I had a great time on my recent eastern Caribbean cruise on the Carnival Valor. This was my second cruise and my friend, Linda's second cruise as well. We drove from Knoxville to Atlanta and flew from Atlanta to Miami where we spent two nights in South Beach before our cruise. We stayed at the Beach Plaza Hotel in South Beach. The hotel was located on Collins Avenue, just one block from Ocean Blvd. It was an art-deco hotel and looked nice, but the service was less than spectacular. However, we didn't complain too much, because our room was almost $200 less per night than any other hotel we researched in South Beach.
We explored the sidewalk cafes on Ocean Blvd. on our first night and found some great food and lots of interesting people. On our second day, we took a cruise in Biscayne Bay on Fiesta Cruises. We saw the homes of all the celebrities and had a great time. Afterwards, we hung out at Bayside and checked out all the shops and stores. It was fun.
EMBARKATION - We arrived at the Carnival terminal at 11:15. We made it through security very quickly and through the initial lines where we received our Sail and Sign cards. After a fifteen minute wait, sections began boarding and, before we knew it, we were embarking on board ship. The entire process took only about an hour and went very smoothly. Once on board, we ate at the Fish & Chips cafe on the second floor of Rosie's. We at there three times during the cruise and enjoying it very much each and every time. We attended the Sail Away party on the Lido deck and had fun. The Entertainment Hosts did a great job and were very enthusiastic the entire week.
SHIP - The Carnival Valor is a great ship. I loved the "Heroes and Heroines" theme and all the different public rooms. My favorite places to hang out were The Bronx Bar and the Casino Bar. I liked the environment of the Lindy Hop Piano Bar, but I wasn't crazy about the music.
CABIN - Our cabin number was 2462 located port, aft. This was an ocean view cabin with TWO windows. We had plenty of room, and our cabin steward, Manuel, was great. He was always friendly and greeted us by name each time he saw us. I loved the towel animals too - especially the hanging monkey - very cool!
SHORE EXCURSIONS - We departed Miami on Sunday afternoon and ported in Nassau, Bahamas at 7:00 a.m. on Monday morning. We were only there for seven hours, so there wasn't a lot of time to do an all-day excursion. We opted for a quickie two-hour tour offered by Ricardo who we met at the port. It only cost $20.00 and we got to see a lot of the island. It was informative and interesting. We did a little shopping at the end of the tour and found the experience to be very enjoyable.
ST. THOMAS - Tuesday was a Fun Day at Sea. On Wednesday morning we ported at St. Thomas, USVI. We didn't arrive until 9:00 a.m. We had arranged a VIP Sail & Snorkel trip on our own, so we had to disembark quickly and make our way to Red Hook Marina where we met Dave, our yacht owner and captain. We were supposed to meet Charlie and a crew of people for this day of sailing, but Dave told us that Charlie had made arrangements with him to take us for a day of sailing and snorkeling. We thoroughly enjoyed the day, but we felt that Island Marketing Ltd. had promised us one thing, but delivered another thing altogether. We are flexible people and not ones to make a lot of noise when things don't go completely as planned, but at the end of the day, we knew we had been short-changed by this excursions company. We didn't regret booking the excursion, but it's the principle of the matter. They promised us a VIP sail with a full crew on a Yacht, and what we got was one guy and a little rat terrier dog as the "crew". We also felt the snorkeling "instruction" was less than what was promised online. Overall, however, the day at sea was peaceful, beautiful and therapeutic for our souls. We didn't get back to the ship until 7:00 p.m. so we were sailing from 10:00 a.m. through 6:00 p.m. I would highly recommend planning your own shore excursions and not doing them through Carnival. You will pay a lot less when you plan your shore excursions yourself.
ST. MAARTEN - We ported at St. Maarten, NA on Thursday morning at 7:00 a.m. We had planned a shore excursion through Bernard's Tours for the day. We met everyone at 9:00 a.m. and departed in large air-conditioned vans for a great day of sight-seeing, beach combing and shopping. Bernard and his crew were delightful. He gave us a lot of inside information about St. Maarten, both the Dutch and the French side. Shopping is a lot less expensive on the Dutch side, so be sure to shop in Phillipsburg rather than Marigot (on the French side). The best part of our time on Bernard's tour was the two hours we spent at Orient Beach. I am planning another cruise to these same locations next year, and I will take a cab to Orient Beach and spend the entire day there next time. There is so much to do - parasailing, jet skis, umbrella and chair rental, several choices for food, and one of the most beautiful beaches you will ever see. I highly recommend Orient Beach. Beware of the nudist resort that occupies about a third of the mile and a half beach. We finished our tour with Bernard by shopping in Phillipsburg. I found some really good deals here and bought most of my souvenirs for family/friends here. In terms of what you can claim without paying taxes on duty free merchandise, the limit on St. Thomas is much higher, so you may want to buy your stuff there instead.
DINING - We enjoyed breakfast and lunch on the lido deck most mornings or in Rosie's Restaurant. I attended dinner in the Washington Dining room each night except for the two nights at Scarlett's Dinner Club. The first night I ate at Scarlett's was the best meal I've ever had. I had the Surf and Turf (filet and lobster) and it was incredible. It is WELL worth the $30.00 extra you will pay for the meal. Be sure to make your reservation in the week for Scarlett's. You won't be disappointed. Our waiter in the Washington Dining room was Moddy, assisted by Gilbert. My friend, Linda, had a very bad experience with Moddy, so she didn't return to the dining room after Wednesday. Part of the problem was the language barrier. She had difficulty understanding Moddy, so there was some miscommunication. This was only my second cruise, but I will have to admit...the dining experience on this cruise paled in comparison to the great dining experience I enjoyed aboard the Ecstasy in 2005.
ENTERTAINMENT - I only attended two of the shows at night, but I enjoyed both of them very much. The first night was very similar to the one I had seen aboard the Ecstasy in 2005, but it was still good. I probably would have gone to more of the shows if I'd had an early seating for dinner. I don't regret having a late dinner seating, however. It gave us more time to enjoy shore excursions. The comedian was very funny. I caught his R rated show at midnight and enjoyed it alot. He's a funny guy. Duane in the Lindy Hop Piano Bar left a lot to be desired. He is a terrific piano player, but he's not much of a vocalist. The entertainers were excellent at the shows I attended.
DISEMBARKATION - Linda and I had a late flight out of Miami on Sunday, the day we returned to Miami, so we didn't get off the ship when our section number was called. We had the number "4" for our disembarking, but we chose to stay on the ship until around 9:30. We had arranged for the "Luggage Express" option which cost $15.00 but was WELL worth the price. Using that option you can have Carnival send your luggage to your destination airport. This was wonderful for us, because we were in Miami all day and didn't have to worry about our luggage at all. It was waiting for us at the Atlanta airport when we arrived. The worst part of disembarking was going through customs. It took us about an hour to get through the long lines.
SUMMARY - We thoroughly enjoyed our vacation on the Carnival Valor. I have already booked another Carnival cruise on the Glory for March 14-21, 2009 with a much larger group. I recommend going with a large group, even though my friend Linda and I had a great time - just the two of us. I must say a big word of THANKS to our vacation planner. She was wonderful. She actually picked us up at the Miami airport the day we arrived and took us to our hotel in South Beach. She also provided a lift BACK to the airport the day we got back from the cruise. This is an example of exceptional customer service, and she is to be commended for going the extra mile...especially in light of the fact that she had already moved on to another job and no longer worked for Carnival when our cruise date arrived. We became fast friends with her and will never forget her kindness.