My wife and I are 40 and 35 respectively. We have sailed twice on Princess and decided to travel with another couple, family members and found this itinerary and price to our liking. It would be our first on Carnival. We booked on the Valor. Price was outstanding. That is a bonus, one of few we found on Carnival. We live in upstate NY and left Rochester, NY the night before and found a nice Best Western in Miami with a shuttle from the airport and to the cruise port the next morning with a nice breakfast. Embarkation was disorganized and took over 2 hours. If I remember correctly, and if done the same, Princess took you in a big warehouse in Ft. Lauderdale, you got your cruise documents, quickly and then passed through security. Carnival in Miami, you do Security, lines were very long for people who can't read and follow direction as usual. Then you went through there, stopped to gather yourself for one minute at the bottom of the escalator, bothering no one and get yelled at by the Miami Dade police like a common criminal to "move along" I felt like I was going on a prison ship. Up the escalator, to a disorganized desk to fill out your medical form. Then into another very long line to get to the "kiosk" self service check in. That was totally in disarray with people going everywhere. You do all the work yourself and I attempted to change my credit card for my ship account at the kiosk and it did not work. So it printed out documents, then off to ANOTHER line to wait to get your sail and sign card. No picture on your card which makes you take picture ID to port with you. Just an FYI for other folks going on Carnival. Princess gives you a ship card with a photo so you don't have to lug picture ID with you. Get your card then into ANOTHER line to get your first picture taken. Then finally up the gangway. Into ANOTHER line waiting to "beep" in. Then you are on. Down to deck 1 our inside cabin, the exact last cabin on deck one aft. We have sailed before in midship inside and forward inside, so we tried aft inside this time. Note, don't try it. I swear the propellers were coming through the cabin. You also knew when the Captain hit the stern thrusters. But that was not Carnival's problem, we chose it. On cabins, we went to our cruise partners balcony room and everytime I was on their balcony all I could smell was a nasty cigar from the guy, or girl for that matter in the balcony right next door. Another reason I will NEVER blow money on a balcony, never know who is next door.
So once settled, we hit the buffet on Lido deck 9. Good lunch was put out. Hit the spot. So as long as I am on dining, I will continue on this topic. Little different than we expected. The buffets are NOT open 24 hours, but they did have a grill serving burgers, hot dogs, chicken and fries til about 2am. And pizza was 24 hours. They try and make the pizza fresh for everyone and they are small 4 slice pizzas, so if your 5th in line for a pepperoni slice, you will be waiting. They serve something like 8 different kinds of pizza but we only saw cheese and pepperoni offered. It was very good though, what we got. Soft serve ice cream and yogurt stations are all around deck 9. No charge for that. Very good, and always kept them filled, don't know how, but they did. Lunch buffets were good, nice selection of food. Hot. We dined every night in the Lincoln dining room. Chose anytime dining and NEVER had to wait for a table. They moved us right in. I will say one thing about Carnival. The food was phenomenal. Ordered 2 or 3 appetizers each and most nights 2 dinners and never got any flack from the waitstaff. They brought them with no problems. Lemonade, tea and water are in every dining room along with hot chocolate and coffee. Breakfast had omelet stations in about 3 places. Little waiting to get a fresh omelet made. Very tasty. Overall, food was outstanding.
