I've never booked a holiday cruise, I thought it would be kind of neat to have someone else do the decorating, someone else do the cooking, cleaning, while the family and I have some R&R.
First of all, the Valor holds a maximum of 2,970 passengers. [IMG]http://inlinethumb22.webshots.com/43285/2640731880054487361S500x500Q85.jpg[/IMG] We were told there were over 3,500 passengers. And you could feel it. Trying to get off the ship and into some of the ports was a nightmare. We didn't bother getting off in the Cayman Islands. There were just too many people. We didn't bother getting off in Belize. The tenders were running an hour apart. Again, too many people. That was the #1 negative aspect of the whole cruise. Too many people.
[IMG]http://inlinethumb42.webshots.com/20265/2527199400054487361S425x425Q85.jpg[/IMG] It was a lovely afternoon when we left Miami. Sky's were partly sunny, windy, and a nice balmy 80 degrees. Beautiful pink and orange sunset over Miami.
We got a nice stateroom near the stairs on Empress, with a balcony (starboard side). The balcony was a great idea only because it served as an additional living area for us. I could step outside early in the mornings and have my morning tea, without waking the kids. [IMG]http://inlinethumb64.webshots.com/24063/2514907300054487361S500x500Q85.jpg[/IMG] Only issue I had were my neighbors.. One of them brought a transistor radio on board and ruined the peace and sounds of the ocean every time he turned it on.. So many times I wanted to call his room and ask him to play the radio down by the pool... But when he wasn't on his balcony blasting his transistor radio, the quiet was beautiful. Hearing the water hit the boat was serene.
We chose to do most of our eating in the formal dining room. We were assigned to the Washington section, and we had a lovely duo of gentleman that waited on us hand and food. Ronald and Lennox were the two. And it's true what they say about the food on the cruise ships. It is abundant, no boundaries, fresh ingredients, yet all the food tasted the same. You could eat as much as you wanted. This is your chance to gain as much weight as you like.
Food presentation is fabulous. Everything comes out of the kitchen with an artistic appeal. Yet, because they have to feed the masses, it must be bland enough to please most everyone. And when I say bland, I truly mean it. But I'll get to that later.
We had four ports of call: Cayman, Belize, Cozumel & Roatan.
Roatan... Roatan was a pleasurable experience. It was a beautiful, lush island full of colorful people. The harbor where the tour guides met us off the ship was heavily congested. We chose the ziplining tour with Island Marketing Group. We had booked with them for ziplining and cave tubing in Belize, but because of some problems with merchants, they had to cease the ziplining part of the tour. So we agreed to do the Ziplining with the same company in Roatan. They were more expensive than any of the other Ziplining tours on Roatan.
We went ziplining and everyone enjoyed it.... [IMG]http://inlinethumb15.webshots.com/12558/2306089200054487361S500x500Q85.jpg[/IMG] How often can you go zipping through the jungles at 30 mph and scream with delight? It's definitely an excursion that shouldn't be missed. Shop around and find the best deal. They all go to the same area, just different prices.
After the ziplining, we went to West End and hung out all day at Foster's Beach. [IMG]http://inlinethumb26.webshots.com/44057/2718282610054487361S500x500Q85.jpg[/IMG] I think this was the best part of the cruise, right here.. You won't find a prettier beach, friendlier people, and it was clean!!!!!! [IMG]http://inlinethumb54.webshots.com/42997/2157374340054487361S500x500Q85.jpg[/IMG] Incredibly clean. We sat around and drank island beers, ate fish taco's, met some local's.. We brought candy and passed it out to the children selling bracelets on the beach. I also paid for a 30 minutes massage ($25 inc tip) from a lady walking around asking if anyone wanted one. I laid down on a beach chaise, closed my eyes and I felt 2 sets of hands on me. One set on my feet and legs, the other set on my back, neck, head and arms. Roatan is a lush island with friendly people.
