This was my second cruise, the previous one being last year when I went to Alaska on NCL. My vacation plans changed several times before I booked this trip, and even then, I ended up having to go alone as my travel companion had to cancel at the last minute, but I wasn't going to let that stop me from having a good time.
And I do need to say; there are way too many people that complain way too much in these reviews. I'm sure that a few people will have some bad luck, but after being on this cruise, I doubt many of the negative reviews.
Pre-cruise: Left a day early just in case something happened. Flew on Southwest Airlines for an excellent price (I did book about 3 months in advance,) to Fort Lauderdale. Boy was it hot in Florida, talk about a shock to the system! Took a shared van ride (GO Shuttle) from the airport to my hotel, decent rate. (I had a feeling I was going to be the last one dropped off and I was, minor inconvenience.) I stayed at the Days Inn Miami Airport (it had many bad ratings, but the price was great, and it had a complimentary shuttle to the cruise port.) Many of the guests and staff primarily spoke spanish; I could see some people being uncomfortable but it was fine by me.
Embarkation: Arrived at the cruise port early. There was a short line at security, but otherwise I was able to get my documents quickly. Then I had to wait for a while for the ship to be ready for us to board. Carnival's website says something along the lines of not being able to board until 12:30, but I got on well before then (I'm sure they are just trying to cover themselves if something goes wrong in the process.) My first bag of luggage arrived at my room somewhat late, and I got really worried when my 2nd bag didn't show up. After waiting many hours (past 6pm when all bags were supposed to be delivered), I complained around 7:30, and shortly thereafter, my bag showed up at my door (I have a feeling that it was because I bought the travel insurance through carnival, but I really don't know.) Carnival was friendly about the incident though.
Ship: Excellent. I had an inside cabin (I prefer them, I have difficulty sleeping when the sun it up,) and it worked out fine for me. Storage in rooms was good, bathroom was very small. The satellite went down after the first couple of days so the nobody could watch any kind sports in the sports bar, so it was usually empty. Lounges were always packed for the comedy shows. The entertainment staff was good, but I was unimpressed with the magician; his comedy bits were better than the few magic tricks he did. One of the best parts; the crew were not even close to as pushy as the crew on NCL are. On the Valor, I got the impression that when a crew member asked if you needed a drink, they weren't trying to reach a quota, but were being helpful. On NCL, every 30 seconds someone was trying to get you to buy alcohol, here they came by at reasonable intervals. The atrium when you first walk onto the ship is beautiful; be sure to look up, what a view! If you gamble and drink, be sure to ask the bartenders about the matchplay. If I remember correctly, if you get a "classic cocktail" and keep the receipt, you can get a matchplay at the casino, pretty good deal in my book. The Adults Only area in the rear of the ship was nice; that policy being not so much enforced as it was respected by the guests. Good nightlife activities too, although I wish there were more singles events (there was only one for the entire cruise.)
Food: Great food! Service in the main dining room could be slow at times, but otherwise it was good. The preforming waiters were such a delight; I'll always remember them dancing on the tables to "boots with the fur." I did get upset one day when I went to try the fish and chips. The closing time for the station was 3:30, and I got there at 3:26 and was told they were closed, minor problem in the bigger scheme of things.
Ports: Grand Cayman: Tender in was fine; very crowded at the dock area while waiting for excursions to leave. I wanted to look around the town, but I didn't have enough time to go everywhere I wanted. I did the dolphin swim and stingray city. The description was misleading; I thought part of this would include some "free time swim" with the dolphins but in reality a trainer would have the dolphin do tricks with us as we floated/swam in deep water with life vests on, but that part was still fun. Stingray City was nice; beautiful water and what an experience! Very long line to get back onto the tender to ship, the wait was over 1/2 hour. We left port late because people were still in line for the tenders, past the "last tender leaving time." Carnival should have better foresight than that.
Roatan: If you want to go to a beach and don't want to pay extra, take the short walk to Mahogany Bay. It is about a 10-15 minute walk from tourist shopping area/dock. Or you can pay Carnival $40, you pick. WARNING: Think twice about using a credit card here, my number was stolen after I used it. Thankfully, my bank was on top of the fraudulent charges.
Belize: Very dirty water in the port itself. Locals were really hawking goods just outside the tourist area; what a shame. I wanted to venture out a bit after visiting the Altun Ha Mayan ruins, but the pushy locals changed my mind.
Cozumel: Beautiful water. When I tried to venture out, a very pushy local tried to get me to rent a scooter (he claimed downtown was 4 miles away but I think he was lying,) and then tried asked me if I wanted (among other things as well) drugs. I turned right around. Again, disappointing.
Debarkation: This seemed to be the worst organized part of the trip. Everyone had to be out of the rooms by 8:30. And then the ship began to run very late in getting assigned groups/lots (you will get a lot number) off the ship; about 50 minutes late at one point. And then they let everyone get off before being halfway done; I'm glad I was in the theater when they made the announcement, as it was not announced over the ship wide system, but only in the theater.
Return flight: I was concerned in Orlando when I saw a baggage handler from Southwest throwing bags from the neighboring plane onto the concrete; several other passengers were shocked as well. When I arrived at my destination and checked my bags, an item in one of them was damaged. The lady at Southwest baggage claim said that Southwest was not liable for any damage. I was a bit upset to say the least.
Almost done here if you're still reading. I would definitely cruise Carnival again. Service was good, food was good, cost was good.