I booked myself on the 9/26/10 Valor (Western Caribbean) as a solo cruiser to celebrate my 50th birthday. I had sailed on the Destiny the year before and absolutely loved it. I was hoping for the same with the longer trip.
First things first. The ship, sailing crew, guest services, and entertainment staff are top notch. As you'll see, we had some challenges that pushed these folks to the max. I never saw any of them lose their cool, act unprofessional, or otherwise fail to do their job. Kudos all the way around.
Checking in, getting on, and all the rest went very smoothly. No delays or problems getting on or off the ship in Miami. Again, a job well done.
The food on this cruise was excellent as was the wait staff in the aft dining room. "G" is the best and make your dining experience enjoyable. The food staff in the other locations were good as well. I didn't see any problems.
The one area I did see some issues were the bars and the bar service. All of the bars were understaffed, and a couple of the bartenders got a little short with folks, probably as a result of being understaffed. You had some pretty long waits to get service, even when the bar wasn't particularly busy. There was one young lady from Ukraine whose name I won't attempt to spell for fear of murdering it who really hustled her butt off. She hustled to the point of some of the others giving her dirty looks for making them look bad. I wish they had more like her!
The only ship issues: a very slow draining sink that was never looked at and a TV that wouldn't work with the remote. The sink was a bit of pain but not something to get upset over. The TV was a bigger pain because I couldn't use the interactive feature for checking my account or booking excursions, etc. These things were written up my steward and guest services at least 4 times each.
The challenges we faced were all because of a little tropical thing called Nicole. It was forming as we left Miami right in the middle of where we were going. 5 of Carnival's ships that sailed the day before were rerouted because of this. We were expecting the same but did not get rerouted. As you'll see, this will make things interesting.
The first day at sea was fine until we made the turn into the Yucatan and headed for Grand Cayman. The weather started heading downhill quickly. Tuesday morning, we awoke to a hard rain and 7'-8' swells and gusty winds. Since Cayman is a tender port, we were unable to get off the boat and missed our call in port.
I figured this would be our rerouting since Nicole was between us and Roatan. However, to everyone's surprise, we took off straight for Roatan! We spent the next 24 hours sailing through the developing storm, with very heavy squalls, pressures as low as 995mb and winds 35-40 knots according to the information on the ship. The ship had a roll to her all day but it was not severe and at no time did I feel that we were in any danger. The Master wouldn't have sailed if he wasn't assured of our safe passage. However, the weather wiped out the activities on the Lido deck and pretty much made for a day inside. The entertainment staff did a great job in making something out of nothing, and the excursion desk handled all the cancellations well, despite a lot of guests acting very immature and deserving to be bitched slapped into next week.
When we got to Roatan, we couldn't dock at Mahogany Bay due to weather. We ended up docking at what I am told is RCL's dock. I was also told if we had gotten there an hour later, we would have stayed at sea as another ship was scheduled for Mahogany Bay and the alternate dock was only big enough for one ship.
The port was not the best place in the world. A couple of shops on the pier, one bar and that's about it. All excursions that involved Carnival at Mahogany Bay were canceled. The town at the pier was straight out of third world lore, complete with security and M-16s at every corner. Not high on my places to go back to, to be honest. Some folks hired taxis and went on island "tours" but that was about it. It also absolutely poured until about 1 or 2. Carnival made a killing on ponchos. In short, port 2 was pretty much a bust.
We sailed under decent weather but quickly ran into squalls again, and got a really wild lightning show during dinner. We made Belize and anchored what was much further out than I expected for our tender pick up. Weather was overcast but dry.
The first announcement was the cancellation of the cave tubing and ruin tours because of the high water from the storms. I am now 0 for 3 on excursions. Since the only excursions were snorkeling (which was poor due to the weather) and riding around in a minivan, I took the tender into the pier and walked around on the pier front before heading back. Belize is the port where the cruise director suggested not going out of the pier area unless you were in an organized group. From what I saw through the fence, it was probably good advice. I went back to the ship, got some really good shots of the ship from the water, and went to guest services to book something fun in Cozumel. Booked the excursion, worked out, watch the last of the tenders come back in, and then watched the skillful job by the crew in getting us out of the shallows back to deep water. The sailing crew earned their money.
