After a snowy and panicky Friday night before our cruise, we were so happy to learn that our early morning flight out of Chicago Ohare to Miami was ON TIME! This was my 6th cruise; I cruised with my husband, 11 year old son (first timer), mom& stepdad (also first timers), and aunt and uncle. Departure date was mom's birthday; I made her wear a birthday sash and she was SO well received with warm wishes from our fellow cruisers and Carnival "family". This would turn out to be a birthday to remember for her!
Although I can honestly say this was the most fun I have ever had on a vacation (probably due to the group I sailed with), nothing in life is perfect so this will still be a constructive review. Not that I am complaining!
So we all arrive in Miami with time to kill. Be sure to try the YUMMY Cuban coffee! We also eat in the airport then request a van taxi to take us to a liquor store for some carry on wine and pop (although I must admit in hindsight it was a bit odd drinking red wine in the hot Carribbean- next time I will choose white). No one in Miami seems to speak much English. This presented a small challenge as mom and I hurriedly grabbed individual cans of coke and wine bottles in a mad dash while the taxi meter was still running, with no help from the clerk due to the language barrier. Finally we were on our way to see Valor! (my 2nd cruise on her). When she first came into our sight, I thought to myself, "hi pretty lady!" She is so majestic. I could never get tired of gazing at cruise ships. After a fairly quick but harried embarkation, we were on board! My family didn't like the disorganized chaos of the lifeboat drill. I'm used to this from Carnival, but I did like the fact that we no longer had to wear our life vests to it. It was hard to see the short crew members doing a demonstration and it was hot and old seniors were forced to stand 2 or 3 deep for the 20 minutes or so it took. I must agree; surely there must be a way for Carnival to improve this shortcoming. Our inside cabin with a pulldown bunk for my son was clean and efficient. This girlie girl loved all the shelves in the bathroom for my products. I wish the bathrooms had exhaust fans- sure got steamy in there after a shower. We liked to yell at my son, "get in your hole!"( meaning bunk) whenever we were in our cabin because the 3 of us really couldn't move around in there too good. It got cluttered quickly. Anyway that first night I was up 24 hours. I just didn't want the fun to end! In fact this entire cruise I never really slept; I was just too excited and always wanted to be doing things. I drank lots of coffee to stay awake (3 or 4 at dinner or sometimes 2 cappuccinos- can you say WIRED?) I felt like I never had enough time to do them all! Every night I hated to go to bed (usually at 2AM) and had to force my wired butt to lay down!
This cruise mainly consisted of older adults (maybe 55 plus). A few kids were thrown in too. Maybe this explains why my I was one of only 2 people up until 1:30 AM one night dancing the night away like a fool after the weak deck party had gone to bed for the night. I just couldn't get enough of this cruise! (Or did I mention that already?) Every employee must check a box when they are hired saying they are certified to do the "Electric Slide" and "Cupid Shuffle" LOL.
Overall the ship was very clean and did not feel dated (she's an old girl now in the cruise world LOL). I noticed a few differences from our 1st cruise on her, mainly that there were signs above all the food stations so you knew which area served what. Which brings me to a complaint. How about more signs IN GENERAL? Like which way to the bathrooms? There are only tiny, hard to see signs right above them. Or which way is foward and aft? That confused me the entire cruise. I also wish the hot tub was actually HOT. I could see it being not as hot during the day so people don't pass out but at night I like it hot to soothe my aching body and it just didn't do it for me. And to the other extreme, the swimming pools were always ICE cold! Only a few crazy kids and my mom in them. Oh yeah and my husband and uncle doing a men's synchronized swimming contest to Unchained Melody LOL. Mom was also a "texture judge" for the hairy chest contest one day. Normally I dislike this silliness but I'm telling you, cruising with a group made it so funny and awesome. I went down the water slide this cruise- fun and my 1st time doing so on a cruise ship! I noticed lots of kids running and then falling on the slippery wooden decks in front of the pool. Those crazy buggers would get right up and keep on running! My uncle would signal "safe" like a baseball umpire to acknowledge their slides.
