We traveled on the Carnival Valor on September 2, 2007. The cruise was originally supposed to be a Western Itinerary cruise including Belize, Honduras, Grand Cayman, and Costa Maya, Mexico. Costa Maya was changed due to the destruction caused by Hurricane Dean, and the rest were changed when we were rerouted to avoid Felix. We found out about the changes when arriving at the Port just moments before boarding the ship. I was initially disappointed, but I feel that if you cruise during hurricane season, you take a chance that you won't visit the ports initially scheduled. Plus, I was pleased to hear we would see Nassau, Bahamas, Grand Turk (Turks and Caicos), and Ocho Rios, Jamaica, with a sea day between each port (3 total).
To preface this review, I went on the cruise with my DH for our first anniversary. It was his second cruise and my third. We've been on Carnival once before (4 day) and I've been on Royal Caribbean. We are both 28 business professionals without kids who reside in Las Vegas. This review will include the good and the bad, although I must say, the good far outweighed the bad. This cruise was fantastic overall.
Embarkation: We arrived at the port around 11:00 hopeful we could board early. There was a delay with customs, so we did have to wait about an hour. No big deal, we were inside the room behind about 150 people. We were on the boat by 1:00. This was a very painless process, even for me, who doesn't have a passport (used a birth certificate and an official copy of my marriage certificate without issue).
Debarkation: We did self assist and we were off by 8:30! We cleared customs early, so the first cruisers were able to leave the ship as early as 7:15. This process was painless. I would definitely do this again next time. The entire thing took less than half an hour.
Ship: OK, the ship was a bit gaudy. I think that Carnival could improve the look of the ship and with that improve the feel onboard tremendously. The rooms were a bit outdated, especially the paint and lighting. Again, just a small detail that didn't have a big impact overall.
The layout was very confusing, UNLESS you knew that floors 5 and 9 were the only ones that went straight through. It's like a maze otherwise. DH was very thankful he learned this "trick" early on, thanks to my CruiseCritic.com friends!
We went to all of the bars and lounges and ate at all of the restaurants (except Scarlet's super club—can't justify paying for food when the dining room food is so good) at least once so that we could get a real feel for the ship. The following is my review of each bar: Winstons Cigar Bar: Very neat concept, awesome dEcor, decent cigar selection. However, if you don't like smoke and don't want to smell like cigars, don't go here. We went twice, enjoyed a cigar once and just had drinks and listened to a very talented piano player the other night. It's a lot more quiet than other places on the ship and is right next to the Washington dining room, so it's perfect for pre-dinner relaxation. It was also usually pretty empty.
Bronx Sports Bar: DEcor-wise, this was my favorite. DH really liked it too, but he didn't care for the sports selection. They only showed sports on ABC and ESPN, so even though we were there for the first weekend of college football season, we only saw a few games before being interrupted with a NASCAR race. People were less than thrilled! Overall though, this was a very cool place to unwind (or wind up, depending on the team you were rooting on!)
Lobby Bar: Boring, nothing special. We typically went here to grab a drink, then walked outside to rest on a lounger and watch the waves. The crowd was also much older than we found at other bars on the ship.
Jeanette's Wine Bar: Great atmosphere, odd location. It's right near a walkway area and not secluded, so it can get annoying. People often walk by and stare or converse as loud as possible in the area! Still, the drinks were worth it and the bartenders were the friendliest I could find on the ship.
Casino Bar: Usually the most crowded and the youngest crowd. Bartenders were extremely busy here, so service could take longer. Also very smoky thanks to the nearby casino. Still, the bartenders make the best drinks and the live music next to the bar was usually fantastic.
Pool Bars: Service was very slow here because it was very busy, especially on sea days. Also, we were overcharged at least twice, which was kind of a hassle. Otherwise, it was great to be able to lounge out on the deck and enjoy a drink delivered right to your chair! Try a dirty banana, or a BBC (DH's favorite)—a sweeter version of the DB.
