This is a pretty long review. I try to make my reviews extensive for those who are looking for the information I may have wanted and usually receive before I cruise. Much of what I have written was real time so there may be some statements that get corrected later in the review or at the end. I tried to write my thoughts down each day as it was happening. I think it makes for a much better narrative.
This was our first time on Carnival. We have wanted to try it for some time and honestly, we chose this line for the price and especially the itinerary. We have been to Grand Cayman and Cozumel before and were looking forward to going back. Belize and Roatan were new for us and I was really happy to do snorkel there. We were also looking for a ship that had some activity since our last few cruises may have been pretty classy, but boring in some respects. We are both 54 years old and have about 12 cruises that we have done. So we were slightly apprehensive about Carnival because of it's reputation and the average age on board. This was October 26 - November 2, 2008. Pretty interesting week I chose. The Sunday we get home the clocks are reset for Standard Time, Halloween is this week, and the general election is 2 days after we get back!
Sunday - Embarkation
We live in South Florida and we got to the port at 11:00 AM. The lines are split up by deck number. The lines move pretty fast. I was on board before 12 noon. The ship is very striking when you first get on board. If you are used to HAL or some other lines, this is definitely "in your face" and has a very busy feeling. Not a bad thing but a takes getting used to. Very disappointing that there was no one in the lobby to greet us on board. The first impression is that it reminds me of Walt Disney World especially with everyone walking around aimlessly. We found this to be true throughout the trip. The Fish and Chips were excellent if not a little greasy. The Mongolian Asian at the buffet was OK. The mild sauce is very mild. Didn't find the Pan Asian area until after. The beef on the Lido was excellent and very rare. There was a rice dish like a paella but Italian style and was very spicy. The desserts were excellent. There was only lemonade and Iced Tea. I thought the tea was good but the wife thought it was made with the ubiquitous syrup.
Found the Maitre D' pretty easily. No line which was strange. Name is Suresh and didn't see him at all except for a few announcements during dinner and at the buffet once or twice. Changed me to a two top without hesitation. We were able to get in the cabin a bit early. Very nice. Very clean. No ice bucket and none at this writing at 7:05 PM. One bag came up by 2 PM and the rest around 4:30 ish. I was starting to unpack the first bag and I noticed we were moving. This was after the fastest muster drill I have ever seen. They did not take attendance. Sushi to go opens at 5 PM and it was strictly fair. There were MANY people eating at the Lido for dinner. Not that many choices, though. But what they had was nice looking. A LOT of people.
Our waiters are Rudolph and Komang (K), Lincoln Upper Level. Dinner was Tilapia or NY Strip or Sweet and Sour Shrimp. All was very good. Mac and Cheese as side! Dessert was Crème Brulee and was real good and the chocolate melting cake was very good. The show was cute. The dancers and the singers were OK. The comedian was actually pretty good but he sounded like a New Yorker so that may be why we enjoyed him. I played 3 card poker with $3 minimum as was BJ. Craps was $5 min and did not get any action until later. I walked away a small winner so that is a good start. Casino was still busy at 1 AM.
First Day Impression: The crew is interesting. Very much more diverse than other cruises. Some are very personable and some are not. They seem to keep everything clean in the food areas but the rest of the public areas are not so. Beer bottles, papers, empty DOD glasses in many places you would not expect. And this is the first day! Disappointing.
Monday - At Sea
The seas are a little rough today. We slept in a bit. The port talk was at 11 AM. There will be games on deck later and possibly High tea. I passed on breakfast even though we went to the Lido. The ship's motion was seriously bothering me and the smell of the bacon got to me. Felt better after awhile. Went to the Port talk by given by Chris. Very nice. But it turns out that Cozumel is 2 hrs behind not 1 because they set the clocks this week instead of next. Great week I chose. (LOL) They seem to be cleaning the ship a lot more. We had lunch in Lido. Not bad at all. Eggplant with veggies, fried fish (excellent), mac and cheese, again! Great desserts again. We walked around a bit to wait for our meet. They had the art auction today. Looked like nice stuff. A lot of activities around the ship and lots to do, if you wanted. Tea was at 3:30. Not crowded at all. It was held in Winston's bar. Great place to have it with strings and piano. Finger sandwiches and again, excellent cake and good teas. Not white glove, though. Went to info desk (used to be purser's desk, I guess) because I found that the phone did not work! Very windy but we found a nice spot on the port side (no smoking) but the weather changed a bit and I started getting a bit cold. We went up to cabin and phone was good!
