Carnival Valor Entertainment
On Carnival Valor sea days mean fun and games. There are the usual staples: bingo, horseracing, trivia and pool games. There's also a subset derived from popular television shows: "Survivor," "Family Feud" and "The Newlywed Game." For those who like to compete on a different level, there are the ubiquitous art auctions where passengers can butt heads to see who can snare the most objets d'art. The few lectures and seminars were really not-so-thinly disguised promotional presentations mounted by the boutiques or spa.
When in port, the ship mounts a very efficient shore excursion operation, though few of the offerings seemed unique. One exception was the "Rapid Explorer high-speed ferry to St. Barth's," offered in St. Maarten, allowing passengers who would rather spend their time in that less-visited, chichi port a way to get there in 40 minutes. It is also unique in that it is offered at a price through the shore excursion department which is lower than the price the operator lists on their brochure! Shore excursion personnel don't regularly accompany guests on excursions as they do on some ships, but ship's photographers often do.
Valor has a complete range of musical offerings from heavily classical to heavy metal. For those who enjoy spending their days soaking up rays around the pools, there is a requisite island band that plays from after lunch till just before dinner. A classical trio holds forth at tea in Winston's Cigar and before dinner in the lobby. Other choices on our sailing included a solo blues guitarist (who performed just outside the casino), a jazz trio performing nightly in Winston's Cigar, a rock band in the Paris Hot Jazz Club, and a pianist at the rotating piano in the center of the Lindy Hop Piano Bar. We found all these performers to be excellent at their craft.
The Eagles Show Lounge was home to a nightly round of karaoke, and the One Small Step dance club was disco-central late nights. It is in the decor and execution of theme in these lounges that the typically quirky, whimsical Farcus style emerges: Lindy Hop, commemorating Lindbergh's trans-Atlantic flight, has the piano bar sandwiched between three-dimensional models of the Empire State Building and Eiffel Tower on opposite walls; simulated stars twinkle in the black ceiling under which a model of the Spirit of St. Louis spins its propellers and an animated pathway of lights trace the route of flight. One Small Step pays tribute to Neil Armstrong's walk on the moon, with reproduction volcanoes that periodically belch clouds of mist, while planets and stars adorn the ceiling. The illuminated white marble floor is decorated with black "footprints," as are the tabletops.
Ivanhoe, the main show lounge, covers an expanse of three decks. We found a substantial number of seats less than desirable due to intervening columns or being under a claustrophobia-inducing balcony overhang. Seating is in banquettes with fixed small pedestals for drinks, or wide, theater-type seating in the balconies. The theme refers to the hero of Sir Walter Scott's medieval period novel, and is executed with faux tapestries and simulated wood beams. The proscenium is masked by a representation of a medieval castle, and fiberglass knights in armor line the walls. The whole thing is a bit kitschy, even for Joe Farcus.
The ship, however, does make good use of the room's capabilities, with two production shows (one for each formal night), a tribute to nightclubs around the world, and a review based on the music and trends of the 1980's. Other nights saw various variety acts: singers, comics, jugglers, etc.
Carnival Valor Public Rooms
This was, for us, an area of surprise and a serious case of "What were they thinking?" The location of many public rooms, their size, or designated use seemed ill-conceived. Consider, for example, the Internet cafe, whose sole entrance is buried inside Winston's Cigar, the ship's lounge for cigar aficionados, forcing anyone who wants to use the ship's computers to wade through a miasma of stogie smoke. Fortunately, there is Wi-Fi available shipwide at the same rate as the cafe (40 to 75 cents per minute depending on packages) so it makes sense to bring a laptop.
The choice of placement and size for Winston's, itself, is another head-scratcher. This lounge -- a convivial, leather paean to Winston Churchill and British 1940's men's clubs -- stretches the entire width of the ship, and seats 147. We never counted more than six actually partaking of cigars, but that was enough to make passage through the room unpleasant. On the other hand, Bronx Bar, the ship's sports bar -- always a major attraction on Carnival vessels -- held only about a third as many as Winston's Cigar, and was always overflowing on days sports events were televised.
Of course, Carnival is mostly about fun, and, in addition to the musical entertainment provided in the lounges, the Shogun Club Casino does a bang up job with a slew of slots and just about every table game you've ever encountered. In addition, for those who want to get on the real poker (as opposed to Caribbean Stud, Let it Ride and their ilk) can indulge in a true Vegas poker room-style Texas Hold 'Em game at one corner of the casino.
Carnival Valor Spa & Fitness
A trait inherited from Carnival Destiny, the line's first 100,000-plus-ton ship, the open sunning area on Carnival Valor is maximized by structuring eight tiered plateaus from just above Deck 10 to the surface of Deck 9, creating an expanse of space to place chaises. (Not that it makes enough difference that there isn't still a problem with books and towels mysteriously appearing on lounges at 7 a.m., though no actual guests show up to use the chairs till after 11). As for adult pools, there are three: two on Deck 9, each with two whirlpool spas, and one, basically a splash pool at the end of the waterslide, on Deck 10. Kids have their own wading pool on Deck 12 right outside Camp Carnival.
Valor's spa is a Steiner franchise operation offering sauna, massage and salon services, as well as a fully equipped gym with loads of modern workout machines, free weights and a whole area devoted solely to spinning. The facility faces forward, offering dramatic views through picture windows. New offerings from the spa include tooth whitening and men's barbering.
Other fitness options include a jogging track on Deck 11 with nine circuits equaling a mile, and basketball and volleyball courts. There is a golf-driving cage, and instruction is offered through the ship's onboard golf program.