I go back to my cabin and find a sheet saying my excursion in Cozumel has been canceled. 0-4! I go down to guest services (the excursion desk was closed)and the young lady who had helped me earlier set off to try and book something else. The next three excursions I picked were either canceled or full as well. 0-7!
The last one I picked was similar to the first but involved driving yourself to the beach for the snorkeling/kayaking but did not include lunch like the other despite being more expensive. The other thing about this excursion is that it is booked by the vehicle, which is problematic if you are a solo cruiser. The young lady said we could try it and see what the numbers worked out to be. As my luck would have it, I was the odd man out and chose not to pay for the whole thing myself. 0-8. I spent the day walking downtown, then sitting on the beach at Carlos and Charleys beach location, eating fish tacos and drinking margaritas in the best weather ever for Cozumel -- 80 and a gentle breeze with no humidity. Not a bad way to spend your 50th at all!
The dinner in the steak house was an absolute joy and worth every penny of the very reasonable charge. Don't miss this opportunity! The weather for our last day at sea was just beautiful as Cozumel. I don't think I have ever seen the straits of Florida with seas that flat.
While I enjoyed being on the boat itself, I noticed a big change in how Carnival approached things in regards to solo cruisers. On the Destiny, things just happened -- it didn't matter if you were a solo, couple or group. On the Valor, if you weren't a couple or a group, it was -well, just plain difficult to get involved in anything. Things were geared completely different from what I had experienced before. The other solo cruisers I talked to -- which were the other 6 at the dinner table -- all felt the same way and had cruised many times more on Carnival than me. I won't say I felt unwelcomed -- just that I didn't feel anywhere near as welcomed as I did before.
Two cases in point to this. First, there were a couple of excursions -- not many but a couple -- where the fee was for two or more. If you were solo, you had to pay the full amount. That got expensive in a hurry.
Second, I had decided to get a portrait done at one of the many areas the photographers had set up on the first formal night. As I walked up to the photographer, she looked right past me to a couple well behind me and invited them to get shot. After she finished with them, I asked her for a shot. She looked at me and said "but you're by yourself!" I was very polite to her, despite being a little ticked by her comment, and asked if she would be take a shot. After a little hesitation, she did so but missed her focus. The shot was soft and I didn't buy it. At Belize and Cozumel, I didn't even get stopped by the photographers as I got off the ship. I am attributing this to being a solo and not to being as ugly as I am.
This experience and the change Carnival has made in regard to increases in the single supplement has me very down on Carnival at the moment. I had chosen Carnival based on their rep for making the solo experience very pleasurable. The Destiny cruise was just that -- the Valor experience was not. With the pricing changes, the cost of the boat itself -- no tips, excursions, ship board credits, shuttles, etc -- is now more than I paid for this entire cruise.
The other issue I have is not being rerouted. Carnival can't control the weather, but they can control where they send the ship. We simply should not have been where we were. I will say that after waiting over a week for a reply, Carnival did email me and say they had looked at rerouting but "no alternative ports were available." It would have been nice to know that on the ship. I have asked about a discount voucher as other guests were given when the Valor missed a port of call due to Paula, and have not heard back as of this writing. Still, you do the best you can with what you have to deal with.
So, to sum this novel up, was I unhappy for being on the ship for a week. I can't say I really was, but I can't say I was really thrilled either -- mainly because of the changes I saw with being a solo. The best way I can put it is to say if this had been the first cruise instead of the Destiny, I don't know if I would have been so anxious to book a second cruise.
However, if you are a couple or group, the Valor is a great ship. The crew and staff did their jobs well. Just be certain it's what you're looking for.