I thought the embarkation process took a little long. We arrived around noon and cleared security and check-in fairly quickly. We actually were pretty lucky, because the lines behind us became long very quickly, so definitely arrive before noon to beat those lines. It took a long amount of time to get through the rest of the embarkation process (about 1 - 1 1/2 hours) to get onto the ship. This is probably normal, but it still seems unnecessary. Why can't they take our picture for our id cards at the check-in desk?
The ship itself was decorated beautifully. Some people may feel it's a bit "gaudy", but I liked it. It had a very patriotic feel and it was nice to be on a ship with a true "theme" throughout it. The layout of the ship had its good and bad points. It would have been nice to have a promenade that went all the way around the boat, instead of just up and down the sides. But it was nice that the casino floor was always opened so you could walk through it even when we were in port. The majority of the ship is focused on its "Lido" deck (pool deck). This is where all of the pools/hot tubs are, and where Rosie's, the buffet, is located. It did tend to get a bit crowded on the deck since everything seemed to be happening there. There was a wide variety of clubs/bars to relax in. And overall the ship's decoration and layout was very nice.
The cabins were wonderful. Very spacious and quiet. We were right outside of the elevators and above the main lobby and couldn't hear anything. The balcony chairs were quite comfortable as well. Our room steward was also very nice and accommodating. I had absolutely no complaints with the cabin.
On the other hand, the food portion of the cruise was not so great. While the buffet had many options, the lines at the buffet were insane. It would take about 20 minutes in line just to get a hamburger. Even the regular buffet lines were long at times. No matter when we went for lunch, there were always lines. The ship tried to put a lot of different areas in the buffet restaurant (Chinese section, deli, mongolian section, regular buffet, grille, etc), but that just meant you would have to wait in multiple lines if you wanted more than one type of food. And there really was no way of avoiding these lines, as there wasn't anywhere else on the ship that you could grab a quick bite to eat. Plus, the food quality of the buffet was lacking. I ordered "Shrimp fried rice" from the chinese section one day and I basically got a cup of white rice with a few small shrimps in it. The Mongolian "cook to order" stir fry section was the only area of the buffet with quality food.
The dining room was much better. The dining rooms were open for breakfast every day and the quality of the food was excellent. Fresh & hot muffins/danishes and quality regular breakfast items as well. The dining room was only open for lunch on our 2 days at sea and we did not go then, so I can't comment on its lunches. The dinners were good. The quality was not as good as Royal Caribbean, but the variety was much better. There were such entree selections as "Taste of India" and "Taste of China" and gave a variety of food options from those countries in one entree. My biggest complaint about the dinners are echoes of a prior review about the dinner times. We had the 8:30 dining time and felt constantly rushed to get to the 10:30 entertainment shows. Plus, there were a few 9:45 shows/jackpot bingos/etc that we had absolutely no chance of making it to if we wanted our dinner. On top of that, the dining room was never opened on time and we were almost never seated until close to 8:40 - 8:45. The service in the dining room was excellent though and the maitre d' even stopped by our table multiple times to say hello and chat.The entertainment on the show was great. They had 2 "Vegas style" shows, a comedian, a juggler, a "Valor Idol", etc. There was plenty of small trivia/"Sea Feud"/Survivor type entertainment as well, all of which had surprisingly low turnout (ie: high opportunities to get selected to participate!!!). Our cruise director, Josh, was amazing. I've never seen someone in that position so honest. He literally would come out and say "don't take this tour", or "this tour is very boring". Plus he had a good sense of humor about him. Our last tour director on Royal was a clone of Ryan Seacrest and Josh had a much more "down to earth" aura about him with a good sense of humor.
The bingo games were fun and much more fairly priced than Royal. Most of the bingo games only cost $10 or $20 to play. The casino was quite nice with a large selection of table and slot games to choose from. From what I saw, all of the table games kept a $5 minimum throughout the cruise, allowing everybody a chance to play without spending $20 a hand.
The shore destinations were okay. Belize is a good country to take a tour in. It's a third world country that is trying to make improvements with global health care, etc. This is a rich culture there that is interesting to hear about. Honduras seemed to be a very poor country with little attention paid to the tourism industry. There were a lot of ships right off of the ship's pier, but right when you left the pier, you are surrounded by poor children following you, pestering you, and constantly asking you for money. It's a shame because the shops had a lot of interesting local crafts at good prices.
Grand Cayman is a nice safe island with a large variety of good tours to select from. I would definitely recommend taking a "stingray city" tour...a once in a lifetime experience. We went through a private company called Captain Marvins and it was much better than the ship. 40 people on our tour instead of the 200-300 through the ship. Cozumel is Cozumel. Do some snorkeling if you have a chance. We went to town to do some shopping, but we found the same items and the same deals just off of the pier in the little shopping area there.
Overall this ship was a great value for the price. It would be nice if the coffee bar didn't charge $3 for a latte, or if the Sushi bar was open for more than 3 hours at dinner time, but overall most things on the ship were reasonable. My biggest complaint would be the fact that there always seemed to be a lot of people on the ship. I didn't feel that way on the Adventure of the Seas for Royal. Wherever you went there were lines. I would also definitely recommend the early dinner seating. Most of the clubs weren't open until around 10:00, which meant that if you wanted to see the show and were in the late seating (all late seating shows were at 10:30), you couldn't go to the clubs until close to midnight...too late for a couple of oldies like ourselves.
I'd recommend this cruise based on the value, great service, and decor. But wouldn't recommend this ship based on the food quality, long lines at some areas, and timing of certain events (late shows, clubs not open til late at night, etc). It really depends on what you're looking for in a ship as to whether you should take the Valor.