Carnival Valor March 15 - 22, 2009 Western Caribbean
I live in a rural area and often hear it said that people from small communities are the best. I tend to differ. I think when people are treated with kindness and respect they tend to treat others in the same way. So I think all people from all over are wonderful. My advise to any cruiser is this, get up on the Lido deck and dance, the teenagers know the right steps to the Cubin shuffle, but they don't mind if we don't know the steps, get involved in the games and fun, put on that swim suit but don't forget the sunscreen, eat drink and be merry because in a blink of an eye the week will be over. And if someone or something gets your dander up, do your best to get over it and not let it ruin you fun. Some people can enjoy themselves no matter where they are, others will never have a good time, I tend to be in the first category and with that said here is our trip.
We drove to Denver on Friday March 13 and stayed at the La Quinta airport hotel. I really like this hotel. We walked down the street for supper that evening. I paid $5.00 a day to leave the car at the hotel for the week, had a continental breakfast in the lobby in the morning and took the free shuttle to the airport Saturday at noon. I love a hotel that has noon check out.
Our flight didn't leave until 4:53 PM so we spend the day people watching and full of anticipation, arrived in Miami at 10:39 PM. I had done my homework and knew the shuttle would be the best way to get to the hotel; the cost would be less than a taxi. I had been told in advance to collect our luggage and head out the doors to meet up with the people in the bright yellow shirts. They forgot to tell me that they were located way on the other end of the airport and after a few inquiry's we tiredly walked the length of the Airport. We didn't have to wait long once we checked in at the curb side with the shuttle attendant and were off for the hotel.
A note on the hotel. I booked through Travelocity and told them we just needed a bed for the night, something clean but not fancy, in other words something that wouldn't cost me an arm and a leg to spend 6 hours in. I was booked into Continental Downtown Bayside for a grand total of $79.53 for two beds, and I was excited about the price after seeing what the hotels in Miami were going for. Then I started reading the reviews on the hotel and had my doubts about my good fortune. Being a rancher and one that does not travel much or go out to eat much my expectations are not real high, I am not a country club gal, but love the outdoors, camping, fishing and a "clean" hotel room if I have to pay for one. Well the credit card had been charged so I thought I would make the best of it. We arrived at the hotel after midnight and the streets were full of people in formal wear, I assumed there had been a wedding. This hotel must have been grand in its day but has not been updated very much. We were greeted by a very friendly well dressed lady (that I could understand - a big plus) with a big smile seated behind the desk. There was a night watchman in the lobby watching the goings on. We got our keys and went up to the 4th floor of the 17 floor hotel. Yes the hotel needs a fresh coat of paint, some new wallpaper and new rugs, but I didn't pay $400.00 for my 6 hour stay so I was pleased. Our room was "very" clean, just old. The bed was hard, I don't sleep well anyway so it didn't matter, and it creaked when I got in and out but that didn't wake up my daughter so it was fine. The bathroom was clean, the TV worked, the hair dryer did not. My daughter was hungry so I had her stay in the room and I went down to get a snack. I talked to the night watchman and he told me I could get food around the block so off I went. There were actually 4 places open all night just down the block.
To my surprise when I looked out our window at about 6:00 AM there was our ship out in the harbor and 2 others. So for my 80 bucks I even got a great view!! I set off to buy some sodas for the cruise and another snack and found a market within a couple of blocks, saw a lady ironing her suit case full of clothes on the side walk (she had her ironing board set up right there on the side walk), and people grilling breakfast on their BBQ grills. Back at the hotel we packed up and went to the elevator which kept stopping full of people. We had left a note in our room for the maid and a tip as we really felt she had done an outstanding job of cleaning. The maid came out to the elevator and thanked us with a big smile; I don't think they see many tips there and that made us feel good. After waiting some time on the elevator we opted for the stairs. The people working downstairs were all well dressed and very friendly.
So my review of the Continental Bayside Downtown is this: it's advertised as a 1 star hotel, costs a lot less than anything else in the area and I would stay there again. If you want the Ritz, go somewhere else. The staff treated us with respect and were very friendly (sour attitudes are sometimes contagious). There were no dirty underwear stashed away anywhere - I will elaborate later, no bugs and the sheets were clean. It was like a lot of older mom and pop hotels scattered thought the mid west.
