Carnival once had poorly organized cruises with mediocre food and good entertainment. Things sure have changed. Our experience on the Valor was exceptional.
We used Carnival's airport "shuttle" from Ft. Lauderdale to the Port of Miami. The trip was quick and trouble-free. Embarkation was really smooth as well.
The ship is beautiful. The decor is a history motif. There are statues and pictures of presidents, scientists, war heroes and sports personalities throughout. It is a huge ship but easy to "navigate," and all the public areas were always spotless. The crew do a fabulous job of cleaning 24/7 and they are really friendly to boot.
Our outside cabin was roomy and comfortable. Our cabin steward could not have been better. Not only did he provide excellent service, but he was creative way beyond the norm. Of course, he kept the room spotless, every day he provided towel animals, but he also, involved a stuffed toy (Scooby Doo) we had with us in various cute and funny "scenes" he created on a daily basis, and he always took the time to show a genuine interest in how our day was going regardless of how busy he was.
The food on our cruise was extraordinarily well-prepared. The dinners in the Washington dining room (early seating) were always delicious. I have been on 12 cruises, and the food on the Valor was as good as any of them (including that of Celebrity Cruise Lines). The wait staff was competent and friendly and always addressed us by name. For breakfasts and lunches, we dined at the buffet on the Lido deck. Food there was wonderful as well. There were lots of choices, and there were also two stations for "custom" orders -- a gourmet burrito stand and a deli. We even found a pleasant surprise of fish and chips along with other seafood upstairs from the Lido Deck buffet restaurant toward the back.
The entertainment on the ship was top-notch as well. The Carnival productions were the best I've ever experienced on a ship. A friend traveling with us, who had been on 36 cruises, also said it was the highest quality production she had aver seen on a ship. The production, the singing, the dancing, and the costumes were just incredible. On one night, there were even awesome breakdancers that had been hired by the line. The live music around the ship was also really great. There was a band that played/sang mostly 80s tunes, a classical piano player, another band that did various pop music, a soloist that did pop music, a couple that did romantic pop music, and a Caribbean music band. All were really talented. The only disappointment was that there weren't shows every night at the main theater (Ivanhoe). On those nights, we went to the comedy club or to watch karaoke.
There were various activities on the ship...the standard art auctions, trivia contest, and hairy chest contests, etc. However, there were fewer activities than we've seen in the past. Luckily, most days we were at port, so we did not run out of things to do.
We visited four ports (Grand Cayman, Roatan, Belize, and Cozumel). Grand Cayman is a tiny island with no topography (flat as a tabletop). Also, it can be frustrating to get to/from the island as you have to tender. The tendering process can take an hour or even two when you went to get back to the ship (because so many passengers are all trying to return to the ship at the same time). Grand Cayman is really good for jewelry shopping and especially for watches. There is a phenomenal selection fo luxury watches at really good prices, and there is no sales tax. If you've been looking for a fine watch, check the prices at Grand Cayman. You are likely to find a great deal. We took a Carnival excursion to snorkel the Great Barrier Reef and to go to "Stingray City." It was a great tour. Swimming/snorkeling the reef was a great experience. The reef was beautiful though I expected to see more fish. "Meeting" the stingrays was awesome. There is a sandbar in the middle of the see where you can stand in 3-4-foot deep water. Over the years, islanders have been feeding stingrays there. Now anytime a boat arrives with food for the stingrays, they come to the sandbar to greet the tourists. These beautiful animals (up to four feet in "wingspan") swim right up to you and brush themselves against your legs. The guides even "pick them up" and allow you to hold them just below the water surface. It is a great experience if you are an animal-lover as these creature are really gentle and "friendly" to humans.
Roatan is a beautiful Honduran island off the coast of Honduras. It has great topography and is covered with lush jungle. We took an excursion to a private island (Maya Key) where we ate an authentic Honduran lunch (BBQ chicken with rice and beans and plantain). There is a man-made ruin replica of Mayan buildings with history there and you can take a self-guided tour or the "ruins" and read about Mayan history. Though it is a man-made replica, it is still interesting. Another interesting thing is an animal sanctuary on the island where wild rescue animal are cared for. There are Jaguars, Ocelots, Margays, monkeys and many birds. It is great overall, but the thing not to be missed is the Capuchin monkey enclosure. There are three Capuchins there. When you approach the enclosure, you are pleasantly surprised by a monkey (who we later discovered was named George). He is a real nut. He will stick his tail through the chain-link fence and try to grab your shirt. He did that to me and my wife even lifted my mom's shirt to look underneath (I guess he's a bit of a pervert :-) ). He also grabbed my empty coke can that is was holding. He is a real joy. Beyond that there is also good swimming at the beach on the island.
In Belize, we took a tour of the Altun Ha Mayan ruins and went on a boat ride on the river. The ruins are really great. I've been to many Mayan ruins in several countries, and this one is up there among the best. Our river boat ride was really great. We got to see several Crocodiles on the river, many birds and iguanas on the shore close to the river, and several Manatees where the river reached the sea. Our boat captain was wonderful in stopping when he saw wildlife, in explaining about the animals and the area, and in answering questions.
Cozumel we did on our own. We shopped for Mexican blankets and such and went to Carlos 'n Charlies for drinks. It is always fun to go to Carlos 'n Charlies as there is a real fun party atmosphere. There is lots of loud music, dancing and there are drinking "games" provided by the staff. They also serve large and tasty fruit margaritas.
We were all sad to see our wonderful cruise end as we had a really awesome vacation on the Valor. Our debarkation was quick and trouble free.