Sailed on the New Year's cruise, along with 450 other members of a group. I have cruised 25 times, including a few on Carnival, but mostly on Royal Caribbean and Celebrity.
Embarkation was fine. We arrived around 12 and were checked in and onboard in less than an hour, which is reasonable. Following the usual routine, we went to the Lido (buffet restaurant) and ate lunch. We were surprised to find the variety of choices, including a deli bar, and a burrito bar, as well as a fish and chips restaurant. I would have to give the food quality high marks but the variety of main courses and salads in particular, was less than on other lines. For example, I never saw a Greek salad (a favorite of mine) the entire week, and at breakfast while bagels were available, the only toppings were cream cheese or butter. No smoked salmon, no tomatoes, no onions. We got around this only by ordering it through room service, where somehow it was readily available. Not sure why???? On the whole, the food , both here and in the dining room was pretty good, but somewhat less gourmet than on other lines. Service in the Lido left much to be desired. At busy times, finding a table was difficult. On other ships, crew members were available and helpful in finding tables for passengers. Here, you are on your own! On other ships, someone was often circulating between tables providing coffee and juice, both new and refills . Here, you are on your own! Bussing of tables on other ships was quick and efficient and you had to keep an eye on your food if you got up to get a drink. On the Valor, dirty dishes sat for long periods on adjacent tables and tables which had been cleared often still had crumbs and dirt, both on the chairs and the tables. General attention to these types of things was lacking. In fact, one evening we passed a half eaten hors douevres on the shoulder of a statue in the Casino. The next night, it was still there , and the night after that as well. It got to be a family joke, as we rerouted our excursions down the promenade to go through the Casino and check to see if it was still there. Finally, after 3 days someone apparently noticed it and removed it. Sad!! By the way, good thing there are many ship's maps aboard. More than once, we asked a passing crew member where a particular room was and they were unsure?????
Entertainment, particularly evening shows , gets mixed reviews. For the most part, the shows were poor, particularly the unfunny comedians. However, one of the review shows, music of the '80's, was one of the best shows I've seen on a ship. Some of the bands on board were very good, including the band that played on New Year's eve at the deck party. That party, by the way, was a blast. With a full moon, a rocking band, and the captain blaring the ship's horn at midnight, it was a memorable night. As for ports, as we did not book any shore excursions,
I can only speak for the port areas where we got off and shopped and walked around. We had never been to Roatan, and Carnival apparently has a concession for the beach and shops right off the ship, making it very similar to other ports such as Labadee or Coco Cay. The beach was fine, but it was nothing memorable. Belize, where we had also never been, was dismal. The area around the docks , other than a very small shopping area , is a slum, complete with beggars and obvious poverty. I can only hope that the ships stopping here will do something to change that. We walked a few blocks to a Radisson hotel, which had a little bakery and coffee shop, both of which we tried out. After that, we went back to the ship and spent most of that stop aboard ship. The other two stops, Cozumel and Grand Cayman, we have been to many times and like. Both have beautiful beaches and nice shopping areas and you feel comfortable walking around.
In conclusion, I would refer to Carnival as "The People's Cruise Line" and certainly we did not have a bad time. It's hard not to enjoy a cruise! If you are looking for a more upscale vacation,however, (and the price is not much different) look elsewhere!!