If you're looking for a fun, affordable cruise with fewer sea days and floating resort-like amenities, Carnival Valor might be your perfect match.
The 2,980-passenger ship stands out among its fleetmates with port-intensive itineraries (one sea day versus two on a five-night sailing, for example), and, like its fleetmates, embraces the "no shoes, no shirt, no problems" mantra with multiple pools, Tiki-style bars, a three-deck-high water slide and handful of complimentary dining options.
Many of its bars and restaurants were added during a May 2016 refurb -- part of Carnival's $500 million Fun Ship 2.0 investment. The line's much-loved Guy's Burger Joint and BlueIguana Cantina are now open for lunch, while the BlueIguana Tequila Bar, RedFrog Rum Bar, RedFrog Pub and Alchemy Bar serve even more flowing drinks from morning to night. Those who've sailed on the ship before also will notice the new Cherry on Top candy shop and changes to the kids' club.
One of Carnival Valor's most appealing attributes is that it doesn't seem to draw one particular type of traveler over another. Friends can let loose, families can bond and couples can play without the ship ever feeling like a spring break party or playground. All ages and backgrounds come together at the main pool, outdoor movie nights and various deck games like Ping-Pong and cornhole (beanbag toss).
The service is also some of the friendliest and most attentive we've experienced on a mainstream cruise ship. Every crew member -- from the cabin stewards and guest services receptionists to the bartenders and waiters -- embodied the line's "Fun Ship" culture and made sure everyone was satisfied and having a good time.
Another reason we fell in love with this ship? Its decor pays tribute to American history in a fun, creative way.
Unlike some of the line's older ships that flaunt trippy colors and sculptures, Carnival Valor doesn't come across as ostentatious. Floors and cocktail tables are American flag print, and the trim is decked out with tiny Liberty Bells. Passing through the atrium, hallways and lounges almost feels like a scavenger hunt. See how many U.S. presidents, landmarks and major events you can identify in the artwork -- keep your eyes peeled for the Apollo 11 moonwalk!
Carnival Valor attracts a lively mix of families as well as couples and groups of friends, most of whom are in their 20s, 30s and 40s. The majority of passengers hails from North America, though you might notice other nationalities depending on the itinerary. On our short Bahamas cruise from Port Canaveral (Orlando), we noticed a couple British families who had tacked the cruise onto their trips to Disney World. The demographic also fluctuates depending on when you sail. For example, cruises during the holidays will likely see more families, while spring break months like March and April tend to draw a rowdier crowd.
"Cruise Casual" is how Carnival describes its dress code. During the day, T-shirts, bathing suit cover-ups and flip-flops prevail. Bathing suits are not allowed in any of the dining rooms -- even if you're simply passing through the buffet. On our cruise, we were pleasantly surprised not to see anyone break this rule.
At night, the dress code translates to T-shirts with khaki pants or shorts for men and billowy blouses with shorts or casual sundresses for women. Both men and women can wear jeans, as long as they're not cutoff. Gym shorts, flip-flops, bathing suit attire and men's sleeveless shirts are prohibited.
Carnival also hosts "Cruise Elegant" nights, once during a short cruise and twice on longer sailings. This is an opportunity for passengers to get dolled up to their liking. Dress slacks, dress shirts and sport coats (optional) are suitable for men. The line suggests cocktail dresses, pantsuits, elegant skirts and blouses for women. Quite a few passengers on our sailing went all-out with tuxedos and evening gowns, plus some that looked like prom dresses.
Carnival suggests $12 per person (including children over 2), per day, in gratuities, which are automatically charged to onboard accounts. Bar and spa bills include a 15-percent gratuity. Room service personnel do not receive a portion of the tips, so it's common courtesy to tip them upon the delivery of your food.
Note: On sailings departing September 1, 2016, or later, gratuities will increase to $12.95 per person, per day ($13.95 for those in suites).