We were on the Valor 2/20 - 2/27, a group of eight adults traveling together. It was the Western itinerary.
Embarkation -- We arrived at the pier around 11:30 because our hotel kicked us out at 11 a.m. They ran us straight through the lines and we never sat in chairs, but we were standing in lines, especially waiting to get onto the ship for quite a while. It was about 12:45 by the time we were on board. Once on the ship, the crowd was being herded to the right, but we veered left since we were willing to climb the stairs. We went straight to our cabin, which was ready, dropped our stuff and headed for the Lido deck. We found out from the others that they had been told not to go to the cabins until 1:30 but I guess we missed that message since we broke left!
Getting around the ship -- We were on the Conquest last year and so were familiar with the deck plan and layout of the ship. We learned last year that the best trick for getting around was to head to the end of the ship you wanted to be at FIRST, on your cabin's deck, before trying to go up or down. Several people complain that the decks don't go all the way through on many of the decks and this is because of the dining rooms, but we knew that our cabin's deck (8, Verandah on the Valor, 2, Main on the Conquest) went all the way through, so we used that. You can also always use the Promenade to get from one end to the other.
Cabin -- We were on Verandah deck with a balcony -- cabin 8400. Unfortunately, we were right below the Lido deck, so sleep was broken a lot by the carts being wheeled across the tile floor. They've got a lot going on up there throughout the night! The most peaceful night was the night we were in Cozumel -- I guess everyone was passed out, including the crew. The cabin itself was as expected and as others have described -- roomy with a small but suitable balcony. Plenty of storage, we even had a couple of empty drawers. All of the luggage went right under the bed.
Dining -- The food was good everywhere, which was a pleasant surprise. The Lido menu was almost identical to the one we had last year on the Conquest -- a theme every day (Caribbean, French, Chocolate) plus the grill, pizza, deli and Asian. The nice thing is that the deli and grill are open all afternoon, even after the Lido buffet shuts, so you can always get a late lunch. You just can't have dessert with it (not counting the 24-hr ice cream)! Make sure that on Saturday, for the Chocolate buffet, you hit the buffet before 2:30 when it closes. Forget the real food, just have the desserts. In the dining room, the menu and food was also good. Service was a bit questionable, but our servers sure meant well. They were cheery and friendly and did those ridiculous dances every night looking like they were honestly enjoying it. Unfortunately, they had trouble getting all of the entrees served together -- 7 of us would have our dishes while one sat for 5 minutes without. They brought the wrong entrees at least once. But once we all got the right meals, they were delicious. The maitre d' babysat our table one night to make sure there were no service problems after a complaint from someone at the table. Obviously, that night, things went fine. Strangely enough, he never came back on the last night to get his tip and we didn't see him milling around by the doors.
We went to Scarlett's one night and I can't express how fabulous that was. The filet mignon they brought me was massive. Ridiculously big, even. The appetizers, entree and dessert were all delicious and the service was just over the top. Plus, the duo who was playing "light dance music' in Scarlett's was great and happily took requests. You can go to Scarlett's without a reservation and just sit at the bar and listen to the band if you want. I highly recommend it.
Ports -- Belize and Roatan were okay, not great. We did fairly routine snorkeling excursions in each of these ports and had a decent time. In Belize, the catamaran picked us up right from the ship so we never even hit land. In Roatan, we got the only pier so we didn't have to tender. The bus (they said "motor coach" but it was a school bus) to take us to our catamaran was waiting right there on the pier.
In Grand Cayman, tendering was a nightmare. We didn't need to rush off the ship, so we waited a bit before we even tried, figuring we'd let the people with early excursions go first. We picked up tender tickets at 10 a.m., they called us to the Ivanhoe (your last stop before getting on a tender) around 10:45 a.m., but we didn't get on a tender until about 11:30. It was 12:00 before we were on land. In retrospect, we should have taken a tender ticket when they first started doling them out (8:30, I think) and then we could have gotten on a tender whenever we were ready. You don't have to go exactly when they call your number -- you just can't go sooner than that. In Grand Cayman, we had booked the 7 Mile Beach excursion, but once we got there and saw how crowded it was -- the beach chairs are lined up as if it were a theater and the ocean was the stage, so you're side-by-side with strangers in bathing suits -- we had our "free" drink and left again. It just wasn't in the cards for us that day, I guess. The others in our party stayed and had a good time, said the water was nice. Instead of staying at 7 Mile, we had a great lunch at Breezes (have the Jerk Chicken) and then wandered in and out of shops. It doesn't really count as seeing the island, but we had fun.