We ate in the Washington dining room, 8:00 seating. We did not have an opportunity to order room service. Another preface for this review—I consider myself the world's pickiest eater. I'm always willing to try new things, but there are a lot of things I don't like that most people do, like cheese (don't even eat cheese on pizza), milk and creamy foods, red meat, etc. It didn't matter, the food was top quality, even for the world's pickiest! Here is my review of the restaurants on board:
Washington Dining Room: We were downstairs at a table of 4. Our waiters and wait staff were phenomenal. The food was the best I've ever had on a cruise ship and rivaled some of the best restaurants I've been to. This says a lot—we live in Vegas and enjoy spending money on food more than almost anything! I can't believe people complain about the food. There were very few things I tried that I didn't like. I agree with past reviewers, the warm chocolate melting cake was to die for. The good news—it is available every night on the menu as an "alternative" dessert. The bread budding with dark chocolate was also fantastic, even better than the warm chocolate melting cake.
I had wished we were at a larger table. We had a table of 6 last time and really enjoyed meeting more cruisers. Also, I don't like the singing in the dining room. I tried to make the best of it by getting up and joining in, but I really didn't care for it. I don't understand why they can't just let the dining room be a formal setting. Make it feel like a real fancy restaurant, not the late night lido deck.
I'm about to contradict myself here (I realize that!), but we did not like the two formal nights. We were suits and ties every day, so that last thing we want to do is wear them on vacation. We went one night (first formal night) but missed the second. I think the atmosphere never changed from the formal night to the "resort casual" nights to be honest. I just wished the attire could be business casual or dressy casual the whole way through so that those of us who are stuffy 358 days of the year can enjoy our one vacation!
Rosie's: The buffet on Lido. I really enjoyed the food here, especially the themed lunch buffets. We ate here once for dinner and it was nothing to write home about. On the last night we walked past it and noticed they were serving many of the same things we had seen in the dining room (warm chocolate melting cake, lobster bisque, etc.) which was nice if you want to buffet it all week because at least you get a taste of the fantastic food the dining room has to offer.
Don't miss the chocolate extravaganza buffet at lunch time. It was held on our last day. They turned an entire buffet at Rosie's (there are two) into a chocolate buffet, with every kind of dessert imaginable, including a chocolate fountain. They even had chocolate dipped doughnut balls! SO good! Get there early to avoid the crazy lines!
The fish and chips was the best lunch spot by far. It was a little hidden gem. Try the seafood soup! SO good! Weird hours though, so it was hard to catch it at a good time. Also, Camp Carnival ate in the area the two days we were there, so if you are trying to avoid kids, get your food here and go back downstairs.
Sushi: Very limited options, but all very good. We ate here for a midafternoon snack almost every day. They serve by the piece, not the roll, so if you want a whole roll make sure to order 6-8. Also, this line can get long if you don't get there either just as they are opening (5:00 pm) or about an hour later. This place also had weird hours and it was hard to catch it open.
Deli/Pizza/Grill/Oriental: All nice, but we only went once. Pizza and grill lines were never long when we were there. Deli and Oriental were generally very long. Food at all places was very good. I had my first Reuben sandwich at the deli and now I'm hooked. SO good!
