Carnival Valor Cruise Review by dolly59: Our best holiday yet!
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Our best holiday yet!
There were 9 of us in total, as we were on holiday with friends and there children (early twenties). After a 2 week stay in Orlando, we drove to Miami in the morning (3.5 hours with a stop, via the Florida Turnpike).
We arrived at 11.30, parked the mini van at the port($140 dollars for the week,and within an hour we were called for check in (smooth and easy, although as 1st time cruisers without experienced friends to guide us we would have struggled). NOTE; there were 2 toilets at the port with a 30 min wait, so bear this in mind!
On boarding the ship, we headed straight to Lido and found a base. Fun sail away atmosphere, with music and dancing. We purchased soft drinks passes ($38 dollars per adult) straight away, although on reflection we didn't need 1 each as it would have been easy (and cheaper) to share 1 between 2 and get drinks for each other. After a quick bite to eat in Rosie's Lido (buffet) we looked around the ship (took is 2 hours to look at More everyhting), sunbathed with a bucket of bud lite ($22.50) and at 16.00pm we were called for the muster drill. At 5pm we set off - the atmosphere and views of Miami were excellent and we loved sailing past the mansions at Star Island and waving to the people who had driven to the port. It was 6pm before Miami was fading away behind us, so we headed for our cabin to unpack and get ready for dinner.
SHIP OVERALL The presentation and overall standard was excellent. Everything looked new and the ship was constantly being cleaned (cabin always spotless). We got lost every day as we found the ship huge and there were so many bars, we didn't get round them all. Our favourite hangout was the lobby bar for drinks before dinner (singer and pianist on every night), piano bar (Lindi Hop) after dinner (live pianist/singer) and the casino. There was a good mix of ages, just the right balance of children / teens / adults and the cruise was formal to the point that it felt special when dining in the evening (especially on formal nights) but relaxed in that if you wanted to, you could eat dinner in the Lido buffet in your shirts and t-shirt. Cruisers were mainly American and Canadian and we only met 1 other English family!
On sea days and afternoons after port stops, we spent our time sunbathing on the upper deck above the AFT pool (our favourite spot, much quieter than the main Lido and we always found loungers). On the first sea day, there were hardly any spare loungers (but plenty of unoccupied ones saved with towels) and the only people who seemed to be struggling to find a lounger, were those who were surfacing in the afternoon. The weather by the way was 90+ every day and my son who never burns, needed factor 50 sun cream.
CABIN We had chosen an inside cabin for 3 of us. Regretted this instantly as there was not enough room to swing a cat! I also hated not having a window. There was a huge queen bed in the middle, a pull down single bed from the ceiling a dressing table and bathroom. If 1 person was getting ready, the others had to lie on the beds. Our friends son and his friend were in the cabin next door, and the set up was 2 singles and they had much more room. If there are 3 of you - in my opinion the inside cabins are not big enough. The only noise I heard in the cabin was from the corridor (we were on level 6).
DINING We opted for late dining in the Washington. We ate here every night and loved it. The food was varied and excellent. My son is a fussy eater but Suzanna (our waitress) arranged for him to have his favourite chicken strips as a starter every night. Late dining means that you don't start eating until 21:00pm and it was 23.15pm when we left the restaurant - on at least 4 nights, I just wanted to go to bed afterwards because I was exhausted but forced myself to stay awake so I didn't miss out. Early dining (18.30pm), would have been too much of a rush on port days so swings and roundabouts really. We didn't make a show because we really didn't have the time!
There was a chocolate buffet mid way through at the Lido, not great timing if you are on late dinner but we made it (although we weren't really hungry)and managed to eat some of it - amazing fondues!
For breakfast, we ate in the Washington dining room 2 mornings which was really relaxing with waiter servive (and quiet) and then at the Lido buffet (Rosie's) on the days when we needed a lie in. The buffet, whilst busy and self serve, had an excellent selection and upstairs there was a fish restaurant which served fresh battered fish, homemade chips, seared tuna and calamari. We loved the Mongolion wok in the main buffet (20 mins wait though) and the deserts were to die for.
DRINKS Drinks are expensive ($7 + tax for a Vodka and mixer), but with all the eating and activities you don't really drink to excess (not the time, space or energy). We purchased a wine package for $90 that gave us 5 bottles of wine for dinner and tended to have a couple of drinks before dinner and after, pushing the boat out on 2 nights when we knew we could have a lie in the next day. Lots of people had smuggled what looked like Vodka in water bottles on board but beware, cases are scanned and opened before they are delivererd to you!
PORTS (we didn't book any trips because the cruise followed an expensive 2 week Orlando break).
