Having never been a cruise, I did not know what to expect from beginning to end. I found the entire process fascinating.
Embarkation: The first experience memorable experience was getting on the ship itself. At the port in Miami your luggage is taken outside and tagged for the cruise ship to be delivered to your room before 6:00 pm. Once inside, we were required to go through security checks and then stand in line to receive our sign and sail card. This card is similar to a credit card that you use while you are on the cruise ship. I was completely naive concerning the additional expenses you encounter on a cruise, but I was educated very quickly. After I received my sign and sail card, I entered the ship, the Carnival Valor, which I though was simply beautiful. The ships corridors are richly decorated with themed paintings, all the ships interior had gold and wood accents, and I thought the ship was very clean and had an air of elegance. The departure from Miami port was amazing. All the cruise ships were in a line slowly sailing along the Miami beach coastline. I was able to take some breathtaking photos since the day was very clear, even though I was cruising in December.
Dining: The ship's staff started immediately with entertainment by the poolside and of course lunch was already waiting for us on the Lido deck. My first disappointment was the decor of the casual dining room. It was a mishmash of lime green and other colors that didn't quite contrast. The cups were short plastic and I felt like a kid every time I had to get something to drink in one of these "mini" cups. The wait staff walked around selling overpriced drinks in plastic carnival branded cups, but that was the extent of their service. There was no person that walked around to actual assist you with anything, every thing was completely buffet style and self service. The view in the dining areas was gorgeous and although the ship was full there was adequate seating. The food quality was passable, but food was certainly aplenty. The coffee on the ship, the "free" coffee was completely atrocious and I found myself paying for coffee towards the middle of the cruise. For the most part I enjoyed the dining experience, the variety was excellent, the desserts were fantastic, and the food tasted fresh and had good presentation. I found the formal dining disappointing. I ate in the Washington dining room and I thought the quality of the food was poor. After ordering the meal, it took forever to come and when it did come, it was cold. I don't remember eating anything that was suppose to be hot, hot. If it was supposed to be hot, like soup, it was moderately room temperature at best, cold at worst. The wait staff was cordial and friendly, but the food was not quality and it just didn't taste very good. By the middle of the cruse, we opted to always take our meals on the Lido deck. In addition, at the end of the cruise you have to tip everyone including the Maitre'D who didn't do anything except visit the tables and say, "Hello, My name is Pablo and I'm your Maitre'D." I don't mind tipping the wait staff, but I felt like everybody had their hand out for something.
Cabin: I did a virtual tour of the stateroom before I got on the ship and my room looked exactly like the one on Carnival's website. I was in a room with a widow, the level below those with a balcony. The window was large enough for me to sit in and look out at the water on the second floor of the ship. The view was fantastic. In retrospect, I think it would be worth the extra money to have a balcony view, but I was very satisfied with my view from the window. The room was large enough to walk around comfortably. It was clean and the cleaning staff took pride in making sure that we had plenty of clean towels and sheets. There was a TV, a safe and a mini bar (which remained locked even the sodas were $3.25). There was plenty of closet space and storage space. The couch even had extra pull out drawers, which was a bonus. Good lighting, pleasant decor, I was very pleased with my room and didn't mind spending time sleeping or relaxing. As a part of the service they charge you a mandatory fee of $70 for the cleaning staff. You can adjust to pay more if you're especially pleased with the service, but it will be charged to your sign and sail card by the middle of the cruise. I didn't particularly care for that. I think all those amenities should be included in the cruise price. Essential cabin amenity: A power strip. The room hand only one 110v outlet located near the middle of the room. I had a laptop, phone, video player, battery charger, curling iron, mp3 player and I was sharing a room with another person who had just as much electrical equipment. We had to trade off charging items and that was really a pain.
Entertainment: Well it's a "Fun" ship so there was plenty of partying going on. I didn't really see anything that was excessive. For the most part, I was in my cabin by 10:00 pm and most of the clubbers were just leaving to go to one of the many bars or lounges on the ship. One thing I didn't like was to get to the Internet Cafe you had to go through the cigar bar. I hated that since I don't smoke and I think cigar/cigarette smoke is awful smelling. I literally had to hold my breath to get to the Internet Cafe. The variety shows were colorful, but the talent on the cruise was like bad "High School Musical." I mean bad, bad, off, off broadway. The comedians were not funny, with the exception of one guy, and the juggler kept dropping things. The Ivanhoe theater was a nice place to sit and enjoy entertainment, but I would have like it better if they just played movies there instead of the cheesy variety shows. I did enjoy Movies by the Sea and I found the festive spirit on the ship refreshing.
Shore Excursions: Okay, I'm not cheap but I'm not rich either, and the shore excursions were just flat out over priced. I paid $40 (which didn't include snorkeling that was $75) for a day at the beach on the Roatan Island excursion, when I could have just given the driver $10 bucks and paid $10 for the snorkel equipment right on the beach. Most excursions can be negotiated by someone on the outside of the ship for at least half of what the ship offers. So my next cruise I want be paying for any shore excursions! But the excursion locations were beautiful. I enjoyed Grand Caymans, Cozumel, Roatan Island, but I didn't care at all for Belize. Belize is a dirty little city and I felt like I was surrounded by hustlers.
Overall: I LOVED the cruise. I cannot describe what an incredible experience it was to be on a cruise ship. It was such smooth sailing. It's so economical too. Going to several different places instead of staying at one place and one hotel. The shore visits were long enough to enjoy the day and then get back to the ship for a hearty meal and rest before the evening activities. I recommend cruising to anyone who really wants to just enjoy a genuine carefree vacation.