Twas a dark and snowy winter. Northern Ohio is usually good for one big snow a year, but the Winter of 2010 produced three. There was 30 inches of snow on the ground with more in the forecast as we departed with my in-laws for a Western Caribbean cruise on the Carnival Valor. We traveled through the Fort Lauderdale airport where we were met by Carnival (CCL) staff and seated on a large highway bus. The bus dropped us at the entrance to the cavernous Port of Miami terminal. The CCL staff provided wheelchairs for my moderately disabled in-laws. We were escorted through the embarkation process.
Our first cruise experience was many years ago with a cabin the size of our walk-in closet. We did not cruise again for several years until we took our sons on a Caribbean cruise with CCL. The CCL cabins were a pleasant surprise...huge when compared with our first cruise. It was, however, a disappointment to walk into our stateroom aboard the Valor where we were immediately confronted with a heavy blanket of lingering cigarette smoke. Our steward gave the room a second cleaning, but the odor remained oppressive. The floor manager became involved. With our steward, she oversaw a complete cleaning of the room, draperies were changed out as was the bed spread, the carpet was wet vacuumed. The smoke issue was completely resolved.
With 3,000 passengers, the Valor is huge. It is somewhat surprising to read reviews about a ship with a stated capacity of 3,000 passengers wherein the writers complain, with some apparent surprise, that upon their arrival they found 2,999 other passengers on board. Likewise for those who sail during spring break and find... Size does have its virtues. We like cabins on a lower deck towards the middle of the ship. This minimizes the motion both the front-back pitch and the side-to-side inverse pendulum. On the Valor, this strategy is almost unnecessary. Throughout the voyage, I felt very little ship movement and on multiple occasions stopped just to take note of this fact as I watched the ocean pass by.
Food was abundant, at all times, and healthy choices were available. The sit-down dining service was good. In speaking with friends, it seems some cruise lines are testing the minimums for staffing. The CCL dining room staffing was adequate. The quality of the menu items varied. Some were quite good. I did not care for most of the desserts. On the Lido deck, I avoided the general buffet and the burger stand at the ends of the dining area. I ate at the specialty buffets in the center. The chefs at the deli window were most accommodating in their preparation of "Turkey" Reubens.
The undiscovered fish and chips bar is best left undiscovered. The pizza bar is good, but not gourmet. There are multiple ice cream machines with their attendant knots of children. (McDonalds cones not Ben and Jerry's) The children's clubs on board seemed to do a good job of keeping the little darlings occupied and elsewhere. Based on our prior cruise experiences, our fellow passengers on this particular Winter sailing included a disproportionate number of Canadians, as always courteous and a pleasure to be around. Among the best surprises was the stellar quality of the stage shows. Having sailed on smaller ships where goofy cruise ship skits by crew members were the shows for the night, the professional performers and professional presentations were far beyond our expectation. Another benefit to size! We enjoyed our shore excursions. The West End Village on Roatan was underappreciated at the time. Laid back is inadequate to describe it.
Our disembarkation went well until Customs caught the guy in front of us with something he wasn't supposed to have. Our line was closed and he was escorted to the back room. The alert CCL staff redirected our line. It was a pleasant cruise, away from the snow, with good company...and the usual suspect got his due at the end of the show.