By Steve Faber, Cruise Critic contributor
There's "Ship of Fools," ship of state, and ship of the desert. For us, Carnival Valor turned out to be "Ship of Surprises."
The theme of the ship's decor is "Heroes and Heroism," paying homage not just to Americans, but to heroes from the virtually every corner of the world. Nonetheless, Americana -- and America's heroes -- form the glue that unites the various rooms and public spaces. Passengers are first introduced to that theme as they board through Deck 3's atrium lobby.
One would think that America's colors, red, white and blue, would hand Carnival's interior designer Joe Farcus carte blanche to indulge in his favored bright, bold primary colors, splashing blindingly bright whites and eye-popping reds and blues throughout the ship. And there comes the first surprise. While you won't think you've strolled into the foyer of a Wall Street Bank when you board, this lobby is subdued for a Farcus design. Broad marble floors capitalize on an American flag motif, with alternating inlaid stripes of dark burnt orange (representing red) and pale gray (for white) abutting a navy blue rectangular field set with small pale gray squares (in lieu of stars). A small dance floor fronting the bar is fashioned from wavy stripes of inlaid burgundy and white-colored hardwood. And wood is used freely and copiously elsewhere in the ship, instead of brass for banisters and glass, mirrors and chrome for many wall surfaces.
To be sure, there is still plenty of Farcus bling in the details: All around the ship are gaudy molded gold leaf-gilded eagles on simulated pedestals; coffered ceilings of shiny, reflective materials; and enough blinking lights and flashing video screens to trigger a 1960's strobe light flashback.
Valor's architecture is a conventional sandwich with most public rooms on Decks 3 through 5, most fitness, spa and casual dining on Decks 9 and above, and most passenger cabins in between, or below the public room decks. This basic design has been a template for Carnival new-build construction since the introduction of Carnival Destiny in 1996 -- which is why we were so surprised to find Valor should be plagued by serious passenger flow problems, kinks that should have been ironed out years ago.
Simply stated, when you want to go from Point A (as in "Aft") to Point B (as in "Bow") on one of the three public room decks -- a necessity, for example to get to the Ivanhoe Lounge (the main showroom, all the way forward) after dinner in the Washington Dining Room (all the way aft) -- you will run into a blockade somewhere amidships that will force you to detour. On Deck 3 it's the galley; on Deck 4 you don't necessarily have to climb or descend a deck to get through, as long as you don't mind having to walk through a low-ceilinged oxygen-challenged cigar bar or wind your way through a busy dining room, snaking between tables while people are giving you dirty looks over their soup spoons. On Deck 5, you can make the trip, but only by passing through another of the ship's smokiest areas, "King Boulevard," the main promenade, which is squeezed between the casino, karaoke and live music lounges, disco, and piano and wine bars, all of which are smoking-permitted.
Carnival Valor Fellow Passengers
Expect a largely American, high energy, casual group with a penchant for having fun. The demographics for Caribbean sailings tend to skew to the younger end of the scale. (Carnival estimates only 30 percent over 55.) Though Carnival's passengers tend to be fiercely loyal, because of low fares this is very much an entry-level cruise for many, so there is always a large number of first-timers.
Carnival Valor Dress Code
Casual, casual, casual. Though blue jeans are now off the verboten list, shorts and t-shirts are still no-no's at dinner ... but that's about it. Even Scarlett's does not have a dress code beyond the nebulous "dressy casual."
There are two formal nights, and a larger percentage of passengers go to the dressier end of the scale: men in tuxedos, women in cocktail dresses and gowns.
Carnival Valor Gratuity
Carnival recommends $11.50 per person, per day. The guidelines allocate $5.80 to dining room services, $3.70 to cabin services and $2 per day for alternative services, which include kitchen, entertainment, guest services and other hotel staff members. The amount is automatically added to your shipboard account, but can be adjusted in either direction at the guest services desk. A 15 percent gratuity is automatically added to bar bills. Tipping for room service at delivery is expected (and appreciated) by the service staff.
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