Another Carnival Cruise Down....: Carnival Valor Cruise Review by nybumpkin
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Another Carnival Cruise Down....
Destination: Western Caribbean
Day 1 pre-cruise: Welcome to - Atlanta?
I know it's best to fly early in the day; however, last year we took the kids out of school for a day prior to our cruise so we could do so, and never heard the end of it from our high schooler who was convinced that our taking him out of school for a day was the sole reason for his poor (by his standards) third quarter math grade. This year we decided to fly later in the day (Friday for a Sunday cruise) so the kids could get in a half day of school. We allowed 1 1/2 hours to change planes in Atlanta, with arrival in Miami scheduled for late Friday night. Unfortunately, our flight from Newburgh left 2 hours late; our connecting flight was long gone by the time we reached Atlanta. The airline put us up in a Holiday Inn for the night - apparently the same hotel that became the last resort for the numerous other souls whose More travels for the evening had ended abruptly at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport. DH had already called our hotel in South Beach to make sure we could have the room when we arrived in Miami the next morning. I had had the forethought to pack extra tops and underwear in a carry-on bag. Oldest son unfortunately had packed his contact lens case and his glasses in his checked bag (happily spending the night at Hartsfield), so I told him to put his contacts in a cup with the solution I had also thoughtfully packed in one of the quart-sized plastic bags the TSA requires for fluids in carry-on bags (by the end of the week, I knew what I wanted to tell the TSA to do with their #$@&* quart-size zip-top plastic bags). That would work....
Day 2 pre-cruise: On to Miami!
Well, it didn't work. We were awakened by oldest son loudly complaining that during the night, youngest son had awakened to get a drink of water, found the cup with the contacts, took a sip, and promptly disposed of the contacts in the sink! Now we had a moody teen who couldn't see very well - we're off to a good start! Back to the airport, more screening of little plastic bags, and we made it Miami by 9:45. By 10:30 we were at our hotel...where we were told by the desk clerk that no, we could not have our room until 3:00 check-in time. At least they didn't charge us for the missed night (we were ahead on costs here, since the airline paid for the night in Atlanta), but now we're stuck in Miami Beach for 5 plus hours with the long pants we wore from New York the prior day. I made the best of it by ditching my socks and turning my pants into a pair of capris. We walked over to the beach for a bit, then went to CJ's Crab Shack on Ocean Drive for lunch, then took the Miami Duck Tour. If you have some extra time in Miami, this is a great tour. You drive around the sights in South Beach, then across the MacArthur Causeway (great view of the port) to drive into Biscayne Bay to motor around the homes of the rich and famous. By the time the tour ended, our hotel allowed us into our rooms. We found dinner right across the street at the 11th Street Diner - according to a sign outside, Food Network is taping a segment of "Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives" there. It was so good we went back for breakfast the next morning.
Cruise Day - Finally!
The hotel offered us a shuttle for $8/person, but the shuttle didn't leave until 1 pm. By that time, I had every intention to being on the Lido deck with lunch and a drink of the day, so we opted for a taxi (much cheaper, anyway). This was one of the easiest embarkations we've experienced yet - the whole process took less than a half hour. Since we had completed all of the Sail and Sign registration online previously, all we needed to do was give them the credit card to swipe, have them inspect our passports, and have them deliver our Sail and Sign cards. After lunch and a DOD, we met some of the folks from our roll call, went to the boat drill, and had a great sailaway from Miami. We had to sail down to the turning basin, so we got to go past Freedom of the Seas during her boat drill (we all waved and hollered at each other) We had 6:15 dinner in the Lincoln Dining Room midships; our servers, Agus and Tri, were great. After dinner, we signed the kids up for Camp Carnival, went to the Welcome Aboard Show, and called it a day - we were tired.
Fun Day at Sea
We followed our usual routine of cards and coffee on the Promenade deck, followed by lunch. On this cruise, they scheduled something called "Super Trivia"; being trivia fans, we decided to see what it was about. This was probably the best trivia game we've participated in on a cruise. You form teams and draw colored cubes from a bucket to determine what category question you receive; if you get it right, you get to roll a large cube to see how many points (1-6) you receive for answering the question. If you get it wrong, the next team has a chance to answer. But this is only Round 1 - there are three rounds, scheduled throughout the week. More to come...
The afternoon consisted of wine tasting at Scarlett's, the supper club, and tea at Winston's. There is a $10 pp charge for wine tasting, and I think it's well worth it; the sommelier gives a good lecture about selecting wine for various types of food. The scones with cream at tea are to die for! This evening was the first formal night, with the Captain's Party (crowded), photos, and dinner. After dinner, we headed to Winston's for jazz, after-dinner drinks, and (in DH's case) a cigar.
