To start with, I would like to say no cruise deserves 5 stars except your first. No matter how good it is, it can never measure up to the first because you already know what to expect. If your first cruise is not a 5, then you probably won't go back for a second. This was our fifth, all with Carnival.
We learned long ago to go down a day before, otherwise you're rushed and exhausted. AirTran from Atlanta to Miami cost us about $300.00 round trip for 2. The flight was an hour late leaving, but no big deal. Still, our trip was off to a bad start.
We shuttled to the Red Roof Inn where they are under staffed and unorganized. We stayed here last year so we knew it ahead of time and we deserved what we got. Their reprieve was that it is next door to Bennigans, and Bennigans has all day/all night happy hour. That made everything better.
No one wants to hear it, but taxi to and from the port. From the airport you'll pay $30.00 for up to 5 people. No waiting for the bus or your luggage. The transfers from Carnival cost $12.00 per person. Make some friends on the flight and grab a cab. We met a couple in the hotel lobby, shared a cab for $30.00 including a generous tip.
We arrived at the terminal at 11:00 AM and were on the ship by 11:45 AM.
We met Aji, our room steward, who remained invisible for the entire cruise. If you needed something, he appeared like the genie from the bottle, gave you what you wanted then back into the bottle. He was pleasant and helpful but never there if you didn't want him to be. Our stateroom was cleaned twice per day like magic, once while I was on the veranda, but I never saw or heard a thing.
We always eat all over the ship; Lido, room service, grill, but dinner is in the Formal Dining Room. For us, that was the Washington Dining Room.
On our first night, we knew we had found our treasure for this cruise. There were 6 of us at a table for 10. Kristina (our server) and Ari (our assistant server) were wonderful. So wonderful that by the third night 5 others had asked to be seated with us. All 11 of us had been on multiple cruises and agreed that they were the best wait staff we had ever had. On the next to the last night we were the only table there to give our servers a standing ovation. If you have the opportunity to request them, I would highly advise it.
Nassau was the first morning and only a 7 hour stop. We didn't get to see much. We went clear kayaking. Someone should explain the difference in a canoe and a kayak to these people. We are not young and canoes do not handle like a kayak. The water was rough which didn't help but we finally gave up and went snorkeling. If you enjoy canoeing, pass on this one. If you enjoy kayaking (as we do), run from this one.
Carnival! What were you thinking? Formal night on our first full day out, after the Bahamas and with a sea day to follow! It was rough on the men and the women would have lynched someone if they just knew who!
Why does the Federal Government have to get involved in our vacation? Carnival takes the blame but it is really the government that caused the long lines (on the ship) for immigration to check our passports before we can disembark at St. Thomas.
In St. Thomas we went parasailing for our first time. Caribbean Parasailing, as it is advertised, was wonderful. The crew was fun, the people in our group were fun and I would highly recommend this excursion.
Our final stop was St. Maarten. Discover Scuba was surprising in all aspects. You actually get to explore 5 sunken ships. This was our first attempt at scuba diving and was well worth the experience. Again, the wonderful crew members were patient with beginners and probably needed the rum punch worse than we did.
The second formal night was much better. The Past Guests Reception was fun but too short.
About the ship: I have read many reviews that say it was not clean; this was not our experience. The ship was exceptionally clean. Also, I have read reviews saying the crew was unfriendly; the crew was extremely friendly and helpful but these people are human. No one is happy all the time. The Purser's Desk was ALWAYS helpful and pleasant.
The food throughout the ship was well above average for a cruise ship which is always excellent. The great thing about the food on a cruise is you can try new things and if you don't like it they will bring you something else. The desserts on the Lido Deck were excellent but I cannot tell you about the desserts in the Formal Dining Room. I only tried one and I believe the government will outlaw "Warm Chocolate Melting Cake" because of it's high addictability, or maybe just put a warning on it. "WARNING, Warm Chocolate Melting Cake is highly addictive and hazardous to your waistline". I am walking (waddling) evidence!
Be sure to stop by and make your contribution to the Shogun Casino where they will gladly accept every quarter you have.
Rain our last day at sea did nothing to dampen our spirits. There are no bad days at sea.
You have heard all of the good, now the bad:
Dining Experiences: I was disappointed that the staff seemed to be unable to tell time. Dinner in the Washington Dining Room and breakfast on the Lido Deck were 10 minutes late 6 of 7 days creating lines that I have seen mentioned on every review, but if you are willing to wait until 8:45 AM for breakfast and 12:45 PM for lunch you will find the lines are shorter.
Debarkation: Even with the new terminal, or maybe because it is a new terminal, it took until 11:15 AM to get to the parking lot to catch a shuttle. My advice is self debarkation if possible and again, forget the shuttle and take a taxi.
This was not our first cruise but it is our BEST since our first. We will definitely be looking at the Valor for our next cruise.