DW and I, plus DS (10 years old), took the Valor on the western Caribbean itinerary, sailing on Nov. 11th. We traveled with several of DW's relatives (mostly cousins) from the east coast on the pretext of celebrating a cousin's 50th b-day. 28 people in our group total. Group arrangements were made thru Carnival. This is our 7th cruise (DS's 2nd) and 4th with Carnival.
We flew into Ft. Lauderdale from Phoenix the day before, meeting up with two cousins flying in from other parts of the country. We stayed at the Hampton Inn Airport North. Nice room, free hot breakfast, free shuttle from the airport. They also shuttled us (no charge) to a local restaurant for dinner that night. We like to arrive the day before, just in case. Last year, airline lost one of cousin's bags, but delivered it to our hotel in Long Beach around midnight that night, so they had their bag by the time we left to go to the port. Flying into FLL instead of MIA saved us more than the hotel, Sat. nite dinner, and port shuttle cost us. Plus, FLL airport is not so crowded and a little easier to get around in.
Sunday a.m., I had made reservations with Larry's Limos for a 15 passenger van (9 of us plus luggage travelling from FLL) to pick us up at the hotel and shuttle to Port of Miami. We also arranged for return transportation from the port to FLL airport the following Sunday. Cost was a flat fee, but R/T cost came out to about $35 per person, which included gratuity and port surcharges. Service was prompt and courteous. Driver picked us up about 11 and we were at the port waiting to get on the ship before noon.
Embarkation was really not that bad. We waited in line about an hour, mostly, it seemed, because Carnival did not have enough people manning the windows. Once a few more employees were found, the process speeded up a bit just as we got to the front of the line. We went to our cabin to drop off our carry-on stuff and found one of our bags at the door. Then went to Lido for lunch and to look for others from our group.
The Valor is similar to the Pride, which we sailed on last year. Just remember that you can go from one end or the ship to the other on decks 5 or 9 and you'll be alright. We were in a balcony cabin (#7341) on the Empress deck (deck 7 about midship, starboard side). Laundry was right across the hall, which seemed like a good idea until Friday night when people decided they just HAD to take home clean clothes. (Maybe their washers at home were broken?). Anyway, lots of hustle and bustle and noise from the laundry on Friday nite. DS was disappointed. On the Pride last year, he had an upper berth, which he thought was "neat" and enjoyed it immensely. The deck plan (as well as the Carnival rep we booked thru) said our cabin on the Valor had an upper berth, but it did not. It had the couch that makes into a bed. Perhaps not as much fun, but DS slept well anyway! All doors operated quietly and well (cabin door and bathroom doors on the Pride needed hinges oiled). Balcony door stayed open without a bungee, but opened and closed effortlessly and quietly. We took the advice from the boards of taking a hanging canvas shoe organizer, which we hung from the closet door nearest the cabin door. It came in very handy, keeping a bunch of "stuff" out of the way, and did not interfere with the operation of the cabin or closet doors. TV worked well, but did not have inputs for video, computers, or games (for those of you who wonder). Our cabin steward(ess) was Sitti. Very friendly and attentive, she complied with all of our requests with a smile, and typically greeted us each morning as we ventured out for breakfast.
We had 6:15 dining in the Lincoln room. Waiter Conrad and his assistant Kelston were fabulous. Called us by name by Monday evening and Conrad also greeted us by name at breakfast in the Washington room during the week. Food quality was consistent with previous Carnival cruises. Dinners were good, but not fabulous, at least in our opinion, although the filet mignon was quite tasty. Waiters happily provided alternative dining options for DS, who enjoyed steak, hot dogs and grilled chicken breast rather than ordering from the menu. One evening, I think it was Wednesday, there was such a wonderful variety of starters, soups and entrees that it was difficult to make a decision without ordering one of each! Then, the next night, the choices seemed quite limited. We would have liked it better if they had spread out the variety over a couple of days instead of having all the "good stuff" on one night. Just our opinion. Oh, and DW and one cousin got sick on Sat. nite after dinner, which they both attributed to the escargot, although most of us didn't have a problem. Pizza and calzones were good. Ice cream was good (and FREE, unlike Princess). Deli was delicious. Buffet was about as good as one might expect. We didn't try the fish & chips, sushi, or the supper club. We had breakfast in the dining room this trip, instead of the buffet. Food and service were excellent. We also either ordered room service for coffee, juice and hot tea in the morning, or I went 2 decks up and brought it back from Lido myself (our cabin was right around the corner from the stairs).
