My husband, myself and our three Teenagers (14, 16, 18) cruised on the Carnival Valor sailing March 21, 2010. My husband and I normally cruise Royal Caribbean but the kids wanted a waterslide so I started researching Carnival and found the Valor for its ports of call. RC had similar ports with one of their sailings, so I called to talk to a Carnival booking agent. I told her that we were normally Royal Caribbean fans but wanted to get a few details on Carnival before we made our choice. She told me that unlike RC, Carnival had more included in the price of the cruise. She specifically told me that the steakhouse was no longer an extra charge, that their arcade was free, and that the teen program on ship had more activates than RC. So we settled for the kid's choice of the waterslide and i called back to book two staterooms on the Valor. MISTAKE!
Pre-cruise hotel: We arrived at MIA 11:30pm so we wanted a close hotel that provided shuttle service from the airport and to the cruise port. We booked one room with a rollaway bed at the Days Inn Miami Airport North. Upon arrival at the airport we called the hotel and within 10 minutes the shuttle arrived to take us to the hotel. The driver was a madman (my kids loved it but I was afraid we would not make it there without an accident) Upon check in they gave us a time tag for the shuttle bus to the port the next morning so we knew we could sleep in without worrying about missing the shuttle. The rooms where clean but showed their age. I would not recommend this hotel for an extended stay but it served it's purpose ok. The shuttle to the cruise ship the next morning was without incident and we arrived at the port rested and ready for adventure.
Embarkation: Smooth and painless. Although when we traveled Royal in the past they had cookies and drinks for customers waiting in line to check in. This was the first clue that Carnival's service level would not compare to RC.
Staterooms: The rooms did not feel as spacious as our rooms on RC and storage was not as plentiful. It was fine since we had two staterooms for the five of us. I did like the showers on the Valor better than those on RC. However we found old Cheerios, Sun Chips, Fritos, and a few receipts from previous cruisers in our rooms. That was a bit scary as it made me wonder how clean the rooms really were?!? We rarely saw our cabin steward and several times we came back from dinner and the room had not been touched. On RC we would have a chocolate on our pillow and the Compass news always included special touches like what the weather was going to be like the next day...nothing like this in the Carnival Valor's paper. All of those small little things that make you feel special on RC do not exist on Carnival Valor.
Overall Ship info: The waterslide, pools, and hot tubs were great for my kids. The clubs for teens were not what we expected. On RC we did not participate with these groups but we did see other people's children enjoying them. On this ship I did not see anyone enjoying them. Every time we walked past Club O2 (for 14 to 17 yr olds) there were a few teens sitting at the bar area - nothing else going on. The few times my teens went that's all they did and it was not fun for them so they skipped it the rest of the week. We expected big parties on deck - they only had one. We expected great shows - not so much. We tried to go to an adult comedy show however they held it in a bar area that was way too small. We arrived 30 min early and it was shoulder to shoulder standing room only. The steakhouse is NOT free and the arcade costs at least $1.25 for every game, some are more. They had laser tag but charged $5 per person to participate. There are other things too - basically they will nickel and dime you so be prepared. The public areas of the ship were fairly clean - except the windows in the Washington upper dining room were so streaked it was difficult to see out of them. It was also difficult to find your way around the ship. Lots of dead ends and the quickest way to get to the dining room was through the cigar bar - we could even smell the smoke when in the dining room. YUCK!
FOOD: When on board we ate breakfast and lunch at Rosie's - it was ok as buffet food goes. Fish and Chips can be found in Rosie's upstairs and only open for a few hours. It was greasy and nasty. The Pizza was in the back adult only area and the hamburgers and hotdogs were at poolside. These choices where ok - my 6'2" 200 lb, teenage, football playing, non-picky, food loving son choose the buffet over other choices. The ice-cream was his main food choice. On day 4 I asked him how many, he said he stopped counting on day 2 at 35.....no lie he had more than his fair share of ice cream. Still when we got back he had only gained 2 pounds if that helps you understand how bad the food was. We ate every night in the Washington Dining room. NOT FOR THE FOOD - but for our head waiter Pongsack from Thailand. I think he was new because he kept giving people the wrong food - but he was very nice and we enjoyed his service the most out of everyone we met. Cody, my son, and Pongsack clicked and every night he was excited to see what "Big Mr. Cody" would order. Cody ordered 2-3 appetizers, 2-3 entrees, and 3-4 desserts every night. He never ate them all because they just weren't that good but Pongsack loved to bring him his food and he even showed us a few magic tricks. The soda service in the main dining room was slow. We waited 20 minutes for our Cokes to arrive most nights and refill service wasn't much better. Food does not compare to RC at all - it's like asking me to compare eating dirt to the finest steak.
Post Cruise Hotel: We stayed at the Hampton Inn Miami Dadeland - I 100% recommend this hotel. The complimentary hot breakfast was more than enough. It is across the street from the Metrorail so for a few bucks you get unlimited rides to Downtown Miami, Miami Zoo, and lot's of other places. This pass also allows you to take the buses so really your choices are close to unlimited. The rooms are clean and the pool is very nice. They also have complimentary shuttle service to/from the airport and to the cruise port. Pickup from the cruise port is available for $15/per room booked. Can't beat it for the price.
The ports of call made this the best vacation we've had and I will reveiw them seperately Grand Cayman, Isla Roatan, Belize City and Cozumel - but we could have had the same/similar ports on RC. We will not cruise Carnival again.