In Cozumel, we signed up online with Mr. Sancho's beach resort and cooking class which cost me $45 per person...(this place was highly recommended on CC) As I understand it, from the people that rented cars and drove over to Mr. Sancho's, they didn't have to pay the "beach fee" that some of us paid. They only paid for their drinks and food. We paid to use the beach, and do a cooking class. I don't want to sound really negative, but I am really trying to be as honest as I can. With anyone. [IMG]http://inlinethumb46.webshots.com/41837/2287245000054487361S500x500Q85.jpg[/IMG] We got there around 9:30am to enjoy the beach before our cooking class and no one had raked the beach from the previous day's garbage. There was garbage in the sand, under the tables and chairs. Someone on CC had mentioned the old worn out chaise lounges along the shore.. They're still there. Holes, mildew, not to mention that no one had cleaned the sand off them from the previous days beach goers..
So all of us that got there in the morning, cleaned up around the tables we were using. Drinks were $6 for a small margarita.. Keep an eye on your waiter... I never saw my change after the 3rd margarita!!!!!
I would love for my kids to write their own review of the cooking class. They were totally disappointed. I didn't have any expectations. I was a little disappointed that there was no protein served. It was all carbs. We learned to stuff peppers and make rice. We made guacamole and margarita's. We were hoping to learn to make tamales or chile rellano's. Anything more authentic would have been fun.
Ok....... so we blew off two ports, and went & got off in two ports.
On to the ship..... I prefer the smaller ships. I really like Fascination and Imagination because of more opportunities to sit at tables outside. On the Valor, only places you can sit outside is where all the people are. Thousands of people in fact. There is no aft deck on the Valor where you can go sit and drink your morning tea outside, smelling the salty air. You either have to go up along side the rails on the 10th & 11th deck, or go to the back of the ship where the adult pool (that was a joke) has a glass sliding ceiling that they open in good weather...
So finding a place to drink a beer, a cup of coffee, a cup of tea ALONE, close to the water, ain't happening.
The adult pool. It says it in the capers, it is posted at the pool. I understand it's in English, but it's just not fair for the rest of us that would prefer a quieter place to hang and meet other's, that you should bring your 5 and 9 yr olds to the adult pool because it's close to the pizzeria..
Every time you walk past the casino, you smell only one thing. Wet ashtray smell.
Restaurants: (other than the Washington dining room)
Rosie's cafeteria- buffet style eating. Tons and tons of food, beautiful presented in mass quantities. Restaurants is always clean, even the seats are brushed off. Food all tastes the same. I sampled all of the protein served. I think my favorite in Rosie's was their cookies... Hot tea and cookies taste wonderful together. It pleases the masses.. and that's all that matters.
The Deli-Those guys are great!!!! This became my favorite food source because this food tasted more like what it was supposed to taste like. The pastrami was awesome.. I had it piled on my plate every afternoon along with a giant pile of nova smoked salmon and a huge slice of cream cheese (high sodium alert) and they never skimped on portions!![IMG]http://inlinethumb57.webshots.com/44408/2437316260054487361S500x500Q85.jpg[/IMG]
The fish and chips place- This was pretty good too. After so many people raved about this place on CC, we made sure this was our first meal on the ship. We had the octopus salad, the ceviche, the bouillabaisse, and fish and chips. Awesome food..
Outdoor grill- they have onion rings that taste just like the onion rings at IHOP. [IMG]http://inlinethumb61.webshots.com/27388/2632024860054487361S500x500Q85.jpg[/IMG] Really!!! crunchy cornmeal in the batter.. they never go soggy.. If you're allergic to corn products (Celiacs and Glutton intolerant) I suggest you be real careful with all the breaded stuff..
Pizzeria- best pizza next to the chains on land.. cornmeal on the bottom for the crunch effect. The wait is long and you have to stand there... even if he tells you 15 minutes, stand there or he'll give your slices away.. No joke!!! good pizza.. noticed that this place and the Deli became the most congested food stops as people began to realize how the food all tastes the same.. Scarlett's- Let's just say this was the most real food on the ship. Everything we ate there tasted exactly like it was supposed to. The steaks tasted like steaks, the spinach tasted like spinach.. Seriously folks, this was the only place on the ship where the food tasted like how you know it....
One night, we didn't feel like going to the Washington dining room. But we were hungry and needed something.. So we went down to the cafeteria and walked around.. I spotted the most beautiful hunk of prime rib at one of the carving stations..... It was red, and shiny and fatty.. Absolutely what makes a Chowhound salivate.. I got him to slice me a big hunk and I put a little horseradish on my plate and put a little Au jus on top of the meat..
