I must say that the Carnival staff at the port of Miami really try to make a difference. Enroute to Miami the day before our cruise (Saturday) I lost my passport on the plane. Of course I did not realize this until Sunday morning when our cruise was scheduled to depart just a few hours later. After contacting the hotel, cab company, airline, etc. I went by the Port of Miami at about 10:00 am and met a wonderful women named Mercedes. She could obviously tell that I was in a panic and told me to have a copy of my birth certificate faxed to the hotel that we were staying at and that when I returned to the port later in the day to ask for her. When we arrived at the port later that afternoon, faxed copy of the birth certificate in hand, we were greeted with the change in itinerary. No worries! I hadn't been to Nassau or Grand Turk before. While initially somewhat disappointed about the change but understanding that there are risks when cruising in September, I was more concerned with actually being able to get on the boat. After about an hour waiting outside we finally made it into the building and I asked the first Carnival employee I saw to find Mercedes for me. With a big smile Mercedes greeted my wife and I and surprisingly took us to the VIP lounge. It should be noted that we had not purchased a suite and this was only my 2nd cruise with Carnival, so I was in now way entitled to the special treatment. Mercedes and a fellow co-worker, said there was nothing to worry about and our paperwork was quickly processed. The last thing they said to us was that they wanted us to go up on the Lido deck and have a drink and to remember that we were on vacation now. She then gave me a VIP card which helped us avoid the remaining long lines to get onto the ship. If you have been to the Port of Miami before you know what I mean. I can't thank Mercedes and her co-worker enough for their efforts in making a bad situation less stressful. (FYI, the Passport was later found by an unknown person and returned a couple of weeks after we returned home from the cruise)
Now to the boat. I was impressed with the size and overall condition of the Valor. I wasn't quite sure what to expect as some fellow cruisers on this site described the decor as gaudy. I was pleasantly surprised by the ship and the decor. Our cabin was on the lido deck, room 9242, with a balcony. After travelling on the Triumph last year, I wouldn't book a room without a balcony as it provides a relatively quite and peaceful space to call my own. One thing I did note that the carpet on the Lido deck in the hallway on our side of the ship was in need of some steam cleaning as it was stained. Other than that the ship was in great shape from what I could see. The crew obviously perform a tremendous job trying to maintain the ship given that the number of passengers on a weekly basis. Our cruise director and fellow Hoosier--Ryan Fitzgerald, did a nice job and always seemed to be everywhere. He always had a smile on his face and truly seemed to be enjoying himself. We had a chance to speak on the "On Deck for the Cure" walk to help raise money for breast cancer research. For $10 you receive a t-shirt and a bracelet with proceeds going to the Susan G. Komen breast cancer research foundation. The money goes to a good cause and it helped to get us moving around by walking off some of the extra weight put on from all of the food we ate.
Speaking of food, the food and the wait staff in particular (Gunadita from Bali, Indonesia) were outstanding. I had originally asked for a table for two as my wife and I were celebrating our anniversary. Unfortunately we ended up with an earlier seating time (no worries) and at a table for 8. I quickly realized that this was not going to work out and went to see the maitre de about a table change. The next time that I cruise, the first thing that I am going to do is check our table in the dining room before the first seating for dinner and make any necessary changes as early as possible. If you are travelling on the Valor and want a table for two away from the large groups, I would recommend table #300 in the Washington dining room. There are only two like them on the entire ship from what a waitress later told us. We were in a semi-private corner with a window directly beside the table. The only downside is that there is a dish collection area not too far from the table but on most nights I hardly realized that it was there unless a waiter dropped something or really slammed the dishes down. My wife ordered a couple of main entrees one night with no problem. The meals were cooked to order and were hot and fresh tasting. We did try Scarlett's Supper Club and found that this was by far the best meal of our entire trip. For the extra $100 (including several drinks), I enjoyed a 22oz Porterhouse steak and we both ate way too much. The wait staff were even more attentive than our staff in the Washington dining room. My wife and I were treated to several appetizers from the chef and to more food than I regularly eat in the course of two days. The night that we attended the supper club there were a large number of officers from the ship attending including Marvin Barrantes--Hotel Director of the ship. There were also several members of the production shows as well in attendance. The supper club had a piano player and singer performing and my wife and I had a dance before our desert arrived. Again this was well worth the extra $100 and was one of the highlights of the trip.
Our room was well looked after and every night after the show we quickly returned to the room to see what new towel creature we had to add to our collection. We kept all of the towel creatures, (an eskimo, a monkey hanging from the overhead light, a rabbit, a dog, and an elephant) in the room for the entire cruise. The morning we disembarked, we put them all together for the room attendant's amusement.
The room is relatively spacious with an ok size bathroom for two. My wife commented on how their was enough shelving and spaces for all of our items to help keep the counter top clear. She really liked how the designer maximized the space to the fullest.