Not wild about upkeep in room. Steward seemed to be fine. Finally met him and his name is Miguel with 1 or even 2 assistants. We found a dirty glass this am from previous guest. Shower was very nice but there is a lock button to make sure you don't scald yourself and it was broken. Had robes in the closet. For me, didn't close completely and other one was really in terrible, shoddy shape. And hair dryer blew out and smelled like it burned out!
Formal ("elegant"?????) night. People went to Captain's Welcome Party. Very nice and there were many tuxedoes and most women were really dressed up even when their escorts were not. Majority of men in suit and tie and some in open collars. Few if any jeans but believe it or not there were some. It is very tough to get seat in the lounge. There were an unbelievable number of portrait spots. Lobster was tasty but small. It came with 3 fairly nice size shrimps. Other choices were Prime rib and duck. Appetizers and soup were ok. No escargots but stuffed mushrooms in the same baking dish as the escargots used to come in!
Evening entertainment was very enjoyable. Very nice duo in the atrium. Jeff Laub did a great job in the adult comedy hour. We sat through it twice and he did change some bits. Very busy for the early crowd (10:45) and plenty of room at Midnight. Not too raunchy but enough that under 18 should not attend. NO LATE NITE FOOD except for the burgers and the pizza. Had some fruit and cookies outside on the aft area. But nothing else and getting a napkin was like pulling teeth. Things were still hopping in the clubs but we turned in. Hairdryer was back in drawer but we did not turn it on! One less bath towel than we needed but our first towel animal! Yeah!
Tuesday - Grand Cayman
We pull in to the bay around 7 AM. There is an announcement that due to the sea conditions, we are on the other side of the island. There will be cabs but many excursions have been cancelled. We have breakfast which was pretty standard but the omelet was good. Got a good number for the tender which they didn't check. Loooong wait for the tender and I assume that it was due to 3 ships sitting here and a dock built for two tenders. Finally got on and we were then drenched to skin by a passing rain storm. Decided to chuck the snorkel adventure and stayed on the tender. Many people did the same and many people already were heading back to the ship at 10 AM ship time. Dried off and changed and we went back out (more tender numbers since we lost our originals) and it didn't take too long to get back to the island. Plenty of "cabs" waiting and they get $5 one way. These "cabs" held at least 30 people, some in "jump seats" and the cab didn't move until it was packed. At least it had a/c. Instead of snorkeling we did some shopping. We also saw the area where the tenders would normally dock. WOW! The waves were over the seawall. We also walked over to Eden Rock where I was supposed to go snorkel. Yikes! No way to do that today. While during shopping, DW says women's perfume and such are no big deal any longer there any longer. She found that the prices were not that much better that stateside. We did find cologne for our DS that was about $10 less than the states. Fossil watches were also $10 less than the states OR the ship since the ship did not discount them at all even though they say they do. The ship also had Sheridan Liquor on a deal. $23.95 and if you buy 2, they threw in a small (375 Liter) bottle but they were running out of the small bottles. On Grand Cayman, Blackbeard's had Sheridan for $19 and a free LARGE rum cake for a 1 liter buy. Great deal, we thought. And they ship the booze to the ship. Unfortunately, one bottle did not make it to the cabin on the last night of the cruise!
The tender line back to the ship at 2:30 was ridiculous. We got back to the ship at 3:50. We didn't eat anything since breakfast and the lido closed at 4 PM. EXACTLY at 4 with people on line. Maybe 4:03 but no later. Rather silly since everyone was looking for something. The line at the grill for the burgers was very long. I know they have to prepare for dinner and staff may need to be elsewhere, but I sure there was some way to accommodate passengers especially when the day was so chaotic. Not their fault at all and they did the best they could but I think they could have done better. Still very rough seas and I fear tomorrow will be no better. Stupid cold front. They also came up and fixed the hair dryer. Took 3 minutes. Just changed it out. Very efficient when it comes to that. But why should it come to that?
It ended up being relatively quiet in the dining room. This might be the night for Scarlett's. We had the onion soup. It was very good even though a bit different. The sushi plate for appetizer is a good choice and it is better than the sushi to go. Our waiter recommended the Jerk Pork Loin. We opted for the Short Ribs and we thoroughly enjoyed it. It came with a bit of eggplant which was good. Side dish was rice.
The show was a juggler who was pretty good and Percy Crews II. He started out slow but ended being a good show. He was the adult rated midnight show. That show was extremely crowded and no where near as good nor funny as his regular show. As a matter of fact, he only uttered 1 questionable word in over ½ hr. when we left. Maybe it got better but oh well.
