I was a little worried after reading some Carnival Valor reviews (good & bad). To add to the worry, my friend (a RCCL devotee) was HORRIFIED when I told her we'd booked a Carnival Cruise! Hey, I figured for $1000 for two people, including tax (we also had free airfare) how bad could it be??? Our worries were unfounded....IT WAS FANTASTIC!
OUR ROOM was an inside cabin on the "Verandah" deck and was a "jewel box." We loved our room steward Witaywa, who couldn't do enough for us. There was plenty of storage & we had room to spare. The shower was of okay size, even for my guy who's 6' 2' & 215lbs. I thought we had a nice bedroom at home, but after experiencing the bedding in our stateroom, I'm looking into purchasing the Carnival brand bedding.
THE FOOD was great- something for everyone. We had the early seating in the lower level of the Washington dining room. We had a booth all to ourselves with an ocean view & FAB service from Mario & Nolan. My husband thought it was a BIG plus that we didn't have to interact with other diners- ha ha. We tried all the different food stations on the ship and really enjoyed Rosie's for their ocean view booths and easy-going buffet. We adored the complimentary ROOM SERVICE! We didn't mind tipping a couple dollars each time, because the food was great and they were usually there within 20 min. We brought our Gladware along, so we'd order some room service sandwiches to take along on port days. Our faves were the Steak & Brie (best for picnics) , Southwest Chicken wrap & open faced shrimp salad.
EMBARKATION was a little delayed, due to a surprise Coast Guard inspection, but it still only took 40min. from being dropped off by the Ramada Miami Airport North (great pre-cruise bargain hotel) complimentary port shuttle to be in our room. Our luggage was outside our door within the first hour!
DEBARKATION was fine; we obtained an early call # due to our flight being International & departing early, so we were out of our room and had gathered our bags from the carousel all in 25min. We had been approached by "Miami Sunshine" shuttle service prior to our cruise and were given stickers for our shirts to use for getting to the airport for $9. We were spotted RIGHT AWAY at the curb by the team and were whisked away with our bags and arrived at the airport within 20 min.
the ENTERTAINMENT on board was varied and of good overall quality. Our FAVES were two of the production shows and two of the adult comedians "PHAT CAT" & Allyn Ball- very cutting edge :) If you like karaoke, we tried it a couple of times- got my man to sing "I shot the Sheriff" & "Maggie May" so that was worth the price of the whole trip right there!
We played the slots almost every night for a couple of hours and did okay and managed not to lose too much.
SMOKING: We were a little wary about the smoke levels on the ship due to some of the other reviews that we'd read (we are VERY sensitive to smoke) but were pleasantly surprised at how well ventilated even the smoking areas on the ship were. If a past guest had EVER smoked in our stateroom cabin, we would never have guessed.
PORTS: not much to say on this, except we aren't usually in for group activities, so we usually just find a cab with a reasonable rate and snorkel off of a nearby recommended beach. The Western Caribbean is beautiful, but have to say I prefer the Eastern & Southern Caribbean. We were unable to visit Cozumel (due to H1N1) so maybe my opinion would be different if that port was factored in. After snorkeling in Egypt, we're pretty spoiled, so we weren't setting our sites too high.
TIPS: be active & avoid the elevators- We used the stairs almost exclusively and we both lost a little weight, even though we ate like farmhands! Get to the Ivanhoe Theatre at least 15min. before the shows to get an unobstructed view.
Try to secure the later seating time for dinner- it will give you a LOT more flexibility. We tended to eat a late lunch, so we only made it to dinner in the Washington dining room 4 times. Try to get to the dining room for breakfast at least once- the eggs benedict and lovely table service will be a nice break after the perpetual buzz of Rosie's in the morning. Bring along a couple of travel mugs to utilize the water, lemonade, coffee etc.
SAIL & SIGN: check it every day. We didn't use a credit card and started with only $40. and added more periodically.
Thank goodness we kept an eye on things- somehow we were billed 3x in a row for the same item (Internet plan). If we had used a credit card, who knows how long it would have taken to get credited back; because we were on a cash basis, it was simply removed. We only used around $350 for the whole week for the gratuities, Internet, a few drinks, etc.
We never felt any pressure to buy the special drinks or photo packages etc.
INTERNET: if part of your work or business requires 15-20min. a day online to keep abreast of things, then I would advise purchasing a package. It's expensive compared to other places we've been to, but worth not having to search for an Internet cafe the minute you get to a new port everyday and it's open 24hours.
ART AUCTION: this was fun, but it took a LONG time...We thought it would only be around 1.5 hours tops...it was 3 HOURS LONG- not how we pictured spending our last FUN DAY at SEA. Yes, we could have got up and left, but we felt guilty because we'd won a $500. bid "credit" (we ended up letting someone else have it when we were explained all the details) If you go, choose a night auction.
CLEANLINESS & FOOD SAFETY: We ate everything (including sushi) and never got so much as a tummy ache. The ship was immaculate with people literally working day and night to keep things spiffy & sanitized. There were hand sanitizer dispensers everywhere and even little tissues to use on the door handles when exiting the bathroom.
SOCIALIZING: We loved that we could be VERY involved in the shipboard shenanigans, or find a quiet part of the ship & just enjoy being on the ocean. If you have kids, there is plenty to keep them busy. If you don't have kids and are looking forward to a romantic trip, then avoid Rosie's during the morning rush hour.
ONLY BAD THING...it was embarrassing to see all of the wasted food being thrown away because of people taking too large of portions...PLEASE just take what you know you can eat- there is PLENTY available- we know the economy isn't really great right now, but it's not Seinfeld's "NO SOUP FOR YOU" episode, either!
We would DEFINITELY sail on the CARNIVAL VALOR again and are not sure what ANYONE could complain about unless you'd paid a LOT more than what we did. It was a FANTASTIC vacation and a welcome relief from some countries we've visited where the credo seems to be "The customer is always wrong." On the Valor, they really strive to make their guests feel welcome & satisfied.