Goose the cruise director was my favorite one ever. I loved his cheery "HELLLOOOO!!!" greeting and his closing statement, "WHO'S ON VACATION? ARE YOU ON VACATION?" He was not pompous or annoying, just funny and likeable and had just as much enthusiasm for us as I'm sure he did on his first few cruises.
My 11 (almost 12) year old son initially joined Camp Carnival but it proved to be a bit baby-ish for him. Since he was almost 12 they let him join Circle C. That last 2 days we hardly saw him- he enjoyed playing video games there the most and meeting new friends (although he also enjoyed the company of us "oldies"). They give out little goodie bags too which I thought was very nice. He actually said to me one time, "mom, thank you for taking me here".
Entertainment to me was mostly good but Carnival needs to change it up. The welcome aboard show was exactly how I remembered it 3 years ago. The Motown singer was very spot on. Comedians were very hit or miss but there was 1 night at the adult show where I just couldn't stop belly laughing and that feels good! I liked how they had many different comedy shows on different nights, some for families and some for adults. There were singers with BEAUTIFUL voices singing lovely songs on level 3 by the grand staircase and wonderful bands in the casino. My son did karaoke and we practically had to drag my step dad out of there. I played Blackjack for my first time on a cruise and my hubby got brave and played Roulette ( I know, nothing to it really). Again, this older cruise crowd was all in bed by midnight with the exception of the casino, where most of us as well headed most nights after the late night show. I wish they actually showed a good movie on the seaside theater but sadly they never did. They showed super -hero kid type movies like Thor or Green Lantern. I so wanted to sit out there with some popcorn 1 night and watch a good movie! How about a chick flick 1 night, a family movie another, a guy movie another etc.? They did show the football playoff games on the big screen but it was cold and very windy out there! I LOVED the outdoor reggae/calypso live band. I would grab a seat by the pool in the hot sun, drink some beer, and listen to Bob Marley and think, there is NOTHING I would rather be doing right now. I was in heaven.
As usual hubby and I enjoyed the past guest party. Funship Freddy wanted my digits. We also attended the "Bon Voyage" party on the last night, knowing there were free drinks to be had. (Hey Carnival could buy a few rounds for once, they charge an arm and a leg for alcohol!) Goose said to the relatively few people there- "congratulations you found the free drink party! You are the smartest people on the ship!" Mom was even smarter because she was flashing around $5 bills so the waiters gave us preferred treatment. We had a table full of yummy blue Margaritas, our favorite! He then emptied his last tray onto our table! So awesome! As we returned to our room some darn "kids" were prank calling ours and my family's rooms. I think my stepdad actually fell for the old, "is your refrigerator running?" gag. Then we had to drunk pack. Not cool.
