Our family of four - me, my wife, my 9-year-old daughter, and my 86-year-old dad in a wheelchair - all had a great time. This was our third cruise, second on Carnival, and I will be giving tips and info about going on a cruise with someone in a wheelchair. We stayed in the front section of the ship; my dad in a handicapped room, and the three of us in a regular room three rooms down. The handicapped room has a wider door, wider entranceway, and a handicapped bathroom/shower, where he could just roll himself right in. The shower has a seat for him to wash himself. This was necessary, as the pools on the ship are all salt water, which was a bummer. More on that later.
Hotel Info (if any)
Some have described the ship's decor as garish. It is over-the-top in terms of having American Eagles, flags, and such, but I didn't think it was garish. The Ivanhoe theatre was done in a sort of castle motif, having nothing to do with America. Rosie's restaurant, the buffet area on the Lido Deck, had numerous references to WW II women working - Rosie the Riveter. I thought that was pretty nice. And, of course, there was art all over the ship. I liked most of it, especially the art at each landing of the steps, which I used when I wasn't with my dad.
Okay, there are your standard pools, hottubs, mini-golf, gym, casino, and the like. The pools are filled with sea water, which was sort of unexpected. They therefore had showers located right next to them to get the salt off. The hot tubs aren't too hot, so kids can go in them. They had nice jet action for massages, though, so that was good.
My dad's problem is more of balance than being an invalid - sorry if that's not PC - so he has some use of his legs. But getting in and out of the pools was tough for him, and I was glad I was there in case he needed me. The pools are all built with ladders to get in, as opposed to steps, but there is a lip around them, and a bench on top of the lip. So, he went from his chair, to the bench, and then down to the lip. Once he was at the lip, he could scootch on over the four or so feet of tile to the pool to put his legs in. Then he could lower himself in with his arms. But not too much, because he's lost strength in his shoulders. It's 4 1/2 feet deep, so once he went in, it was deep enough where the amount of water slowed his descent, and then he could stand in the water.
The hot tubs were up a few steps, and therefore inaccessible to him. There are two main pools; one is reserved for adults only.
He got out with my help the first time. He put his back to the curved corner of the pool, and was able to raise himself most of the way out with his arms; I helped him the rest of the way. The second time, though, he got out of the same corner frontwards, leaning his chest on the four-foot tiled area between the lip and the pool, and getting himself up.
However, I would not recommend handicapped people go swimming alone for fear that they could not get out by themselves. There are no lifeguards, although I'm sure if you asked for help, they would get someone to help you out.
No ice skating or rock-climbing walls on this ship, as there is on the latest Royal Caribbean ships, which are fun. There is a decent water slide, but you have to put your arms behind your head to get up any kind of speed. Great for the kiddies, though, although my daughter wasn't too keen on it.
There are also plenty of shipboard activities to keep you interested. Trivia contests, pool games, and of course, bingo, which my dad won $1000 after playing on a whim. That was fun! For me, I love karaoke, and the Eagle's Lounge, the secondary theater in the back of the ship, had karaoke almost every night. The woman running the karaoke, Sam, was very good about letting anyone sing, although she did take the stage herself a couple of times a night, which wasn't really necessary. That being said, she had a great voice.
Of course, there is your standard art auction, which is pretty bogus in my opinion. However, they do have free champagne, so we went for that. And we got a free "lithograph" - it was just some kind of nice print - in a raffle.
The cabin stewards were great, doing the whole towel animal thing every night. The room was very clean. They even had a towel animal making class in the disco at the end of the cruise, which my daughter loved.
The dining room staff left something to be desired. We had to ask for water and coffee at every meal, which we shouldn't have to do. It's a little bit picky of a complaint, I know, but it is a cruise, after all. Also, for some reason, the service on the final night, after we gave them their tips, was off.
The ship's event staff was young and fun, and made the bingo and the "game shows" entertaining.