Things to do while at sea: One of the reasons why I like being on the lido deck or the panorama deck is the easy access to the front of the ship to watch other ships passing by. I haven't been on other cruise lines, but have been told that access to this area is not quite the same as what Carnival offers.
While we didn't visit all of the lounges in the evenings, etc. we did take in quite a few shows. Some of the ship productions are lacking a bit in creativity--mostly the Valor singing/dancing teams. I did find that Charlie Garrett and the Valor Orchestra are really very good. You can tell that they have played together for some time and are professional musicians. I also enjoyed one of the comedians, Darren Sanders, unfortunately I missed his adult 'R' rated show as I heard that it was very good. The other comedian (Jim Brick) was funny the first night during his regular show but bombed at the adult 'R' rated show the next night. I always dislike when comedians start picking on the audience members rather than coming up with some material on their own. Overall though the Ivanhoe lounge is very nice area and looks very similar to the Rome lounge on the Triumph in terms of how the theatre is set up if you are familiar with the Triumph.
We were travelling alone, but there is certainly appeared to be alot of activities for children. I must admit that I did visit the arcade for a little Ms. Pacman action. There are also all kinds of other activities on the ship from Bingo to Name that Tune to Survivor, etc. You can even play basketball or volleyball up on Sports Court. One activity that I did enjoy was the galley tour. Unless you have taken the tour, you don't realize just how big the galley is. Funny thing is I ran into my dining room waiter while on the tour.The ports: As mentioned, Nassau was a new port for my wife and I. We elected to go snorkeling on an island just outside of the port. The snorkeling was ok, sandy bottom beach and no coral, etc. Unfortunately part of the tour was delayed due to a thunderstorm. After the rain stopped, we returned to Nassau with a few hours to spare and really enjoyed walking around the city. We bought a few items from some local shops, had a beer while walking in public (not legal where I live), and just took our time soaking in the city. To cool off a bit, after the beer was gone of course, we walked into Christ Church Cathedral (Anglican/Episcopal Church on George Street) and was treated to the organist practicing. From there you have a wonderful view of the city and of the Valor in port.
Grand Turk: Boy what a surprise this was. We both truly loved Grand Turk and have talked of returning. We walked along the nice beach (around Booby Rocky Point and up along White Sands Beach) for about an hour after shopping in the cruise terminal area when you first get off of the boat. There were no fences or private beaches and we felt like we could just keep walking. We returned to the ship and went snorkeling after having lunch. The tour booked through Carnival was called Ultimate Snorkeling and was very good compared to our snorkeling experience in Nassau. There was lots of coral and colorful fish, a barracuda, and several stingrays in the area. We stopped at a couple of different spots to snorkel and enjoyed both a great deal. The Carnival camera guy who produces the videos that you see on the ship was with our tour so we were on TV a few times and I had to buy the video. We didn't make it into Cockburn Town, but reports were very good as well.
Ocho Rios: My wife and I had been to Ocho Rios on separate trips before we met and both of us did not fully enjoy our first visit. However I am happy to report that we both fully enjoyed this visit. We took the tour to Walkerswood Jerk Country Tour (www.walkerswood.com), art gallery and studio, a place called The Ruins at the Falls with a wonderful waterfall (www.ruinsjamaica.com), and to a tourist shopping area which we quickly ditched for some local jerk chicken, rice and peas with coconut milk, and a couple of drinks (Red Strip beer and ginger beer). There is a very good local jerk restaurant within 1/4 mile from The Ruins if you are looking to try some local food. My wife and I both love Jamaican jerk food and bought several different sauces to cook with at home. If you like jerk food then you have to take this tour. We thought it was well worth it and we both had no desire to go to Dunn's Rivers Falls with the thousands of other people from the boat.
With respect to the ports of call, I did feel that the $25 Carnival gave in return instead of a 4th port was a bit on the cheap side. Another Carnival ship that we were in port with in Grand Turk also had their schedule changed by the hurricane and they still managed to keep a 4th port of call. I understand that the weather can make things difficult, but I feel that if you booked a four port of call trip than that is what you should get. The other Carnival ship left Grand Turk about two hours earlier than what we did and made it to Ocho Rios the next morning while we puttered along at 10 knots to try and pass the time away before our arrival in Ocho Rios two days later.
Disembarkment: Both times that I have cruised with Carnival I felt that the disembarkment process was fairly smooth. This time we elected to self disembark and the process was easy and quick. We were off the ship and on our way to the airport within a few minutes of our deck being called.
Overall the cruise was very good and I truly miss being on the ship. I still check Valor's web camera from time to time to see where the ship is. We hope to take our original cruise on the Valor sometime in the next couple of years. Happy cruising.