Background: First cruise ever was on Carnival Glory in 2007. We have friends who have been cruising for years and had been at us to join them. We went only because of the super deal we were able to get. We had no idea what to expect or how to properly prepare. We were blown away. It was the best vacation ever and we were hooked. After day 2, I had scrapped my "Vegas" plans for my 40th in 2008 and decided to celebrate with Carnival.
Our cruise veteran friends from The Glory were not much in to excursions. We were pretty much winging it at every port. I was determined to make our 2008 cruise better than ever. I stumbled upon CruiseCritic.com and it helped to make our Valor Cruise one for the ages.
Travel: There were 8 of us on this cruise. Four couples (no kids this year) ages 36-56. I just turned 40 and the wife is soon to be 38. All traveling from the Atlanta area separately. The wife and I flew in to Ft. Lauderdale on the day of our cruise (Sunday), arriving in FLL at 10AM. We had booked transfers with Carnival to the pier in Miami. The Carnival price was $30PP each way. We got it through our travel guy for $24. I had looked into alternate means of transportation, but ended up going with Carnival.
Upon arrival at the Port of Miami, we had to wait on the bus driver to unload all the bags. This is done so that he can collect tips as you leave the bus. As everyone was scrambling to collect their luggage, I promptly located a porter, gave him a $20 and showed him my bags. He collected them and tagged them VIP and we were on our way. I did also tip the driver as we were exiting the bus.
Embarkation: From the time we arrived at the Port, we were checked in and on the ship within an hour. I was amazed at how quickly and smooth this went. Nothing like last year at Port Canaveral. It definitely pays to have your "stuff" together at Embarkation.
Stateroom: We were booked in a category 6B Ocean View room. We had adjoining rooms with one of the other couples from our group. The room was clean and nice. It was exactly what we expected. No complaints here. Who goes on a cruise for the "Decorative and spacious Cabins"? We met Charles, our cabin Steward right away and he took excellent care of us for the duration of the cruise.
Excursions: This is what made this cruise for all of us. Monday was a Day at Sea. We spent the day on deck and at the pool. We also watched the US Coast Guard pull a sick passenger from the boat via helicopter. Hate that it had to happen, but it was cool to see our guys at work.
Because of the medivac, our ports were reversed. This worried me because I had spent months researching excursions on this website and had booked 3 of the 4 on my own. I wasn't sure if our trips would still be valid.
Cozumel: This was the one excursion we booked through Carnival. We drove Dune Buggys to Punta Sur and did some snorkeling. We were all novice snorkelers and the swim out to the reef is a long one, but it was worth it. Lots of fish and a large sea turtle. The guides were great and took care of everyone. They also offer massages on the beach and we had a really good authentic mexican lunch before we headed back to the ship. I would recommend this tour to anyone, it was well worth the $93.00 per person we paid.
Belize: It seems that Cave Tubing is the thing to do in Belize. After reading so much about it on this website, we booked with Yhony and his crew at Cave-tubing.com. They advertise "Twice the fun for half the price" . There is definitely truth in advertising. These guys were GREAT. The 45 minute or so bus ride to the cave site was a hoot. We were entertained from start to finish. They were polite, well mannered and extremely hospitable. They even shared their Cashew Wine with everyone on board. Once at the site, we changed, grabbed our tube and head light and made our way to the caves. The walk is about 30-40 minutes through the jungle. Some handled it better than others. Some complained about the heat. "Hey, your in Belize walking through the jungle, it's gonna be hot" !! Once there you have the opton of easing your way in at ground level, or taking the plunge from the rocks above. My recommendation is to go from above. How often do you get that chance. The water is cold, but hey, thats cave water for you in Belize.
Each group of 8 had their own guide who made sure that you were moving at all times. They let you know when to go "Butt's up" If you didn't listen the first time, you surely did thereafter. This trip was a blast from start to finish. The Carnival excursion is $90 PP for 1 cave. Cave-tubing.com is two caves on the same river for $45. "It's the biggest no brainer in the history of earth" (to quote John Shibley). Try these guys if you plan to cave tube in Belize. You wont be disappointed.
Roatan Honduras: The most beautiful port in the Caribbean. Unspoiled and not commercialized(not yet anyway). This place was amazing. After the zip lining accident, and not a big fan of monkeys and birds crawling on me, I booked the 8 of us at Fins'n Flippers for the day. Only $20 PP gets you full access to the private beach, freshwater pool, full bar and restaurant, etc. The place is flat out amazing. Pictures cant do it justice. The posts I have read are dead on. This place rocks. I can not believe it is not packed to the gills daily. We rented snorkel gear and got the lowdown from Cindy the manager. The snorkeling at this place was breathtaking. From the end of the pier, you can follow a "trail" of sorts through the coral. The water is waist to shoulder deep for about 100 yards. You are actually swimming through the coral. At the end of this "trail", there is a drop off of 100 feet or so. That is what we were told, I didn't bother to measure. As novice snorkelers, we were pumped. Not sure how cool this would be to others. The coral and the fish at this place were amazing. I would go back to Roatan in a heartbeat.
Grand Cayman: We booked the Stingray city tour through Moby Dick Tours thanks to you guys on CruiseCritic.com. Only $35 PP versus the $70 PP through Carnival. Same sandbar, same stingrays, half the price. We arrived at our destination and spent a half hour or so snorkeling the reef before our time with the rays. Most of the folks hung out at the tail end of the boat looking at the fish that were eager for food. A buddy and I swam out to the reef with one of the guides from the boat. This is where the 6 foot nurse shark was spotted. It's quite a rush to see a shark out in the open water with you. He didn't bother us and we certainly did not bother him. Our guide assured us that the shark was not aggressive and that we had nothing to worry about. He then took us to a coral formation and motioned for us to dive down with him. Only 10 or so feet. At this point, he starts to wave around a piece of squid at this coral formation. From out of nowhere, a huge green moray eel shoots out to eat the squid. Major rush number two is now upon us. This is awesome and already worth the $35 and I haven't seen the first stingray.
I must admit that after the shark and eel encounter, I wasn't sure if the stingrays would do much for me. I found out real quick that they would. This interaction is not for everyone. A lot of folks were back on the boat shortly after entering the water. It is kind of freaky for these huge rays to swim right up to and in some cases on to you. Some folks didn't care for it. I loved it. The wife most certainly did not. She did have a ball on the boat taking pictures and enjoying watching everyone else have a good time. All in all, a great day in Grand Cayman.
Everything Else: Food was good at both Rosies and in the dining room. We were in the Linclon at the 8:15 seating. Late seating works better for us as were were all out at each port and needed that extra time to clean up and relax. We had a slight issue on the first night with our service. We politely let our Maitre'D know and we were spot on for the rest of the cruise. Casino was fun. We were up, then we were down. Then up, then down. It's a casino, it happens. We had fun. The shows are what they are. They are cruise ship shows. It's good looking guys and girls singing and dancing. I've seen better and I've seen worse. It's something to do after dark. The comedian was good. They had a juggler one night. The Disco is hot. The Piano Bar rocks. You cant get bored on this ship.
Debarkation was a breeze. We signed up for the luggage express service with Carnival. We were off the ship in no time with no luggage to carry. The charge is $15 per person and allows for two pieces of luggage PP. We paid extra for those two extra coming down. I highly recommend this service.
If you are looking to book on this ship or sail this itinerary, do your homework. Go to the forums on this website and read. Ask questions, you can save a ton of money and have a blast at each and every port. I wouldn't dream of booking a cruise without first consulting CruiseCritic.com.