as to time because the boat was on US time, but because of the recent changes Congress made to daylight savings time, the island was an hour behind us. We took a bus to their Moby Dick boat, and the bus driver told us about the island on the way. The tour guides were very laid back. They did a great job of explaining how to handle the sting rays and such. When we got to the sandbar with the sting rays, it was pretty crowded so we went to the snorkel area first. Unfortunately the seas were really rough and snorkeling was practically impossible. The sting ray portion was very cool. It was a little scary at first, but after a few minutes we were having a blast. On the way back, we asked the tour guides for a restaurant recommendation and the bus driver actually dropped us off right at the restaurant on his way back to the boat. There was a long line to take the tender back to the boat, but they have water and lemonade for you while waiting in line, which is nice. The actual ride back to the boat was pretty quick.
Isla Roatan: This was my favorite stop. The island is simply beautiful and largely untouched. It was a little rainy when the boat arrived and we actually saw a tornado in the distance (a small one on the other side of the mountain. I don't think it touched down anywhere). The rain quickly dissipated and the day ended up being beautiful. We did the Tabayan Beach Break. This was the only shore excursion we booked through Carnival. There were three starting times you could chose from and we picked the latest so that we could have a lazy morning. The bus to the beach was a little scary, but we all survived just fine. The beach was beautiful. The beach area was modern (compared to the rest of the island) with restrooms, outdoor showers, a buffet, gift shop, snorkel and kayak rental, music, bar, and free iced tea, lemonade, or water. The water was peaceful and there were plenty of chairs to chose from.
Belize: The tender process for this day was a little tedious and seemed to take forever. This port did use the ticket process for tendering- and by ticket I mean that they give you an address label sticker with a number printed on it. The line for that was supposed to open at 8:30, but we went to the desk a little after 8 they were already handing them out. There was a man in front of us in line throwing a fit because Assistant Cruise Director Rickey would only give him one ticket. You have to be in the line to get a ticket- we asked at the information desk earlier in the cruise so we knew this and evidently Chris covered this in the cruise talk, but this man would have none of that! We thought Rickey handled this man well- its really only fair and appropriate to give one ticket per person. Keep this in mind for your tender ports. Anyway, after catching our tender we were running a little late for our excursion, but that didn't really appear to be any problem. We did the cave-tubing.com thing, which I also recommend. There's not much that I can say other than what has been fully covered on the Belize board regarding these guys. They were great. Unfortunately, there were long lines getting to the river (who knew that there would be lines in the rain forest?) and it took us a while to get there. Since we were running late we didn't get the lunch option that everyone talks about. Also, the facilities at the park where you get off the boat were not very good (no fault of cave-tubing.com). There was no running water so the toilets didn't flush and you couldn't wash your hands. (Yay for purell...)
Costa Maya- Costa Maya was also beautiful and mostly undeveloped. The port area was nice with lots of shops and bars and the fishing village (a $2 cab ride away) was nice with lots of souvenir tents and bars. Other than that, it was pretty basic. The houses are still being built with palm leaf roofs and there is no police, hospital, or other emergency services. We booked the tour of the mayan ruins at Chacchobean through thenativechoice.com. The information they emailed us on how to pick up the tour was out of date, but the tour guide found us before we did the wrong thing and it was smooth sailing from their. Our tour guide (unfortunately we didn't get her name) was fabulous and knew the area and the history very well. We stopped on the side of the road (both on the way there and the way back) to get fresh pineapple from roadside vendors. It was excellent- pulled of the tree that morning! After the tour, the bus took us to the fishing village where we went to the Cat's Meow and had lunch and drinks overlooking the water. The restaurant's owner even came over and introduced herself. Then we took a cab back to the port and did a little jewelry shopping before getting back on the boat.
Disembarkation- This was actually pretty easy. Since we read that the self-debarkation was usually a disaster, we opted for the traditional route. We set our big suitcases out for the porters to take and kept a small suit case and our tote bags to carry off ourselves. The morning of we went to the open seating breakfast in the Washington dining room at 8 and waited there until 8:45 (maybe?). Then we walked around deck 4 and found a place to wait until they started calling the colors. We ran into some people waiting in the Lincoln who were supposed to have been off before 8 using the self-disembark and were not very happy about the delay. But by 9 they started calling colors for regular disembarkation and it was smooth sailing from there. This actually hardly took anytime at all. They called a new deck every 5 minutes of so, starting from the top of the boat. Since we were on deck 4 it was an easy walk down to walk off the boat and we were soon picking up our luggage and going through customs. There was a pretty long line to go through customs, but because of where our bags were, we didn't have to wait in the long line. The customs agents worked pretty quickly. I had booked a transfer to Ft. Lauderdale through fortlauderdaleshuttle.com. They were very friendly but there were some delays and we had to wait over an hour for our van. Fortunately our flight wasn't until 2 pm, so we had no problems and got to the airport in plenty of time.
All in all an excellent vacation and I can't wait to do it again!