I am writing this one day after our disembarkation from the Carnival Valor for a March 3-11 cruise. About us, my girlfriend and I went on our 8th cruise, and 4th with Carnival. We are middle-aged, middle class but healthy and active with no young kids.
Fly Aweigh Program - This was the first time we used Carnival's Fly Aweigh program. At the time, it was costing about $650 on online sites to fly to Miami or Fort Lauderdale. Carnival booked us for $450 to fly to FLL. A few of problems though, for one, the price online dropped over the next week to $350. Also, you don't get an airline or flight time preference. So we had to fly in the day of the cruise, which makes me nervous on any delays. We did buy travel insurance though. Then we had to pay the extra amount for transportation to Miami. Not too bad, but still. Our flight back was to be at 5:45PM! More on that later.
The embarkation process was smooth. I had read a few complaints about the ship layout, but More
we thought the ship was reasonably laid out with logical placement for everything. The only problem was one of the restaurants on Deck 3 cut you off from part of the ship. We had been on the Conquest in the same class a few years ago and this just seemed easier to get around to me. Maybe they have redone that whole class.
One of the best areas of the ship was the Serenity area at the bow of the ship. 2 whirlpools, 4 hammocks, and a reasonably good amount of padded chairs. The aft part was also for adults and it seemed both areas were enforced, although the pizza is aft and kids showed up there. In the main deck area there seemed to be enough chairs for once if you weren't picky about where to lay out.
The Ivanhoe Theather was spacious, but we only saw two shows there. I am not a big fan of the song and dance Broadway type stuff, and they have cut that out. I actually almost missed it. Most nights were some comedians. The comedians also were at the Eagles Lounge, the area that is kind of the second theater of the ship. Every ship I've ever been on these areas were TOO SMALL with not enough seats.
We had an oceanview stateroom. Another problem here. We booked early thinking we'd save money. We paid $829 for an oceanview. A couple of weeks later the price for oceanview dropped to $699 and a balcony was $829. We tried to upgrade, but they were booked up on balconies by then. Big marks against Carnival for that.
As usual, Carnival seemed to have plenty of activities through the day. Some ships we've been on were pretty sparse in this area.
We only ate at the main dining room once. We were on that plan with no set time. We showed up near closing one night on the second formal night and got a table for two. That was nice, I don't like visiting with people I don't know and feeling stuck. The food was very good that night too.
Food - Rosie's Restaurant - This is the buffet area. I am so tired of standing in lines. I forget how about that everytime I decide to cruise again. The main buffet lines were too long. They also have a sandwich and Mongolian BBQ station. These with only 2 cooks that were constantly busy. Adding one more would help. The Mongolian BBQ was basic selections but very good. Carnival at least in that area finally wasn't afraid to spice things up. The grilled sandwiches were good too. And as usual there's pizza if you want. I am a very picky eater, but I have no real complaints on the quality of food, just the lines.
Drinks - OUCH. Including gratuity, a 16 oz. bottle of Coor's Light was $6.61. There's buckets of beer too, but you don't save that much. Mixed drinks were about $8 and up. Ridiculous. That's why we snuck our own liquor on board. I'd like to not have to do that, because it is a hassle to go back to the room, and I like the variety at a bar. But I also don't like getting gouged. The cruise lines need to learn a lesson here and drop their prices. I'd much rather pay a reasonable price and have the convenience of just going up to the bar or having someone bring me a drink.
Staff - As usual, all were very friendly that we dealt with. The bands were good. On some ships, the main deck lounge in the center of the ship has a crowd and this one did. There was a singer there and she was very good. Some of the staff were breakdancing one night also there. That gave me flashbacks to the 80s and was fun.
Disco - Usually it seems, even on Carnival, these places are dead except for a few special times. But on this ship it was busy every night and people seemed to be having fun. The 70s music night was nice to go to with all ages dancing, but you can always count on a DJ to kill the 70s stuff with some techno and people start to drop off. They had a Michael Jackson night one night where they taught the guests how to dance to Thriller. The guy who did that did really good putting the pieces of the dance together for people to learn. There was a good crowd on the floor doing that and most seemed to catch on.
Ports of Call - MORE LINES.
A little more on the Fly Aweigh program and when it came to flying home. The South Beach Tour we planned on going on was booked up so we had to pass all day at the Fort. Lauderdale airport. From 10AM to 5:45PM. On top of that, Delta got off late at about 6:45PM and we had a connection in Atlanta. We got to our gate, but our flight left early! Several of us were stuck, and after dealing with the grouchy Delta employees, we ended up a seedy hotel and had to fly home int he morning. Had we not been stuck with such a late flight, we could have had other chances to get home that Sunday night.
All in all it was a good cruise. Carnival has redeemed itself in its food quality on my last 2 cruises with them. They need to work on the logistics - both in the food stations and on the ports of call long lines. I also wasn't happy with the price fluctuation between oceanview and balcony and nothing was made to accomodate it when we pointed out the issue. Less
We took a taxi to Palm Beach, the fee was reasonable. He dropped us off at the Westin hotel and we walked through to the beach. The beach was free, but if you used a chair someone would come up and charge you a few bucks. Make sure they are with the hotel staff. The water was very pretty, one of the better beaches I've seen. It was very windy though with the trade winds and the sand blew a lot. The water was cold at first this time of year but you get used to it. There's lots of beach activities also you can book on the beach.
I liked Aruba even though it has had its problems. It is kind of like Curacao in that there are a lot of modern businesses and franchises. Both places seemed to have their act together as far as Caribbean Islands go. There's some really tall casino hotels near Palm beach that you can see from a distance.
I would stay in Aruba at a resort if we ever find a good deal. We didn't like having to leave that beach and get back on the ship.
We had been to Grand Turk before. Some people say there's not much to do and just go to the beach by the ship. But we took a tour one time and I found it interesting. I was wanting to rent a golf cart this time, but didn't plan ahead. We ended up just going to the beach by the ship. The beach is nice but the water was a little cold. We also hung out at the pool by Margaritaville, who's beer/liquor prices gouge you even more than Carnival. I would stay at a resort on this island if the price was right.
La Romana is hard to rate because we didn't stay in the area. We booked an excursion to Santo Domingo through Carnival ($80 per person). I am a history buff so I thought it was very interesting seeing the "Firsts" in the Americas. The drive there and back was long but scenic.
Looks like the cruise lines have this port cornered, so good luck in finding any non-Carnival price gouging excursion when you get off the ship. There are taxis who will take you to places.
We have considered going to the Dominican Republic before because there are some good deals. We've heard good and bad about the place, crime in particular. We had no problems though. We didn't get to see the nice resort areas up close. I couldn't help but compare it to Mexico. The vendors in Santo Domingo are very pushy. Not as pushy as Jamaica, but more so than Mexico. There is a little more language barrier than Mexico. Our guide was very good though. They seem to be really proud of their history, but you can't help but notice the enormous amount of trash everywhere along the roads. I also saw a huge rat at Diego Columbus's house outside. I know of the economic problems, but just seems like this should be a priority if you are going to be getting in tourists.