We selected this cruise, our 11th on Carnival, for the snorkeling opportunities and a chance to visit Belize. This was my second cruise on a Conquest class ship, so I was generally familiar with the ship layout. Because of the two dining rooms on deck 3 with the kitchen between, it is not possible to go fore and aft on decks 3 or 4. The theme of the ship, Valor, is carried out throughout with the Washington and Lincoln dining rooms, Rosie the Riveter Buffet, the Winston's Cigar Bar, hallways lined with images of astronauts, and many others, the Ivanhoe Theatre, etc. The ship is in excellent condition. The air conditioning system in Winston's is inadequate, causing it to smell of stale smoke even the next morning, and you have to go through the Cigar Bar to get to the internet cafe, unless you enter from the main deck.
We flew into Fort Lauderdale and took the shared Go Shuttle, which has a station outside the baggage claim area, to the pier in Miami. There was no wait, and the charge was $18 per person, versus the Carnival transfer of $30 per person. However, they do not book shared vans for a return to Fort Lauderdale, so we booked the return Carnival transfers at the purser's desk. Boarding in Miami was a 20 minute process, since we are now at the Platinum/Concierge level with Carnival. Arriving just before 1pm, we were directed to the VIP lounge, seated a few minutes, then processed quickly and directed to board the ship immediately. Our cabin was available. We checked our dining assignment and found that we were not at a table for two, which we prefer, and found that an assistant Maitre De' was working the line in the Lincoln Dining Room. After a better than 40 minute wait we were quickly accommodated with a table for 2 at the 8pm seating, as we had requested.
The dining venues on this ship include the two dining rooms, Washington aft on deck 3 and the larger of the two seating 1000, and the Lincoln, amidships on deck 3 seating 700. Rosie's buffet includes the buffet lines, including omelet stations, a deli, a wok station, and Fish and Chips on the upper level of Rosie's, aft, where they serve batter fried fish and chips, fried oysters, bouillabaisse soup, tuna tartar and some seafood salads Fish and Chips is only on the Conquest class ships. The supper club, Scarlett's has a mural of Tara with Clark Gable dancing, from Gone with the Wind. It has a keyboard player and a songstress entertaining and a dance floor, which is open to all whether you are dining in the supper club or just looking for a location for some slow dancing. There is a bar adjacent. The dining area is divided into a port and a starboard dining area. Reservations are required, but it was not full most nights, and all food is prepared there, to order, including lobster tail, 24 oz porterhouse steak, and more. There is a $30 per person service charge. While we ate there one night, and service and food was very good, it was not up the high level and more spacious setting in the supper club on the spirit class ships, especially our favorite on the Carnival Legend. The normal pizza/calzone/Caesar salad station is located on the Lido Deck aft by the aft pool, and there are two "fast food" stations in the pool area, serving omelets in the morning and burgers, etc in the afternoon.
Food overall was excellent, with a nice variety of seafood in the dining room, including mahi mahi, red snapper, Pacific salmon, large lobster tails, and shrimp. They also offer a Spa menu with low calorie choices of appetizer, salad and entrEe versions of items on the regular menu. The meat choices were dominated by beef tenderloin offerings, including roast tenderloin, chateaubriand, and filet mignon. Unfortunately they were all from the same cut of only a choice grade of beef. While they had crème Brule the first night, cherries jubilee the second, and baked Alaska later in the week, most nights the desserts were uninspiring. The Melting Chocolate Cake is available every night. The wine list has decent choices in the $25-$35 range, and of course some much more. They offered a private tour of the galley with the assistant head chef for a small group of Platinum members, and a general tour in the afternoon for anyone interested.
As it was the time of December holidays, they lit the Hanukkah candles each night in the atrium and had latkes one night. There was also a gingerbread village there, and some Christmas trees and decorations in various places, but not as elaborate as we have seen on other cruises. Our anniversary is in December and we cruise every year at this time.
There were only two production shows during the week, and one we had seen before a year ago. That was the first time that has happened in 34 cruises! The other nights they offered comedians and a hypnotist., and a juggler. There was the usual welcome aboard show, mostly to introduce staff, and there was a holiday show the last day in the afternoon, which included children from Camp Carnival, the cruise director reading a story, the lead singers leading songs, Santa, and a gift and photo opportunity for each child.. They also had one evening show with karaoke performances by individuals who had competed during tryouts.
