A little about us: We are a married couple, 40 and 41. This was our tenth cruise. We have done 7 with Carnival and 3 with RCI. We enjoying cruising and have never been on a bad cruise! I have been a member on Cruise Critic for a while now, but this is the first cruise that I joined the "Roll Call" for my cruise. I have to say, it was great getting to know people online before the cruise....we were all sharing the excitement of the cruise! It was awesome when we all actually got to meet each other. Several of us even went on excursions together. We couldn't have had a more compatible group. There is talk of a reunion cruise for next year. I hope it really happens!
Getting there: We flew into Ft. Lauderdale Airport one day prior and rented a car. We drove to Miami and stayed at the Hyatt. The next morning we returned the car to the Miami Airport and took the free shuttle to the ship. We learned this method on More Cruise Critic and it worked out well for us.
The night before: We went to Bayside Marketplace for dinner and shopping. There are several unique little shops that were fun to shop in. We decided to eat at Bubba Gump's. We had eaten there before and it was excellent. We shopped a little and looked at all the boats on the water. It was beautiful. We were hoping to see some cruise ships, but none were in port at the time. There was a Miami Heat game a block away and the city was hopping! Everything was crowded and parking was way over priced! There was a lot of traffic and it was a little nerve-wracking since we were not familiar with that area. We then went to the Hyatt (Price.... $48, I still can't believe it!). It was very nice and we enjoyed our view from the balcony on the 19th floor. The city is so pretty with all the lights reflecting on the water!
Embarkation: We talked with several people on this cruise and embarkation times seemed to vary. We were at the right place at the right time and only stood in line for 8 minutes. We arrived at 11:00 a.m. Next, we relaxed in a holding area for about 45 minutes until the ship was ready. I talked to others who stood in line for two hours.
The ship: Overall, I liked the dEcor. I saw pictures prior to the cruise and thought it was going to be really gaudy. I like the more subdued look of the Royal Caribbean ships, but have to say that Valor seemed toned down compared to other Carnival ships I have been on. Rosie's yellow and lime green was adorable. The lounges were all pretty nice. I particularly liked One Step Disco. The walls were lined with tons of televisions and the ceiling had twinkling lights. It was very cute. The Lindy Hop piano bar was nice, too. I never felt the ship was too crowded. There were plenty of seats for all the show and in the lounges. There were stacks of chairs for the taking out by the pools. If you wanted to be in the main pool area, you did have to get up early to get your chair.
The ports: The best part of cruising for me is exploring the ports. Our first port was Belize. It is a tender port and takes about 20 minutes. We booked our tour with and independent company. We did the "Shark and Ray Alley" tour with Coral Breeze Unlimited. We met them at the Wet Lizard restaurant right by the docks. There were 8 of us on the tour and 4 crew members. The captain was Mark, with his assistant, James. Our guides were Monique and Hennie. We boarded a small boat and went to Cay Caulker to pick up snorkel equipment and to place our lunch orders. Our next stop was Coral Gardens to snorkel. We followed Hennie, two by two, along a path through the coral. It was pretty. We snorkeled for about 45 minutes. The current was a little strong at some points. Our next stop was to visit the sharks and stingrays. Hennie started feeding them when we arrived. There were 7 nurse sharks and 25-30 string rays. It was great to be in the water with them and touch them. It was not scary at all. The nurse sharks are a little shy. The stingrays were all over me. We then went back to Cay Caulker for lunch and spent about an hour and a half there. The lunch was included in the tour and was very good. We walked around the island before it was time to return. It was very quiet and pretty there. Hennie told us that there are only 5 cars on the island. Most of the residents drive golf carts. The kids take a boat to school. It looked like a sleepy little fishing village and I enjoyed the serenity of the island. I would highly recommend this tour to others. It felt very personalized. We shopped at the port a little while before returning to the ship.
Our next port was Roatan. I loved Roatan! Ten of us from Cruise Critic decided to do the Beginner's Scuba Dive with Salt and Pepper. They met us outside the gate by the ship. They were 30-40 minutes late. That is the ONLY negative thing I can say about the excursion. Once we all got together we were taken to Foster's at West Bay. Our guide was Paul and I could tell he was making sure we had a good time. We watched a video about the basics of diving then went to shallow waters at Tabyana beach to practice. There were several skills to master before the dive, and I regret to say I chickened out! I decided to snorkel instead and took pictures of others in my group. It was a total blast anyway! Several in our group dove down about 65 feet and saw a coral wall. After the dive we went back to Foster's for a lobster lunch and ate in a gazebo over looking the beautiful waters of Roatan. It was picture perfect! I would also highly recommend this tour to others. I would like to add that there is an orphanage on Roatan with 14 children. We learned about these children on the "ports of call" section on this site. I think everyone in our Cruise Critic group made a donation. The orphanage will send someone to meet you at the port or you can visit if you want. When I saw how poor the island was, I was happy I brought some things for the kids. I feel very fortunate to live in America.
