We were a party of four from age 39 to 54 and we had booked two cabins with balconies. It was our first cruise for all of us. I'm used to travelling on my own (many times to Europe and Asia), so cruising was a new experience for me. We flew to Miami the day before and slept at the Holiday Inn Port of Miami, which is very convenient for cruisers.
Embarkation: On the day of embarkation, we took a taxi to the port around 11h00 am. We gave our baggage to the porters, entered the terminal, went through security, proceeded with the check-in and got our sail and sign cards. To my surprise, there were no lines at all and the whole process took less than 20 minutes. We waited for another 20 minutes to be called. Then we posed for the souvenir picture and walked to the gangway and onto the ship. And this is it, we were on board and ready to explore the ship by 12h00 noon. My advice is to get to the port early, even if it says not to show up before 13h30 pm on your documents. They do start the embarkation around 12h00 noon.
Cabin: ours was located aft on deck 7 between two decks of cabins, so it was very quiet. It's important to choose your cabin carefully and to check what's located under or above it. I heard people complaining about the noise coming from the Lido deck located just above them, and believe me, in the corridor just above the dance club you do hear the beat. Our balcony cabin was exactly like the picture shown in the brochure. It was fairly large, very clean, and had enough storage for a couple. There were two closets, each with about10 hangers, another closet with shelves, three or four drawers plus two big drawers under the sofa. All the suitcases, even the big ones, fit under our queen-size bed which was very comfortable, with good quality bed linen and pillows. The balcony had two chairs and a small table, and opaque panels on each side provided privacy, which is a strong point. The bathroom was small but very well designed, brightly-lit, with lots of glass shelves, a mirror covering the entire wall above the sink, a good-sized shower stall, and was very clean overall. There were a lot of towels of fairly good quality, soap and shampoo dispensers in the shower stall and two bathrobes. Beach towels were also provided in the cabin. However, I thought the cabin wasn't soundproof enough, as I could hear the laughter of my neighbor as well as people talking in the corridor.
Ship: it's a beautiful ship and the decor is not as gaudy as one might expect. However, the ship layout makes it a bit difficult to find your way around at the beginning. The King Promenade on deck 5 is like the backbone of the ship, has lots of comfortable leather couches and is the best way to go from the stern to the bow, and vice versa. Or you can go a long way by taking the outer deck 10 as well. We were 3072 passengers and about 1200 crew members but the ship never felt crowdy. On sea days it got quite crowded around the two midship pools, where all the action was, but the ambiance there was fun and not rowdy at all. The aft pool was quieter. For lounging on a chair away from the hustle and bustle, go on deck 10 toward the sides and the stern or on deck 12 at the bow (that seemed to be the calmest place on the ship). In fact, even on sea days, I was surprised to find many empty chairs in those areas. Also, there are the exterior promenades on decks 3 and 4. Those were always deserted. The forward outer decks 6, 7, 9 and 10 are also often deserted as the only access to those hidden decks is through the interior corridors. The forward outer deck 9 is accessible only through deck 10 and is a very good spot day and night for the views it provides, as it stretches out over the water on each side. The ship was very clean as we regularly saw crew members cleaning and polishing day and night. Each crew member we met was always polite, helpful, smiling, and seemed happy. They all provided an excellent service. There were not so many intrusive announcements, as opposed to some professional reviews.
Dining experience: The salmon-pink color of the dining rooms is a bit weird. Also, there's quite a lot of booths (unfortunately we had one), which are less elegant and comfortable than normal tables and chairs. But there are some tables for two, which is good for couples who don't want to share their meals with strangers. There was no live music at all in the Washington dining room where we were seated despite the fact that there was a piano. The food was very good, always hot and beautifully presented, but the portions were small. The vegetables, in particular the broccoli, were always al dente. There was always a good selection of starters, salads, entrees, desserts and side dishes. Complimentary cappuccinos were good. They will keep and bring your bottle of wine back to your table the next evening if you don't finish it. The service was a bit slow as we usually waited about 10 to 15 minutes between each course. We had the 8h00 pm seating and we never left our table before 10h00 pm. Rosie's buffet restaurant is very nice, airy and bright with all the windows and the sky light. The food there was also very good. The selection was endless, well presented, trays were removed and tables cleaned very quickly, and the lines were never long. To tell you the truth, I've never seen as much food as in Rosie's. And if you're a dessert lover, you'll spend at least 5 minutes looking at all that's offered before being able to make a choice. The fish and chips was very good. Coffee, hot water, cold water, ice, apple juice, fruit punch, lemonade, iced tea, ice cream and frozen yogurt dispensers are available for free and located in Rosie's or around the aft pool. Water fountains can be found around the midship pool. We went to Scarlett's supper club once during our cruise and it was a great food extravaganza. The ambiance was relaxed, intimate and romantic with the dimmed lights and the duo singing and playing soft music. The pizzas from the pizzeria were very good, especially the portobello mushrooms and goat cheese one. A strong point good to mention is the exclusive use of china, silverware and cloth napkins, even at Rosie's buffet restaurant. Finally, there were two formal nights on Monday and Thursday and most of the people did dress up. The dresscode for all the other nights was elegant casual.