DS didn't enjoy Camp Carnival as much this time as he did last time, so he spent alot of time with us, or at the arcade, or wandering the ship with relatives. But he seemed to enjoy himself and keep himself occupied. There were very few children on this cruise compared to others we have been on, and probably less than 12 kids in DS's age group.
The only shore excursion we booked was in Belize. More on that in a minute. We just tendered in and did a little shopping at Grand Cayman. DW and I have visited there a couple times before, so we didn't spend alot of time in town. We had intended to book a snorkel excursion, but for some reason we didn't. We wish now we had. Probably next time!
Roatan provided a little "adventure" for us. Several or our group, upon the advice of the drummer from the jazz trio, took an independent operator to West End for some beach time. However, the driver decided for us that we should go to West End Bay instead. Not really much difference, as we walked the beach back down to where we would have been anyway, but were a little annoyed that he failed to follow our direction. We had a few local vendors, mostly kids, walking up to sell us stuff, but not so many that we were bothered. We politely said "no" and they went about their business. Just as we were getting ready to leave, one of the cousins 17 year-old granddaughter discovered that someone had gotten into her beach bag and took her camera, ID and $200 in cash. We all tried to recall which vendor might have been there last, but couldn't remember anyone being there. The only ones we remember being there were our driver and his "guide", who were supposed to be watching our stuff. However, nothing could be proven, so no direct allegation was made. This scenario makes a good case for booking excursions thru the ship. The girl got a new ship card, and the cousin had her birth certificate, so no problems there, but it put us all in a sad mood for the girl and kinda ruined the day of fun.
In Belize, we had reservations for cave tubing through Major Tom. We highly recommend this excursion, whether thru the ship or an independent like Major Tom. We tendered in, Major Tom was waiting for us, and got us on a bus for the trip. Got a little tour of the city as we drove thru, and then into the plains and finally the jungle. Took a hike to the spot just upstream from the caves. The hike was pretty easy, but you wouldn't want to try it without water shoes or sandals with straps . . . don't try it with flip-flops. Try it . . . you'll love it! We all had a great time. Next day in Cozumel, we took a taxi downtown and had lunch at Pancho's Backyard (our favorite restaurant there), then did some shopping. A quick taxi ride back to the pier and a couple of drinks at Senor Frog's, and it was time to get back on the ship. DS had a blast souvenir shopping, but wanted to buy everything! Luckily, he's well-behaved, so he didn't get an attitude when we said "no" about 90 percent of the time!
We didn't take part in too many of the ship activities during the day. If we weren't in port, we usually just hung out by the pool and had buckets o' beer. We went to every show in the evening, enjoying some more than others. The Vegas style song-and-dance shows were OK, but not fabulous. Comedians for the most part were pretty funny. The hypnotist's show was hilarious. We typically spent a good part of each evening at Winston's, having a few drinks and smoking cigars. The jazz trio was great. DS knew the musicians, bartender, and waiter by name after a couple of days. He and the waiter had a running game of hide-and-seek during the week! Other members of the group spend time at karaoke almost every night. It was just too loud and crowded for our taste there, but then we're not that young anymore! DS interacted with our dining room maitre'd who frequented Winston's in the evening, so he got high-fives at breakfast and dinner every day as we walked into the dining room.
The captain actually got the ship into Miami a little early on Sunday, so debarkation started about 7:30 a.m. Debarkation is by numbered luggage tags, called in order from 1 on up. We had 9, and we were off the ship meeting our shuttle driver by 9:00, and at FLL airport by 10. Debarkation went very quickly and very smoothly, at least for us. Haven't heard of anyone else having a problem. Collected our luggage from an airport-type carousel, then managed to get in the customs line with the old-timer-career-customs agent who had no intention of making the process go quickly. Several of our group who gathered luggage and got in line way behind us were thru customs before us. But since we were getting out early, there was really no rush and no adverse impact other than making the process frustrating.
DW will likely read this later and let me know what else I should have written. I scanned our capers and posted the link on the CC message board. If anyone has any specific questions, feel free to email us (jdjbmorris at msn dot com) and we'll provide as much info as we can.