Here is an interesting thing that happened, though. They had a Caribbean band that played three times during the cruise. The first time, they were by the kiddie pool, and they were ear-splittingly loud. Now I'm in my 40s, and I've lost some of my hearing to having grown up using a Walkman, and now an iPod, but they were still incredibly loud; so loud we couldn't stay without fear of permanent hearing loss. Yes, it really was that loud. So I complained to the purser's office. They wrote me a letter back, acknowledging the complaint. Notably, the letter did not say that they were taking any action in relation to the complaint, but I still thought it was a nice touch to get the letter.
Next time, they were playing by the casino. Still way too loud, so I complained again. This time, I got two phone calls saying that the cruise director had been notified, and they had been asked to turn the volume down. Finally, the third time they played, they were back by the pool again, for the hairiest chest contest. This time, they were finally in normal, loud-as-hell-but-won't-make-you-deaf range. So I consider that a plus, actually, as they did respond to my complaint.
To us, each island is like the next. However, I was a bit shocked to be offered to buy drugs by the touts in Nassau. Otherwise, Nassau was Nassau - nothing new there. Many of the shops had curbs in front of their entrances that would not allow my dad to enter. But we tooled around just the same. Also, the straw market is not a place for wheelchairs, as the aisles, except for the main aisle down the center, are way too narrow for wheelchairs.
In St. Thomas, we first went to the shops right at the Havensight "Mall" right by the dock, and then went to the Butterfly Farm to have something to do with my dad. The Butterfly Farm is very expensive, and was brutally hot. It's also "paved" with packed sand, which was sometimes tough for him to move around in in the wheelchair. It was also a short "excursion" for the money, about an hour for $15 per person, $9 for kids. All that being said, it was very interesting and informative, and if we hadn't done that, we wouldn't have had anything to do with my dad. So we did it.
We then took a cab to Magen's Beach/Bay, which is on the other side of the island from the ports. The beach is really spectacular, and supposedly has been named as one of National Geographic's top beaches, and used in Corona beer commercials. Even if it hasn't it should be. It's a U-shaped bay, surrounded by mountains on three sides, gotta be a couple thousand feet long, with an island beckoning at the top of the bay in the distance, with perfectly clear bathtub temperature water, and white sands. Just a little slice of heaven. Don't do the skyride, as taking the taxi to Magen's Bay accomplishes the feat of climbing up the mountain and giving you a spectacular view.
Then there was St. Maarten. We were pooped from St. Thomas the day before so we went to the beach that is just in town. There is a water taxi that will take you the approximately 1 mile from the ship to the downtown area for about $6. We didn't do this, but someone else in a wheelchair seated at our table did, so it must have been fine. Instead I pushed my dad the mile from the ship to the downtown area. Yes, it is all wheelchair accessible the entire way, but it was hot as hell, and I got a helluva workout pushing my dad both ways. Ah, it burned off the three main courses I had eaten the night before.
Don't buy anything from the shops that are right by the dock in St. Maarten unless you have to. The shops in town are way, way cheaper. We got 3 button-down, collared Hawaiian shirts (or Caribbean, whatever) for $20, and T-shirts were cheap too.
Finally, getting back on board was fine, as we would ask the Carnival security guys to push my dad back up the gangway. This was not a problem.
I would recommend the Valor to anyone. It was a very nice ship, and our experience was great. The service was lacking slightly, but only in a nitpicky sense. We had a wonderful time.
Travel To Port of Embarkation
We drove from West Palm Beach down I-95 to the port. No problems there.
The room was fine and clean. Of course, a regular room has a lip to get into the bathroom, and the shower would be impossible for someone in a wheelchair, but the handicapped room neatly solved these issues.
Of course, there is a safe in the room, but for some reason, they don't want you to use the room key - the Sign and Sail card that you use for everything - to lock it. So instead, you have to carry a credit card around in addition to the room key, which defeats the purpose of having everything linked to the room key, because the credit card is otherwise useless on board ship.
