Overall Rating: This was our second cruise; our first was on Celebrity Galaxy in Feb 07. I was pleasantly surprised with this ship and the cruise in general exceeded my expectations. The ship was new (2004) clean and well cared for. The crew was friendly and always willing to get you what you needed, very nice people. We booked our cruise directly through Carnival. Our experience was very good. Easy to book and our documents arrived early and were complete and easy to understand. Once we had the flight information we were also able to go directly to the air line web site and select our seats. There were three of us so it was important to get seats together. We were also able to print our boarding passes at home before we left that made going through the airport very easy.
STATEROOM: We were in stateroom 1005 and while the room itself was very good it was directly below the gym which opens at 6:00am. That's when you start hearing people dropping dumbbells on the floor above. If you were out late the night before you will be awaken earlier that you want. Select a cabin a little further back if you want to be on deck 10. Sergio and Nikki did a great job
EMBARKATION: Our flight arrived at 1:00pm and we were picked up at the airport in Miami and shuttled by greyhound bus to the Cruise terminal. On arrival, we were asked to wait on the bus until the driver finished unloading the luggage. At first I thought it was to avoid confusion but I really believe it was to allow the driver to get back to the door to look for tips, Even though the transfer indicated that tips were included. This happened on both transfers to and from the airport. After we got off the bus, there were attendants that were moving luggage to the staging area before they are loaded on the ship. These attendants were also looking for tips, I don't think you need to tip these attendants, as your bags will get to your cabin. I think they were taking advantage of the confusion and the fact that most people don't know the routine. I know I felt that a tip should be given. Inside the terminal things went very smooth getting your fun pass, I did all the work on line before I left so it was basically taking an imprint of my credit card and away we went. There was a pretty long line to get on the ship but it went pretty fast, no more that ½ hour to get on board. Once you were on board it was a little confusion but once the crowd thinned out it was fine. There were a lot of staff around to help and answer questions.
Just before we sailed we went through the life boat drill. I think this took about 30-40 minutes in total. It was organized and much better that my last experience on Celebrity which was at least 1 ½ hours, most of the time standing in the casino with our life jackets on before we were called to the life boat area. Carnival Valor did a very good job on this process.
The sail away party leaving Miami was great music and the fun drinks were flowing. There was lots of dancing on the deck and plenty of room for watching the fun if that's what you wanted to do.
The first leg of the trip was to Nassau, we were on deck 10 and we thought there was a lot of movement and after taking a trip down to the shops to look for some Gravol it looked like others felt the same way. After the first night the ship seemed to smooth out and there was not as much rocking. I think it was related to going across the gulf stream. If you are subject to motion sickness at all be sure you take something with you just in case
PORT OF CALL:
NASSAU: We were only in Nassau until 2:00pm so there wasn't a lot of time to do much. Leaving at 4 or 5 would have been much better. We strolled around the downtown and visited the Pirate Museum, stopped at the Rum Cake factory and found a nice place to have lunch (Iguana Cafe). Sat out on the patio and watched the activity on Main Street. Some of our shipmates went to Senor Frogs which in on the waterfront and was, at least on our cruise, the happening place.
ST THOMAS: The stop in St Thomas was until 8:00pm. Perfect for getting in everything you wanted to do. We booked a tour on line and not through the Cruise line, they took us on a 2 hour tour of the Island, 2 hours at Megan's beach and 2 hours shopping. The tour driver was very good. The Banana Daiquiris at the top of the Mountain are not to be missed and after the first 2 hour tour he dropped us at Megan's beach. The beach was beautiful and the water was warm and crystal clear. Two hours seemed to fly by another hour or so at the beach would have been nice. The driver picked us up on time and continued the tour back to town. The driver dropped us off downtown and picked us up on time as usual. If you want to go back to the ship he would take you back at that time. We ate at a nice restaurant along the waterfront (the Green House). The shopping in St Thomas was very good.
ST MAARTEN: The stop in St Maarten was until 6:00pm. We took the Golden Eagle Catamaran up the coast. The sea was a little rough and there were a few that found the trip too rocky. However it was a perfect day sunny and warm. We stopped at a small Island on the French side to swim, snorkel and sun. The beach was great but the snorkeling just so so. On the way back they served food and drink, the crew was excellent, professional and very accommodating. Overall this excursion is well worth the money. If you suffer from motion sickness it may not be for you, lots of up and down and side to side motions. Once we got back to the pier we had time to go back to the room change and then take the water taxi into Philipsberg. There were plenty of restaurants along the board walk and shopping could have taken all day. Again we found a nice restaurant (the Blue Bitch) along the waterfront where you could catch a breeze. Food was good and if you like Bushwhackers they were only $5.00 each.