Our third stop was Grand Cayman. It is also a tender port with an approx. 10 minute tender time. This was our third time at this port and as always, Seven Mile Beach was the plan for the day. The scuba divers in our group wanted to dive again so our cab driver dropped us off at the Hyatt because Red Sail Sports is located there. We had missed the morning dive, and the afternoon dive would end too close to tender time, so we all just decided to spend the day on the beach. It was still as beautiful as ever after the hurricane, although we did see a lot of destruction and rebuilding on the way to and from the Hyatt. We had lunch at the hotel, it was very expensive, $35 for a fish sandwich, an order of conch fritters and 2 cokes. A waiter for others in our group told them they could go up to the 6th floor to take some great pictures of the beach. While they were up there they noticed a dark area in the water that didn't look like a reef. They decided to swim out to see what it was. They motioned for me to come out. I swam out and saw the largest school of fish I had ever seen. There were thousands .... with a 3 ½ ft. barracuda swimming around them. It was awesome! I looked at my Reefcomber's guide and I think they were either Yellow jack or Bar jack. It was so cool! Some of the guys were diving down and the fish were going over them and under them! Some of the guys found a blowfish and some squid. It was a great day! We took the cab back for a little shopping before taking the tender back to the ship.
Our fourth and final port was Cozumel. It had been 10 years since we were last here, and boy has it changed! It is definitely the port for shopping! There are deals to be found and the place for bargaining. We purchased 2 onyx chess sets for $45. When we first went in the shop they wanted $50 for one. I have seen similar sets in malls for $130 and up. They had beaded island necklaces for 2 for $10 and the other islands were charging $10. I bought an embroidered, half-zip sweatshirt for $15. Tanzanite was priced about the same as the Grand Cayman, a little high, but I indulged a little anyway! So if you are going on this cruise, save your souvenir dollars for Cozumel! We decided to go to Chankanaab Park for the day. It was a beautiful location. It had a small lagoon area, beach area lined with palapas and beach chairs, diving, snorkeling, archaeological park with trails and replicas from Mexican sites, Mayan village, botanical gardens, dolphin encounters and swims, and sea otter swims. It also had restaurants, bars, snack bars, and restrooms with showers. My husband had his certificate from Beginner's Scuba in Roatan and was able to dive again with that. The guide showed him fish, lobsters, a sea snake, statues and several other things in the sea. They dove through an underwater cave. He had a blast! We returned to the ship and took showers and changed and went back to Cozumel to shop and spent a little time at Fat Tuesday's. Another great day!
Other things worth mentioning:
* We were in cabin 6230. It was right above the main lounge. If you plan to go to bed before 11:00 p.m. this is not a good cabin for you. It was very noisy!
*Our cruise director was Carlo Lombard. He was just filling in of Josh Riffe and we felt he did a great job. He had a good personality and we could tell he was working very hard.
*The Captain was Giovanni Cutugno. He was friendly and funny and spent time posing for photos with passengers.
*Ron Pass at the piano bar was very good. He knows a ton of songs and is a good singer! He has a great personality and made the piano bar a lot of fun!
* If you are a die-hard football fan, you may not want to cruise on Super Bowl Sunday. The cruise line worked hard to make this evening a success by planning a poolside party with a giant make-shift screen, buckets of beer and free T-shirts, but the satellite didn't cooperate and we only got to see the first few minutes and the last few minutes of the game. Let's just say there were a few angry passengers.
*The chocolate buffet was highly over-rated. Most of the selections were bitter dark chocolate and I am a milk chocolate girl! It is announced in the Carnival Caper only, so it is easy to miss. There weren't many people there. It was at 2:00 in the afternoon on the last sea day.
*We felt the food in the dining room was just average. The staff and service were excellent. We could have done without the nightly joke from the maitre d' (Washington Dining Room). The selections and variety at Rosie's was fantastic. The fish and chips at Seafood Fare were to die for and my husband loved the food from Asian Corner. There are great, made to order sandwiches at the Deli and burgers, fries and salads at The Grill. The pizza is good at The Pizzeria. Try the hot chocolate. It was very good.
*The 2 production shows were the best I have seen on a cruise ship! The '80s: Far from Over was excellent! Hypnotist Mike Harvey's show was very funny. The midnight comedy show with Jim Brick had me laughing until my cheeks hurt! Be sure to catch this one!
*The Self-Assist Debarkation worked out great for us! It starts at about 7:30 and lasts for about 45 minutes. You have to be a U.S. citizen, have all documentation and proof of citizenship with you and be able to carry all of your own luggage. We were on the shuttle bus for Ft. Lauderdale by 8 a.m. I will pack lighter next year, though!
In closing, I will have to say that this was an awesome cruise and an awesome itinerary. We did awesome excursions and I encourage others who only take the ship's excursions to spread your wings a little and enjoy the smaller, private tours that are offered. You get so much more for your vacation dollar. The best part of all was searching for and finding my Cruise Critic friends. If you are reading this, all of you made our vacation more enjoyable. We are ready for that reunion cruise! Thanks to Carnival and Cruise Critic ... I'm a Happy Cruiser!!! Less