I have just completed my 15th cruise, and the 5th on a Carnival ship. Our group consisted of 3 married couples (45-55yrs), very adventurous world travelers. I selected this ship because it was new and because my friends really wanted to go on the itinerary offered. Six months ago, I sailed the "Liberty" which is IDENTICAL in layout, but after sailing on the "Valor," a world of difference.
Embarkation: I expected the normal mass confusion - the lack of signs and clear building numbers is a bit confusing; however, once inside the correct building, the processing moved quickly. I still think Carnival needs to invest in a microphone system for a few supervisors so they could make announcements instead of shouting at the crowd. We got to the port about 10:30 AM and were on board by about 12:00noon. Expect to wait a little, but I have yet to go through a painless embarkation, so just go with the flow, not an issue.
Cabins: I usually More
book the cheapest and went with an inside guarantee, got a 4E on deck 7, no problem with the size or the layout, my only issue is that I am a light sleeper and the cabin was in the aft of the ship, right in the back, so whenever we docked I could hear the ship's propellers. In addition, we had the rudest and nosiest neighbors ever; I have no problem with folks having a party, but @2:00 and 3:00 in the morning is just plain inconsiderate. As to the room, it is nicely decorated and well laid out with lots of storage space, a small chair, dresser, the bathroom had a nice soap and shampoo stocked dispenser as well as some nice complimentary toiletries (although our cabin steward had been on vacation and we presume that is why we had only razors in our little amenities basket while the others in our group had at least a half dozen different 'goodies') and the options offered on your TV such as, checking your ship charges, pay per view movies, different dining menus offered, is wonderful. I see no reason for spending the extra cash for an outside balcony cabin - I'd rather save the money to spend while on the ship. Dining/Food: Carnival has a standard that is maintained on all its ships; however, on this ship it was SUPERB! There is no comparison between the food on the "Liberty" and the food on the "Valor." I ate breakfast at the Lido buffet and the main dining room; the food served in both places is almost identical except for a few items; for example, salmon lochs and eggs benedict. Lunch included a variety (many choices here) of buffet stations on the Lido deck; my clear favorite was the Fish and Chips station. Fish and Chips are NOT the only thing that is served, so stop by and be surprised. The lines were never long and moved fast. The sushi bar (deck 5) from 5-8pm is a nice place to grab a bit of sushi and just enjoy the view. I ate dinner in the Lincoln dining room; every night the variety on the dinner menu was GREAT! All the dishes served (and I tried everything from beef to fish to lamb) were simply delicious. Appetizers were so good that I had a few of them every night. I did not eat at Supper Club as I thought, why waste the $30 price when the dining room food was sooo good + you got some fun entertainment.
Public Rooms: Simply beautiful! The ship was decorated in early American revolution/hero/presidents type theme. The ship is designed with its 4th and 5th decks serving as the main hub of activity, i.e. with shops, a casino, lounges, photo, library - main traffic area. It was easy to navigate and lots of space to relax and enjoy.
Entertainment: In the evening, you will find music playing at several locations throughout the ship. There is a piano bar which was very lively and good fun, but the smoke in the piano bar was so bad that I doubt non-smokers can stay longer than a few minutes, which is a shame. Karaoke was hosted in a "NON-SMOKING" lounge, and it was jam-packed every night. There is a Filipino band in another lounge next door to the piano bar and karaoke area, and it was hit and miss - sometimes good but more often not so good. I enjoyed the disco but it is a tad cold unless you are dancing the whole time & working up a sweat. In addition, the Atrium features a band that plays into the wee small hours of the morning. During the afternoon at the Atrium there is classical music, and it is a great place to have a drink while people-watching. In the casino, they even have a 7 card Texas hold em table, but it is VERY smokey and those who don't smoke will have a hard time enjoying casino fun. The shows offered at the main stage should appeal to everyone, dancing, comedy, ventriloquist, Motown sounds and the finale on the final night "Legends" where 'wannabee American idol' Karaoke passengers perform is not to be missed. For the late night group, there was midnight adult comedy.
Excursions: We embarked at four ports, all of which I had visited in the past. I never take the ship excursions because I think they are too expensive and boring, so I usually go on my own excursions which tend to be on the adventurous side and not for everyone. On this cruise, however, I experienced four wonderful and unique excursions that I recommend to anyone who has a sense of adventure. Drop me a thread and I will elaborate.
Activities: The variety of usual ship activities (trivia, bean bag toss, newly not so newly wed games, survivor etc.) are offered. Bingo (I always play bingo) is offered at a very reasonable price with some very decent sized money ($500-$700) pots for the winners. There is more than enough to occupy anyone, and you can always attend the art auction and drink free champagne or window shop in the Mall area if you are bored or desperate.
Disembarkation: You can take your own bags off during the first hour; otherwise it goes by deck and numbers - no real issue, just hated to get off! Expect the normal hassle getting a cab, but if it is raining, be prepared to get drenched - there is no accommodation for rain as you leave customs & dash for cabs (it was obviously raining when WE disembarked, so we know!)
Overall: I loved this ship even though it had a so-so itinerary (four stops on a 7 day cruise is just too much in my book, but one of our group LOVED the four stops & would have liked FIVE, so that's personal preference). Carnival seems to be working hard trying to come up with new and innovative ideas, and they are doing a great job. There is still the excessive onboard announcements promoting/'hawking' Carnival products (but my wife didn't notice them) - oh well! Tipping at the end of the cruise is minimized, as each passenger is assessed a charge to their rooms bills. I think everybody needs to consider this ship; it was one of my best cruise experiences, and I would not hesitate to recommend this ship to anybody. The Wack Less