My wife and I decided to take a cruise for our honeymoon as we had never taken one and were both told be several people that we would enjoy it. I did a lot of research into cruise lines, ports of call, etc. in determining which cruise to take. We settled on Carnival as we didn't have an extravagant amount of money to spend but wanted a very nice room. We settled on the July 11, 2010 sailing of the Carnival Valor to the Western Caribbean. We were also looking at the Mexican Riviera cruise out of California, but we would have had to have gone with a lower grade room because that cruise was more costly at the time we wanted to sail and because the flight from Chicago to California was more expensive than from Chicago to Miami. We settled on room 7440, which is a Premium Vista Balcony room. More on that later.
A few things first:
Yes, I understand that this review is many months past the date we sailed. However, in the vast amounts of research to which I cited above, I used many reviews from this site, so I feel it is my duty to write one myself. Moreover, a week after we got back my wife and I moved across country where I began law school, so I haven't had tons of time.
I will save everyone with any stories of flights because frankly, that doesn't even pertain to a cruise. I don't know why anyone ever talks about flights on these things. I will however pick up from where Carnival has any impact on the vacation as that is really the pertinent part of why you're reading.
We had bought transfers from Miami Airport to the cruise terminal through Carnival. We landed super early, at about 9:30 a.m. We met a Carnival agent in the baggage claim area and were rather quickly, within 15 minutes, boarding a bus... an air-conditioned bus which is very important in Miami in July for obvious reasons. The driver takes care of putting luggage onto the bus for you. You just drop it next to the bus and get on. The drive is pretty quick... about 15 to 20 minutes depending on traffic to the terminal. You do get to go through parts of what I believe were downtown Miami. I had never been and I wish we had had more time, but oh well. We got to the terminal, were dropped off, tipped the bus driver a few bucks for his troubles, found a porter, tipped him rather handsomely for the 3 bags he had to carry (one of which had some booze and pop in it which I wanted to make got to our cabin) and were on our way to the check in point. Quickly went through a metal detector, up an escalator to the main holding area where we signed a piece of paper saying we didn't have any stomach issues. We checked in via the Fun Pass before, so the check in itself was quick and painless. HOWEVER... this is part that Carnival completely messes up on. They do not do a good job at ALL of handing out boarding cards. Apparently the boarding cards are in zones and are sequentially numbered from 1 to like... 5,348. If you do NOT get a card, then you're General Boarding... which is last. We checked in at 10:15. By the time we realized there were these boarding cards, we went to get one and were told they had run out and we would be general boarding. I tried talking with several of the Carnival agents walking around the area and all of them would simply walk away from me... wouldn't even take the time to look at the piece of paper I got from them with a time stamp on it showing when I checked in. LUCKILY there was this older couple there on their 40th anniversary that were in the same predicament and he went and complained on their and our behalf. They finally appeased us and let us board with Zone 7 as long as we could show our receipt things from the check in process showing what time we checked in. So, we got on in Zone 7. Thank God.
When we got on we took a look around the ship and then went to the Lido Deck for lunch. Good Lord there are people everywhere on a cruise. Food was decent on the buffet. Nothing special, but nothing bad. Hot things were hot, cold things were cold. At this point it was about 1:00 p.m. and so we decided to check out our room.
We chose room 7440. The room is located in the port aft corner of the ship with a balcony that literally wraps around that corner of the ship. You essentially get a 270 degree view around the ship. The only place you couldn't see was to forward starboard. It was awesome. It has two chairs and a table, along with a push together bed. LOTS of closet space, which I was actually quite surprised about. We unpacked, sat on the balcony for a while and then it was time for muster. For some reason these sorts of drills have always kinda freaked me out on the inside. I hated knowing there was going to be a fire drill at school but not knowing exactly when. Same sort of thing. We ended up going to our muster station early, but weren't the first people there. Got through muster, then went back to our room.
By the time we got back to our room we were underway and we watched as we sailed out of Miami. After we got out of the shipping lanes some dolphins joined in for a while, jumping out of the water in the wake of the ship, so that was pretty cool. I had never seen dolphins in the wild before. We pretty much just sat out on the balcony until it was time to go to dinner.
