I, my wife and 12 Y/O daughter and 15 Y/O niece cruised on June 17 out of Miami for 7 days; first time for all. We booked through Carnival. Originally we had picked a different ship, but were talked into the Valor by the Carnival booking person, assuring us it was exactly the same as the one we wanted originally (of which I now do not recall the name-Liberty?)As it turned out it was not the same, as the original had an outdoor video screen which the Valor did not. Also, the Carnival rep told us the airfare would be $450 each before taxes, which was not correct, as we were billed $499. Additionally, she told us that the dinner room on the Valor was a $50 per person charge, which really turned out to be $30.Upon asking how excursions were booked, we were told they could be done after we boarded. That was correct, except we found out prior to sailing that it could be done on their website as well. All in all, was really unimpressed with this beginning.
Since we were travelling from the west coast, we stayed overnight which is part of the 'Fly Aweigh' program. It was at a Hilton by the Miami airport. At times, very loud. Also,you are not near anything to walk to. The bus driver told us about a Cuban restaurant nearby. My wife asked the concierge about transportation there; they said they could get us close. But the shuttle driver said he could drop us off by something 'better'. Since we had told him we were looking forward to Cuban cuisine, we assumed that is where we were headed. Upon entering the restaurant, it was actually just a steakhouse. We were now abandoned and had to walk back, without eating, to the hotel in a now heavy rain. We complained to the concierge about the diversion, who seemed unimpressed. As well we tipped the bellman for taking our luggage to our room, only to learn later that the tip is prepaid as a part of the Fly-Aweigh program. The bellman didn't bother to mention that, so he gladly got double tipped. What a guy.
Next morning,time to head to the port. We walked outside around the prescribed time. Long, long line of people waiting for multiple Greyhound buses. After a long wait, we finally got to the next bus. Everyones luggage is moved out to a parking garage. You have to find it and move it by your bus. Then, one driver loads all the luggage while several Carnival people stand around looking quite bored. Some fun... Arrival at the port....the tipping machine is in full gear. The bus driver wants his and the porters at the dock basically tell you what you are going to tip. In fact, one lady must have been a little short as he confronted her over what she gave them. Some fun.... After all that,get ready for a long, slow moving line inside the port building. That we pre-filled out the 'Fun Pass' didn't seem to matter.At least no one asked for it. We finally get past one Carnival station, with a couple to go, although they were quick. All this getting registered and getting the Sail and Sign cards. Finally, we set foot on the boat, with room key/sail & sign card in hand. No one says a word, you are just left to fend for yourself and figure out where you are at and where you are going as if you had been on board before.We found someone and were able to get a map of the boat. Based on advice from message boards, we just headed for the top deck (Lido or 9)to eat. After a while we went to our room, which was a balcony on level 6. They are small, and the bathroom.... tiny is the smallest word I can think of. Overall the boat is clean. Layout is a little confusing. Decks 5 (where most of your time will be spent when not on the outside decks.)and Deck 9 are pretty much the best routes from the front to the back of the ship.
Food was pretty good. Rosies Restaurant would be better described as Rosies Buffet. If you see that there is a Deli, Grill Oriental and Pizza place in that area, don't be confused by thinking that they are restaurants of any sort. They are just roll-up windows along the sides of the buffet where you can get some limited items and then join in the seating for the buffet. Same for the Sushi on deck 5. If you think this ship has a Sushi restaurant....not quite. Again, it is just a little side station that you order from, and then go find any miscellaneous seating nearby. The worst though is that there is only three things available each day that they pack. Only one of the 7 days did they have anything that was interested in. Very disappointing. The food in the Washington and Lincoln restaurants is quite good for dinner. There is one night where lobster is served. There are very happy to bring you more of anything you want. Room service is a very limited menu. Didn't really see any reason to go to Scarletts, which is the $30 fine dining room.
