We just got home from our Western Caribbean cruise on Carnival Valor, and it was great! Traveling were my husband and myself (mid-30's) and our two kids (ages 8 & 10). It was my 6th cruise, my husband's 4th cruise, and the kids' first cruise. I apologize in advance for the length of this review, but I just didn't want to leave out any important details!
Embarkation: We drove up to Miami from Key West on Sunday morning and arrived at the Port of Miami around 10:30 AM. Checking in was quick and painless. We were given a numbered boarding pass (#4) and were able to board the ship around 11:30. We headed up to Rosie's, where there was a nice buffet laid out. After lunch, we checked on our room and dropped off our luggage. Then we took the kids around to explore the ship. They were amazed at the size of it, but they soon knew their way around better than my husband and I did! We had early seating in the Washington dining room, so we got cleaned up and headed down to dinner. After dinner was the Camp Carnival informational meeting, followed by a kid's meet & greet in the One Small Step disco. We had a great time dancing, playing games, and meeting other families. Since we had been up before 6AM, we turned in after the party.
First Day At Sea: We spent our first day at sea mainly at the pool and water slide. Early morning rain showers discouraged chair hogs, and we were able to get chairs close enough to see the kids while they were swimming and sliding. We ate a light lunch at Rosie's, then headed back to the room in the afternoon to rest up a bit. This was the first formal night, so we got dressed up and had some formal photos taken before dinner. After dinner, we went to the show, which was a great musical revue that all of us loved! Unlike previous cruises, where my husband and I were in the clubs and casino till the wee hours, we found ourselves turning in right after the show. I think I was as exhausted as the kids were!
Grand Cayman: Unfortunately, this was our least favorite port of call. It is very expensive and not very culturally diverse. It reminds us of being home in Key West, but with even less local color! My husband and I have snorkeled and done stingray city before, so we decided to try something different with the kids. We signed up for the Cayman Pirate Encounter through the ship. I've been on six cruises and over a dozen shore excursions, and this was the only one that I've ever been truly disappointed by. It was short (less than 2 hours), expensive (over $130 for the four of us), and boring! Even the kids were bored and frustrated. We were crammed onto a tiny "pirate ship" with close to 100 other passengers, sailed a couple of times around the bay where the cruise ships were docked while the kids were forced to "take a pirate oath" and "swab the decks," then given about 15 or 20 minutes to "walk the plank" and swim before we were loaded back up again and returned to the pier. We DID have a wonderful lunch at Paradise next to Eden Rock, where we saw lots of happy people swimming and snorkeling. I think next time we're in Grand Cayman, we'll just go to Eden Rock and forget about ship excursions.
Roatan: Personally, this was my favorite port of call. The island is beautiful, the water is crystal clear, and the people are extremely friendly! We chose not to book a ship excursion at this port. Instead, we decided to visit Fins & Flippers, a resort built on a small private island a short 5 minute ferry trip from the port. For $20 for adults and $10 for kids, we had use of all of the resort amenities - beach, pool, snorkel pier, restrooms, etc. The beach was beautiful, and the kids had fun snorkeling in the ocean, then splashing around in the freshwater pool shaped like a tropical fish! The small bar/restaurant at the pool had very delicious and VERY reasonable food and drinks! Beers were $2, mixed and frozen drinks were $5, and food ranged from $5 to $8 per entrEe. We ordered the fundido and the tacos, and the two entrees were enough to fill up all four of us. We stayed until about an hour before we needed to board the ship, then we stopped at a little market across the street from the port and picked up some knick-knacks. My daughter got a $5 t-shirt, my son got a $3 jade dolphin carving, and I got a beautiful hand carved Nativity scene for $18. Then we headed back on the ship for dinner, some time at Camp Carnival for the kids, and some time at the casino for my husband and me. I was able to walk away from the roulette table $75 up, so I decided it was an overall great day!