In Cozumel, we went to Nachi Cocom and had the best day yet. The beach is beautiful, everyone gets a chair under an umbrella and our group was able to sit together without being on top of strangers. We had the all-inclusive and stuffed ourselves on the buffet, which was delicious. We got our money's worth on free drinks, but realized how stupid we were not to tip the waiter up front because he lost interest in us after the cash-paying guests arrived. We had intended to (and did) tip him on our way out but he didn't know that before he got the tip. No loss -- we just got our own drinks. Call it exercise. There's a photographer at Nachi Cocom. She's hard to come by but if you corner her, she'll take your picture and print it with a little souvenir background. Back at the dock in Cozumel, Fat Tuesday was a truly rowdy, drunken crowd. We had dinner (the mole' was good) and a few drinks across the way at the other bar, the Crazy Pelican, and then went back to the ship to watch the late folks run for the ship. Why do people not come back until 10:45 when it says "Back on board no later than 10:30?" No one missed the ship from what I could tell. They did search the shops/bars on the pier with a huge spotlight. That was fun to watch.
Bars/Hanging out -– We spent a lot of time on the Lido deck aft. The hot tubs there are adults only, but not the pool. But it’s a smaller area, so it tends to be less chaotic than the center Lido deck. The band on the Lido deck abandoned their Caribbean fare early on and played mainstream tunes instead, but they didn’t really know the words so they’d just make them up, with an accent. Interesting. Bar waiters were infrequent and slow, so we made most of our own trips to the bar. The sports bar was fun (except for the Yankees theme, we’re Red Sox fans!), especially since they had beer on tap -– just Heineken and Bud, but better than cans. Toward the end of the week, I figured out that the lobby bar, near the Pursers, also had taps. For all I know, there were others; obviously I’m not that observant.
I’ve always loved the Promenades on the Carnival ships because they’re a great place to people-watch as everyone heads to dinner in their finery. But both the Conquest and the Valor have the problem that half the Promenade seats are smokey since they’re right next to the Casino and the other half are prime hang-outs for the teenagers who spill out from the disco/arcade. Nothing against teens, but they can get loud and shrieky, not good for relaxing with a pre-dinner drink. Plus there are the silly massage chairs that beep loudly if someone sits in them without paying for a massage. People sat in them all the time and didn’t seem to be bothered by the beeps, but it still drives people around them nuts.
Shows/Entertainment –- I concur with every other reviewer that the '80s show on the second formal night is fabulous. We were dancing in our seats. Some of the traditional rock fans in the group were offended by the Prince imitator, but he was good. And the break dancer blew us away. He did another quick show in the lobby area right after the big show. As for the other shows, I don’t feel like I paid enough attention to them to give them a fair review. The first night’s comedian just wasn’t funny at all, so we didn’t go back to see his Adult show.
Disembarkation –- They took a new approach (at least it was new to me). First was the self-service, where you carry your own bags off. Those people were gone by 7:30-7:45. Then they did the people with early flights or excursions in Miami -– they got called around 8:30 and supposedly you had to prove you had an early flight by showing your tickets. Everyone else was free to leave whenever they wanted after that. We waited in the Ivanhoe Theater, where they had the Today show and news on the big screen, until the pages stopped sounding pleasant and were more in the tone of “what are you waiting for? Get off the ship!” and walked off around 10:20. We should have waited longer because even though there was no line to get off the ship, there was quite a mob scene in the terminal where you must drag your bags through several small doors and through customs. Once through that gauntlet, we jumped in a cab and were at the Miami airport by 11:30. Tempers were flaring near the bus lines and in the cab area; we were glad there were only two of us and we could fit in a regular car/cab.
Handicapped note -– One person in our party was in a wheelchair that she brought herself. While they loved their handicapped stateroom (a suite on deck 7), she and her husband had a horrible time getting through the common areas. For example, the gift shop area was plenty roomy until they put out all their tables covered with teaser merchandise. And the stateroom hallways were plenty wide enough unless they encountered a steward’s cart parked there. If they were around, the stewards were happy to move the cart, but it wasn’t always easy to find them. The elevators were a disaster -– it gives you a whole new perspective. Unless you really need to take the elevators, you should be walking the stairs and leaving the elevators free for the people who have no other choice. This is a ship that claims to be fully handicapped accessible, but they felt otherwise and say they’ll try writing to Carnival about it. It makes me appreciate the fact that I’m not in a wheelchair! Heck, if you climb the stairs as a rule and never take the elevators, you might ward off any weight you gain from all the food you eat.
Overall, we had a good time, but I firmly believe that you can make as much fun or annoyance as you want out of any trip like this. We went into it knowing we had a week off of work, without children (who were with grandparents), with good friends to keep us company, and we had a great time. We didn’t look to Carnival to keep us busy or entertained, although we did take advantage of a few fun constants like the Not-So-Newlywed Game and the trivia games. We had every intention of making the talent show (dubbed “Valor Idol”) on the last night, but in the end, decided we were just too tired to sit through another show. We wanted to savor our friends’ company with one last drink before going to bed. My advice: if you go into it planning and willing to have a good time, with a positive attitude, then you will! Happy Cruising. We can’t wait until the next one.