This was an Eastern Caribbean cruise to Nassau, St. Thomas, and St. Maarten on the Carnival Valor. I went with two friends - all of us are in our mid-twenties. We have previously cruised Carnival together before, and I have also cruised NCL, Royal Caribbean, Princess, and Celebrity.
We flew to Miami a day early on American Airlines from LaGuardia, and it was the most disorganized check-in I've ever seen. If I hadn't sweet talked a guy from the curb-side check in area, I think we would have missed our plane. Things improved once in Miami, we took a cab from the airport to our hotel - the Doubletree in Coconut Grove. It was about a 20 minute ride, and $25. The hotel was very nice and clean, and had one of the best gyms of any hotel in it's class that I've been to!
We got settled then took a cab from the hotel to the South Beach area. Another $25-30. We walked down Lincoln Road and had lunch outdoors at one of the many restaurants on the street. At the end of the road you hit the beach, and while we didn't have our bathing suits, we took a walk down to the water and took some pictures.
Overall we were not impressed with Miami. On the way back up Lincoln Road we were approached by a few "shady" characters and we hightailed it back to our hotel after that! We had a nice swim in the pool and then walked to CocoWalk, about 10 mins from our hotel and had dinner at the Cheesecake Factory. Coconut Grove seemed much nicer and we felt safer here than when we had been down to the other area of Miami. Then again, I know we didn't make it over to Ocean Drive or anything, so I am sure it is nicer over there.
In the morning we took a cab from the hotel to the port ($25 or so) and arrived at the pier around 11:30. We were checked in by 12:15 or so, and waited in the lounge to board, which we did around 12:45. Very organized and no hassles.
Our cabin was an outside on the Riviera deck 1, all the way at the bottom of the ship! I was pleasantly surprised to have a room with a window, since we had paid for an inside guarantee!
We explored the ship and had some lunch on the Lido deck. The ship has an Americana/heroes theme which we overall liked. It did take us until the end of the week to remember on the first try which stairs to use to get where though. (Kitchen galley between the main dining rooms means you can't walk end to end on Decks 3 and 4).
Ports I had been to each of the ports before, but my friends had not so I tried to make sure we picked excursions to see a lot of each island, either by boat or bus, etc. We booked all of them through the ship.
Nassau - Here we did the clear kayak tour. A boat took us out and past Paradise Island, (and the Atlantis - of course!) and we then got fitted with our kayaks and paddles etc. It was tandem so since there were 3 of us I went with one of the tour guides, and actually got to go out further/do more than the other people on the tour which was kind of cool. I wouldn't say you need any kayaking experience, the water was calm and it's pretty easy to pick up. We also had the chance to snorkel if we chose to, which was nice. Overall a good tour.
St. Thomas - We had a full day here and our tour was not until 1PM, so we took a cab to town in the morning and did some shopping. People weren't too pushy and it was a nice morning. In the afternoon we took a tour to St. John and Trunk Bay for the beach and snorkeling. The tour guides on this tour were excellent, probably the best I've had on any tour in the Caribbean. They were very informative and friendly, but also funny. It was about a 45 min ride to St. John and along the way we saw lots of St. Thomas and neighboring islands. Once at Trunk Bay we were given our snorkeling gear and off we went! The beach was gorgeous (I had been once before but didn't snorkel last time) and not too crowded. The snorkeling was also very good. There were lots of fish and different types of coral. This was probably our favorite tour of the trip.
St. Maarten - Here we were graced with some rainy weather. It started pouring on us in line for our tour, the Best of St. Maarten Island/Beach combo. We made it to our bus and started to go through St. Maarten and over to the French side's capital, Marigot. I had previously only been on the Dutch side so I was looking forward to this tour to see the rest of the island. We had about a 1/2 hour to walk around, which was plenty of time to walk down the main streets. After that we got back on the bus and headed to Orient Beach. The weather cleared enough for us to enjoy about an hour and a half here, although the sun did not come out. We had a blast at this beach, I am not sure if it was because of the stormy weather but the waves at this beach were fabulous. Also, we were at the opposite end of the beach from the nudist resort, so everyone had their clothes on! The beach has a few entrances I guess, so ask to go to the "Boo boo jam" entrance, where we went. After our time here it was time to head back to the Dutch side of the island and the bus dropped people off in Phillipsburg who wanted to shop, otherwise you could go back to the ship. We shopped and got some great t-shirts (4 for $10!) and other little trinkets. As we were about to get into a taxi to go back to the ship, the skies opened up again. We got SOAKED making our way from the taxi back to the ship. Overall we enjoyed this tour too.