Well, the food was excellent, but I'm not all that discriminating - I'll eat anything. The desserts were fantastic across-the-board, except for the cheesecake, which couldn't touch my mom's. Otherwise, there were no false notes in any of the food, which was all top-notch. And, of course, you could order as many appetizers or main courses or desserts you wanted at any formal meal. Every meal in the formal dining room was amazing, and we ate there almost every night. I mentioned the service issues above.
Others have mentioned the Fish and Chips restaurant. You have to actively look for it, as it is a bit hidden, and it is only open from 10 to 3. The only way to get there is on deck 10, but it is worth it. Also, since people generally don't know about it, there is hardly any line.
On the negative side was the midnight buffet. On other ships, this has been held in the formal dining rooms. This time, it was held on the Lido deck, which made it a lot less classy. Also, after waiting 45 minutes on line to get food, and moving a grand total of 14 feet, I called it quits. Eh, I didn't need a 7th meal that day anyway.
There is Camp Carnival, which looked great, but which my wife refused to use. They had an intro party the first night we were on board, which was really nice, and the counselors seemed good as well. They were all women, some of them were Filipino, as was my daughter's nanny for the first 6 years of her life, so we felt very comfortable with that. However, it was the four of us, so we wanted our daughter to be around us most of the time anyway. But it would have been nice if she had made friends and hung out there from time to time.
We thought the entertainment was really top notch. The comedians were terrific, and the midnight shows - for adults only - were hilarious. Beyond the standard comedy acts, they also had a juggler and a ventriloquist. The juggler was pretty amazing, and at one point, the ventriloquist did two character voices simultaneously. That was insane! There was also a singer, Marcus Anthony (not Marc Anthony!) who did all Motown songs. The guy was phenomenal, and really got the audience going. He was so good, we watched both of his shows. He even took requests from the audience, and did little snippets of songs.
There are also your standard shipboard dancers and their shows, who were good, and put their amazing bodies on display. Something nice to ogle, as this cruise was in low season. That meant that the fares were cheap, and a different kind of cruiser was on board than I've previously seen. Yup, fat people, and lots of 'em. Not too many nice bodies to look at other than the dancers.
The final show was the guests, with some of the crew, singing songs from "Legends" - Elvis, Cher, Sinatra, etc. These were selected from the karaoke singers, so I knew most of them from having sung there myself. The quality of the guest singing was generally good, and when it wasn't it was hilarious.
Disembarkation and general handicapped information
No problems embarking or disembarking with a wheelchair. Wheelchairs got a little priority in embarking and disembarking, so our entire party went through a bit quicker. I would recommend staying in the front of the ship, though, because there you've got the regular 8 elevators plus 4 more in the atrium all in one spot, which cuts down on the waiting time to get an elevator. All in all, though, people were pretty understanding about taking their turn and letting you on an elevator when you're in a wheelchair.
We actually had three - a regular wheelchair, an electric scooter, and a walker. My tip - leave the electric scooter behind unless you really need it. My dad doesn't, as he has some mobility in his legs, and can move himself around in a regular wheelchair just fine. The fact that the hallways are typically narrow, and the fact that he's 86 and wasn't the best at controlling his electric scooter, meant a harrowing time the first day on the ship as he threatened to crush people's ankles getting on and off the elevators. I was waiting for a lawsuit. We switched him to his regular wheelchair for the remainder of the cruise and it was fine.
Also, the small lips in between sections of the ship were easy to manage. The staff in the dining room helped seat my dad, and there were handicapped spots in the Ivanhoe Theatre for him to put his chair. Again, people were generally understanding about moving over a bit so we could sit next to him in the cutout spots in the Theater. Even though the hallways are narrow, with the cutouts for the rooms, they were just wide enough for two wheelchairs to pass one another. And the cabin staff was always quick to jump out of my dad's way as we passed.