The room was comfortable as was the bed. The bathroom, which at first I thought was super tiny, was quite functional. Its not a two person at a time bathroom, but hey, with only two people its not that hard to work around. Plus, when you only have a little hole in the wall to take a shower and you have to consciously work to stay upright sometimes when the seas are choppy, you don't really want to stay in very long anyway.
The stewards kept the room very clean. At one point we accidentally somehow tracked in a bunch of sand from a day on the beach, and when we came back from dinner it was gone. My wife of course liked the towel animals and looked forward to those each day when we got back from dinner.
We chose the 8:15 sitting and were initially assigned to the Washington Dining Room. We got there and found out we were seated at a table for 8... which normally would be fine, but hey, its our honeymoon. I asked about a table for 2, to which I was told they were certain they could accommodate that but not until the next night, which was fine. We ended up getting a table for 2 in the Lincoln Dining room, which as far as I'm concerned had way better service, actually. The food in the dining room was good. It wasn't spectacular or anything, but I didn't expect it to be. Again, hot food was hot, cold food was cold. They're cooking for hundreds upon hundreds of people in that kitchen... what do people expect??? Every night except 1 we ate dinner in the main dining room.
In the middle of the cruise we did eat dinner in the steakhouse, which was spectacular. I got the porterhouse medium-rare, baked potato, creamed spinach. It was fantastic. Excellent food, excellent service. Completely worth the extra cash.
For breakfasts we either ate in the main dining room or had room service. In the main dining room most of the time I got eggs Benedict which were pretty good... but I got them mostly because they seemed to be the largest portion, and I didn't want to seem like a pig asking for 2 portions of this and 2 portions of that. Pancakes, not that great. French toast, not bad. The mornings we got room service we had to get off the ship early to get to our excursions. It was always delivered on time... again, hot foods hot, cold foods cold.
Any lunches on board were on the Lido deck. See above.
We didn't drink much alcohol on board. We got a few drinks sitting around the pool. If you don't want to spend that much on them make sure you ask for the regular glass, otherwise it'll be in the monkey head, or Carnival tail fin thing or something else and will be twice as much. If you like that sort of thing, then great... otherwise get the regular glass. The drinks were good though... actually pretty strong.
What can I say... Carnival does a fantastic job. Our room was kept spotless, staff was courteous and attentive. I had read several reviews that talked about their stewards etc.... but we didn't talk to ours once! I don't know if that's because they knew we were on our honeymoon and didn't want to bother us or whether that was just the way the steward operated. Either way, it was nice. Always had ice in the room, bed was made promptly. Very good job.
So, we were on our honeymoon, so we didn't really attend much of the public provided entertainment. We didn't attend any of the shows in the Ivanhoe Theater. We did attend an "adults" comedy show the last night on board. The guy was really funny... I just wish it had been longer. It was only about a 30 minute set. I really love stand-up, though.
We did partake in the mini golf on the highest deck on the ship on the last full day of the cruise. I don't know if it was because it was unusually windy that day or what... but I feel like that space could have been used for something better. Perhaps a wind turbine or two to help with the carbon footprint of the ship?? You really couldn't actually play mini golf... you'd put the golf ball down and the wind was so strong it would instantly just pick up your ball and toss it.
Unfortunately all good things must come to an end and a vacation is not an exception. We decided to enroll in the Luggage Express Service. For a fee of I think 20 dollars a person... it may have been 40 a person. (The number 40 is ringing a bell in my head and I don't know if that's because that's the total amount I paid or that was the per person amount I paid.) You put your luggage out the night before, they pick it up and the next time you see it is in your destination airport (at least you hope you do). You also get your boarding passes the night before. Let me tell you... it was WELL WORTH the cash regardless of 20 or 40 a person. For the Valor, we were in Zones 5 and 6, which met in the Ivanhoe Theater when disembarkation started. You waited there until the luggage from those Zones were cleared. Then you simply walk off the ship, walk THROUGH the atrocious lines for baggage claim, and right to customs!! Customs was a breeze. I suppose embarkation being a hellish experience was made up by the fact that debarkation was extremely easy.
From there we boarded a Carnival bus that took us to the airport since we had also bought post-cruise transfers to the airport.