We went looking for some small snacks. The Capers say Late Night Bistro at Rosie's Restaurant. Now what would you thin about that? It has now become Fruit, cookies, and brownies on the rear deck. That's it! It was very rocky and rolling a lot. Oh, went to the casino and dropped $47 at the Craps table. Very cold table. So down $17 for the week in 2 sessions. Tables all $5 minimum and even saw a $25 minimum BJ.
Wednesday - Roatan
We woke up to very cloudy and dreary skies. Could not decide what to do but since we are docking at 12, we have time to decide. Many excursions were cancelled long before we docked. Snorkeling, dolphins, etc. They are pushing Gumbalinda park but if it is so bad why walk around in the rain? Ping Pong tournament at 11 was cancelled due to wind. What do they expect on deck 12 and on a wide open deck? We disembarked and there was a lovely native group dancing and carrying on. They were also there when we came back and they stayed until they brought in the gangway. We went to Fins & Flippers anyway. Very overcast but since the snorkeling is supposed to be so good, I really wanted to go. Pretty cold on the island but there were already people in the water. Ice cold to this Florida boy but it wasn't terrible. I would not have gone into my pool at home at that temperature. The coral was really amazing but the fish were the usual. If you have not snorkeled before, this is NOT the place to try it. They do have a guide who stays with you the whole time. There is a bit of a trail through the coral and rock heads. If you know what you are doing, it is no problem. There were very extensive formations. The others came across a remora! I missed it. It is a beautiful place and if it was 5-10 degrees warmer and less wind, it is really spectacular. We sailed away before 7. I guess everyone made it back early.
Dinner is Filet Mignon and Veal Parmesan. Trip is turning out to be a good time. Hope the weather gets a bit better.
Filet was excellent. Side dish was potato but so it was for the veal parmesan which is a little odd. Brooklyn girl (DW) says the veal was pretty good. My Filet was perfectly done as ordered. Hit the bed early. Not sure if it was the motion of the ocean or the DOD.
Thursday - Belize
Last night was horrendous. Very serious motion to the ship. But slept ok, finally. We got up and we are parked miles out to sea and need to tender very far to the mainland. DW decided tender ride was not worth the effort. We had breakfast and I went to get my tender number but it was very quiet (real early) so I was able to just get on the tender. Ride wasn't too bad and about 20 mins. to ½ hr. Docked right where I needed to be for Coral Breeze. They weren't there yet so I walked about. Cleanest bathrooms I have ever seen for what one might have expect. Coral Breeze (Hammerhead Sports) pulls up with this rather rickety boat. I asked is that the boat to the boat? Nope, the boat to the reef. Hmmmm. Had about 30 people on board of which 25 snorkeled. Caye Caulker is 21 miles from the dock! The sea was rough! Felt every wave and we bounced around quite a bit. Almost lost a couple of people to seasickness. But we finally got there. 10 minutes later we were heading to the reef (which you can see from Caulker). The water was cold but not too bad. The coral gardens was nice and there was a fair amount of sea life. Next, about 500 yds away was "Shark and Ray alley". There were an unbelievable amount of stingrays. The guide brought some sardines and the rays showed up. No sharks. These were definitely not your tame type of ray. Very cool. Lunch was good at Caye Caulker. The ride back was a little smoother but not always.
Dinner was fair. Escargots has always been my favorite buy they were a bit oily. Chateaubriand was strictly OK but shrimps were very good as usual. The evening show was good in spots with Allyn Ball. I won some money at Blackjack in the casino. Adult show was again, Allyn Ball. Very funny when you were able to get his jokes.
Friday - Cozumel (Halloween)
We got to Cozumel and finally the weather was very nice. The new pier is nice and the shops are also good. The vendors are a bit aggressive but some bargain and some don't. You need to know you prices and some things have definitely gone up. DW shopped and I did Eagle Ray Divers. It turned out to be an excellent choice. But with caveats! If you are looking for a nice boat to relax on, forget it. Very slow getting to the snorkel point but the time passes quickly. There were only 3 of us. Me and two kids from the Freedom of the Seas. We all needed to get back by 3:30 island time. Chellie made sure we got out to Palancar reef which was a long trip by this slow boat. But it was well worth it. Palancar is very deep but this makes it a bit different than other areas. The guide was Palo and he was great. I think he was the owner's nephew. He loves the area and it shows. Pointed out everything and was very patient. He would take my camera and free-dived pretty far to get some excellent pictures for me. It does make a difference when you can get down there. I am unable but still thoroughly enjoy the experience. We then went to Cardonas reef and there were tons of fish all over you as soon as you get in the water. Then of to Dzul Ha which was an excellent spot and we saw a spotted moray. That has changed since my last trip there but seems to be recovering from the Hurricanes in the past. We had a quick lunch locally that is part of the trip and then JUST made it back to the ship! It is a bit of a walk along the pier to the gangway. I just get a little nervous when the Captain starts blowing the horn and I can't run too fast with all my snorkel equipment. Security was pretty tight in Cozumel. They ARE checking. I left my camera in my snorkel bag and they sent my bag through the X-Ray 3 times and then took it apart. I was pretty upset with them until I realized that the camera was in there and that is probably what got them so bent out of shape.
