We were so excited to have gotten such a good deal on this cruise. The 4 hour drive to Miami on Sunday and 4 hours to return home on the following Sunday did not outweigh the savings we would incur by taking the Carnival Valor...or so we thought. Our trip began with trying to decipher the signs to find the port terminals in Miami. After making several loops and backtracking, we figured out where the appropriate parking lots were. Whomever designed the Miami port must have been out to lunch. Unfortunately, each parking lot we tried was full. As we continued making loops and trying the next nearest parking lot, we finally ended up in a lot across the highway. We had to take a shuttle bus to get to the terminal for Carnival Valor. After talking to some folks who parked at the Miami port, it sounded like no matter how early we had gotten there, we would have been forced to park in a lot far enough away from the ship that we would have to take a shuttle to get to the ship. We also encountered some Port employees who were less than stellar in both knowledge of the Port and assistance/willingness to help.
Once we got to the terminal for the Valor, the check-in process was surprisingly easy and painless. The decor of the ship was significantly nicer than the Glory, which is the ship we had taken cruises on the past 3 times. However, the Valor did show some signs of wear and tear, especially in Rosie's Restaurant. The cloth covered booths at the tables were stained and the lime green vinyl chairs not wiped off very frequently. The attentiveness and number of the staff in the dining room was inconsistent in terms of cleaning the tables--we are thinking that perhaps staff was decreased for financial reasons since down-sizing seems to be the trend during our struggling economy. The food, as we have found in the past on Carnival cruises, was predictably mediocre and basically the same theme as what we had experienced on the Glory. The gift shop "specials" were also very predictable, especially the high prices that were supposed to be such bargains. For those who enjoy food quantity over quality--these cruises must be nirvanah. For those who prefer quality and flavor...not so much. The activities and entertainment were pretty much a mirror image of what we had on the Glory for the past 3 cruises (drink contests, hairy chest contest, etc), including the songs the servers sang to us in the formal dining rooms for "entertainment".
Our departure was the real nightmare of the trip. Not only has Carnival not yet figured out an orderly way of getting folks off the ship, the wait in the line at Customs was unbelievably long. To give you an idea, we docked at about 6 am in Miami. My husband and I didn't get to our car until about noon. We have been spoiled by leaving from Port Canaveral. Not only is it about an hour from our home, but the port is much more organized and easier to travel to and from. Customs there is a breeze. In conclusion, if we never see the port in Miami or the Valor again, we won't lose any sleep. We have decided we should try out the more "stuffy" and more structured cruise lines, although it will impact our wallets more significantly. Even though we largely go on cruises for the boat ride, the process of getting to and traveling from the port, coupled with the ambience and environment on the ship have taken their toll. We're going to give Royal Caribbean and some other more expensive lines a shot. Who knows, maybe we'll go back to Carnival but at least we can say we've tried something else.