Bars and shows: The Ivanhoe theater is big and impressive as it goes through three decks. It's full equipped with lights, special effects, lasers and a full orchestra. All the shows were very good apart from some singers who were so-so. We saw the Nightclub Express show on Monday, a juggling show on Tuesday, the Far From Over show on Thursday and the Carnival Legends show on Saturday, starring fellow guests. Among the bars I liked very much is the American bar in the lobby of deck 3 with its trio of classical music and the atrium that goes above it through nine decks; the Jeanne's bar with its daily special martini; the Winston's Cigar bar with its leather chairs, dimmed lights, smoky ambiance and its trio of jazz music; the Dream bar even if it was a bit noisy because of the nearby casino; and the bar at Scarlett's supper club where you can go just to have a drink even if you won't have dinner there. The Eagles lounge is gorgeous except for the karaoke. The Java cafe ($2.50 for a tall cappuccino, $2.00 for a large piece of cake, gratuities excluded) and the complimentary Togo sushi bar were nice too. I think the prices charged for alcoholic beverages are reasonable. Here are some to give you an idea (gratuities excluded): bottle of wine in the dining room (starts at $20), glass of wine (starts at $5), ports ($4.25-$9.95), martinis ($6.50), martini of the day ($3.75), margaritas and other cocktails ($4.50), beers ($3.75-$5.95).
Ports of call: At Grand Cayman (tender), we disembarked the ship around 9h00 am (no line, no waiting, no tender tickets). We took a public bus to the Seven Mile public beach. Good beach. We took a taxi back to the port around 1h30 pm and waited no more than 5 minutes for the next tender. Roatan, Honduras (pier) was my favorite port of call. It's a very luxuriant and mountainous island, very exotic with its quaint colorful wooden houses. Because the ship arrives late in Roatan, everybody wants to disembark at the same time so that creates congestion in the staircases. We had booked the Carnival Tabyana Beach Day excursion and the beach was gorgeous. The ride from the port to the beach is by school bus and takes about 30 minutes. Beach chairs are free but that's about it. There was food and drinks for purchase and a fun live orchestra. The beach staff is very welcoming and friendly, and they keep an eye on your personal belongings on the beach. From 2h00 pm until about 5h00 pm there's a bus going back to the port every half hour. In Belize (tender), we had booked the Carnival Private Island Beach Break excursion on Bannister island. It's a very tiny island (you can walk around in 10 minutes), the beach is very good, there are free beach chairs and food/drinks for purchase. Cozumel (pier) was a disappointment to me. We went to Paradise beach by taxi and the beach was so-so. Signs of past hurricanes were clearly visible, like dead trees and sand bags to retain what's left of the beach. It was probably a beautiful island before...
Disembarkation: Very easy and relaxed. We had decided to carry our luggage off the ship. Everybody receives a number from 1 to 30 the day before. We had got number 9 (our flight was at 12h30pm). Disembarkation started at 7h30am (the ship had arrived in Miami at 5h30am). Our number was called at 8h00am and we were off the ship within minutes (no lines, no mess). Then it took about 15 minutes to clear customs.
Overall, my cruise on the Carnival Valor was a wonderful experience. It exceeded my expectations (I think professional reviews are too severe) and was an excellent quality vacation considering the price and the level of service. I would definitely cruise again with Carnival. Enjoy your cruise on the Carnival Valor!