We flew into FLL the day before and rented a Town Car from Hertz for $82 total. It was great to have a large car for the luggage. We saw some sites and went to the Miami Zoo. We stayed at the Holiday Inn at the Port of Miami. The hotel was a disappointment. Even though in a good location close to the port, it is an older hotel with a front desk staff that could use some customer service training. Parking was an additional $12.
We woke to the exciting view of three cruise ships at the dock. Around noon I dropped four of us and the luggage off at the ship and then returned the car as Hertz has an office about ten blocks south. We were on the Hertz shuttle to the ship and arrived within minutes to join the rest of the family. I was very happy with Hertz and would recommend renting a car rather than taking a shuttle or taxi.
Check in was smooth. We were given a number and asked to sit. Within 20 minutes, our number was called and we were in line to get our Sign and Sail cards and on the ship. The terminal is very nice and the process was well organized. We took advantage of the option to bring one bottle of wine per adult. There was no problem carrying on the bottles.
We had cruised the Carnival Conquest three years ago so knew the layout as the Valor is a sister ship. The design and decorating are amazing even if a bit gaudy. Every room has detailing that must have cost a fortune. The ship shows some mild wear but really it's incredible the 3,000 people week after week don't tear the place apart.
The hallways to the rooms were closed until 2:30 so we got some lunch at the buffet on Lido deck and then hung out on the upper deck. We found our rooms--with balconies a first for us--and were in right at 2:30. Even the room for the four of us (grandparents in their own room) was large enough if we kept our stuff somewhat organized.
Our steward Emilse opened the balcony divider between our two rooms so we had a large balcony. It was nice to be able to go room to room without having to go in the hallway although they are narrow and it's difficult to move past someone if they are sitting in a chair.We were on our balcony when the ship pulled out and that was cool. We passed another ship and it was a blast to scream and wave at the other folks as we passed by.
We had early dinner seating in the Washington dining room--the one at the back of the ship with some nice windows. We didn't eat in the Lincoln (mid-ship) dining room but it just seemed like the Washington room was better. Our servers Iwayan (Indonesia) and Anoma (Thailand) were very nice. We had tremendous service as people from one of their assigned tables rarely showed. Some dinners we had the two of them for just us! The food ranged from good to fantastic. The lobster and seafood dishes seemed the best. The beef was at least good (the flat iron steak was good). The breads, appetizers, soups and desserts were generally wonderful. We did order extra items occasionally and the staff was pleased to provide them--GM ordered a second lobster (a veteran move for a rookie) and was glad she did. Dinnertime was the highlight of the trip for me each evening. The men rented tuxedos at $85 each for the two formal nights. We preordered them and they were ready when we arrived. It was nice not to pack suits or even dress shoes.
We did go to breakfast in the Washington dining room most mornings instead of the buffet. Food and service were good most days but two days we arrived near the end of the open hours. Service definitely dropped "as the shift was ending" and the food wasn't as good those mornings--eggs, hash browns and waffles were burnt and cold. The menu is the same every morning. I'd probably mix going to the dining room and breakfast buffets next time and if going to the dining room, get there earlier after it opens.
We did attend the 8:30pm show every evening. The entertainment ranged from being good to fantastic. We enjoyed the juggler, hypnotist and break-dancers the most. The revue shows with dancing and singing were fun—however the vocalists were too loud in our opinion. It was hard to listen at times. Most shows were preceded by Bingo. That isn't all bad but the assistant cruise director does the calling and her voice was annoying after the first time or two. After the shows we went to our balcony, found a table to play cards or walked the ship.
The main pool area was very busy on sea days. There is a large video screen that's fun to watch and listen to music while you sunbathe. A few of us ran on the track and that was a neat experience (nine laps to a mile).
Overall service was good to excellent. Most staff members smiled and greeted us wherever we were. Rarely did we see a crewmember slacking off. Dishes put in the hall (we got early room service each day for coffee and juice) were removed immediately. Most of the crew seemed to have a pretty good work ethic. However the spa staff didn't seem to be at the caliber the prices should command. Our 13 year old used her trip allowance for a couple of spa treatments. She was really disappointed in a "teen makeover" session. The 90-minute session turned out to be 50 minutes and the girls self-treated themselves to facials and such. She did enjoy getting her hair put up for one of the formal nights and loved a different facial/massage treatment. We gave each kid money to spend and she chose the spa. Our son pocketed his money!