Grand Caymon was our favourite. We turned right on leaving the port and walked along the coastline until we could get onto the beach (white sand aquamarine sea). We stopped at a hotel (20 mins walk on the beach, 3rd/4th hotel along the beach) with water sports, beach bar etc and camped for 3 hours. The hotel was one used by Carnival in one of their trips, we went there for free! We caught a taxi back to the port (4 Euros each) and then went shopping for an hour in George Town (5 mins walk to shops from port). Lovely modern port here too.
Roatan is like a rainforest, lovely purpose built port with shops and private beach with bars and water sports, again all free, no need to pay for a trip.
Belize was a waste of time. Purpose built port that we had to tender to (port in need of modernisation) with no beach and dissapointing shops. It didn't look safe outside the port (locals hanging off the gates and armed security), and $50 dollars for a trip to the nearest beach island, so we headed back to the ship after an hour and enjoyed the peace and quiet.
Cozumel was our 2nd favourite. Huge port area and main shopping area of Cozumel (perfectly safe to leave the port) to the right of the port (10 mins walk) with loads of shops, bars, restaurants. We hired a mini jeep from the port (100 Euros fits 4 passengers) and drove round the whole island and stopped for an hour at a secluded beach bar - we were the only visitors. The sand was pure white and sea bright blue. We spend the last 2 hours in the town centre enjoying an authentic mexian meal.
Finally, Tips. As we were on a budget break, I found $70 a head a bit expensive (bearing in mind all drinks / purchases were subject to 15% added gratuities). These were added to your sail and sign account on day 5 (no warning of this, found out when checking the account in the cabin on the TV), so I visited guest services and asked for them to be removed explaining I would tip on an individual basis. I wasn't the only one at guest services that day. The $210 was removed without question and on the last night, I tipped Bernie our cabin steward, and Suzanna our waitress plus a bar tender who had given us excellent service all week. In my opinion, the staff prefer having their tips in cash so I would rather tip the people who have worked hard for me rather than having my tips shared out and let those cruisers who can afford it, pay the full gratuity.
I wouldn't hesitate to go on the Valor again, and the only niggle I had was the $210 gratuities being added to my account without any warning.
Debarkation was easy, we opted to carry our own cases and we left the ship at 8am (took us 20 mins from leaving our cabin). We had decided to eat breakfast on Ocean Drive (Miami) instead of the ship, and we enjoyed a lovely hour people watching, followed by a walk on the beach before heading back to Orlando for a couple of nights before heading home.
I have booked 2 more cruises since coming home, I am booked on the RCI Voyager sailing from Barcelona on the 17th October 2010 (Med cruise) and I have booked Carnival Dream sailing from Port Canaveral on the 9th April 2011. I have booked the Carnival Dream through Vacations To Go - the best rate again on an Early Saver deal and no imposed charges for changes.
Any questions, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Less
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Cabin review: Carnival Valor Interior Upper 6467
Convenient spot towards AFT of the ship, near to elevators. Quiet cabin but very small and cramped! Not suitable for more than 2 people and there is more space if the beds are separated. When made up as a queen, the bed takes up all available space - there is no seating area (you have to watch TV sat on the bed) and just enough space to walk around the edge of the bed. This cabin is only suitable if you are on a budget (better than not going at all) and if you intend to spend all your time on deck, using the cabin to wash, change and sleep in.
Port and Shore Excursions
It didn't look safe outside the port (locals hanging off the gates and armed security), and for $50 dollars for a trip to the nearest beach island we headed back to the ship after an hour and enjoyed the peace and quiet.
We hired a mini open top jeep from the port (100 Euros fits 4 passengers) and drove round the whole island and stopped for an hour at a secluded beach bar - we were the only visitors. The sand was pure white and sea bright blue and we say a huge Iguana. Whilst driving, we passed a few all inclusive resorts where we could have pulled in and for a nominal fee spent the day on the beach (at a fraction of cruise trip price and inland, we drove through residential areas where we could have stopped off at local supermarkets, it felt perfectly safe.
We spent the last 2 hours in the town centre enjoying an authentic mexican meal (amazing guacamole but couldn't buy chilli con carne) and purchasing souvenirs from Ron Jons surf shop.
The hotel was one used by Carnival and RCI in one of their trips so lots of cruisers there, we went there for free! We caught a taxi back to the port (4 Euros each) and then went shopping for an hour in George Town (5 mins walk to shops from port area). Large selection of good quality jewellers here, Dunkin Doughnuts and Burger King and lovely modern port area with loads more shops and bars.
You can travel to the beach by chair lift (nominal fee).
Unfortunately, the weather in Roatan was overcast when we arrived and turned to rain but we did manage to get 2 hours on the beach.