On the outside deck, there are three pools, sort of. If you joined these three pools together, you would have one about as big as the average person has in their back yard. This one goes under the 'what were they thinking' heading. I can't believe this is what they designed. They were packed all the time. Just stupid. As for lounge chairs, always available, just the later the day gets, the further away you are from the pools. By 9 the chairs that you can't save were pretty much all saved with towels anywhere near the pools.
We took three excursions. One in Bahamas was the Stingray experience. It was interesting. In St. Thomas, we took the Kayak/Hike/Snorkel tour. Big error to me anyway. First you head off through what looks like the ghetto of the island. The snorkeling is horrible, murky water in some lagoon, no fish to speak of. The hike was no big deal, kayaking OK. Would not to this one again. The St. Martin was snorkeling, catamaran and beach was not much better, even this was out in the ocean. Hawaii snorkeling was far better. The beach they take you to is OK, but I have to believe there is far better. As for St. Maarten itself, If I never go back, it will be too soon. Since we arrived at 7 AM we had time before our excursion. "Jeff the Shopper", who gives a pre-Island pep talk on where to spend your money stated that the shops open when the cruise ships arrive. Not even close to true. The shops open at 9, or whenever the get around to it. There are a few shops right where the ship docks, and there are a lot more close but $5 per person round trip water taxi ride away. I am guessing you could walk to these, but no one was.On the taxi ride over there are 2 stops. It seemed to make more sense to stop at the second one. There was someone on the taxi that appeared to live/work there, so we asked about the correct one to go to. She said the second. When we got off the boat the gal driving it started yelling at her, calling her a lesbian, and telling her she will never ride the taxi again. Quite unbelievable. Apparently the drivers are supposed to get people to get off at the first stop. Upon walking towards the shops we were continually accosted by people who wanted to braid hair, get us a taxi, or take us on a tour. There were dogs running around that looked wild. Overall it did just not look like a place where I wanted to spend money for fear I would not make it back to the ship with my merchandise. Later on our excursion while at the beach we were constantly bothered by people trying to sell junk there too. The seminars before hitting the islands seem more promotional advertisements for (mostly) Diamonds international and a couple of others. I fell in love with a Tag that they said listed for $3200 and their price was $2700.I was tempted by the lower price and no sales tax, but though twice and decided to wait to see what it was on the internet. I found it today for sale on Amazon for $1900, and of course, no tax. Not a good deal or place to shop with that one example. Diamonds and booze are the other 2 things pushed hard. Alcohol does seem cheap, but not being a drinker, no big deal to me.
Some drama on board. The Freedom of the Seas had left Miami right behind us headed for Puerto Rico I believe. Some one fell/jumped overboard. Our ship apparently turned around to help find him,although while everyone was asleep. This put us in to St. Thomas about 2 hours late. Then, on our way back to Miami on the last evening, someone jumped from our ship. It took about an hour or two of searching, and unlike the Freedom boat, we found ours. Just a drunk or high moron, of which there seemed to plenty of. Supposedly he took all his clothes off then jumped from the side. As the rescue boat approached, we could hear him yelling "You (bleep bleep), etc. at the rescue team. What a guy. We also heard security being paged to the deck where the rescue boat/life rafts are stored. Must have continued being a problem. The good news? the next morning he left the boat in handcuffs. No sympathy from me....
Entertainment was mostly good except for a singer named Yolanda something. Lots of people leaving while she sang, and one heckler in the upper seating. The last night is allguests who have won karaoke throughout the week.
Overall a nice time. I would rather have picked different excursions though. Kelly G., the 'cruise director' is a voice I quickly got tired of. I think she genuinely likes to hear herself talk. You can skip the "IMPORTANT DEBARKATION INSTRUCTION" meeting towards the last day. It was about 70% how to fill out the guest satisfaction survey cards (meaning all the highest ratings), some other misc. stuff, and 5 minutes of what you will read in one paragraph when it is delivered to your room. Overall service was good by a few, disengaged by many.