My boyfriend and I went on this cruise for his birthday and as an early Christmas getaway. We sailed from December 16-23. He turned 20 on the day we set sail and I'm 19. We were able to sail because he is in the Army. This is his 2nd cruise and my 9th, all of which have been Carnival. I had not previously been on the Valor, but had been on its tackier counterpart, Glory, twice. Decor doesn't impact me much either way but I would have to say this ship has some "toned down" accents.
Pre Cruise: Since my boyfriend and I live in Central Florida, we drove down at 7:30 AM the day of embarkation. We escaped the cold front just as it was moving in and encountered rain most of the drive. I didn't want to pay $20/day for parking at the pier. Since I attend the University of Miami, we parked my car there and took taxis to and from the Port of Miami for about $30 each way.
Embarkation: We arrived at the Port around 11:30 got processed very quickly. Everything appeared very organized and the new terminal looks very nice. It took about 15-20 minutes to get from the porters to the ship. The employees were cheerful and wished Robbie a happy birthday.
As I shared earlier, we sailed Glory less than 5 months ago and so we already knew our way around. The VERY first thing we did was go to the Maitre' D since they assigned us Late Seating and we wanted early. Although he is supposed to start seeing people at 1 he went ahead and changed us at noon, which we were grateful for. We received the 6:15 seating in the Lincoln Dining Room, table for two. : )
Food/Dining Room Experience: The food was very good as usual and we were never hungry! Our waitress and assistant waiter had us worried at first, as they were a little slow. Throughout the week, however, they got much better. I would have Iryna and Igusti as my wait team again if given the choice. They were friendly, helpful, and made my dining experience enjoyable. Sakaorat from Thailand was our bar waitress and she was attentive and friendly. She always made us smile, even if we didn't purchase drinks. The Lido deck buffets were also good, but I frequented Pizza (The caesar salads are great!) and the Deli (love the turkey!) the most. We tried the Washington Dining Room for breakfast on a sea day, for the first time in my 9 cruises. Unfortunately, it wasn't as great as I was expecting. Portions were small, and service was too slow for me to ask for something else. We didn't try the supper club on this cruise, although next cruise, we decided, it'll be a must.
Our Maitre' D was Paul from India. Unlike our last cruise, he came to our table 3 out of 6 nights (and night 7 of course.) Luckily, we were out by the time the circus show began all but one night. The only downside to Paul visiting tables nightly is that he was not at the door enforcing the NO SHORTS policy. The dining room food was very different from that served at breakfast time, as we both walked out stuffed every night. We got multiple desserts, entrees, and appetizers and it was no problem. We enjoyed our table for two, as we like the intimacy and don't like waiting in the instance of tardy table mates.
Cabin: We were in cabin 8433, aft starboard side of the Verandah Deck. We loved being one floor away from the Lido deck and took the stairs nearly everywhere. I was worried it would be noisy, but it ended up being quiet. We booked a balcony guarantee and got the upgrade to 8C. I liked being the highest floor with a balcony at the aft. I LOVED our room steward Frank and he was friendly, and remembered little details about Robbie and I throughout our cruise. The ice bucket was full at all times and we never once had a complaint with Frank. We were excited that we got some towel animals we HADN'T seen before!
Ship: The ship doesn't show signs of wear and the crew is always cleaning. I'm sad that we missed sailing on her after dry dock, but think she still looked fine. This is the first time I've seen the full-out decorations for Christmas, and I liked them. The gingerbread village was cute and I liked all the Christmas trees. As I said before, the layout is nothing foreign to us, so we weren't ever confused as to where we needed to be. Robbie and I don't smoke, but the areas were never bad (except when the person sitting next to you is smoking in the casino.) The cigar bar smelled strongly of cigars...DUH. The state rooms didn't smell, either.
Kids: The ship had a few clusters, which I expected. I'm not that far removed from a "kid," and didn't find them to be TOO bad. Except the infants and toddlers at the table of 8 (with their parents) next to ours at dinner. These children were always crying and made dinner seem excruciatingly long at times. This wasn't Carnival's fault, this was some parents' "wonderful" parenting skills hard at work.
Entertainment: Carnival has a full variety of activities to do EVERY day. We opted to relax more often than not, and would watch some of the fun shows (newlywed game, hairy chest contest) on the TV later, since they record them. The pools, water slide, and hot tubs are crowded 80% of the time, but you can expect that with 3000 people on board. We spent most of our time at the casino. I lost $100 the first half of the cruise but ended up coming back and finished about $100 ahead. Robbie won the first half and then it dwindled as the cruise went on. We mainly played three card poker and Let it Ride. We spent time on the Slot Machines and Craps tables also. We participated in the Slot and Blackjack Tournaments (rip offs, unless you win.) Anton the Casino Host wasn't great, but I guess he wasn't bad either.
We missed the production shows, mainly because we were in the casino. Unfortunately, the Adult Comedy shows are at Midnight on this ship instead of 11 (like Glory.) It is amazing how much of a difference this hour made to us. We felt like old people this cruise, as we retired fairly early every night (didn't want to miss out on the ports!) Chris Jefferson was the cruise director. He was humorous and energetic, and we saw him at many different events throughout the week. We received a photo coupon as the 45-day Letter gift and I used it on an 8x10 from formal night (along with another.) The photographers always do a great job! Unfortunately, one night Robbie made a face in a picture taken in the dining room and wanted to purchase it, only to find out they never developed it. Bummer for them, since they would have made some money off it.
Staff: Every staff member we saw was always friendly. In the halls, we would have 3-7 other room stewards say hello every time we walked through. These individuals work so hard and I hope everyone sees that.
Ports of Call: We visited Nassau, St Thomas and St Maarten. In Nassau, we took the #10 Jitney to Cable Beach and the Crystal Palace Casino. We went on the beach,which was nice, but spent most of our time playing Texas Hold 'Em Bonus and Robbie won about $300 playing that. We ate at some Iguana restaurant near the dock and it was pretty good. We took Godfrey's tour in St Thomas and it was alright. You CANNOT beat it for the price. He took us shopping, sightseeing and to Sapphire Beach for $25 each. At Sapphire Beach we went snorkeling and paddle-boating. In St. Maarten, we rented a Jeep Wrangler and explored on our own. I have to say it is THE best time I've had on a "shore excursion" in all of my 9 cruises! I'll admit I was SO scared at times, (the Florida "hills" are NOTHING like St. Maarten OR St. Thomas!) but I would do it all over again because it is GORGEOUS there. We ate next to the Princess Juliana Int'l Airport at French Touch. The food was yummy and I really liked how pretty their beach-front was with the waves and rocks, even though there was construction at a neighboring restaurant.
Disembarkation: We did self assist, as we wanted to make it home in time for Sunday football! We left the ship at 7:15. Customs went smoothly (NO line at all,) then hailed a taxi and were back to my car in the University of Miami parking lot at 8.
Overall: We had a great time and were so happy with our cruise on Carnival Valor. Robbie enjoyed it more than his first. He liked the balcony a lot and liked this itinerary better than the Western Caribbean. There were rude passengers, but hey, there are rude people everywhere and they don't bother me. I am pleased with Carnival every time I cruise and cannot wait for number 10! Platinum, here I come!