ON BOARD Carnival Valor did a great job of providing activities all day long. There was always something going on. On our previous cruises there was never enough lounge chairs. When you did find a chair it was on a deck that was windy or far away. The decks on Carnival were laid out very well. There were always enough lounge chairs and although the pool area filled up quickly the other decks provided ample space in sheltered areas to sun yourself. If you did want a quiet space they were easy to find as well. The adult only area at the back of the ship was also a nice place go to relax.
ENTERTAINMENT AND ACTIVITIES The Cruise Director and his staff did a super job of providing activities and keeping the passengers entertained. They seemed to be everywhere and I don't think they ever took a break. Whatever activity they were involved with they got the passengers involved and made it fun for both participants and those that chose to watch. They were all amazing. They made the cruise very enjoyable Matt"Ya Baby" made the cruise.
The after dinner stage shows were very well done, upbeat and entertaining. The amount of effort that was put into these shows really showed. The comedy shows were very good as well. Overall the entertainment was very good.
DINING We ate in the Washington Dining room. The food was just ok, in comparison to Celebrity. The overall dining experience was good. The waiters (Ante and Probo) were great friendly and very accommodating. They got what ever we wanted and really made the dining experience worthwhile. The dining in the other areas of the ship was good, typical buffet. An exception was the Desert Buffet, it was very good and the Fish and Chips were excellent. One of the thinks that I noticed was one of the formal nights we decided not eat in the main dining room. The buffet that night wasn't all that great. I guess they expected everyone one to be in the dining room. On celebrity they had alternate dining that was smart casual on formal night if you didn't want to dress formal.
Dress on formal night ranged for men from sport jackets and slacks to suits to tuxes. For ladies there was a similar range of dress from pant suits, to short dresses to long evening wear. I guess the message is to dress up in what you feel most comfortable.
DEBARKATION This experience was amazing. We chose to do the self assist debarkation. If you can I would recommend to do this. From the time our number was called until we arrived at Fort Lauderdale airport it took 1 hour and 20 minutes. This included Customs and immigration and a 35 minute drive to the airport. I think your flight has to leave around 1:00pm but they are pretty flexible in allowing you to self assist.
HITS Dining room Waiters - very good friendly and accommodating Dining room entertainment - excellent to have the Waiters sing and dance and great way to end dinner. Bar waiters - This was a big plus, always lots of bar waiters never had to wait long it didn't matter which deck you were sitting on they were always there. Buckets of Beer - great concept didn't see this on Celebrity. Staterooms and attendants - excellent (Sergio and Nikki) rooms were always spotless Activities and entertainment - very good lots of effort, the stages show were not for everyone but the comics crossed all age groups. There was something for everyone. Self assist debarkation- Excellent idea, I loved it. Plenty of elevators
MISSES Charging extra for specialty coffee and deserts Too much picture taking (this was really pushed although it seemed like everyone like the pictures, I like them too and bought a few myself, but it was overkill.) No hand sanitation stations for passengers, Celebrity had them at every entrance where food was being handled. Smoking in the casino, insufficient filtering of air in the Casino. We had to pass through the casino to get to the dining room. Smelling smoke just before you eat is not that good. (my apologies to the smokers). No pool side towel service
OVERALL Overall the itinerary was good, could have hit one more port and stayed longer in Nassau. The good thing was there were not too many locals trying to sell you things. You had to walk the gauntlet in Nassau but other than the initial contact there were no problems in any other port. The locals in Nassau we pushy but left you along if you just said no thank you.
While Celebrity had some of those nice to have extras and the overall service and food was better, from an overall cruise experience I preferred Carnival. Cruises are what you make them, if you like to participate or if you just want to sit back and relax. Although this was only our second cruise Carnival Valor has been a good experience and we would sail Carnival again. And if you are lucky you'll see Santa Claus (May 4, 2008 cruisers will know what I mean).
Thanks to Ante, Probo,Sergio and Nikki for thanking care of us so well and we loved Matt the Dance, Activity and bingo guy - YA BABY!!!. He should be a cruise director soon so enjoy the entertainment when you can.