Dinner this night was definitely one of the best nights. The rack of lamb was outstanding! The Halloween party was very lively. The staff were amazing. So much energy and enthusiasm. I just don't know how they do it every day.
Saturday - At Sea
We slept in. It IS a vacation, isn't it? Lunch was great as we did the fish and chips, Grilled Reuben, and real good fried chicken. Very windy outside and they closed the upper deck completely. The sun came in and out. Tea was at 3:30 as was the galley tour. We chose tea. The time went by very quickly today. DW started packing and I beat the casino for another $95 at Craps. This is a pretty good trip for me, gambling-wise. Dinner was crab cakes and very good prime rib, Cornish hen, and shrimp with panko crumbs. DW was in the cabin to get something and they delivered the liquor from Grand Cayman and one of the bottles of Sheridan was missing. Went to the purser's office and waited over 20 minutes for them to tell us that they will check in the morning. The box was not sealed and why would they send up a box that clearly says 3 bottles that only had two in there? I know we will get the money back from the credit card company but I wanted that liquor for a gift and you can't get it in too many other places. We were a little upset. The casino and the clubs were all very quiet tonight and we did not do the last show.
Sunday - Disembarkation
The ship seems strangely quiet as we are docked. If you have a balcony, you need to be a bit careful if you are not an exhibitionist. Most people tend to open their drapes and possibly get a little morning extra-curricular activity in before leaving the ship. Or at least you might just be getting dressed. BUT, there may be strange men cleaning by 9 AM! I waved at them and they waved back and went about their business. DW was not too pleased. Breakfast in the Lido was good as usual. There seemed to be a problem with clearing the ship and there was a very long delay getting off. All kinds of rumors from McCain being in town to general nervousness with the impending election to there being a lot of ships in port (I think there were 6).
Getting to the purser's office was absolutely impossible and unbelievably frustrating. The main elevators were blocked as the doors opened by a horde of idiots standing there trying to get off the ship long before they started calling numbers. If you DID get through them (and they were extremely rude), the hallway was blocked! I went up one deck to walk down the main staircase, also blocked. I went to another set of elevators, they were closed for luggage operations! I went back to deck 3 and bullied my way through the only hallway that was opened. What a cluster-"you-know-what!" If you leave your cabin, there is NO PLACE to wait that is comfortable. People all over the place and smoking in areas that they shouldn't be. Finally had our number called and getting to the luggage was not too bad. There are not that many porters but when you get one, they will stay with you the whole time, waiting in line. There were people with all manner of numbers. We were number 8 and a lady was arguing with us about who was next and she had number 17 prominently displayed on their bags. The gangway staff didn't even look at the numbers. The coup de grace was that it started raining to end our trip.
Recap and Thoughts
It took me 2 weeks to put this review together. I hesitated because I truly have mixed feelings about this cruise. I certainly know that there are many things that no one control or predict. Just look at my signature for the forums to see I have had a few interesting experiences. The weather is a big factor and when you cruise in certain seasons, you takes your chances. But this was the most unstable trip I have ever been on. 20 foot seas on a TransAtlantic had less movement than this ship. Is it the ship's design or was the stabilizers not effective. I was not the only seasoned passenger to voice this. Maybe before on deck 7 was too high. First impressions are also so important. This was our first trip with Carnival. We have heard nothing but wonderful reviews of Valor and was thrilled when this ship matched the itinerary we wanted. There was no one to greet you when you got on board. The public areas were a mess! I visited the bathroom in the spa and it needed serious service. There were drink glasses on stairwells. Papers all over the place. I don't think I was over doing it. It was right there. I must say though that after that initial time, there were many people cleaning and making sure it was all OK.
The Ship DEcor very loud but manageable. All of the comments about navigating from point A to point B should be very well heeded by those who have problems with sense of direction. I have a pretty good one, I think, and I never did figure it out. Decks 3 and 4 do not go through. You might say well then I will avoid that but it wasn't so easy. You end up there even when it is not dinner time and it is a bit frustrating. It is a long ship so if you have to back track, it did get tiring sometimes.