Rooms: Very, very spacious. Also very clean. The beds were so comfy. I loved the sheets, the comforter and the pillows. I noticed Carnival sells the bed sets, so they must be popular. The mattresses were just ok (a little too firm in my opinion), but nothing to complain about. My biggest complaint here was the noise. Our cabin was absolutely awful as far as that goes, which really irritated me. We decided not to book the balcony (so dumb!) and when we went to make the change, the room upgrade would have run us more than the cost of the entire cruise! We had an outside room—2367—right under the galley. I booked in January and was told we were getting the "best room available in our class because we were past cruisers" and the ship was not booked up much at all so our room would essentially be "the best outside room available." If this was the best, I would hate to see the worst. Being located under the galley was a nightmare. The entire cruise we heard a loud ratting. Even our tv couldn't over power it. We went to purser's and complained and we rarely complain. They told us they would fix it, but nothing was done. I'm not sure what I wanted. I wasn't looking for a comp or credit like so many other complaining cruisers. I just wanted the noise to stop or a room change. With our room under the galley in a sold out ship, neither happened. This almost ruined our cruise, especially for DH who is a light sleeper, but we made the best of it. I taped the noise with my camera and will post the video later so you can see. The best way to describe it is that it sounded like the rope on a flag pole flapping against the pole in the wind. A loud, hollow rattling noise that rarely stopped. I think anyone more demanding would have thrown a fit—that's how bad it was, no exaggeration.
I noticed there is no point in trying to participate in Carnival's conservation program. I hung my towels up every day in an effort to reuse them (as was detailed on a posted policy in the room encouraging conservation), but they were never there when I returned. No big deal, I just don't see the point of promoting it.
Our room was always clean. Our steward went beyond the call of duty. We loved the towel animals—it was my first cruise with animals! We looked forward to them each night!
I won't spend a lot of time on the ports since this ship rarely visits two of them.
Nassau: Very pretty beach. We went to Cabbage Beach on Paradise Island, right next to the Atlantis. For $50 we rented a jet ski for half an hour. We also enjoyed drinks at a tiny little beach bar. The beach was empty when we first arrived (around 9) and started to get crowded as the day went on. I wish we had gone to the Atlantis after I heard a trick from a fellow cruiser. The day passes to Atlantis were $100 a piece, I believe. However, during the time we were there, the Atlantis was only charging $129 a night plus tax. So for $150 you can get two passes to use all of the amenities on the island PLUS a nice room to unwind in before heading back to the ship. Not sure if it works, but next time we visit Nassau we may do this.
Grand Turk: In one word—AMAZING! The most beautiful beaches I have ever seen. Most cruisers stayed right near the ship. This was great for us. We ventured out and felt like the only ones on the island besides the folks who live there. We received a recommendation from a local for a nice bar on a beautiful beach—Sandbar. The taxi took us there for $5 a piece. Words can't describe how beautiful this beach was. The food and drinks were also great, although a bit pricey ($4 a beer). For most of the day, we were the only ones here! What a treat. Eventually we took the 5 minute walk into town for some lunch at a local eatery (Poop Deck) and enjoyed some fried chicken and ribs Grand Turk style. This was a teeny little restaurant frequented by the locals. $8 for a huge plate of food and $2.50 for a beer.
Then we ended our day with the highlight of the cruise. DH stopped a local scuba boat after the scuba divers had been dropped off and asked the captain if he would be willing to give us a boat tour of the island. For $50, he took us on a 1.5 hour tour showing us the highlights from the water and dropping us back off at the ship. This impromptu act by DH allowed us to get a great feel for Grand Turk and really made the place one to remember. We already have plans to return for an extended vacation, although this time we will probably include Provo (a neighboring island that is a short flight away and is more "touristy").
Jamaica: This is where we had our ATM debacle. When I first heard about hurricane felix and realized we may be diverted, I researched many Caribbean locations on the off chance we would go there. I knew to call Marva Shaw if we headed to Ocho Rios and I even brought along her number. We were told to get off the ship ASAP to meet here. We were off early, but spent an hour searching for an ATM in what felt like a very unsafe area. We were constantly hassled by locals for everything imaginable (drinks, taxi rides, boat rides, beach trips, weed, food, etc.) as we made our way back. Conveniently, none of the locals in the town area could direct us to Marva, even though she assured us people would lead us in her direction. Rather than wondering all the way back near the ship, where we worried we would never find Marva, we jumped in a cab and headed to Reggae Beach. I had been told Marva planned to take us there, so I knew it must be nice. I felt bad for missing Marva, but I did encourage 5 others from my ship to go on her tour and they were fortunate enough to find her. We eventually met up with them, and met up with Marva and her son, back at the port. They raved about Marva from that point on, saying her tour was the highlight of their cruise. Apparently they went to Dunn's Falls, tubing, shopping and to Reggae Beach. Marva was very nice to me and understood our predicament. I appreciated the fact that she waited for us and searched around for 30-45 minutes while the rest of the group went on. She is a real class act. I wish we could have found her.
