My family cruised on the Carnival Valor last week. We've cruised twice before, both times on Carnival, and we were a party of 7: myself and my husband and my 3 kids, ages 18, 15, and 11, plus a friend each for the 2 older kids. We were in 2 adjoining ocean view staterooms on the Riviera deck, 4 of us in cabin and 3 in another.
We flew in to Miami the day before the cruise, smooth flight, arrived in the evening. I had booked 2 hotel rooms on Priceline, and ended up with the Coral Gables Hyatt for $48/room. Great hotel, we had very nice rooms on a high floor.
Embarkation: We got to the port about 11:30am. There were long lines but they were orderly and moved along, and we were on board by 12:45 and having lunch. I found the ship decor to be very nice, a little glitzy, but not overdone. Having read these reviews, I knew that decks 5 and 9 were the through decks, so I had no trouble finding my way around. The deck my cabin was on, deck 1, also went through, so when I left my room I was able to go where I needed before climbing the steps up.
I found what some call the "hidden doors": if you go all the way to the front of the ship on decks 6, 7, 9, or 10 (I think!), through the corridors of staterooms, there are doors to small decks which are very little used and have great views in the front.
Cabins: Large and comfortable. We had 4 women from 11 years old on up in mine, and there was on upper and 3 lower beds, and a large window. I enjoyed being on the lowest deck; I liked sitting in the window (it had a 18 inch wide ledge) and watching the water not too far away, plus there was virtually no ship movement that I could feel in my cabin.
Dining: We had the 5:45 seating in the Washington dining room. I had wanted the 6:15, but 5:45 worked out fine. Our table was all the way in a corner where we couldn't even see a window, it would have been nicer to see the ocean. Our waiter was competent but not particularly friendly. I remember some really fun waiters from previous cruises, this one didn't seem like he particularly enjoyed his job. The assistant waiter was great, though. Food was hit and miss, with some excellent dishes and some not so great. But being able to sit down every night and order as many dishes as I wanted was fabulous!
I also tried out the other dining options. Sushi has very limited hours, and has 3 selections a day. It was tasty. Fish and chips was good, I thought the hamburgers from the grill were great, pizza had some good variety (goat cheese pizza, anyone?) and was delicious. I had a corned beef sandwich from the deli, a little greasy but yum. There was a midnight buffet one night, beautiful to look at, but long lines to get to the food.
We LOVED the room service, though I wish they had hot breakfast. Late at night my kids liked to lie in bed and watch tv, and we'd order up room service for them. Toast, fruit and veggies, sandwiches - we loved it.
Ship activities: I thought the music and dancing were excellent. The Far from Over show, which is on the second to last night, is a not-to-be-missed show - amazing lighting effects, really tight and well-put-together show. The best part were two break-dancers, who after the show put on another show in the atrium. They were AMAZING!
I played the trivia game and enjoyed it, though I wish they didn't spread it out over 3 days. I also used the library. Not a great selection, but after I had finished my Harry Potter I had nothing to read, and I was able to find some entertaining books there.
I worked out in the spa a few times. It's very crowded in the early morning and you may have to wait to get on a machine, but by 10am it quiets down a lot. Good equipment! Make sure to bring headphones if you want to use watch tv while exercising.
My kids checked out Camp Carnival on the first day but didn't see much to excite them, so they didn't use the facilities. I think for older kids like mine, it isn't as exciting as for the younger ones.
Cayman Islands: Since we were 7 people, i booked an Eco outrage tour - a private boat that took us to the Stingray sandbar, snorkeling, rum point. The stingrays were one of the high points of the cruise, a truly incredible experience to stand in turquoise waters feeding these huge creatures. Snorkeling was excellent as well.
Roatan: We went with a Victor Bodden tour, so we had a van with a tour guide who was very nice. First we did the South Shore zipline tour, and had a problem. They really didn't do a good job of explaining exactly how tozip down, and on the second zipline my son's jacket sleeve became caught in the pulley. He came to a dead stop with his sleeve shredded. Then, they didn't make sure each person was done before starting the next one down, so his friend was already zipping down and full speed and they crashed. They were both very shaken with bruises and didn't want to continue. So we had to climb out of there, and then they didn't want to refund my money for the 3 of us (I came back with them). Fortunately I had paid by credit card, so they finally agreed to refund me for the 3 who couldn't do it. The others had fun, though. After ziplining we went to the orphanage I had found through cruise critic. We brought a bunch of supplies and it was incredible. There are about 15 kids there, and they are so well taken care of. After that we visited the iguana farm and my kids thought this was the best part of the whole cruise. 100s of iguanas that you could feed, climbing on each other, in the trees, etc. Really fun.
Belize: We split up here. The 18-year-olds went cave-tubing and really enjoyed it, though they didn't much like the long hot hike. My youngest and I did the mayan ruins with the river Wallace Carnival excursion, and though it was very hot, it was really fun. We saw manatees, howler monkeys, a toucan, and lots of interesting plants while on the boat. Then they give you 45 minutes at a restaurant, and there's a pool there - I wish we had known to bring swimsuits! - but we were able to put our feet in. Then an air-conditioned bus ride to Altun Ha, which is a smaller site but great because it's very accessible. Then back to the port in the bus. Excellent excursion.
Costa maya: We just took a taxi to Mahahual, some of us rented jet-skis while I got a half hour massage for $10. A relaxing day.
Overall: I had a great time on the Valor, and already wish I were cruising again!