We sailed on the Carnival Valor to the western Caribbean (Grand Caymen, Islad Roatan, Belize and Cozumel) September 4-11. What a difference a port and a ship make!
We will likely not leave from Miami again: the hotels are a lot pricier and the port authorities are a lot less nice. The embarkation process seemed a bit messier as well and not as organized or personal as it was out of Orlando. The process took about an hour and we found ourselves on board.
The first thing we did was sign up for the "Behind the Fun" tour - which they can't sell in port but they add you to the list - get there early as the tour is small. If you have never done this before, it's worth the $95 pp. It's a behind the scenes tour of the ship on the last day. More on it later.
Our first impression of the ship is that it was older, the colors were really gimmicky and there was a lot more noticeable wear and tear on the ship (furniture, etc.).
We did make our way up to Lido for our lunch - lines were long, as expected but to our great surprise, the aft pool area was ADULTS ONLY. This was a great respite for us during the cruise and gave us an opportunity to meet people, have a few drinks, etc. However, whereas on the Dream there was yummy Indian food as well as a deli in the aft dining space, on this cruise only one of the sides was open and all you could get was pizza. Highly sad that there wasn't really an opportunity to experience other ethnic food.
Our stateroom, 6209, was decent. No complaints there. My wife did buy a door decorating thing for our anniversary MONTHS in advance and all I got was a note to say "sorry, we can't do it." It would have been nice for them to have contacted her to be able to surprise me in the same way, you know?
Some other information about our experience on the Valor:
-Dinners in the Lincoln Room were mediocre at best. Every time, my fish was overcooked. We did find great wait staff though: Wilbur and Alfredo, as well as Koko, our beverage service staffer who kept out colas filled throughout dining time.
-Food overall was NOTHING like on the Dream. Buffets, again, were mediocre.
-Scarlett's Steakhouse though was 100% better on the Valor than on the Dream. Worth the additional $30 pp.
-The Serenity Deck - we had an issue with a staff person who, instead of telling us the deck was closed, sprayed us with water. So we didn't return.
-The Spa - I have to downgrade here. We spent over $400 in services and we were pitched at the end after every one. After dropping this kind of money on something that was supposed to be relaxing, I tensed right back up. It is a shame but we won't visit the Spa ever again on Carnival.
-Comedy Club was fun, as always.
-Goose reminded me of a frat boy and we hardly saw him the entire time we were onboard. He was better than Butch though and not as [frequently] annoying with the announcements. Didn't seem to really be "in it" though.
-Lido dance party was a ball - but soooo hot :) Makes for some good exercise!
-Many ship excursions are PACKED with people. Get used to sitting so close you can smell what your neighbor had for lunch!
-Ship medics need to get some bedside manners
The Behind the Fun Tour was great - delve into what life is like as a member of the staff. See how they do the laundry, prepare your meals, take all those "crew only" staircases, go to the engine control room and up on deck with the Captain. Treats, pictures, a "fun bag" with goodies and champagne in the steakhouse all come with the pricetag! Totally worth it! Ask all the questions you want too. Tara was great.
Overall, and mostly because she chose some great excursions, we had a blast. But I think we have to stay with the Dream class of ships. Magic and Breeze due in US in 2012 and 2013!
The tour was horrible. The bus ride there was long and packed. The two guides made stuff up as they went along and they were unhelpful. There was no time to explore on your own so the group of 47 (yes, forty-seven) had to stay together at all times. I felt like I was in 3rd grade. This just wasn't fun at all. The "city tour" consisted of driving through the city and the guides pointing out how poor the area is. That was all.
There were plenty of shops though! Which is the only reason why it scored a 2.
Beach Buggy & Snorkel at Punta Sur - I highly recommend it!!!!!!! It was well worth the $100 pp through the ship.
Our guide, Papi Chulo (Juan), was GREAT. Friendly, eager to answer questions and honest about the area. I wish it could be 2 to a car - that's the 1st of only 2 complaints - but it was 4. Luckily we were paired with a couple who couldn't drive a standard and we got to drive the entire time.
The views were amazing. We wound up snorkeling at Chankanaab instead of Punta but it was the clearest water of all our snorkeling adventures. Lots of fish, cool refreshing water. I do wish they would have let us de-group and explore a bit more (complaint #2). After about 45 minutes, we changed, drank some aqua and headed for Punta Sur. After stopping at a small (but important) Mayan Ruin and then visiting some crocodiles, we ate a yummy meal on the beach, swam in some beautiful Caribbean water, hung out in a hammock and drive to the light house for some shopping, a beer and then headed back. The buggies, while a bit older, were still a lot of fun!
I would recommend doing this tour for sure.
Back at port, there was PLENTY of shopping (we spent $65 US and got souvenirs for over 10 people!). We loved Cozumel!
Next, we did a ship tour: Shipwreck & Reef Snorkeling. This one was not as great as the first but was fun. Shorter, but fun. Too close to the boat (took us a longer time getting back in line to tender!).
Back at port, we visited a vendor and ate Beef Patties and fresh lemonade that was all AMAZING. We also had a coconut. Beefed up prices but worth the few bucks more!
The cabana itself was nice. It came with a hammock, 3 sitting areas - one inside, one outside and one by the beach but the semi-private beach you pay for with the rental get inundated by people who can't be bothered to read signs. We also got floats. Our wait staff was okay but he seemed more preoccupied on his phone and being in the shade.
Overall, it was clean and safe but not what we were hoping for.