Now a $5.00 shuttle to the port.
We arrived at the port early, around 10:30 I think. Our luggage had the tags we printed off the internet secured and we checked our bags with the porter. Be sure and bring plenty of $1.00 bills as everyone works for tips / and expects them. I guess you don't have to tip, but I did see bags dropped and slammed around when a tip was not given. Not saying its right or wrong, just the way it is!
There were no lines when we got there and we were given a boarding number and checked in with our fun pass. It was fast. There were plenty of seats at that time, not enough an hour later and the lines got very long. So be early or later if you don't want to stand in line. If you're not early, be ready for some shoving while standing in line, pretty much the way it is the whole trip. Boarding started late, but they got out a couple of big beach balls in the waiting area and that kept people occupied, trying to keep the balls in the air.
On to the ship and up to Rosie's. We were met by cocktail waiters as soon as we got in the pool area. I noticed that they did have signs on their trays to state the drink of the day and the price, but all of the waiters had the signs situated on their trays so that you could not read them as they handed you a drink, they were off to the side instead of forward in plain view. Many people were taken back when asked for their sail and sign card? WELCOME ABOARD! "Kaaching"
My daughter was handed a drink, she's only 19 but no one asked so..... I should note that my daughter and I took this trip as a going away party for her deployment to Iraq with her National Guard unit in three weeks; my feeling is that if she is old enough to fight for our freedom she is old enough to drink. She does not drink in our home and I have never had a drink with her before the cruise. Probably had a few to many on our vacation! I should also tell you that we booked this cruise about 3 weeks before we sailed so we were last minute cruisers. My trip to the Omaha zoo with Ellen got a bit out of hand one night while planning and here we are? Joe you're the best!
We had lunch at Rosie's did some exploring, went to our room where our bags were waiting and started unpacking a few things. The room was a balcony on the Empress deck (7) in the front of the ship. It was a nice sized room, plenty of storage space, not enough hangers in the closet, but lots of drawers for things, two comfortable beds and all in all we liked it. A note here, the room had a hair dryer that worked but it was not very powerful and was one of those you have to keep the button pressed down on for it to run. My thumb got tired and sore so I would recommend bringing your own or tape to tape it down with (probably not something they really want you to do). The bathroom amenities included a couple of razors, some one use toothpaste and a variety of medicines for colds/headaches. In the shower they kept the bodies wash and shampoo dispenser filled. If your like me and have gotten to an age that reading fine print is difficult here is another note - The round silver thing attached to the shower wall with a string attached is not the "emergency call button". Pull the string; attach the end by the shower head and Walla - instant clothes hanger for those wet swim suits. The bathroom also had a nice mirror that pulled out so you could see that back of your head and you could flip it over for magnification to put on make up. Our ice bucket was always full and I set the ice tongs aside as I read where another cruiser had used them to clean hair out of his shower drain with them. Just couldn't bring myself to go there with that in mind. The fridge is small and doesn't get real cold but works if you give things time. I brought on a 12 pack of sodas in my checked bags and the ones I put in the fridge were cold by the next morning. We met out cabin Stuarts and they were friendly and kept our room in tip top shape the entire cruise. The balcony was smaller than the one on the Crown Princess but very nice to sit out on. A bonus to the smaller balcony was a larger room and we enjoyed the sofa inside the room. We did get the early seating as we had asked for and were in the Lincoln dinning room, upstairs. It is beautiful and our wait staff, Coco and Ria were excellent. We enjoyed all of our meals and the extra special care we were given each night. Thank you both! We had 6 other table mates, all young college ladies. Three of the gals were from West Point Military Academy, so that was really neat for my daughter and me. There were a few people in our area at dinner that were less that kind to Coco and Ria. The kids should have won an award for the biggest brats and their parent for well I'm sure you get my drift (walk the plank comes to my mind), but Coco and Ria took it all in with a smile. I use to work in the service industry, helped put me through college and that man and his boys were the reason I was glad to get out of it. To him and his boys, "may you all be soaked by Shirley temples at your wedding while in your tuxes, and may your wives wedding dresses be forever stained by those same Shirley temples." To the people sitting down below this table of people, I hope you didn't get to wet and your clothes were not ruined.