As far as Reggae Beach, it was pure heaven. Again, for most of the day we were the only ones on the beach. It's $5 entry fee. The cab cost us around $10 each way, and was VERY negotiable. The posted cost was $20 each way. Honestly, I would have paid $30 to stay here for the day, so $5 was nothing. There is a little beach bar here. Drinks are only $3 and the food was about $8. They only had one option—fish and festival. The festival is very good—a fried doughy treat. Yum! Overall a great way to spend our day.
Some very nice touches that I want to mention. First, the Captain's cocktail hour was very nice. Drinks and hors de ouvers were a nice touch that we really appreciated. As past guests we had a similar party a few nights later that also included food and drinks. Again, a nice touch and really made me proud I had chosen Carnival again. It was neat, like a little Carnival pep rally. . A few cons. First, the ATMs. Get plenty of money before leaving. We made the mistake of underestimating our spending. Not a big deal on board because you can use your sign and sail, but if you need cash to take with you, don't count on the ATMs. They ran out of money by the second day! How do you underestimate something like that? This isn't a new cruise ship. And don't bother hitting up the purser for cash. They charge an extra fee, even though it's technically not your fault the promoted amenities on the ship (in this case the ATM) is out of order for the entire cruise.
I also felt Carnival nickel and dimed you for a lot of things. It seemed like everything came at an extra or extremely high costs. Photos were overpriced in my opinion. Also, we were never given a mini bar menu like many of our fellow cruisers, so we had no idea the water in the room was $3.50 a bottle. We drank two to the tune of $7! Good thing we didn't have one a day!
A few final notes. We always here people saying Carnival is a younger crowd that parties a little harder than the cruisers on other lines. We actually prefer a younger crowd and enjoy meeting people our own age. I'm not sure if it was this particular ship, or just the time of year, but we didn't meet many people our age at all. We probably saw about 5 other couples and 10 people total in our age group. This was very disappointing for us. Also, this is going to sound terrible, but I felt the people on this ship lacked class and maturity compared to those on the other, shorter cruises I've had. A good number of people were loud, complained about the most ridiculous things, had no respect for others (disregarded lines, screamed down the halls at 3am, left trash everywhere), and were just overall rude. Hate to sound stuck up, but I think people could behave themselves better. Have some respect for your fellow cruisers. Maybe this is the norm, or maybe we were just unlucky. I hope for the latter.
One tip that I learned later on in the trip is that several of the bars have Happy Hour. Happy Hour was an hour before each dinner seating (5:15-6:15 and 7:15-8:15 I believe) at the Bronx Bar, Casino Bar and American Lobby Bar. It's $1 off most drinks. Not a huge savings, but it's a nice touch. Also, the martini and wine bar (Jeanette's) features a martini of the day that's only $3.95. Some were very tasty! If you like mojitos, get one in the first few days. The casino bar makes the best ones I've ever tasted! Unfortunately, they told me they always run out of mint, so by the third day these were hard to find onboard, and by the end of the cruise they had completely disappeared.
Cruise director Ryan was fantastic. He was funny, energetic and charming. He just knew how to make the experience an even better one. We enjoyed a few of the shows. We especially liked the comedy shows, particularly the R rated midnight shows (there were a few). Didn't care for the Vegas reviews, but our standards are VERY high coming from Vegas. Also, the Legends show was ok, but for the hype, I expected it to be funnier.
Overall, this was a wonderful cruise. Carnival exceeded my expectations on that. We will definitely be back!!!