Hello, this is my second cruise and my first review. My mother, sister, and I took a vacation on the Carnival Valor: Western Caribbean route this Christmas. We got in a couple days just before it departed so as not to miss it - a smart decision, as the next day a large winter storm swept through northern parts of America canceling many people's flights and making them unable to get to the port in Miami. Most of them had to cancel their vacation I guess, but some of them caught up with the cruise on our first stop in Grand Cayman. A little bit of advice, you always want to get to the cruise early in case this sort of thing happens.
We decided to find out own hotel in Miami and booked a room in the airport Crowne Plaza. It was a very nice hotel but the area was a bit sketchy and herded many tourists towards Miami's "dolphin mall" which although being a shining example of the height of consumerism was a good place to pick up last minute items for the cruise. Another tip, we booked the hotel on our own and not through Carnival, I advise anyone taking a cruise to do the same as the hotels Carnival offer are more expensive and not as nice. As an added bonus, our hotel also had a free airport shuttle, wireless internet in the rooms, a pool, and it was very easy to just take a taxi to the port of Miami. Finally after spending a couple nights in Miami, it was sailing day - a long awaited vacation that my entire family and I were very excited about. Embarkation was quick an easy, we weren't early nor were we really late - but after we arrived, we could tell we had gotten there just at the right time as crowds began to form. Nevertheless, we got through and onto the boat without much of a wait (many people claim that it takes time to get your room ready) but in our case; it was ready around the same time we boarded.
The ship itself was very nice and clean, the decorations were incredibly tacky - but that is just one of the wonderful and -as my sister puts it - endearing things about cruise ships. The fact we were sailing around Christmas just amplified the ships level of decor with wreaths, green and red lights, etc. Moving on from the decorations, the lounges and public areas aboard the Carnival Valor were all very nice. Many were a bit noisy and we had some trouble finding a good place to sit and relax. This might just be our problem though, my family and I are they type who like to sit in a quiet dark lounge with tea and books... precisely what we tried to do in "Winston's Bar," a very quiet and solitary cigar bar in the heart of the ship which was usually deserted save for the occasional pianist and smoker. It would have been the perfect lounge had the air not been choked with the pungent smell of cigars and cigarettes. The Ivanhoe theatre was the main source of entertainment on the boat - game shows, bingo, and dance/comedy/singing was performed there. Overall, I was delighted with the performances in the theatre - the even had "carnival legends" on the last night which was essentially a show in which guest auditioned days before to play a certain famous musician. Once the best guests were chosen, they would practice and perform in the carnival legends show. A couple of the performances were actually - surprisingly - good, and those that weren't were incredibly funny. The last part of the ship I will describe before going on to the excursions is the food. The last cruise I was on was in the Mediterranean Sea, so you can imagine how the food was there. This cruise of course did not match up to the brilliance of the other, but the food was still good. From the reviews, and word of mouth I had heard of food aboard the Valor (as well as other Carnival ships) I was a bit worried. To add to my uncertainty, the first day we were on the cruise I went to Rosie's restaurant (the ship's buffet) and had some fruit salad - it was horrible. But over the course of the ship, I discovered that the other food served at Rosie's wasn't bad at all. A couple times they even featured events such as "the chocolate festival," or "tastes of the world: Mediterranean." All of which were pretty good. Another option if you are weary of the food aboard the Valor is the Washington Dining Room or Lincoln Dining room where people tend to eat dinner. Many do not know, but it is also open for breakfast and lunch if you are not in the mood for Rosie's. The staff here are impeccable and many people forge connections with their waiters - and the food is wonderful.
>>I originally wrote this review with the port reviews here, please read them now before continuing<<
After our last stop in Cozumel, we had a day at sea in which carnival legends featured, and then we were back in Miami where we disembarked without any trouble and tearfully waved goodbye to the Valor. It wasn't that we really loved the ship THAT much, but rather because our vacation was over and we were heading back to cold Canada where freezing rain had made an appearance for 13 hours - turning everything into an ice sculpture promptly before our arrival back in the country.
A few last things about the Valor... I never went to the kid camps, but I checked out the rooms at the end of the cruise and they looked good. However, the teen and tween camps seem to have a pay-to-play arcade - make sure to confiscate your child's sail and sign card before letting them go there. Another thing to remember, Carnival is renowned for their kids program which seemed brilliant. Lots of the kids seemed to be having a ton of fun. Also, a couple things to bring... some games, tons of books, a power bar as the room only has one outlet, and maybe some decorations just to make your room more cozy - we went overboard, and brought all our Christmas presents and a mini Christmas tree (yes, we decorated it even!) and put it in the window sill of our room with the presents under it.
Well that's it! I hope you enjoy your cruise and found this review helpful. I apologize for making it so terribly long, but I had a lot to say... Also keep in mind, I am 13. Please, if you liked it - leave a comment, I love reading those sorts of things. If there is an option for rating this review, you know what to do. :)