If you like to watch the sun rise in a quiet spot with the wind on your face and a smoke if you are so inclined and can get it lit (there are ash trays attached to the wall), I recommend the front of the ship on Decks 6 or 7. Since you have to walk through the halls of rooms and they don't go to any special places except bed rooms many people don't go there. I only ran into a couple of people or the staff washing the deck whenever I went out there. They have a few benches to sit on and relax. I believe it was deck 3 that you could also go out and walk the length of the ship on, but it does not wrap all the way around like on the Crown Princess. There are benches out there also and not many people.
We never had a problem finding a deck chair to catch the rays but only sat by the pool the first day. I was kicked out of two places while aboard so here is a warning. Don't stand in the pool with a drink and don't take a drink out on the dance floor in the disco, both big No No's! I did stand in the adult pool and have a drink and on the dance floor on the Crown Princess, so I was not aware before hand that I shouldn't do this on the Valor. But the staff told me in a nice way and I abided by the rules from then on. Live and learn, smile and go on!
Our meet and greet was a blast because it was so nice to put a face with those I had chatted with here on cc. I bought some cc gear (insulated bag, luggage tag which I attached to me beach bag for shore days, waterproof holder and hand sanitizer) before we left. I ordered it the last minute and didn't know if I would get it before the cruise but it came in just a few days. Some of the people that didn't make it to the meet and greet talked to me because of the gear so more friends were made. I can't express how nice it was to have people to talk with during the cruise that I had been talking with ahead of time. As one new friend said - she proved her son wrong because her "imaginary internet friends" turned out to be real and not some kind of Waco's, ok I am a bit wacko but not the criminally insane type! Give your mom a hug for me?, you know who you are!
A big group of us "imaginary cc internet friends" and a few others that were invited along because I talked cc up so much met at the disco, One Step Up, and danced the night away. What a great time we all had, except for me getting kicked off the dance floor that night for that drink in my hand, ooopppsss.
We took in the Valor dancers at the Nightclub Express and thoroughly enjoyed the show.
Eddie Capone's "R" rate comedy show was a blast. Please note that the rating is "R" for a reason. If you don't like foul language and can't laugh at yourself don't go. If you have little kids, leave them home. If you don't want your 16 year old son being the brunt of things young boys/ and men do, send him to the movie on the Lido deck. If however you enjoy a good laugh and want to be picked on sit right up front. Thank you Eddie for the serenade! My husband was glad I didn't take you up on your offer, I was glad my daughter didn't take you up on your offer. You were sensational!!
We signed up for the "on deck for the cure" breast cancer walk and although the turn out was smaller than I would have thought our little group walked the 8 laps around the jogging course to make up the mile. We had one survivor, one lady that had gotten an emergency phone call on board that a friend had passed from pancreatic cancer and a host of us who have lost a love to cancer. My heart goes out to each of you who walked Saturday afternoon.
My pick for the best bar tender on board was Wayan from Indonesia in the cigar lounge. Coco our waiter had recommended I try their after I told him that the bar tenders on board didn't seem to want to get involved in a conversation or smile much. At first I thought it may be because they were so busy but after sitting with Wayan I realized that was not the case. Wayan held down that huge bar and all its customers and all the cocktail wait staff from the Lincoln dinning room with the ease and grace of a pro while still able to chat and smile with the customers sitting at the bar.
We took in an art auction but after looking at the paintings decided we didn't want to hang around another 45 minutes until it started.
I signed up for the sea miles since they guaranteed there were no annual fees and no interest if you pay off your bill on time. They also offered 5,000 sea miles with my on board account if I switched my account over to the master card which they did for me. If it doesn't work out like they said I will let you know. If it does I may be cruising again real soon.
