We took a taxi ($8) from AVIS downtown Miami to the Carnival Terminal. Arrived at 11:30. The boarding process was not a smooth as expected: there were two lines, with no separate funpass line to expedite boarding process. You would at least expect some appreciation for filling this out. Anyhow, we were on board around 12:30 and went up to Rosie's for lunch. The gangways are closed with fire doors, so don't bother trying to get the cabins.
The Valor just received several upgrades, most notably the big screen on the Lido deck. They show news channel by day and movies or rock concerts by night - check your capers for the schedule (although I did find that it not always showed what was listed).
The ship is big, but it needs to be with 3000+ guests and 1100+ crew. It does get busy sometimes, but you're on vacation, so what's the hurry?
Decor: somewhat over the top with flashy (sometime clashing!) colors. Lots of eagles everywhere. The marble floors with the stars & stripes are a nice touch. I also liked the red & blue lighting effects in the atrium. Deck layout similar to other Carnival ships, so no surprises there.
Spa & Gym: the elliptical trainers and treadmills were in use all the time. You had to wait in line for those (or be there really early). It was nice sitting in the sauna or steam room. These are very good places to relax after a hectic day. Several spa treatments are reduced on sea days and even more on Belize & Cozumel port days.
Stateroom We had an 8A balcony stateroom (Upper deck aft). Next time, we'll try and get stateroom more to the front of the ship as the exit doors are located there. We had to trek through the long corridors every day getting off (and on) the ship. The stateroom was very comfortable and the beds were nice. There were some creaking noises from the ship's (gentle) rocking. I was able to fix these by inserting pieces of paper between the ceiling plates.
The cabin stewards were nice. They did a thorough job cleaning our cabin. Minor note for the last night. After dinner, we were busy packing our bags when he asked to come in and get the cabin ready for the night. We asked if he could come back later. When we were ready to leave the room at 21:00, he told us his shift was over. Oh well.
The TV News channels were not on ship's time (EST/EDT), which was a bit confusing. Also, not all clocks in public areas (stairs) were correct. Several were off by minutes, one was off by 1,5 hours! Stick to your own watch.
The ship was full and it got very busy during breakfast & lunch. Frequently, Rosie's ran out of plates and cups. When the plates were restocked, they were hot - which was not pleasant when you wanted a cold salad or ice cream. Be prepared for queues at the omelet station (breakfast) and Mongolian BBQ (lunch).
Contrary to earlier posts, they do not refill the orange juice during the day. OJ is only available in the morning. They replace it with lemonade before lunchtime.
Do try some of the dishes at the Pan-Asian bar (a kiosk inside Rosie's, opposite the Deli). Yummy appetizers! They had BBQ beef of a lettuce leaf and mini spring rolls.
Restaurant: we were assigned a table for 2 in the Lincoln Dining room. Maybe it'd been nicer to have a larger table with more people and have company at dinner, but we didn't bother to be relocated. We are quite fast eaters and this way we didn't have to wait for our table mates to finish their courses. Most nights we were out before the 'waiter show'. Otherwise they gave us good service and all orders were delivered correct (and fast!). I have to mention our assistant waiter had a terrible B.O. one night.
Scarlett's Supper club: excellent. Very good NY strip steak, perfectly cooked. Best dessert I had in long time (tiramisu). DW had surf&turf, but lobster had a smokey flavor which put her off. If you decide to eat there, take it easy on your meals during the day. They practically had to roll us out :-)
The comedians were okay (the second one - Allyn Ball - was better). The ventriloquist was very good indeed. We only saw the Legends show, the other evenings we were too tired to attend. The band (Charlie's Angels) played very good. Ports/excursions
We had independently booked our excursions for all ports of call. This worked out pretty well and saved us some money. I'll go into the details below.
