Carnival Valor delivers classic Carnival cruising: a lively crowd that enjoys the multiple bars, big buffets, dance club, deck parties and casino. And in true Carnival fashion, the 2,974-passenger vessel's decor is themed, though Valor's focus on American heroes is more restrained than it is on other Carnival ships of a similar era. Heads of Abraham Lincoln, George Washington and other patriots adorn the atrium's sculptural frieze, faux gilded eagles perch on pedestals near the elevator banks, and the hallway art often suggests heroic or historic moments.
Launched in 2004, Valor has been upgraded to offer new programs and facilities. Enhancements include an outdoor LED screen for watching movies and rock concerts, and now passengers have the choice of dining at the same table at the same time each night or on a flexible schedule. During a February 2011 dry dock, Valor added Serenity, a two-level, adults-only sun deck, as well as two additional types of suites. The ship has the Punchliner Comedy Club Presented by George Lopez, which rolled out as part of Carnival's Fun Ship 2.0 program, the $500 million fleetwide upgrades begun in October 2011. (Limited deck space means that Valor lacks other Fun Ship 2.0 enhancements, such as new specialty restaurants and bars.)
Overall, Valor delivers a good cruise, representative of the Carnival line. Two musical production shows and the comedy club provide the main entertainment. Parents will find exceptional Camp Carnival programs for kids aged 2 to 11 and teen programs for those 12 to 17. Kids and adults can putt through nine holes of mini-golf, challenge their friends at shuffleboard and slip down Valor's twisting waterslide. Foodies can bite into a great steak at Scarlett's Steakhouse and enjoy drinks at Valor's many bars and lounges.
The service on Valor is consistently excellent. Cabin stewards are attentive and friendly, the dining room waiters are obviously hardworking, and everyone we pass in the hall smiles and waves.
Although Valor doesn't offer all of Carnival's newest attractions, cruisers will experience the defining essentials, often at a price below the fares on the newest ships. Decent prices, combined with the Caribbean itinerary, make Valor an excellent choice for first-time cruisers, of which there were many on our most recent sailing.
Carnival ships draw a lively crowd that skews on the younger side of age 55. On our August voyage, the majority of passengers were honeymooners, couples, families with kids and groups of friends in their 20s, 30s and 40s. Grandparents and older couples sail, too. The biggest cruising nationality is Americans. When the ship departs from San Juan, many passengers are native Puerto Ricans. Caribbean islanders come aboard in Barbados, as do some cruisers from Great Britain since Virgin Air flies nonstop from London to Barbados.
The casual atmosphere extends to dress. T-shirts and flip-flops predominate during the day. Although blue jeans, collarless shirts and sandals (for men) are technically not allowed in the dining rooms at dinner, passengers wearing these items were not asked to change. Like all seven-night Carnival sailings, Valor hosts two formal nights (termed "cruise elegant"). Most passengers interpret this dress code as cocktail attire -- short dresses for women and suits or sports jackets for men -- though we did see a smattering of men in tuxedos and scores of women in long gowns.
Carnival suggests $12 per person, per day, in tips, which go to the cabin service team, the dining room waiter and busboy, and what Carnival labels the "alternative services team," galley, entertainment and other hotel staff. Tots younger than 2 years old don't pay gratuities. Carnival automatically posts the tips to your shipboard account, but you can give more or less by contacting the guest services desk. Bar bills include a 15 percent gratuity. Room service personnel expect and appreciate a tip upon delivery of your food.