The photographers do an excellent job so if you want to get some family photos it is a good time. They are not as expensive as paying for a professional sitting at home and they are everywhere. No charge to get the pictures taken and buy only if you want to. On a down side you have to hunt through the walls of pictures for yours, and on formal nights every photographer wants to take your picture. Don't throw away the card the photographer gives you and be sure and take it with you when you go to look. It will make finding yours much easier. I also used the photo kiosk to have some of my digital pictures printed in less than 24 hours and the $0 .22 each cost was reasonable and they threw in nice little Carnival photo albums that day. Be sure and look at what "free gift" they are giving each day with the purchase of pictures. To my cc friends from "Philly" I have some prints of all four of you wearing the cutest balloon hats at Fat Tuesdays and on the pier - I need to send them to you but don't have your e-mail address??
There are many talks about the restaurants on other cc reviews so I won't go in to that much. We enjoyed the food all over the ship. My late night pizza run was always fun for me, and at home I don't eat much pizza. I never ordered steak as we raise our own beef and ours just can't be beat. I like to try things I don't fix at home and this cruise was a great opportunity for that. We did have room service on a couple of mornings and it was there right when I asked with all I had asked for. Since I love smoked salmon I would order four plates of it for the two of us. You get two pieces per plate and they never said I couldn't have it. The only time I was disappointed in food was the last day for breakfast. The lines were really long, silverware was no where to be found and they did not keep the food stocked as well as they did the rest of the cruise. I got the feeling that they just wanted to get us all off, which I know they did since they had another cruise to get ready for.
There were 800 kids on the ship and I never noticed many of them. Carnival does a great job of keeping the kids entertained and out of the halls running a muck.
Near the end of the cruise I started asking my cc buddies if they wanted to meet again on the last day to say goodbye and chat more about what our week had included. We decided to meet at the back pool bar again. Ellen and I sat at the bar and never saw anyone; they had all gotten together where we were that first day, over in the corner. They said it went well and was fun, I caught some flack over it, oh well, I was forgiven - I think!
Need to visit guest services? Number one thing to remember is that the shore excursions desk is just on the other side of the ship a crossed from the guest services desk on deck three, make sure you are waiting in the proper line. Don't like to wait in line for guest services to cash those travelers checks (no fee) or whatever you need to take care of? Go in the middle of the night if you are a night owl like me. They are open 24 hours and there is basically no line late at night/early in the morning.
Check out "Play That" in the American lobby if you get a chance, they are wonderful to listen or dance to.
I had mentioned earlier about my stay in the Bayside hotel in Miami and how so many people have slammed it here on cc. As I mentioned I did not find any dirty underwear in my room there. To elaborate, one group of table mates from the Lincoln dinning room found a dirty sheet, a pair of men's boxers and a pair of women's underwear (all dirty) in the closet in the room they had on board the first day. Someone wasn't doing there job! You can stay at the most luxurious place and things can go wrong, just like you can stay at a cheaper place and have a nice stay. Sometimes the cards fall good, sometimes they don't. Sorry about your misfortune gals.
Ok, I know I am long here but it was a seven day cruise and still not enough days to see and do everything. I will now tell about our ports of call.
We didn't do much shopping in the port areas opting for the local crafts and experience. We also did not book any excursions ahead of time except for a reservation at Fins and Flippers (no money up front) and I will get to that later.
Grand Cayman - we went out and walked around and looked through some shops and a local craft market. We wanted to go to the seven mile beach for some fun and hailed a shuttle that said $4.00 for the trip. I was at Grand Cayman in October and paid $5.00 and we were taken a lot farther down the beach to a nicer area so ask where they will be taking you if you care. On an up side the beach was very nice, Ellen learned to snorkel with the equipment I brought along and we had a great time. We opted to walk back along the beach to the port area, it took about an hour. I loved the walk. As we got closer to the port we went though a hotel parking lot with signs stating do not enter for guests only but we were not told to leave and at the entrance along the road a sign said public beach with an arrow down the street we had just walked through. Once back in town we went to Margaritaville and had a blast. Before we left we both tried the water slide a few times, not as long and big as on the ship, but fun. We didn't try the slid on the ship.