When I began slicing the beef and eating it, I was chewing and adding and chewing and adding, when I realized I couldn't taste the flavor. All I could taste was the gravy and horseradish. I couldn't taste the meat. I was chewing, but not tasting.. This is how the meat tasted in the dining room every night.. tender, perfectly cooked, and tasteless.
That's why I pretty much stuck to the deli. At least I could taste what I was eating.. and I could recognize the flavor. Ok, enough about food.. The cruise isn't about food in my books because they don't cook with spices... This cruise was about being with family and enjoying the amenities on the boat.
Loved the gym... Either get there before 8am or after 2pm if you don't want to wait for a machine. I found that the earlier I went, the better chance of getting the bike or elliptical machines.
Cruise Director. Never met him, never saw him. Heard him.
Housekeeping. Excellent. I was very pleased with the job they did with my two kids. We brought Christmas decorations and did up the whole cabin like a shrine to a Christmas tree.. Everyone around us seemed impressed with all the flashing lights on the balcony, on the door, when the door was opened... It was like a cabaret! We brought little tiny stockings with us and put the housekeeping staff's name on them.. everyday we put goodies in their stockings. The surely appreciated being included in our holiday festivities.
Thank you CC for the suggestions of bringing decorations, candy for the children in Roatan, and especially, all the booze! No one bothered us with all the booze we brought on... We brought 8 or so specialty bottle of beers, and champagne and a box of wine... They told us they didn't do preferred toilet paper. We didn't have to ask for robes. We did ask that they empty our fridge. Room service was good too....... If I phoned, we got our order. If my son phoned, we didn't get our order.. Maybe they don't like to deal with kids? Not a problem.. I did the ordering.
Passengers... As I said, didn't run across any drunks, not that many of them came to eat in their bathrobes... several, but not a whole lot. Still saw lots of people that piled the food to the ceiling and didn't eat all of what was on their plate. There is still the chaise saving with the towels at the break of dawn. You just have to learn to get up at 6:30am and go put your towels and books down for everyone to know that no is getting that chaise all day.
The shows are entertaining.. They are full of energy and youthfulness. You can either choose to hang out on your balcony and listen to the ocean and watch the satellites in the sky or you can go to a show and walk the promenade. Both are fun.
I must have counted 8 satellites one night.. The sky is so clear and full of stars.
I will add some photo's. My daughter has all the food photo's as she remembered to take the photo's before I dug into the real food up in Scarlett's.
Speaking of Scarlett's, if you have a choice between dropping a couple hundred in the casino every night or eating really, really, really good food while on vacation....... hands down!! go to Scarlett's. The steaks are as good as you have ever dreamed of. Creamed spinach with wilted, not overcooked spinach!!!!! Caesar salad made at your table, like the old days. Everything tasted exactly like it was supposed to.. and I know that I've said this before, but I just can't emphasize the fact that the meat is sooooooooooooo bad down in the dining rooms and at the cafeteria. And if you're a beef eater, or if you like food (period) then you know EXACTLY what I'm talking about..... Enjoying a piece of steak that tastes like it came right off a flame broiled grill... not some steam table.
#2 negative: All the beef in the other restaurant's tastes like it's been steamed. Rubberized, no taste. Just chew and swallow.
Value.. I'm not sure what to say. You are paying for mediocre food, overbooked ship, ports that are difficult to get to and from with tenders.. If you're a cruising fool like me, you figure out what the value of your cruise is to you and your family. My daughter said she thinks they're a waste of time. My son liked his first 2 cruises, but wasn't impressed with this ship. Would I do Carnival again? Not the big ships. I really like the smaller ships with outside seating when I want to smell the salty air and pretend that I'm on this cruise alone. Not with thirty million people.
Ok, that's my review.. Honest, a straight shooter.
For my next cruise... I was thinking of flying to Europe and then sailing home to Ft. Lauderdale. I would have my balcony, my bathrobe, and lots of room service.. This experience didn't change my mind. I just won't be sailing during holidays anymore.
Will post photo's, soon. Will post food photo's when I get them.. (wait till you see the food photo's from Scarlett's.. AWESOME!!)