We sailed on the Carnival Valor the week of August 10. We were a family of 4 with 2 kids (ages 5 and 3). We are very experienced cruisers having taken about 10 cruises in the past, mostly on Royal Caribbean and Celebrity. This was our first experience with Carnival.
When we arrived at the Port of Miami I would categorize the experience as very disorganized. For those who do not know, there are really 2 lines before you enter the ship: the first one is the line to pass through the X-ray machine and the second one is the line where are in the actual terminal waiting to be processed to get your card and board the ship. I am not sure if the first (security) line was particularly Carnival's fault as perhaps this security line is handled by an agency that is not run by Carnival but the line snaked around the building and then converged with another line of people who had arrived on some airport shuttle. It took us at least 45 minutes just to pass through security and then probably another 25 minutes to get on the ship. So when you are very excited to get onboard and start a vacation this type of frustrating and disorganized line is certainly not what you want. People were patient though.
Our initial impressions upon boarding the were positive - that the American Patriots theme was interesting and rather well executed. Also one cannot help but notice that the ship is huge. This week the ship was totally packed, mostly with families and a lot of children, as schools begin in many parts of the country soon. There were 3544 passengers onboard, plus another 1100 crew. The Valor was designed to hold this type of passenger count but at times it was stretched to capacity. At peak times there were long lines in the buffet at Rosie's, the shows were full for every performance, the lounge chairs were taken at the pool, long lines for the water slide. But at the same time the ship was well staffed and they did clear tables and did whatever possible to provide for the passengers.
FOOD: I must say that I was more than impressed with the food quality, taste and preparation. The main dining rooms served terrific food that more than exceeded expectations. The service from our waiters was always top notch and they went beyond the extra mile to make us happy. If you don't like the choices of the day there are "Carnival Classics" such as steaks, ribs, chicken, fish every night plus an array of standard salads, shrimp cocktail, and regular desserts. And the Chocolate Melting Cake is absolutely heavenly! So I gave an "A" to the dining room and the entire experience. Also, we had 6:00 seating because we have small children and once again the service staff was very accommodating to them and Carnival has a great kids menu. The dinners are also not a long, drawn-out process. The whole meal takes about an hour and 20 minutes from beginning to end, which is a pretty good pace for a 3-course dinner. The Lido Buffet was good - not great - but I think people have more reasonable expectations at the buffet vs the main dining room. But the food was always hot, fresh, well presented and tasty. They have the make-your-own Chinese food in the Mongolian barbecue line, the pizza available 24 hours a day, a terrific deli that serves delicious and fresh sandwiches (often slicing the meats as their making the sandwiches), fish and chips (which we did not get), in addition to the regular lines that had a wide variety of foods. Also, there are a numerous areas within Rosie's and food stations all over the Lido deck so you can eat outside (under cover) near the the pool, in the Rosie's Restaurant itself, in the covered seating all the way to the back of the ship, etc.
CABINS: The cabins were nice and larger than the Royal Caribbean ones. We had 4 in our room and the kids slept in bunks but NOT above us as in Royal Caribbean. So that certainly made it more roomy. Bathrooms are standard size. Our steward was excellent, if impersonal, but serviced the room twice a day well. I guess we don't need to be best friends with the steward but he was very business-like. But then he told me he has 25 rooms to clean - twice a day - so he's obviously very busy!
ITINERARY: The Eastern Caribbean itinerary was not great. On a 7 day cruise I would have preferred 4 stops instead of 3, particularly since Nassau was just a couple of hours. We had to be back onboard by 1:30 so there was really a limit to what you can do for just a couple hours in the morning in Nassau. St Thomas and St Maarten are good ports. Due to such a brief stay in Nassau and just 2 other ports I felt that we were seemingly always at sea.
SHIP ITSELF: We liked the ship and the general decor. There are a good array of different lounges, bars, public rooms, a good video arcade, a sushi bar, etc. I was not too impressed with the casino but maybe my expectations were too high. Pools are smallish but adequate; water slide is fun but crowded since there is only one. There are 3 hot tubs in the main pool deck and those are popular. The Adults only pool was also a popular spot and it seemed that everyone respected the Adults Only nature of the pool. There are directional signs/maps near all the elevators so it is rather easy to navigate the ship, although the criticism that the ship has roadblocks is correct. In fact, there were several (rude) people who would walk through the dining room in the middle of dining service just to pass to the other side of the ship!
SHOWS: We went to the shows every night (my kids loved them) and they were good. Not great, but good - but certainly the performers gave it their all and the effort is evident. And the shows were packed every night - not only on the main level but in the upper levels as well.
Finally, to those who are nervous about seasickness I will tell you that the Valor handled the waves like a champ. We were in St. Maarten when Tropical Storm Fay was forming and the seas picked up to a good roll and the Valor performed great. They have stabilizers on the ship and that combined with Valor's massive size created a rather stable ride in pretty rough seas.
CONCLUSIONS: We enjoyed our experience with Carnival and on the Valor. The staff was certainly well trained and provided good service. The food was above par and the ship had most of the modern attractions. For a family with kids it is a great vacation and a good value.