We just returned from our 7 day cruise on the Valor, which left Miami on April 1st. We had 8 rooms and 18 people on ship for a family reunion. Some came from as far as Hawaii and the west coast. Some of us live in Florida. Most of us arrived the night before and spent the evening in South Beach so as not to worry about last minute delays. This worked out well.
First and foremost, cruising during spring break was a Big mistake. We were told by staff that there were more than 3400 passengers on board. Carnival's web site indicates capacity for Valor to be 2974. We knew that the ship would be packed, but we didn't know that Carnival would not make any effort to alleviate some of the problems that occurred. Embarkation took about an hour and a half. Carnival had about 15 staff members in the initial room checking passengers in and checking IDs, getting credit card info. This went very quickly. Unfortunately, there were only 2 staff members on the gangway to distribute the sail and sign cards and then a few more to take the picture that went with the sail and sign. That is where the line slowed down. I took a Hawaii cruise with NCL during Christmas break and they have embarkation down to a science. We did not have a single piece of paperwork. We just showed our IDs and Credit cards at the first desk, and boarded the ship, Maybe a total of 15 minutes. It was frustrating to start off our reunion in such a long line, knowing that it could be done better.
The major disappointment and frustration occurred in the ports, especially Belize and Cayman. In those two ports the ship used local tenders. The night before, our Carnival news indicated that we should get a tender sticker at 9:00 and then relax and enjoy the ship until our number was called. Our group was in line by 8:30 and received #5 stickers. This was very important because we had arranged our own excursion with "Cave-tubing.com" Butts UP! (more on that later). We started down to the exit right after 1-3 were called. A disaster awaited. No one on the Carnival staff cared what sticker anyone had. We were on a tender with people who proudly wore #41. By the time we reached the 2nd tender port, people understood the stickers were really meaningless, although it appeared that most did bother to get one. My sister and I had a Carnival excursion, so we did not have to wait, but other members of my family picked up sticker #25 (at 9 am!!!) and at 12:30 gave up on getting off the ship. How was Carnival at fault? 1st We watched other cruise lines DROP THEIR OWN TENDERS as well as using the locals. NONE of Carnival's ships did this. So passengers waited on tenders shared with other ships. With the exception of Roatan, we were with a minimum of 5 other ships. 2nd, The staff did nothing. From the looks of the chaos, you'd have thought this was the 1st time they tendered into a port. Staff stood around, watching, but not saying a thing. I was amazed no one was hurt.
Excursions! "Cave-tubing.com" in Belize!!! Half the price of the ship excursion and our guide, Keith, was energetic and funny! They waited on us, even though we were an hour later than expected, got us on a bus, entertained us and shared some Cashew wine. The caves were cool (the water cooler), and Keith physically kept us on the right course. We took the longer walk and did 2 caves. We stopped for lunch at a local place for beans and rice and chicken (and beer). We were hot and hungry and the food was good and the beer cold. I highly recommend Cave-tubing.com.
My sister and I also took 2 Carnival scuba excursions. Diving with dolphins in Roatan and a 2 tank dive on the wall in Cayman. We used Carnival for 2 reasons. They guarantee that they will wait on your return and they were the BEST deal out there, since their price included any equipment needed. Diving with dolphins was pricey (200), but awesome. We spent about 45 minutes on the platform learning about our dolphins, meeting them, touching them and being entertained by them. Then we (6 total) got on board a dive boat for about a 15 minute ride to open water. The dolphin trainer and dolphins met us there. We dove to about 50 feet for 45 minutes, enjoyed the reef and played with the dolphins. Overall a fantastic experience.
The Cayman dive was more traditional. 1st to 80 feet and awesome reefs and then about 50 feet. We weren't lucky enough to see rays or sharks, but it was fun.
Some of group took the ferry/ruins trip. They returned 30 minutes late. The ship waited. Sometimes the Carnival excursions are the way to go.
We enjoyed our time on board the ship. We ate dinner in the Washington most nights, and upgraded to Scarlett's ($30/person) twice. We were very surprised at the quality of food in the main dining room. This was my 4th Carnival cruise, and by far the best dining experience. Don't skip the chocolate melting cake :). The waiters were great, although we confused them by moving around the tables assigned to our group. The dining experience a Scarlett's was excellent, although I am not a steak person. I enjoyed the lobster tail. Each course was awesome and beautifully presented. Food on the Lido was okay, although we were often surprised at how early they closed. The ice cream machines were empty more often than they were functioning. The only day I went up for breakfast, our last morning, coffee was hard to find!!! I didn't go to the shows because of our late dining time (8:00). Those in our group that did enjoyed them. We all had balcony rooms, which were great. Our steward did a wonderful job of keeping our room clean and neat, and our ice bucket full. We did get charged for something from the mini-fridge even though we didn't take anything. I did not receive a bill on the last morning, so I had to go to the purser's to check my sail and sign charges. The mini-fridge was the only error, and since you don't sign for that, there was no way to prove differently. The line waiting was huge, so I just told the purser I'd pay it anyway, and moved on to disembarkation. After all the lines we had been in, I knew this would be bad, but once again it exceeded my worst expectations. One of my brothers left before the colors were called (about 8:45) and he and his family only had about a 30 minute line. Because of the problem with my bill, I didn't leave with them and waited for my color to be called. We waited in line for at least an hour and a half. At one point the line didn't move at all for 30 minutes. Again, NCL handled this so much better. Overall, if you can overlook the lines, cruising on the Valor was great. Unfortunately, the from embarkation to disembarkation, getting on and off the ship was unforgettable, and ruined what would have been a fantastic experience, and from what we could see, Carnival staff did not care. Carnival can do better. I think this was my last Carnival cruise.