Belize: This was my son's favorite port! He loves studying the Mayan culture and has been waiting to finally get to see some Mayan ruins, so that's what we did in Belize! We took the Altun Ha/River Wallace tour through the ship. The excursion started with about an hour long bus trip up to Altun Ha. Once there, our tour guide gave us some information about the ruins then gave us time to climb and explore them. I have been to Chichen Itza, and the Altun Ha ruins are very small in comparison. BUT we got to climb all over these ruins, and you can't get within 15 feet of the ones in Chichen Itza. So, it was a neat experience overall! There were a handful of vendors outside the ruins, and Ifound some beautifully mounted butterflies to add to my collection for only $15. After we left the ruins, we took a short bus ride to Black Orchid resort, where we had lunch and could look in their small gift shop. After everyone was done eating lunch (the chicken with red beans & rice is amazing!), we took a riverboat ride down River Wallace. It started raining about halfway through the ride, so we didn't get to see as many animals as we had hoped, but we did see several unique birds, some crocodiles, and some bats! We returned to the ship at the end of the excursion, went to dinner, then went to the hypnotist show. It was hilarious!! I think it's one of the funniest shows I've seen on a ship! After the show, we headed off to bed.
Cozumel: Now, this was my daughter's favorite port of call. She's my little fishy, and she loved our beach day at Paradise Beach! We didn't book a ship excursion here, either. Instead, we grabbed a taxi and headed immediately to Paradise Beach. Everyone had a great time swimming, snorkeling, climbing the iceberg, playing on the water trampoline, and doing the bungee trampoline. Food and drinks were a little more expensive here, but they were all great! We got their early and grabbed primo chairs right by the water, but the beach filled up fast!! After a full day of fun in the sun, we grabbed another taxi back to the ship. One of my few disappointments was the "Duty Free Mall" that you have to walk through to get to the ship. Vendors were constantly grabbing my kids and stuffing hats on their heads or attaching necklaces around their necks! I'm used to international travel and pushy vendors, but I've never had anyone touch my kids without my permission before! There was also a guy with a small squirrel monkey. My daughter wanted to take a picture of the monkey, so I asked the man if we could do so (expecting and more than willing to pay him a couple of dollars for a tip). He had the gall to tell me it would cost $10 US for my daughter to take a picture of the monkey WITH HER OWN CAMERA!! We thanked him and made a bee-line out of the mall and back onto the ship! This was our second formal night, so we got dressed up again, had a few more pictures taken, then went to dinner. The kids wanted to watch the show with Camp Carnival, so we dropped them off and went to the show ourselves. It was a tribute to the '80's, which was when I was in high school, so I absolutely loved it! Last Day At Sea: Much too soon, our last day at sea arrived. We just roamed around the ship, doing little things here and there - some swimming, some family activities through Camp Carnival, the Camp Carnival talent show, etc. That afternoon, I packed while my husband entertained the kids. We had our last dinner with Rey and Aldeen, our amazing waitstaff, then dropped the kids off for their last Camp Carnival party. My husband and I hit the casino one last time and walked away with another $70 or so from roulette. We went to bed sad to see our trip coming to an end.
Debarkation: I don't know if it was just because it was Spring Break or because Valor is the largest ship we've traveled on, but debarkation took FOREVER! We were cleared for debarkation at 7:30, and our debarkation number wasn't called till after 9:45. It made for a long, boring wait! Once we were called, though, we made it through customs and back to our car in less than 45 minutes. By 10:30, we were on our way back home again.
The Ship: The ship recently got out of drydock, and it looked great! Everything was fresh, clean, and new-looking. It took us a couple of days to get used to the floorplan, but once we figured out a few tricky things (like getting to the dining rooms), it was fine - not too big, and not too small. Even though it was booked solid for Spring Break, it never felt crowded.
The Food: The dining room food was exceptional! We loved everything we tried, and our waitstaff were amazing. Our head waiter, Rey, went out of his way to make my kids feel comfortable in the dining room and helped them fill in the time between courses with napkin animals, stories about his children in the Philippines, and other distractions. My daughter wanted to take him home with us! The kids ate off the adult menu every night and loved everything they tried. Rosie's was decent buffet food, but I preferred getting to sit down and having my breakfasts and dinners brought to me, rather than standing in line for a buffet. Most lunches were eaten out in the ports.
Entertainment: The floor shows were very well done with great costumes and talented singers and dancers. The only non-floor show that we attended was the hypnotist, who was very funny!
Camp Carnival: My kids loved it! They both were unsure about it to begin with, but after the first "icebreaker" dance, they were hooked! My son was sad to leave his friends the last day, and my daughter wants to take another cruise as soon as possible, but this time for a month!
In Conclusion... Once again, Carnival exceeded our expectations. We will definitely be cruising as a family with them again!