Food/Drink- Ahh my FAVORITE subject! I loved the new Red Frog beer. When buying bottled beer, go for the bucket- it saves $2. I loved the pitcher of Sangria and the Martini tasting. I got to pick 4 VERY STRONG Martinis. Hubby had to help me finish 2. So yes you get a bang for your buck and they are oh so tasty! We ate in the main dining room every night. My son loved dancing with the waiters and grew attached to the assistant one. I have never seen him so outgoing! He also tried shark, frog legs, and alligator! Who IS this kid? I tried my uncle's escargot- yuck. Tasted like a VERY chewy mushroom and I couldn't wait to get it down my gullet because it was creeping me out so bad. This was the best food I have EVER tasted on a cruise. Everything to me was wonderful with a few exceptions. The coffee and cappuccino in the main dining room were always superb. The desserts to me the entire cruise were a disappointment with the exception of the cherries jubilee! MMM!! The warm chocolate melting cake was OK but just TOO chocolatey. I had one the 1st night then didn't want it again the entire cruise (although I could go for one right now!) I did not enjoy my duck appetizer. I expected it to be served warm and crispy but it was served red and cold. Even the waiter shook his head as he took it away from me, puzzled as to why they prepare it that way. Outside of the main dining room, I enjoyed the coffee, yummy tea and lemonade 24/7, and I think my stepdad single-handedly broke the ice cream machine since he frequented it so much. The pizza was back to being yummy on this cruise (yay!) and I thoroughly enjoyed my anchovy pizza. I get so tired of the same old BLAH cheese and pepperoni, cheese and sausage... How incredibly boring! (yes I am a bit of a foodie). I was amazed and kept happy by all the HEALTHY and vegetarian options at the buffets, though I was a sucker for those yummy and greasy fish and chips, calamari ball and the bouillabaise. The Mongolian Wok (made to order stir fry) station was my favorite, as was the made to order omelette station. I was disappointed in the waffles and consider myself a bit of a waffle connossieur. They were hard and tastless. All the desserts offered at the buffet looked dry and tasteless. I tried a chocolate cake and yep- I was right. I got real excited about the chocolate buffet and loaded up my plate but then was disappointed when I got to the point in the line that they had the... chocolate mousse! I wish I could put it all back and just eat that heavenly mousse but I ate most of it all anyway. Hey calories don't count on vacation right? And that's what stairs are for! I was also very impressed by the sushi- I had it as an appetizer most nights before dinner. The best I have ever tasted. I ordered a room service caesar salad one day and it said, "with anchovies". This sealed the deal for me but it did not have any! I later found out they were ground up in the dressing but I couldn't even tell! The first morning we headed to the breakfast buffet at around 7:45 AM and it was very nice to avoid the "cattle call" of about 10-10:30AM and have a peaceful morning breakfast. But surprisingly even when we got up later we never had a hard time finding a table. Which leads me to my next subject- CHAIR HOGS!!
-The policy states that you cannot save chairs for more than a half hour. Well I never had a problem finding chairs for my family and this is because I abide by that rule and other selfish people unfortunately do not. I would always find 1 or 2 empty chairs and a couple of us would sit and the rest would go in the pool or off to eat and meet us later. Eventually more people would leave around us and we would all have a chair. One time I sat alone for 2 HOURS next to maybe 15 saved chairs. When my aunt and uncle found me I told them to sit next to me and move the stuff which they did. So some old codger comes by shortly after throwing a hissy fit that we took "his" chairs. We explained the policy and he exchanged some heated words with my uncle. Like they were supposed to stand because 15 chairs were holding towels and sandals! People are unbelievable. By the way who is dumb enough to save a chair with a $22 towel?
Grand Turk- Got right off the ship and walked to a beautiful beach. It's so close! As we were getting ready to leave we discovered Margaritaville had a HUGE free pool with a swim up bar. It's also just a walk away. Wish we knew that sooner!
Dominican Republic- This port reminded me of Jamaica. Lots of pushy shopkeepers trying to sell you the same trinkets, bracelets etc. Although one did seal the deal with me when my son was looking for a birthday present for a classmate and he asked him (about me)- "is this your momma? She's pretty." SALE! We bargained with them and took pictures with their beautifully clad dancers. We then visited a cave on an excursion. It was fascinating to me. I loved the ancient drawings inside. We saw a tiny crab in there crawling around too.
Curacao- Oh what pretty colors and architecture here. I loved the "wedding cake house". My mom and son enjoyed their visit with Keyana the dolphin. Son now wants to be a dolphin trainer. Hubby and I did an excursion to the ostrich farm and a Curacao tour. I have always loved any excursion with animals and this one was no exception. I loved feeding them! On the tour we saw grave vaults in cemetaries ABOVE GROUND becuse the soil is too hard to dig in! Afterwards we walked around Curacao a bit and were asked 3 times by shady characters if we wanted to buy drugs! The first time my husband kindly said, "no thanks" then turned to me and said jokingly, "you didn't want any did you?" We found a cool bar called "The Sopranos Piano Bar". Yes THOSE Sopranos. So we had a drink then admired our lovely ship all lit up in the dark (we were docked there until 11PM) and hurried back to the ship, me with my Carnival towel on my head, combatting the incessant rain.
