This is my first time ever posting with Cruise Critic, so bear with me ;) My DP and I have been on 5 previous cruises- 3 with Holland America, 2 with Norwegian. This was our 1st with Carnival. Initially we had some serious doubts about cruising with CCL (i.e. gigantic ships, sub-par service, CCL rep of being "crazy party cruises", etc.) but after reading the mostly positive reviews here we decided to give it a go. The price and itinerary were also incentives for us to go.
We took the 9/13-9/20 Western Caribbean cruise with stops in Grand Cayman, Roatan Honduras, Belize and Cozumel with 2 sea days. To save some money we took a red-eye flight from San Francisco on 9/12 and arrived 11am the day of the cruise- so we were tired and slightly cranky but worked hard to stay positive. When we arrived at port we were pleased to see the Valor. It is a beautiful and very clean ship and not as enormous as we thought it would be.
The embarkation process was fairly quick & painless and we were onboard within 20-30 minutes of arriving at port. The decor of the Valor wasn't as garish as some critics of CCL have said. It's a little on the flashy side but I grew to appreciate it as the week went on. The cabins weren't available til 1:30 pm so we hung out on the Lido Deck and tried to grab some lunch. It was a bit crowded and frantic on Lido and it took us some time to find a table but we were happy to be on vacation & remained positive.
The clientele on this cruise was very mixed and seemed to represent a good cross-section of society- just about every race was there, young couples, retirees, families with children, etc. We later found out there were approximately 3,200 passengers booked and it was a concern for us (more on that later).
We went to our cabin around 2pm and we were extremely pleased. We booked a balcony stateroom on deck 9 (Lido) starboard side. It was spacious, nicely decorated and had lots of storage space. The layout was the best we've seen with the bed nestled next to the balcony window/entrance! The only critique we had was that there was only 1 electric outlet in the entire room. It was in the main desk area with none in the bathroom at all. As we tend to spend a lot of time in our cabin it was important for us to have a good one and this cabin was the highlight of the trip.
The overall service on the Valor was very good but not on par with the service we received on HAL and NCL. The crew was extremely friendly and always had a smile but they seemed to be understaffed and slightly overwhelmed at times. We met our cabin steward (Carlos) once and only after we tracked him down to introduce ourselves. Our head waiter (Fritz) seemed aloof the 1st day but warmed up during the week and we ended up having some nice conversations with him. Our assistant waiter (Arnold) was wonderful, outgoing and always put a smile on our faces. We only heard from the Captain at the beginning and at the end of the cruise. We did miss the meet & greet with the Captain and officers but were surprised that the Captain wasn't really 'present' throughout the cruise. On our last HAL cruise, we heard from the Captain at the beginning, the end and at every port stop- he was funny and provided helpful info. Perhaps with 3,200 passengers to care for, overall service suffered a bit but the crew did try their best.
The food overall was okay. We had a late sitting on the upper level of the Lincoln Dining Room. The dinner menu was pretty much your standard cruise fare. The only standout for me was the chocolate melting cake on the dessert menu- I had it almost every night- pure heaven!! The lido deck buffet (Rosie's Restaurant) was very crowded during breakfast and lunch hours so we stuck to main restaurant dining during those times. The food at Rosie's was rather bland and lack any real variety. My DP did like the burrito bar though but like I said the big crowds scared us off. We never made it to Scarlett's (the premium steakhouse restaurant) as my DP is a vegetarian and $30/person seemed a little steep. Our dinner tablemates (table #211) were friendly, outgoing and open-minded. They were probably the best people we've dined with in all of our cruises.
We enjoyed all of the ports and went snorkeling at each stop. Belize was the standout for us. We saw the most coral and sea life there, plus Bannister Island was wonderful. We also bought some nice souvenirs in Belize and Cozumel.
The only major item of contention for us was the tender stops in Cayman Islands and Belize. With 3,200 passengers clamoring to get off the Valor in those stops, the tendering process was chaotic at best. In fact in Belize a group of 4 older ladies actually shoved me aside to get on the tender boat!!! It amazes me how inconsiderate and rude people can be. It is for this reason alone that in the future we will only cruise on ships holding less than 2,000 passengers.
The disembarkation process was another item of contention for us. We had to wait in the Ivanhoe theater on the morning of. In past HAL cruises we were allowed to wait in the comfort of our stateroom until our group number was called. Plus the whole U.S. customs process in Miami port took over an hour and was chaotic, crowded and stressful. I can't really blame CCL for that but it left us with a negative last impression of our cruise.
In conclusion we enjoyed our cruise and had a very nice time. It suited our needs and gave us a chance to unwind. However, we won't be cruising CCL again- it's just not our cup of tea. The ship holds too many people and service seems to suffer as a result. Big crowds are not conducive to nice vacation and literally gets in the way at times.
IMO, CCL cruises are perfect for younger couples, families and those seeking a "funship" time. We prefer the smaller ships, quiet elegance and special service that HAL provides. I commend the CCL crew for trying their very best and making our trip as comfortable as possible. I don't regret booking this cruise at all.
P.S. Some tips:
1. Use deck 5 (Promenade) to get around the ship. Decks 3 & 4 are cut off by the 2 main dining rooms.
2. The actual promenade is on deck 3 (Lobby), but doesn't go around the whole ship. Use the jogging track on the Sports Deck if you want a nice uninterrupted walk/jog.
3. The fish & chips station on the Panorama Deck (above Rosie's Restaurant) serves more than fish & chips. Our tablemates told us that they got fresh seafood and oysters there. Too bad we found out too late.
4. If you need cash, don't use the ATM's- fees are expensive. Insert your room card into any casino slot machine to retrieve cash from your shipboard account and then cash it out at the cashier cage. No fees are charged.