Isla Roatan - This was the top spot for us. We booked Fins and Flippers through a link on the cc web site. A nice young lad escorted us through the streets after we left the port area. He had a sign for Fins and Flippers and took us to the dock for the short ride over to the island. He also told us some history about the islands and was a pleasant young fellow. You pay $20.00 per person when you get their, 3 minute boat ride included or $25.00 if you did not book ahead of time. "Cindy" met us at the pier and was a gracious host telling us all about the island and what they offered. This place had it all, clean rest rooms, a pool, plenty of beach chairs out on the beach, the sand had been raked and the beach area was immaculate, a shop to do some souvenir hunting and great food and drinks. Oh and I almost forgot they even had a zoo area with monkeys, birds, cats and sea lions. So Ellen got her Zoo trip, just not to Omaha! It also had the best snorkeling. There is a pier out back that you walk out on then get in the water off a ladder. Two men were out in the water all day, one man out where it drops off about 50 feet in a kayak in case you needed help. This was the best off shore snorkeling that I have ever done and encourage everyone to check it out. Bring a small can of bug spray as many people did get bit by sand fleas, I didn't as I used the spray. After our beach day we headed back to town and a walk up the road to check out the local shops. Ellen was proposed to about 10 times and there was some talk of drugs but no beggars, just everyone wanting you to check out what they had to sell. This is a great place to barter for some neat things. We never felt threatened and enjoyed the shopping. One must remember that it's a poor area with people just trying to make a living. We will go back!
Belize - Once in the port area after a longer tender ride we left the area and went to find the water taxi. Again there were plenty of people to tell us how to get there and a man that worked there escorted us over to get our ticket ($20.00 round trip for two) over to Caye Caulker Island. It took around 35 minutes and was a beautiful boat ride. I did get a lump in the pit of my stomach for a few moments as Belize went out of sight and we were in the middle of no where but that passed as we went by small uninhabited islands and changing colors of the ocean from deep blues to greens to light blues. Caye Caulker Island is small with dirt streets. You can book snorkeling trips from there if you wish. We opted for a stroll around the island. I had thought we could snorkel from the beach but never really found a beach area and it was dirty around the shore. We enjoyed the day looking at the local area, beautiful plants and shopping in the local stores. Some of our favorite pictures were taken under beautiful flowering plants and trees. We grab a beer at the shore area bar and sat outside waiting to taxi back to Belize. Once back at the Belize water taxi association pier we headed into town for a look around. A local had suggested the museum but we never made it there. We didn't find any local craft type stores and got tired of being hit on for rides to the beach and marriage proposals for Ellen and headed back to the cruise ship pier area. Once inside the local vendors had opened up and we bought a few things. Then we went to the Wet Lizards for a drink and a few t-shirts. It was a fun day and we were glad we went to Caye Caulker.
Cozumel - We left the port early and took a taxi to Paradise beach. There was no charge for the beach if you didn't want to use the "toys" and just wanted to lounge in the chairs. When we got there the beach was deserted for the most part and even the workers hadn't arrived yet. It was a good time to snorkel around the pier but after Fins and Flippers a bit disappointing. Keep in mind that if you want to snorkel at a busy public beach it is best to do so early in the morning before the fish are scared away. You will see more of them. We had fun at the beach, ate a wonderful lunch then headed to San Miguel for some shopping. The afternoon was fun and we browsed through many shops, drinking $1.00 Coronas on our way. When we'd had enough we took another taxi ride back to Puerta Maya pier. More shopping in the locals stores and then we ended up sitting at Fat Tuesdays until it was time to get back on board.
We enjoyed all of the ports and beaches. I am a bit of a wimp when it comes to the cold and the water was chilly compared to October when I was in the Caribbean last. Friday in Cozumel it was also a bit cooler than the other days but warm compared to back home in Nebraska. Actually the weather was great the whole cruise.
If asked to compare my cruise with Carnival and Princess I would have to say I enjoyed both of them. The cruise on Princess was re-routed due to a hurricane so instead of all Eastern Caribbean ports we got to visit both Eastern and Western. The ship hit some foul sea's and was pretty rocky for a day or so but the staff took great care of us. I would cruise either ship again without hesitation because I think they both do a wonderful job of seeing to the enjoyment of everyone on board.
To my new cc friends from Canada, Europe and the United States it was a great time! To those of you that sailed out on the Valor on Sunday March 22, 2009, you lucky ducks, I saw you from our plane as we left Miami,a bitter sweet moment for me, I hope you enjoyed your trip as much as we did.
If you have any questions let me know, and happy sailing! Anni aka Silly Sally 13