Grand Cayman we were told by "specialist" Andrew at the shopping talk that the shops are open when the ship arrives. Not true. We were one of the first people off and everything was closed. GC opening hours are 8:30 local time (9:30 ship's time). Don't bother getting an early tender at GC if you're going shopping. We had booked a Stingray City dive excursion, which was cancelled because of wind & high waves. Luckily, we had a plan B which was a nice shore dive at Cracked Conch/Turtle Reef. The only downside of this location was getting a taxi back. It's quite remote and we had to wait almost 50 minutes before our taxi arrived. I was freaking out, already having visions of the ship leaving without us. However, we made it back to Georgetown with 5 minutes to spare (15:10). The line was VERY long and people arrived later then us, so I guess I wouldn't have had to worry that much. We were on the last tender out (15:40 or so).
Roatan No wait going ashore. Lots of construction going on at the docks and busy traffic outside the gate. Once outside all this hustle, Roatan is a beautiful tropical island. It reminded me of Dominica. Quite a bit of poverty, but beautiful scenery. We booked a dive trip that almost turned into a wreck dive because the boat broke down. So, no dives that day, but at least we had an island tour and a relaxing afternoon at a resort on the East End. On this night, be sure to see (or better, participate in) Fun patrol - a game that two social hosts organize at the casino bar at 21:30. Guests vs. social hosts in three silly games! Lots of laughs. Beware: the hosts will do anything to win, such as cheating at mummy making!
Belize Somewhat confusing tender process. First we got a ticket on deck 5 (we got #1). On the stairs to deck 0 we were asked if we had booked an independent tour. As this was the case, we were told to go to Ivanhoe theatre. Once there, a social host kept us separate and let us off right after the carnival excursion guests. On our way down, we passed people with tender tickets waiting on the stairs as we them. Bottom line: you don't need a tender ticket if you have a independently booked excursion. It rained in Belize City all day, but we went to Ambergris Caye/San Pedro (15 min by airplane) and it was dry there. We dived on the barrier reef and flew back at 15:00. As in GC there was a long line to get on the tender back to the ship.
Cozumel Same warning as GC: shop's won't be open when the Valor arrives. (8:00 ship's time = 6:00 local). I wouldn't mind arriving (and departing) later so we could have more time in the afternoon. Cozumel was very busy with 6 or 7 other cruise ships in port. The weather was perfect that day and we had lots of fun diving. We saw turtles, nurse sharks and lots more. There's a nice shopping area at the Punto Langosta pier. No line to get back on board.
Activities on board Two sea days on this itinerary. There's lots of activities, so no need to sit around in the sun all day... ;-)
The shopping talks mostly dealt with jewelry and watches that are way over almost everyone's budget. The talks are not very informative, and unless you desperately want a coupon for a Del Sol lanyard or a chance to get some freebies, you can watch them on tv. You can get the coupons at the shopping desk on deck 5 (opposite the poker table). If you do go, here's a tip: Do not sit in the front row, they throw stuff further back.
We participated in several trivia games. Super Trivia was a team game (split up according to team color) with three rounds throughout the week. There were some really wacky questions and it was nice to figure some of them out (big shout to Luke & Jen!). I won a ship-on-a-stick at Entertainment trivia.
The Galley tour on the last sea day was informative. It's basically a walk-through and there's not much action going on at that time, but take a good look at all the signs and images on the walls. Very interesting to see how structured and procedural everything is. Be sure to check the photos of the entrees.
There also was a towel & napkin folding demo. Did you know they fold your dinner napkins differently each night?
Cruise director Chris Jefferson did a good job keeping everyone entertained. The social hosts were enthusiastic (but not excessively) and they genuinely put me in a good mood.
Debarkation The customs area is very busy (it took us almost and hour) and the staff there is not friendly on early Sunday morning. Tip: the middle booths were much faster then the left and right ones. See where the porters are queuing and switch to that line. Better yet, wait until the final call to get off the ship. It'll be far less crowded. (Thanks for this tip, Geoff!)
Finally, I got a tip I didn't see on the boards: before going ashore, write down the emergency contact phone number. It's listed in the capers and it's different for each port of call. (You can also take the capers with you.) In case of emergency, you'll have the number ready. I didn't have the number on Grand Cayman and almost needed it because of the taxi problem. I felt much more secure the others days.
All in all, an enjoyable cruise with a superb ship and nice variety in the ports of call. Too bad the ship arrives and leaves so early; you could have more quality time ashore.