My wife and I sailed on the Valor on the 26th of October, our second Carnival cruise this year.
We took SAS transportation from our home in Fort Lauderdale to the port for $20 per person (each way) - a bargain as last time we spent $140 just to park the car at the port. Arriving at the port around noon, we quickly went through the security line (10 minutes) and the check-in line (15 minutes). We had a little delay in checking in due to a lack of knowledge on Carnival's part about the type of US Visa my wife possessed, but that was sorted out fairly quickly and we were on the boat and in our cabin around 1:15PM. We immediately went up to the Lido deck for some lunch. As with the freedom, the Lido food is OK, but nothing to write home about and not on a par with the main dining rooms. After lunch we relaxed a little in our forward balcony cabin #8202 - about 5 cabins away from the bridge. We could clearly see in the bridge from this location, which of course means the bridge personal could see onto our balcony too. Worth noting if you're into nude sunbathing!
The boat drill started around 4pm and we purposely delayed going for about 20 minutes. (We went when our room steward told us we needed to go!) On the Freedom we waited and waited and waited for everyone to arrive and spent a good 45 minutes with our life jacket on. This time when we arrived at our muster station and put the life jackets on - the drill was immediately over. Sweet!
We had a late dinner sitting in the Lincoln dining room -it was nice that we didn't have to walk all the way to the Washington dining room at the back. (It is a long, long way from our cabin to the back of the boat.) Valor's crew (like the Freedom) is a mix of Eastern Europeans and Asians, with most of the senior positions staffed by Western Europeans. Overall we found the eastern European crew not as friendly and hard working as the Asians, but Iliana our server from Eastern Europe, did an awesome job.
One jewel we found on the Valor quite quickly was the singing duo "Two's Company". Both are from the Philippines, and wow, can that girl sing! Ryann kept the audience mesmerized with her powerful yet sweet voice. She was the highlight of the cruise for my wife and I and we endeavored to listen to her each time they presented. (The guy also sung occasionally, but sadly was not in the same league as Ryann. We preferred when he just played the music!)
The shows in the Ivanhoe theater were sadly less impressive. The dancers were OK, but the two lead singers left a lot to be desired, especially the male. In my opinion he couldn't sing! They were so bad that we chose not to view the show one night where it was just the dancers and singers. The juggler and magician who performed other nights were OK, but nothing special. Of the two comedians however, one (Percy Cruise II) was superb - Chris Rock caliber. The second was just OK - he was harder to understand. We attended both of their late night adult shows and again Percy was awesome - the other guy was quite crude and people were steadily leaving the lounge throughout his act. Percy had standing room only and even then the room was practical full. We sat on the steps!
The weather was overcast and a little rainy for most of the cruise with 8' sea swells. This gave the boat a little motion - something that I actually missed on the Freedom - the seas were so calm it was like being in port the whole time!
The first port of call was the Cayman Islands - a tender port. No one likes tendering, but Carnival made it even more unpleasant than it has to be. We were all told multiple times that we need to get a tender ticket (from deck 5) with a number, which, when called, allows us to go to deck one and walk down to deck zero to get on the tender. When we got our ticket, they told us just to go straight down to deck 1 - no waiting for a call was necessary. But when we arrived on deck one the place was a zoo - hundreds of people jamming the stairwells and elevator lobby. There were no tenders tied up taking passengers so we waited for 45 minutes or so and it was hot and humid. Not the greatest start to the day. When we did get cleared onto a tender it was lashing with rain and this coupled with the swells on the sea made getting into the tender a risky adventure. Some people balked at the idea which increased the congestion as people were coming back against the line.
We got a little wet getting on the tender, but once we arrived on the island it had stopped raining - it was the last rain we saw all day. We got a tour of the island for about 50% less than the price charged on the boat. The Cayman's aren't a pretty island like St Thomas or St Maarten, but the tour was interesting and overall a worthwhile visit. The rum cake factory was unique in that they would let you eat as much run cake in as many flavors as you wanted - a contrast to the normally stingy free samples most places give out.
The second port of call was Roatan (Honduras). We docked at the only pier and were met with a welcoming party that stayed at the dock singing and dancing all day. Nice. The island however was a stark contrast to the Caymans. Much more third world and we saw the poverty on an island tour for just the two of us. Despite the personal service of a driver and a tour guide (again arranged when we got there) we paid less than a group tour from the boat. We stopped at a couple of bars/restaurants that were off the normal tourist stops so had drinks and a nice meal away from the crowds. This might not be for everyone though as we were entrusting our safety to a couple of unlicensed strangers in a third world country.
Third port was Belize, another tender port. The debarkation was thankfully handled much better. We took a tour arranged when we arrived on the island to the Mayan ruins - again we saved about 50% over the cost of the same tour on the boat. We got some great wood carvings at great prices at the Mayan site. It was a fairly long trip along pot-hole filled and sometimes flooded roads, but finally a day with sunshine made it worthwhile.
We had an unpleasant incident when we re-boarded the Valor after our Belize shore excursion - one of the over exuberant security personal mistook my Philippine wife for a member of the crew and became perturbed that she didn't know the crew-member re-boarding security procedure which is more involved than for a guest. The security guard was quite nasty with her and started a full body pat down until my wife cried out that she was a guest. We received a limp apology from the cruise line.
Cozumel was nice and sunny and this time we rented a jeep and toured the island on our own. We had a great day stopping for drinks when we wanted and we did a photo shoot on the beach. That night was Halloween and many guests were dressed in some great costumes. There were some decorations on the ship, but it was a bit limited.
After each shore excursion and on a few other occasions we availed ourselves of room service for a snack on the balcony. Only once did we actually get what we ordered. On all the other occasions something or several things were missing when the order arrived. What made it worse was the 30 to 45 minutes it took them to bring the missing items. Room service got an "F" this trip.
Disembarkation was long in Miami - it was about 11:30am before we were allowed off the boat and it took an hour so to get through customs and immigration. Customs and immigration is now just one person (they were separate in April) - it didn't look like this was an improvement in the right direction.
Our late disembarkation caused problems for SAS transportation as they had pickups to do at the time we arrived. Much to their credit, we only had to wait 20 minutes or so for a van to take us home.
One pet peeve I have on most cruises (and Valor was no exception) is the inconsiderate behavior of some other passengers coming back to their cabins late at night making lots of noise - talking as though they are in a bar! We usually go to sleep after midnight, but some people stay up until 4 or 5am. If they linger in the corridor chatting I sometimes get up and ask them to be more considerate - usually they apologize, but it's often forgotten the next night! If I see where they live I sometimes call their cabin when I wake up in the morning (~7am) and let them know what the current time is and hang up! I'd like the cruise lines to address the noise problem with future ship designs - an extra interior door perhaps or some kind of automatic stun gun in the corridor for noisy people at night! This would work on the same fear principal that gets people back on board in time as they know the ship will leave them if they are late.