My wife (29) and I (33) traveled in a group of 12 with family and friends on the Valor leaving January 1st for the Western Caribbean. Most of us did a similar cruise last year on the Liberty and were hoping for a repeat of a great vacation.
5 of us flew from Detroit non-stop to Miami on New Year's Eve. It was our first time flying American Airlines and it was a pretty good experience. We were 20 minutes late leaving Detroit, but still made Miami 20 minutes early. Off the plane, we took the free hotel shuttle to the Hampton Inn Blue Lagoon just across the highway from the airport. It was a nice hotel with a good breakfast and a very short walk to a Walgreens and Publix to pick up the last minute cruise supplies we didn't want to fly with. The hotel also included 2 free shuttle passes per room ($10 per extra person) so at $149 I thought it was a reasonable value.
The shuttle bus dropped us off at the port at 11:30am and we were able to go right inside to security. My wife and I each carried on a 6 pack of 500ml pop bottles, plus water and Gatorade. They did a random search to make sure all bottles had their original seals, etc, and let us pass with no problem. There was a short line to get our sail and sign cards, then waited about 20 minutes for our zone to be called to board the ship. We were on the Lido Deck for a Burrito lunch by 12:40pm so no complaints there either.
Ship and Entertainment
Since we had already been on the Liberty the layout was familiar to us to it was easy to get around. I've read various comments about the decoration theme, but was all thought it was generally very nice. I especially liked the bright diner like feel in Rosie's Buffet area.
We had a balcony room on deck 7 aft which was a very convenient location. We hardly ever used the elevators because we were only a couple of flights of stairs up to the Lido for Breakfast or down to the Washington Dining Room for supper and Promenade and comedy club at night. The room had ample storage, a comfortable bed and a nice size balcony that we used every morning and evening. Our room steward (I feel bad because I can't remember his name) was excellent. He would always wave and speak whenever we saw him in the hall and he worked his magic without ever interrupting us.
We ate breakfast at the Lido Buffet most mornings and found the selection and quality to be very good. We tried room service the first 2 mornings so that we had juice / tea and a bagel while getting ready and it arrived on time both days. For lunch I tried the Burrito Bar, Fish and Chips, Pizza and Cheese burger from the Lido Grill and all were excellent. Because we ate lunch later most days after coming back from excursions, I didn't try the Lido Buffet because I probably would have stuffed myself too close to supper. For supper we had an early seating in the Washington dining room at a table for 12. We liked the new menu because there was something to suit everyone's taste which can be difficult in a group that large. Our biggest complaint from the entire cruise was the slow service and lack of interaction from the waiters in the main dining room. There was 1 head waiter and 1 part time assistant for 3 tables, and it just wasn't enough. I don't blame the waiters personally because they always seemed to be working hard, but they were just stretched too thin. As a group we were always at the table by 6:05pm, but were never finished dessert before 7:45 any of the 7 nights. I don't mind a 2hr dinner when I'm having a good time, but it just felt like we were always waiting, waiting, waiting.
Grand Cayman was our first stop, but it was so windy that we were unable to stop at Georgetown and had to head to the south shore instead. There were 5 ships scheduled that day but 2 of them were turned away including another Carnival ship, so we considered ourselves lucky. We hadn't booked an excursion because most people had already done the Stingray's and Turtle's before, so we headed to Georgetown on the bus, $5 per person each way, for some shopping and lunch at Margaritaville. Because of the high winds all of the water based excursions were canceled for the day anyway.
We didn't pre-book a Cozumel excursions either, but planned to arrange our own to Playa Mia for a beach day. At the taxi area we were told that high winds were keeping people out of the water again, so they gave us an option to go to the beach at Punta Morena on the opposite side of the island for $150 total for 9 of us. It turned out to be a good deal because we got a tour of the island, no charge to get on the beach or for chairs and they had a bar and restaurant with everything reasonably priced. On the way back to the port, the driver dropped us off at Margarittaville for about an hour and waited for us right outside.
In Belize, half of us did Sergeant Cay's Reef Snorkelling booked with Carnival. The Snorkelling boat picked us up directly from the ship so that allowed us to bypass the lengthy early morning tendering process. They took us to an island about 20 minutes away where we geared up, then another 15 minutes to the Reef. They split us into groups of 8-10 and swam with a guide for over an hour. We seen a barracuda, moray eel and the guide free-dove to grab a couple of lobsters and a star fish for us to hold and get pictures with. We were back to the ship about noon, grabbed a quick bite to eat then took the tender to the port(no line at that time) so we could say that we stepped foot in Belize. We walked around the port shopping area quickly, grabbed a local beer and were headed back to the ship within an hour.
Our final stop was in Roatan and we had pre-booked a Victor Bodden private island tour for 10. We met our driver and tour guide (Annie) about a mile from the cruise port. We had about a 90 minute tour of the island with a couple of stops for photo opps. We then wen t to Victor's for the Monkey Business Tour which was also a blast since we are all animal lovers. Most of the group did the Zip Lining at Victor's as well, 12 stations and took about an hour. We then continued with our island tour and were dropped off at the West Bay Beach area for about 90 minutes before heading back to the cruise port. It worked out to $80pp ($25 for the tour, $45 for Zip Lining, $10 for beach chair rental) and we felt it was money well spent as we had a very fun and very full day.
3 of us had also booked the Behind the Fun Tour that takes place on the last sea day. We booked at Guest Services (because the Shore Excursion desk was closed when we decided that we wanted to go). At the time of booking, we were told that there were 6 spots left and we would receive our tickets in our mailbox by Saturday morning. We woke up on Saturday with no tickets, but got ready and headed to the meeting area expecting to at least be on a list. Of course we weren't on a list and weren't able to take the tour. We immediately headed to Guest Services to find out what happened and they had proof of our request and proof that there were spots available when we booked, but those spots were later sold to other people. After several minutes discussing the situation we finally got a "sorry", but that's it. In the long run I know it's probably my fault for not booking earlier in the week, but we were still pretty ticked at the way the way the situation unfolded. We ended up having a good day relaxing and took the free Galley Tour in the afternoon, so that was better than nothing.
We planned to do the Self Assist disembarking because we had an 11:00am flight from Miami. I was nervous that something was going to go wrong and we were going to be late, but it couldn't have went any smoother. We headed downstairs when the first Zone was called, 7:05am and were through customs and standing outside the port at 7:40am. Called the shuttle service (booked with Miami Airport Transfer) and they were onsite within 15 minutes and on our way to the airport. The lines at the airport moved quickly and we were checked in, through security and standing at our gate by 9:05am.
Overall it was a good time and I'm sure we'll sail with Carnival again because it is a great vacation for the price as long as you're willing to overlook a few little shortfalls.