We did enjoy the disco one night and there was a band playing each night in the Zebra Lounge, "Rising Up", that we had heard before on the Sensation. They were excellent, playing rock, jazz, and some danceable music every night.
The Captain's Welcome reception was on the second night, a sea day, the first formal night. There were far more formally dressed people than I had observed on past Carnival cruises. In fact, there were few not dressed at least informally (dark suit and tie/cocktail dress), and many tuxedoes and gowns. The reception was in the Eagle Lounge, and unlike some I have attended, there were plenty of servers with complimentary food and beverages. The past passenger reception was the third night, after leaving port, and again the food and beverage service was excellent.
Our ports were Grand Cayman, Roatan, Belize, and Cozumel. Grand Cayman and Belize were tendering ports. They use large tenders in Grand Cayman for the short ride and there really is little wait. However in Belize, we availed ourselves of the priority tender boarding available to Platinum guests.
In Grand Cayman we walked from the tender landing to Eden Roc, my favorite place to snorkel there. There is no charge, they have lockers for rent, and a rest room, a dive ship, and a fresh water shower and place to rinse your gear. I snorkeled for about an hour and besides fish, I was able to observe a very large turtle and later a smaller one. We also visited the Tortuga Rum Cake shops, and then settled in at Senior Frog's for a fun afternoon. There were 5 ships in port
In Roatan I had researched a resort on the other side of the island, at Paya Bay, near the marine reserve on the eastern end of the island. Most tourist excursions go to the West End. A driver met us and after nearly a half hour trying to clear the traffic jam near the pier, we had about an hour drive to the resort which allowed us to see much of the island. The resort at Paya Bay provided us with a day room. We enjoyed the beaches, almost all to ourselves, but the water was rough enough to have churned up too much sand for good snorkeling. We did find some starfish on the other side of the resort, in a more secluded area. After showering and changing in the day room we were served a lunch of empanada's, salad, two large lobster tails and baked potato. The ride back to the ship was about 50 minutes and when we got to the gate, the guard said they had already blown the whistle. The folks on the ship cheered from balconies and the pool deck as we arrived! Carnival is investing in port facilities here, and the land has been prepared for construction by the pier. There are no facilities right now other than the pier.
In Belize the tender ride in high speed boats is 15 minutes. We had made arrangement with ShoreTrips for a 4.5 hour snorkeling excursion to the reef and a visit to Cay Caulker. The boat left at 10 am and it was a 40 minute ride to the reef. We were led by guides over coral gardens at the edge of the reef. There were plenty of fish, conch and hermit crabs, and a moray eel that actually came out of hiding to pursue one of the divers flashing something. I was moving and did not take time to photograph him at that moment! We hen moved a short way by boat to a shallow area where snorkelers could wade and we were swarmed by sting rays, some to be held and fed. A 4 foot barracuda and his smaller brother came by when the guides threw them a snack. The nurse sharks that used to visit this "shark alley" were not there, and the guides said the seldom show up anymore. We then pulled in to Caye Caulker and purchased lunch at a local place. We had a bit over an hour stay. It would remind one of Key West 50 years ago. The fish tacos were $5 a plate, the rum punch $3 and the Belikin beer was cold and $3. A great afternoon. After the 40 minute ride back to Belize City, the lines for tenders to the ship were very long, so we skipped any shopping or bar hopping. There were 5 ships there, causing much congestion on the pier.
An unusually late in the year tropical disturbance appeared between Cuba and Cozumel and it was windy with periodic showers in Cozumel. We decided to skip the beach, although I had wanted to see how Chankanaab National Park had recovered, and when shopping. It can get expensive when it rains! My wife got a new ring for her anniversary present, and then I recovered at Carlos and Charlie's. Conga lines and amazing things on the dance floor! Don't laugh, your daughter was here yesterday, one sign says. We were berthed at the international pier. There were two ships there and two at Playa Longusta pier downtown. The taxi ride is $6 from the pier to town or back. The pier destroyed in 2005 is still under construction, with just pilings in place.
We had a great time on a very nice ship with excellent service and great ports. I still run into people that say "I'd never go on Carnival...it's just a big party ship." The people that say that usually haven't been aboard Carnival in 10 or 15 years. The frat boys have grown up and the average customer on Carnival is now 47 years old, and we saw none of that. We had a great time and look forward to our next cruise on her sister ship Carnival Liberty 75 days!