Aruba- Been here once before. The group wanted a beach so we took the "Aru-bus" to beautiful Palm Beach. They charge for everything here, the darn goggles my son wanted were $10 to rent! They also charge 50 cents to use the bathroom. Uh no thanks that won't be necessay ;)
On the last full day morning I was kind of in a funk. For the first time ever on a vacation I was NOT looking foward to going home! I was seriously depressed and cranky that I had to leave! So was my son and mom. We agreed we could have used 3 more days. My son said he wants to buy us all a cruise one day or buy the Valor. He does not want to take off his Muster station kid bracelet or dolphin encounter bracelet and still has them on to this day (2 weeks later). On the flight home he said he "misses his home" (the Valor!) and wanted to stay in his "hole" for the next cruise." Mom texted me, "I am looking foward to work only to save $$$ for another trip. Reality is a B&*%h! LOL"
-Internet cafe on ship is VERY expensive and slow. Husband had to use it for work and paid $40 for about 1 hour.
-once when we were 4 hours away from Aruba (sailing back to Miami) they announced we would be heading back to Aruba due to a medical emergency but it would not affect our arrival time in Miami. I just found it hard to believe that that was the best option and why wasn't the patient airlifted? We saw the patient on a gurney being loaded onto a smaller boat when we got close to Aruba (we did not dock there).
-It was very nice without ignorant people on cell phones for 8 days! See? The world DOES go on!'
-we explored the deserted bow area by the "secret door" on our deck (deck 6). It was VERY windy. At night once as soon as we opened the door I closed it and turned back immediately because I was so worried about being blown overboard! It was frightening! Hey I know this really happened to someone on a tall building- freak wind gust. You never know.
-it was next to impossible staying together with a group. We all "argued" about this almost the entire trip. We would all be together then all of a sudden someone would wander off and we'd all be frustrated and looking for them. We tried walkie talkies too but there was a lot of interference. It got to the point where instead of getting upset I told everyone we all had to laugh about it or we'd cry. We were all like kids in a huge toy store and all excited about seeing and doing new things. My uncle one night at dinner said he had an announcement- "there are phones all over the ship and they work!"
-I love the Carnival employees. I almost felt guilty having a good time in front of them while they were all dutifully working.
-It was nice on debarkation day to have breakfast in the main dining room. It was a nice, non rushed send off and we lingered there a while before we could disembark. This will be a new tradition of mine.
- I was turned off by the pompous and un-funny list of "rules" in Brad's piano bar. Not to mention his monotone voice and heavy emphasis on Abba and Elton John. I'm in the Carribbean I want Bob Marley! Normally I love the piano bar but I did not visit it again after I read "the rules".
-I heard blues music on this cruise, and played mini golf, 2 of my long ago suggestions. I think Carnival really does listen! :)
-in comparison to RCCL (according to my aunt) she says Carnival is less elegant, more of a party ship (what? this one was filled with senior citizens!), RCCL has more signage (can't argue with her about Carnival needing that) and has a well organized and better lifeboat drill. She said the RCCL ship layouts are also way less confusing. Interesting perspective.
-I once helped a frail old lady with a walker into a bathroom. The doors all over the ship are VERY heavy and there was a garbage can in the way. I have NO IDEA how she would have gotten in there by herself. Also saw several people walk into the all glass automatic sliding doors!
-wow people like to EAT!!!
In conclusion it was very fun to watch first timers experience their first cruise. They are now all cruise junkies like me and eagerly awaiting the next one. There is certainly something for EVERYONE on a cruise. Sun makes me happy. Good food, drinks, and company make me happy. And CARNIVAL makes me happy.