Entertainment. Carnival is billed as the fun ship? I am still waiting for that part. Pool games were boring to the point the staff asked for volunteers and practically had to beg and plead for people to come up and partake. Their signature is the hairy chest contest. It is gross and disgusting from a male or female standpoint. Fat ugly hairy backs is more what it should be billed as. Get rid of that one Carnival. Back to pool games, they need to find some new ones, they are the same on every cruise whether Princess or Carnival and they are getting stale. I expected an all night party on this ship, however what I found was comedy shows on 2 nights at 8, 9, 10, 11 and 12. They were ok, but the problem I had with them was that if you wanted to see the 10pm show, it was possible you would not get a seat. All these shows are one after the other in the SAME lounge. It is not required to leave and the venue did not change so one can actually get there at 8pm and not leave until after the 12am show. Lots of seat hogs. And I don't blame Carnival for this, but can people shut up during a show. The comedians, all of them kept feeding into the audience yelling out who were trying to be immature and get recognized and it worked. One guy spent half his show going back and forth with some idiot who couldn't keep quiet. Quite the boring show. The 80's music review in the Ivanhoe lounge was very good. I would caution taking young children to the show, even though I liked it, I am not so sure my 8 and 5 year olds needed to see the female dancers in their thong outfits. It just caught us by surprise. The typical marriage show was good, but again getting old. Other games were boring, trivia, etc. Bingo seems to be a big moneymaker for Carnival, with a game every day. Overall I would give entertainment a D- grade. Public areas. This ship had about 2950 passengers which is nice, there are enough deck chairs for everyone and not alot of waiting in line for food or other things. Lots of bathrooms about the ship. Pools were kind of small, but good enough to cool off in.
Ports. Grand Cayman was first. We did Stingray City and a dolphin encounter. Very fun. We had been to Stingray city before. It is always a good one. However, I will say the tender operation and reboarding the ship was a joke. Waited over 1 1/2 hours to reboard. Not sure what the issue was since there was another Carnival ship with us and they had NO lines and no waiting to board. I must say, there is something wrong with the Valor when it comes to reboarding in a port. We were getting laughed at by other ships, especially the Legend who sailed with us to the same ports at how long we had to wait in EVERY port to board. Something was wrong and I am not sure what it was. But it needs to be addressed by Carnival. Next port was Mahogany Bay Honduras. Excellent venue. Very nice port, great people in town and very clean. We did a private beach retreat here, Maya Key. Excellent. Belize city was next. Nice port, we did the cave tubing. Had excellent guides. Good time on the excursion. One guide found us a wild tarantula in the jungle as an added bonus. LOL. Cozumel was last. Nice port, nice people. I highly recommend the Isla Passion Twister boat ride. Not for the very old, high speed boat ride, great staff, and the boat does 360 degree "twists" at about 50MPH prior to dropping you on a beautiful island called Isla Passion. Nice lunch, great open bar. 4 drinks there and you are feeling great. Just remember you have more "twists" on the ride back. LOL. Only downfall was walking around the island. It has little shops and everyone who has cruised to Mexico knows my next statement. They HOUND you like dogs until you buy something. I did ok with a 28 buck Cuban cigar for my boss for 10 bucks. They were not happy with parting with it for such a little price, but they did it.
Now I will tell you some very disappointing issues with this cruise.
1. We always opt out of prepaid gratuities when we book. To me they are earned and I have no problem adding them in at the end. So we checked the box to remove them when we booked. On day 2 looking at my account I found they had been "slid" back in by Carnival. Only explanation I can come up with was they put it back in after I made a few purchases in the hopes we would not notice. So down we went to get their explanation, the guest services removed them, but only lamely said that the computer system didn't interact correctly or something like that. Lame. We also had paid for a post cruise airport transfer which we cancelled about 2 months prior to the cruise and STILL have not gotten back the money and no one can explain why. I will get it back. I ordered the drink of the day at a bar. The bartender looked at me and said he had no idea how to make it and I had to wait for another bartender. 10 minutes later she appeared and made the drink out of a large vat premade. That was hard. Another night I ordered a long island iced tea and it is listed in the drink menu as being made with top shelf Skyy vodka. That is only partially true. The bartender fills the shot glass up 3/4 with well vodka and "tops" it off with a splash of Skyy. Quite a scam if you ask me. Just like every drink of the day lists top shelf but you get one made from a large plastic vat that I can almost guarantee has NO top shelf booze in them.
All in all, disappointing cruise experience. The old adage, you get what you pay for should replace "Carnival, the fun ship". We look forward to cruising again, just not on Carnival and we are expecting to branch out from the long arms of Carnival and not cruise on their subsidiary lines either and we may try Norwegian and Royal Caribbean. Anyone with questions or comments, feel free to contact us.