We had late seating in the Lincoln dining room, and sat with another 5 girls, all but one of them about our age, and the final lady was one of the girl's mothers. Carnival did a great job pairing us with table mates, we had a blast with them!
Overall we were very pleased with the dining room food and experience. Our waiters were very attentive and made helpful suggestions. Food was beautifully presented and served quickly after ordering. After cruising NCL a few months ago, compared to the free dining rooms on that line, Carnival's food was MUCH better in my opinion.
We did one breakfast and lunch in the dining room as well, and were just as pleased with that as with our dinner service.
We did all other breakfasts and lunches in the Lido Restaurant - Rosies. No complaints about the food here, everything we tried was good. I will rave about the grill area - fries, onion rings, and chicken tenders were all excellent. (though not very healthy friendly!) Pizza was OK - if you got it fresh it was pretty good, but it can't compare to the NYC pizza I get at home, obviously! The one complaint about Rosies is the chairs! They are terrible! It is impossible to slide in/out from the table on the carpet. Overall, not a huge deal but they really should do something about that!
There were tons of activities to choose from each day, we played trivia a bunch of times, played bingo once, went to the Love & Marriage show, Game show, art auctions, etc...we were never bored. There were plenty of deck chairs at the pool, maybe not necessarily by the pool but on the decks above. The waterslide was fun, the line for it can get kind of long at times, but it's worth it!
We didn't play much in the casino, a slot machine here or there maybe. It seemed like a good area, lots of table games and reasonable limits.
The nightly shows surprised me actually. I typically enjoy the Broadway style production shows, but do not enjoy the other entertainers (jugglers, comedians, etc...) but this cruise it was just the opposite. The dancers in the Broadway style shows seemed out of sync and the singers were average, at best. Near the end of the cruise we were talking with one of the bartenders and he mentioned that the group doing the shows now had just started working together a few weeks ago, so that could explain it. I was surprised there was no hypnotist, usually those shows are great. One of the comedians was fabulous, and the others were not bad either. Look out for Percy Cruise II!
We were very happy with the service on board. Our room steward only made up the 2 beds the first night (with 3 of us we needed the couch made up too!) and housekeeping was done for the night by the time we realized it so we went to the Pursers desk to see if they could reach housekeeping. The people we dealt with at the Pursers desk were very helpful and friendly, and this was our experience the whole week when we had a question/issue for the Purser.
After that our room was always made up correctly and our room steward did a great job keeping a room with 3 messy girls who over-packed clean!
As mentioned, our waiters and bar waitress at dinner were great as well. We also made friends with a few bartenders on board and they took care of us for the week!
One friend and I got some spa treatments for the first time ever, and really enjoyed them. You get the typical product push at the end, but I found that just telling your technician that you will think about it and come back later if you want to buy worked very well. I love to spend money on spa products, but the prices were even a little too steep for me to buy any of the products for home use!
We paid $15/each for the "Luggage Express" program, and it was the best $15 spent all trip! Basically you go to the Purser by Thursday night with your passport and the luggage express form, and they check you in for your flight and the next day you receive your boarding passes and airline checked baggage tags in your room. You put your luggage out by midnight, just like the traditional debarkation people, and then, your bags are taken directly to the airport the next day and put on your flight so you don't have to get them from the warehouse and take them to the airport with you in the morning! You don't see them again until baggage claim at your home airport! Plus, when you get to the airport since you have your boarding pass already and your bags are checked, you can go right to security without having to stand in line for check-in! I would be willing to pay even a little more for this service, after our nightmare at check-in on the way down to the cruise!
Debarkation morning all the luggage express people met in the Ivanhoe theater at 7:30AM, and we were called off the ship around 8:30 or so. Customs didn't take too long and then it was back to the airport with another $25-30 cab ride!
Overall a great trip and will definitely be cruising Carnival again!