Of the four port days to Grand Cayman, Roatan, Belize and Cozumel, only Belize was new to us. For GC, we waited for the rush of people to get off and then tendered in to go to the beach. We took a taxi for $4 each to Sea Grape on Seven Mile Beach. It's easy to find a taxi and it's only 15 minutes to arrive. The beach is very nice (not many fish though for snorkeling as the beach is so sandy) and you can rent beach toys; there is also a little bar and grill. After a few hours, we took the island bus back to Georgetown at $2.50 each. The buses are marked with dots and go both ways—just ask a local how to get the bus--it's easy. Back in town you just have to walk about two blocks from the bus station to get back to the cruise dock.For Roatan, we booked a Victor Bodden tour ourselves in advance of the trip. It cost $150 to have a van and driver for the day. Enry our driver was very nice and patient and gave us a tour of the entire island. We made stops at the Pirates of the Caribbean Zip Lines ($65 each), Victor's house ($2 each) to see his animals and hold the monkeys (our daughter loved the monkeys) and the Cannibal Restaurant for Mexican food at Sandy Bay. The food was good, portions large and dinner with tip was $50 for six of us. We didn't do the beach on Roatan as we had a beach day the day before. Roatan has beautiful water though if you want to stop at the beach. Enry even found a little shop that had Cashew wine as we wanted to try some.
For Belize, we advance booked through Cave-Tubing.com. For $75 each, we got the ATV and tubing tour. We were able to get off the ship and on a tender right after the cruise tours so went on the first tour. They are very organized and met us immediately. The workers are young and enthusiastic. I would describe this as more a "party" tour although we were comfortable with our 13 year old along. The four wheeling was fine. We went on about a 30-minute tour through the jungle. The trail is rough but it was dry when we went. You never develop much speed as there are many turns and ruts. The ATV's were in good condition and easy to drive. We then went to the caves to tube. After about a 45-minute walk, you float in the river for about an hour. All six of us did the walk and took old shoes to leave behind. Previous reviewers had talked about how dirty you get. We thought our shoes were cleaner after the tour! The caves are really neat and actually clean. There are many people in tubes so it is not an intimate experience. We were outnumbered in a huge way by people on other tours. Where most people were free floating and getting stuck in certain areas, our guides kept us in line and knew exactly how to make our ride enjoyable.
We decided to stay on the ship for most of the day at Cozumel. We've snorkeled many times so wanted to enjoy the ship while most people are off. I highly recommend doing this. We did walk to downtown for some shopping early afternoon. The shopping was disappointing as they have just the typical Mexican souvenir items. Most annoying was that the shop keepers try to harass you into their stores. This was the only place we experienced this. I would probably just stay on the ship or book a tour on Cozumel if we go again.
Leaving the ship was sad but efficient. As we had a flight before 1pm out of FLL, we were able to get luggage tags to be off in the first few groups. We did what they call "self-assist" which meant we carried all our luggage with us. This was easy and I would recommend doing this rather than having to put your luggage out in the hallway the night before. We got out so fast we were sitting on the curb by 7:50am! Possibly it gets more congested later in the morning but I wouldn't rush to get off the boat. Plan to have breakfast before you leave. We booked a car for three of us through Holland Limousines and it cost $88 to go to the airport. The other three stayed an extra night and enjoyed an Infinity bus/boat tour at Bayside Market across from the Holiday Inn. The taxi ride for them to go to MIA was $25 from the hotel.
Overall, we had a wonderful experience. It was a great time to celebrate several milestones for our family. The dining and just being on the ship were my highlights. The 8x10 portraits that they take—no obligation at $22 each—are really wonderful. I could see going on another Carnival ship in a few years. We'll have to recover from the cost before we can do another. With airfare, cruise, excursions and hotel before and after, we dropped over $8,000. The balcony was nice but it would depend on the price before we would decide to book one again.
It would be interesting to try another line sometime, but it does seem that Carnival gives you fairly good value. The other alternative for us would be a barefoot cruise. Anyway, if you are thinking about trying the Valor, go for it!