This was not my 1st cruise, but highly different than others. Carnival employs 0 Americans, yet makes it too obvious that their sole purpose is to take as much of our money as possible. Jewelry, art auctions, bedding, bingo, etc. are all areas for Carnival to solicit you! The gift shop was convenient, but naturally expensive [$7. for $1.50 deodorant.]
The employees are all very nice and attentive. They should be, because they're working solely on your tips, which Carnival kindly charges to your 'Sail and Sign' card the 1st day. They push tipping very hard because they don't pay these hardworking folks anything. So they're not only seeking all of your money, but don't pay the people that actually make the positive aspect of your cruise. Unbelievable.
Outside of upper management, Carnival goes to 3rd world countries and hires out all help now... You won't be able to spell the names of your housekeeping or waitstaff because they retain their native names, which are of course, foreign to most 99% customers.
After having read many reviews and comments regarding the stars and stripes & heroes themed areas of the ship, I was shocked to see how far the designer went. At some points, it really was gaudy [the gold eagles on every column.] I was surprised to see the amount of $ spent on the design, yet to learn how contrasting Carnival is when it comes to paying employees and the constant solicitations.
The fact that they own most of the shops at the ports was very disappointing. I take pride in supporting local business, which takes tremendous effort on Carnival Valor. They've made it very difficult to figure out how to get out of their maze type shopping areas [Cozumel to be specific, and soon to be Honduras.] If you want a cab, the exit from the port leads you straight to their taxi's which are lined up for your convenience, all by Carnival. Carnival & Royal Caribbean, in joint effort, charge a commission type of fee to all businesses they bring business to and have figured out how to keep your $.
Excursions? Book your own. If you book thru Carnival, they keep 65% of your money, while the vendor receives 35% and must absorb all expenses. They're simply taking in money from everyone, and it's too obvious. Book your own tour and you'll save a LOT of money, and all the money goes to the locals, not Carnival. They were very aware of cruise schedules and got us back earlier than if we'd booked thru Carnival. We avoided SO many lines, and actually passed many because we were in our own small group, not 20-50 from the cruiseship!
The ziplining and cave-tubing were great. We booked thru Coral Breeze tours and had our own private paddler [to quote a man watching our guide take us thru the caves who'd booked thru Carnival!] We saved a ton of money by avoiding the cruise excursions. It was shocking to see the difference in price.
I find it difficult to be on a ship focusing on America's heroes, while in fact it's a guise for taking your money. Employing 0 Americans is in very poor taste. But going to these 3rd world countries to give these poor people the only hope for escape sounds nice, but Carnival pays them nothing. Our tips are the only pay they receive. That's not fair to give us a guilt trip after charging us so much up front and telling us that you need bring nothing else, it's all-inclusive. Well, that's not the case. Folks, I don't drink alcohol and booked my own private excursions, yet still managed to have a $700 bill at the end of my all-inclusive trip!
These poor people work 7 months straight with no time off, which is why they employ 0 Americans. Only people from a 3rd world country would accept such abuse because they don't have a better choice. Carnival guarantees them wages based off of your tips, making them work that much harder. Which they do, but I already paid a lot of $ for my cruise and was shocked at the charges for services I would've thought were included in an all-inclusive trip. It's not really all-inclusive, because you have to pay for all drinks [outside of iced tea, tap water, or their cheap lemonade and fruit punch.] If you buy stuff, a 15% gratuity is added to the price automatically, and is charged to your Sail & Sign for their guaranteed payment. You pay dearly for anything like using the internet, your cell phone, etc. Save your money and avoid these things that would generally be included in all-inclusive vacations.
If you're in Room 8376, I feel sorry for you. This should not be available until significant insulation is added to the ceiling, as it sits directly below Rosie's Restaurant tiled walkway, at a Pantry entrance. Not only is the Pantry directly outside of room 8376 on the 8th floor [which is a stainless steel room used for servicing many rooms, has no sound absorption, and is essentially the social hangout for employees!] Do NOT think you'll get any sleep. Any person walking upstairs will be heard, including every footstep or wheeled service carts rolling around upstairs. The noise begins between 7-8am and ends around 11:30pm... Outside of the noise problem, my room was nice with plenty of storage, a good shower head, nice bedding but way too firm [everyone agreed on that!] I have a backache, but it will get better.
The kids camp directors also enjoy running the kids thru the halls [for exercise I assume.] This happens at least 1-3x per day, including thru Rosie's Restaurant. You guessed it - Room 8376 & 8378 hear it all.
My son and dau-in-law stayed in nearby 8350 and heard nothing from above. We figured out that it was because the restaurant walkway curves towards the windows, being directly over our room in that area of Rosie's. We paid the same $ as everyone else, why did we have to tolerate this? The people in the room next to us [Room 8378] were transferred to another room.
I was given earplugs! Needless to say, by the end of the cruise, I had very little sleep and was exhausted. I couldn't wait to come home, just to get sleep. Is that really what Carnival wants? They shouldn't have these rooms filled. Consequently, I will never ever cruise with Carnival again because of how they handled the problem. I'll save my money.
The music was also very disappointing... I was bummed that the music was corny, the maitre d' was more corny and a waste, and the 'nightly show' a mere opportunity for Carnival to do more brainwashing. The bingo giveaway was a joke. They said 'who wants $500 cash'... they made it so that the odds were against anyone winning every night, so the pot grows. My daughter-in-law counted the number of $20 cards they sold and realized that this is a big $ maker. The $500 cash is actually a credit that can be used on your next cruise! Again, save your money.
The food was what you'd expect for feeding mass amounts of people. It wasn't great, but it was edible.
Not enough pools for the quantity of people onboard. They do have an over-21 pool and area, but don't enforce it. So, we had plenty of 10-18 year old teenagers in the adult only pool at all times. They simply were packed full of people non-stop, making most people avoid them all together.
It's just too obvious that their only care is to take your money. The customer service is horrible [earplugs!] Save your money.