This was our second cruise—our first was on Royal Caribbean. We flew into Fort Lauderdale the day before our cruise and stayed at a Westin. The room was nice; they were renovating the hotel lobby which wasn't prohibitive, but still...we hired a driver to take us to Miami—it was a good experience. He even stopped by a CVS Pharmacy so that we could pick up some small stuff we forgot.
We go to the cruise terminal at about 11:15—hardly a line. We gave our luggage to one of the many porters hanging around there. We went in to check in, stood in a small line, and then were given a card that said "Zone 13" and sat in the waiting room/lobby area for about 30 minutes. When they called our zone, we went to the ship, waited outside (in the Florida humidity) for a bit and then made it inside to the bank of elevators. We made it to our cabins (DH and I had a balcony; two sons had an inside cabin right across), met our steward (Nat—a very nice lady from the Philippines). We were hungry so we made our way to the buffet, through the rain on the Lido deck. Oh my—the buffet was swamped! The food was decent; the crowds almost prohibitive. A deep breath and a meal later, we were back to our cabins and our luggage had already been delivered. Muster drill was all right; no biggie.
We wandered through the ship. I don't remember if RCI had this posted (or if their layout is the same), but I liked how Carnival posted "Even-numbered cabins" on the port side, and "Odd-numbered cabins" on starboard. I also like the number of elevators the Valor had. Other than that....well...I'll elaborate shortly.
Cabins: The cabins were good. We had good storage—both under the bed for the suitcases, and the closets were good sized. The bathroom was smaller than the one on RCI, and I really missed the shower "doors" that were on RCI. The shelving/storage in the bathroom was okay. The balcony was decent-sized. We needed an extension cord for DH's CPAP machine; we had request one at the purser's desk and put a $20 deposit for it. Thought that a bit odd.
Dining: We had 8:30 seating in the Washington dining room—we had requested 8:30 but were given the 6:15 and had to meet with the maitre d' to get it changed. He gave us the very last table they had at the 8:15 seating. Our waiter and assistant waiter were all right. The assistant waiter didn't come around as often as ours did on RCI. When I requested iced tea a couple of nights later, our waiter actually said "Are you sure you want some tea?" To which I replied, "Yeah, I'm pretty sure I want some tea." Needless to say I was taken aback. He went to the table next to ours carrying a large bottle of water, and asked them "So do you want chlorinated water (showing them the pitcher of water) or do you want bottled water?". It was fairly bizarre. The food was good, but nothing to write home about (except for the warm melting chocolate cake—oh my gosh!). We didn't go back to the dining room after that, and got the same quality, if not a bit better, food at the buffet. There was a grill that had good hamburgers and hot dogs and a 24 hour pizza area where the pizza was pretty good. We bought a soda card for DH and DS; I was disappointed that we didn't get an insulated mug or anything; we could have paid $4.95 extra for it, though!
Entertainment: We went to the Welcome Aboard evening show and saw a comedian—both were all right. Craps at the casino was great, and I was very happy to see that they made one side of the craps table non-smoking. Great experience. The bars were nice. The trivia contests were fun—I actually won one and got the highly prized genuine gold plastic ship on a stick!
Pools: The pool areas were nice but pretty crowded. I was surprised that the adult-only pool was smack dab in the middle of the lunch areas by the grill and the pizza counter. The lounge chairs by the pools were taken, but not prohibitively so; there were many to choose from farther away on decks 10 and 11.
Fitness: The fitness center was all right--I wish it had more treadmills and elliptical machines. Many of them were taken by children (they allowed children 12-15 in as long as they had an adult with them) and people who didn't seem to be the "dedicated gym types" (sorry--no judgment here but it was a bit frustrating to want to stick with an exercise plan and to have machines in use by people in flip flops. And yes, I used the jogging track instead.)
Excursions: We went snorkeling in the Bahamas and it was great. We were there for only 6 hours; slept in a bit & our excursion was at 10:30, so we had time to shop at the straw market for just a bit. St. Thomas was a blast! We went to Coral World and did the SNUBA—it was our first time doing that and it was wonderful. I'd do it again in a heartbeat! It cost $36 by taxi to go from the drop off to Coral World. When we left Coral World, we were going to take a taxi to the tram to Paradise Point. The taxi driver told us that it would be $4 per person to go there, and then we'd have to pay $19 a ticket for the tram—for about $90 total, he would give us a personalized tour of the island. It was a blast! We went to some beautiful spots, got the local history, made it up to Mountain Top and had their world famous banana daiquiris! St. Martin was nice—did the Rhino Rider excursion. The Riders were fun; the snorkeling was just all right. We caught the tail-end of TS Fay while we were shopping at the gangway.
Service: I am supremely disappointed with our wait staff in the dining room. Our room steward, and those for the cabins around ours, were wonderful. We tipped one of them, Arthur, because of his smile and his friendliness! We also tipped our drink/cocktail waitress (she worked the dining room and then the casino), as she epitomized the service we had experienced on RCI.
Disembarking: We chose to self disembark and had no problems, except for the crowded area right outside the elevators.
Overall, the cruise was good. I am a disappointed with Carnival. I won't say that I'll never cruise with them again, but we have already booked our next cruise with RCI.