I just returned (1/27/08)from our cruise on the Carnival Valor - 7 night Exotic Western Caribbean which sails from Ft. Lauderdale to Grand Cayman, Roatan, Belize and Cozumel. This was my 14th cruise, but the first for many of the 28 people in our group. We had families, singles and seniors ranging in ages from 6 to 82. Overall, I would say we had an excellent experience. The food was some of the best that I have ever had on a cruise line. Each night the dinners were truly spectacular. The entertainment was good. Most of the people thought it was great, but since I have been on several Carnival cruises, the entertainment was repetitive to me. I have already seen both of the comedians they had and the ventriloquist (spelling??) and all of these entertainers had the same routines. I am not one that cares for the Carnival singers and dancers, but I went to the shows anyway because the rest of the group was going & it kept me out of the casino. The ship's decor was not something I cared for. There were presidential type busts everywhere with gold eagles & flags. Very patriotic, but not elegant. The hot pink dining room also had to go. So, if it seems like I am complaining, I'm not, it's just that I am picky. If anyone of the new cruisers from the group were to be writing this review, they would do nothing but boast about how great it was. Like I said a big plus was food. The other was the itinerary.
Grand Cayman....I've been here a bunch of times and always use Moby Dick tours for Stingray City. This trip was no exception. For $35 they take you to Stingray City and give you a great tour...not the super crowded ship tours. Mark has a nice boat & he is a great guy. The boat fits around 60, but we had around 45 with us - mind you- we had 28 of us. I recommend the afternoon tour when the stingrays are still really active, but it is not too crowded. AM tours are NUTS!!!
Roatan.....what a blast!! We had 14 go to the beach & 14 do a zip line. I did lots of research (I had never been here) and found there are 5 zip line companies in Roatan. We used MEMBA, which is new and very little known...even to some of the tour operators on the island. It is VERY HIGH so not for the sissy type. It has 6,000 Ft. of lines on 13 platforms with the first one around 400 ft. above the jungle. My 9 yr. old did it, but he has no fear. Some of the adults were freaking out!! Anyway, no one was there since it is not well know (until now) and the guys working were great. Other people from our ship waited nearly 2 hours to do a different zip line due to cruise ship crowds. By the way, I used Bodden Tours. The owner, Victor Bodden met us at his booth & took 14 of the group to the Mayan Princess Resort - where they used the beautiful pool, beach chairs & umbrellas for a $10 fee....well worth it. Those of us that did the zip went in a separate van to Memba, then met up with the beach people when we were done. Victor was excellent & stayed with us all day & made sure everything we needed was taken care of. When we were done at the beach, he drove all of us back to the port. Look him up.....you won't be disappointed. OH, he even took us to his house to take FREE pictures with his pets. Very Cool! Also Cool - $1.00 ICE COLD Local beer at the Mayan Princess on the beach - Don't miss it!!!
Belize... Cave Tubing seemed to be the thing to do, so I booked that through Cave-Tubing.com. They were also excellent. I know their tag line is something like...we do twice as much for half the price...and it is absolutely true. They met us and took us out privately with our own guides and our own air conditioned bus. When we got to the caves, we saw the cruise tours with literally hundreds of people and were glad we were not with them. The cruise people got into the water way before us (everyone ends at the same place) so we were in the tubes longer. Our guides did all the paddling and made sure we were all together in a line so that no one got lost in a current (not that they were strong currents) and that we stayed together in the dark caves. When heard other people yelling..Hey, where are you ? and I can't catch up.....we were really happy we did the tour through a private company. A lot of my group doesn't swim & they would have freaked if we were separated without a guide like the big cruise line groups were. So, if going to Belize, look up Cave-Tubing.com! Jimmy was the best!
Cozumel....Been here so many times. We did a private snorkeling tour through Dive Palencar. I am a diver and they are the best dive shop I have worked with....in Cozumel or otherwise. They provided our group with a private boat, 3 reef snorkeling tour, all the beer, tequila, water & soda (for the kids) that we could drink. Also fresh fruit & OUTSTANDING service. They normally do not do tours for cruise ships, but we use them to dive, so they did it for us. It doesn't hurt to ask if you have a group going.
So, in conclusion, The Valor has an excellent Exotic Western Itinerary and excellent food. The boat decor is a bit outdated and boring (but it is now in dry dock for remodeling & painting) and the service was not the best. Our waiter did not make recommendations and really barely spoke to us at all & my cabin stuart was never around, but the ship was clean and had good entertainment....probably very good if you don't have a comparison.
The reason I have done my last few on Carnival VS Royal Caribbean (my favorite for service) is that you can't beat Carnival's price. Sure, I will tolerate a little less service for a lesser price. If the food was bad, I wouldn't go back to Carnival. With the food as good as it was and everything else being just good, for the money, I will be seeing a Carnival ship again next year!