My husband and I took a cruise with our four children on the Carnival Valor on the May 1st sailing which visited Grand Cayman, Roatan, Belize, and Cozumel. We had heard mixed reviews from friends about Carnival and weren't sure what to expect after having sailed with Royal Caribbean. We were pleasantly surprised by the personal atmosphere and impeccable service. We have been to many all-inclusive resorts, and the children all agreed that this was our best vacation ever.
We flew in to Miami on 4/30 and stayed at the Best Western Plus Miami Airport. It was ok...nothing to brag about. We had rented a car, so my husband dropped us off at the port and got a shuttle back from the airport. We arrived at about 10:30 am and were able to board at around Noon. Embarkation was smooth and the people friendly.
We enjoyed Grand Cayman. We took the Stingray City tour with Captain Marvin's (great experience). We went snorkeling off of the Mahogany Bay beach in Roatan (beautiful reef), but didn't disembark at Belize b/c there was a fire on land that created a haze over most of the island and we wanted a day on the ship anyway. In Cozumel we went to a small beach area and snorkeled, swam in the pool, etc.
We ate dinner in the dining room every night (Washington lower). Dennis and Diwa (our waiters) were exceptional and provided personal attentive service with a smile. The food was excellent. We tried so many things: chilled strawberry, mango, peach, and cherry soups, escargot, etc. We loved the lobster, Panko shrimp, Norwegian salmon, seafood Newburg, Chateaubriand, Thai chicken, etc. The children ordered from the adult menu every night and loved it.
We also ate at Rosie's for lunch as well as the fish and chips restaurant. The sushi at the sushi bar on deck 5 was excellent. We loved the tuna tartar.
I would say that the food was better than what we had on Royal Caribbean, though Carnival isn't as elaborate with the buffet presentation. What made our experience overall is the exceptional service and warm personalities that we had on the ship from the housekeeping to the dining rooms.
The only thing I would say needs improvement is Camp Carnival. Not all of the counselors were exuberant or patient. Some were great, but the experience was a bit tainted by grouchy counselors.
The pool area is beautiful and there are many areas to find a quiet spot in Serenity or the upper decks. The ship is impeccably maintained. I never saw a crumb on the floor! The employees are constantly cleaning everything (railings, stairs, elevators, doors, etc.)
The theater is beautiful and we liked the comfortable bench type seating on the main floor. The 80's show was remarkable and very well done. We enjoyed the shows very much.
Overall, I would say our experience was exceptionally good. I would recommend Carnival Valor to anyone. It was a great value, though we never felt that we were on a budget cruise due to the excellent service and warm friendly atmosphere.