The Cabin We had #7358 Deck 7 (Empress) Midships, Port side. I was worried about noise from the area across from our cabin. A previous cruiser on the Conquest had a similar cabin and mentioned a lot of crew noise. We did not experience any of this. Plenty spacious for 2. The bed was very comfortable if not a bit on the hard side. We did not need an "egg crate". We were disappointed in the TV set. It worked fine but very basic and no front jacks for other video equipment. Large amount of drawer space. Luggage fits under bed and there was even a drawer under the sofa. The bathroom is functional. The shower was good. There was a decent amount of shelves for all the toiletries. Don't expect what you used to get. Very chintzy on that. I mentioned before that the shower control was slightly broken, the hairdryer burnt out (Fixed quickly but you have to be in the cabin, understandably), the phone didn't work (fixed immediately), and there was a weird looking glass in the bathroom. The cabin steward was efficient but very business-like. Cabin was always done quickly and no complaints. Had towel animals every night except first and last.
The Infamous Safe Do not use anything but a credit card. We used a hotel "key" at first. It locked no problem but would NOT open. They sent someone up very quickly but we needed a credit card from then. We used an old one that we don't use much anymore. Worked fine every time after that. Very small safe, not nearly big enough for a laptop.
Ship's Staff As in every place you can go in the world, there were shining lights, not so shining, and some downright weird. The staff was much different than other ships we have been on. Not as homogeneous as we were used to. The Lido wait staff, even though they are also dining room staff, were very indifferent and not very friendly. Efficient most of the time. Many times we saw staff using out of the way house phones that were obviously personal calls. Just seemed strange.
The Cruise Director was Chris Jefferson. I usually have no use for the CD but he and his staff, especially Matt, were unbelievable. High energy, vibrant, funny, happy to be there, and always around. Chris' talks were entertaining and useful. The Halloween party was a hoot and he and Matt were dressed and I can not believe they had the nerve to parade around the way they did.
Dining Room Had Table 217, Lincoln, 2nd seating. We always enjoy regular dining. We tend to overeat and try different things and when you have someone for 7 nights, they learn your habits quickly. Waiter was Kumong and Asst was Rudolph. Both were very good but again, very business-like and preferred to get the food out quickly. Too quickly some nights but we do not like to linger, anyway. We did not utilize the wine steward (very sweet and said hello every night) or Head Waiter (Maitre d') or whatever she was. The food was Very Good to Excellent. Excellent most nights. One complaint is less choice on appetizers and soups. Side dishes were strange, to be sure. Desserts also seemed limited but always good.
Lido Excellent food most days. Excellent desserts, even at lunch, all the time. Fish and Chips, Deli, and Asian area were very good. Hamburger Grille was hit and miss and the pizza was very good.
Shore Excursions We had no relationship at all with the ShoreEx desk. I did my thing with private operators. Grand Cayman Supposed to go to Eden Rock. Weather bad and the sea was worse Roatan Fins & Flippers. Beautiful place even with crummy weather. Very nice snorkel and easy in and out of the water. There are a lot of people on the street trying to make a buck. Some are aggressive. Belize Coral Breeze. Excellent snorkel experience when you get over the initial poor impression. Cozumel Eagle Ray Divers. Extremely excellent snorkel experience IF you get over the initial very poor impression! The problem is their boat. Very slow and tedious trip but an enjoyable experience.
Entertainment There was always something doing, music-wise. From a piano player in the atrium, to music on the Lido, to the clubs, to the show band on deck 5 near the casino. The stage shows were not that great (better than I could , for sure). The comics were pretty good. The Casino was always hopping. There were $3 minimums the first night at both Blackjack and 3 card poker. There are also no smoking tables available. Even the craps table has a no smoking side.
What we didn't do Supper Club (reviews from other passengers were mixed), Karaoke, too much drinking, last evening show (passenger talent show?), spend that much time on balcony, Room Service (seemed to be a limited menu)!
I hope this helps those of you who require all the information you can get. I know I am that way. So I like to let you know just as long as you understand that these things are our opinions. You cannot fault anyone who has an opinion, strong or not, and if you don't agree, you are free to disagree.
Just know that we had a very good time and enjoyed it. Will we travel with Carnival again? We are not sure. Will we cruise in the Fall again? Well, that is probably a no at this time. We select our cruises, first by line and ship, then itinerary, then cost. This cruise was selected by cost, itinerary, then ship. If Carnival has the itinerary and price point we want, we probably would consider it. Our next cruise is with Royal Caribbean.