We booked a charter boat with John Michael and needed to meet him at 8:30. No problem at all getting a tender - we just walked down around 7:45 and got on a tender. We were at our meeting place by 8:15. John Michael was terrific! He has a 26-foot Boston Whaler with twin Honda 250 outboards - oldest son was lusting after this boat by the time the tour ended. He took us first to Stingray City, before the crowds arrived, and taught us how to feed the stingrays - judging from what I heard afterward, I think we had a much better time than the folks on the ship's excursion - it was just us, we had lots of rays around us, and each of us got to feed the stingrays. From there, we went to a coral reef for snorkeling. Youngest two sons didn't want to try, so John Michael brought up some conch to show to them. Then we went to Starfish Beach - the starfish are huge! This was absolutely a great tour, and I'd highly recommend it. We did a 3-hour tour; John Michael also books a 5-hour tour. If (when?) we go back, I'd opt for the longer tour.
That night we had dinner at Scarlett's - sent younger sons off to have dinner with Camp Carnival and let oldest son fend for himself (not very difficult). Dinner was wonderful, and we left stuffed.
We booked a "Best of Roatan" tour with Victor Bodden. Our driver, Onan, showed us a good portion of the western end of the island. The boys loved the iguana farm - there were so many iguanas it was hard to keep from stepping on them! We asked Onan for a lunch recommendation and he took us to Blue Bahia, a small beachside resort and restaurant owned by a couple from California who relocated to Roatan. Beautiful beach and good food at decent prices - the kind of place I'd think about renting for a land-based vacation.
Roatan is a beautiful island, but you can see that it's changing. Aside from the new cruise terminal being built, we drove by a mall being constructed - "Applebees" is coming soon. A few years and you'll probably find the same run of stores you fine in other Caribbean ports.
That night was the lunar eclipse, and it was also our youngest son's birthday. The wait staff sang "Happy Birthday" to him in the dining room, and then the latest "Harry Potter" movie was showing on the Lido deck screen. What a great way to watch an eclipse, sitting on a ship's Lido deck.
We booked cave tubing with Major Tom. He had asked us to get one of the earlier tenders ashore; this time, we went to the Ivanhoe Theater to wait with the early Carnival excursions, and after those excursions went on their way we tendered in. We had no problem meeting up with Major Tom. There were over 300 booked on the Carnival cave tubing excursion, as compared to the 40 of us (between Valor and Legend, which was also in port) with Major Tom, and we paid half the price of the ship's excursion. Cave tubing is more work than I thought it would be - there's a fair amount of paddling and trying to avoid getting beached on the rocks. We had great tour guides, though, who helped you if you needed help. It's a full-day trip; we arrived back at the tender dock about 1 hour before the last tender.
This day was round 2 of Super Trivia (the questions get harder and there are a few "tweaks" to the rules), as well as second formal night. However, youngest son fell asleep at the dinner table, and the rest of us followed not long thereafter.
This was our only "repeat" port. Since we docked at 8 am Eastern and Cozumel was on Central time, we didn't rush to get off the ship. We watched Conquest dock next to us, then went to Paradise Beach for the day. It was pretty crowded, but we had no trouble finding beach chairs for all of us. Then back to the pier, a little shopping (I wanted coffee), and back aboard. Another early night for us - we were wiped out.
Last Day at Sea
Today was the finals of Super Trivia. A few more twists to the rules - at the end, we took second place, received a bottle of champagne and medals for each of us. The winning team, however, gave one of their ships-on-a-stick to our youngest son for his great job of rolling for points.
Some Random Thoughts
While we really enjoyed this cruise and the ports of call, we probably won't do such a port-intensive cruise again. With four ports in four days (and they're "active," full-day ports), we were definitely dragging by the time we reached Cozumel. We went to bed early several times. And we missed our sea days - we like days just to kick back, play cards, read, etc.
Heard in passing the morning of the first sea day: "Oh, yeah - we were talking to some people that have done a lot of cruises, and they said last night was the roughest night they've ever experienced on a cruise." DH and I looked at each other incredulously; while there was a little movement, it was nothing compared to riding out Hurricane Dennis on Conquest, or sailing through the remnants of TS Ernesto on Victory. Obviously the people being quoted never sailed in hurricane season.
Our cabins were 6324 balcony and 6326 inside, port side. We were above the casino. The only noise we heard was from (a) the band by the casino and (b) the announcer in the casino. There was no noise from the machines and no smoke odor from the casino itself.
The miniature golf course is around the funnel. Nine holes, fairly challenging but not so hard that the kids get discouraged. I liked it better than the miniature golf course on Victory.
Chris Jefferson is a good CD with a good team working with him. Lauren, who did the trivia quizzes, was a truly nice social host who doted on our youngest son.
We didn't go to any of the shows other than the "Welcome Aboard" show. Aside from the nights when we crashed early, we preferred to go to some of the lounges. Winston's is a very comfortable lounge, if you aren't bothered by smoke. We also went to the piano bar; Duane has my appreciation for not playing "New York State of Mind." He let some passengers have a turn at entertaining the crowd, and I liked his style.
Camp Carnival was great for our kids again, but I think youngest son felt like he didn't have enough time with his friends given the port schedule. The counselors were all very good. Less