Carnival Valor Dining
Valor has four dining venues: the two main rooms, dubbed Lincoln and Washington; Rosie's, the huge, sprawling two-story Lido Deck restaurant (which doubles as a casual alternative dinner spot); and Scarlett's, the ship's for-fee upscale alternate nighttime eatery, an utterly charming supper club.
Rosie's is a bright and sunny spot that graphically pays tribute to that legendary icon of World War II America, Rosie the Riveter. There are several buffet lines, plus plenty of room to maneuver with your tray. But for the guest requiring assistance carrying their food to their table, it is limited in availability at best. Indoor seating is available on Lido Deck (Deck 9) and the mezzanine one deck above. Outdoor tables are plentiful around the central pool, or on the fantail surrounding the aft pool, which is topped by a closeable dome.
The two main dining rooms are virtually identical in decor, save that each carries different bas-relief plaques of its namesake president. The lower levels of these rooms stretch the entire width of the ship and are open in the middle, allowing those not along the outer walls a quieter, less claustrophobic dining experience. Of the two rooms we recommend Washington, specifically the upper level, which is less intense and seems relatively more intimate. However, we strongly suggest asking specifically not to be seated in the Lincoln upper level, for reasons mentioned earlier. Both dining rooms have numerous banquettes accommodating parties of four, and an adequate number of tables for as many as 10. It should also be noted that Valor has an unusually high percentage of tables for two.
Serving format is traditional, with two set dinner seatings at 6 and 8:15 p.m. Service, from a dining room staff that is becoming increasingly Eastern European in makeup, is friendly, patient, professional and refreshing.
Scarlett's, located on Deck 10 and isolated from the rest of the ship's nighttime hullabaloo, is an island of low-key quiet and refinement. The name refers to the headstrong Ms. O'Hara of Tara. We might question who, in that novel or movie, qualifies for Carnival's thematic sobriquet, "Hero," in the same way we might quibble about the elegance of using plasticized imitation marble columns meant to convey the decor of a genteel antebellum plantation. But given the superior quality of the service, food and wine list, frankly, we don't give a damn. Scarlett's is a true supper club, with a small combo that plays at a volume level that doesn't annihilate conversation, so on the dance floor, before dinner or between courses, it's possible to chat and cha cha at the same time.
But the biggest -- and most pleasant -- surprise for us about Scarlett's was the fact that the bar and dance floor are open to all passengers, even those not dining there. This was a godsend for a ship that has nary a single intimate lounge to enjoy a quiet pre-dinner cocktail or a late night tete-a-tete where you aren't pummeled by acoustic levels that would drive deadheads to order earplugs or cigarette smoke clouds so thick they created a new category of pollutant: third-hand smoke.
The menu at Scarlett's emulates the great prime meat houses like Smith and Wollensky or the Palm. There is a $30 per-person charge to dine here, plus optional gratuity. Reservations are required, but we found the room lightly booked. For those who want to play it safe, there is a signup desk in the lobby on embarkation day right at the end of the gangway. Dress code for Scarlett's is "upscale casual" (no jeans, shorts, T-shirts, etc.).
If we were to pick Valor's biggest surprise it would be the food itself. It was superior by orders of magnitude in variety, concept and execution from any Carnival ship's cuisine we'd experienced in the past. The only weak spot was breakfast, which lacked any innovative offerings in both Rosie's buffet and the sit-down Washington Dining Room. To be sure, all items were well-prepared: bacon and potato patties were crisp; pastries, though limited in variety, were fresh; and the chefs at the cook-to-order egg station at Rosie's managed to move the orders along efficiently.
Lunch at Rosie's includes the four buffet lines, but adds windows for Asian, pizza, deli, burger/hot dog grill and fish and chips.
As one would expect, the grill and pizza stations' quality corresponds to how busy they are. When they are slammed, the quality increases, as their output goes straight from grill or oven to plate; when the lunchtime rush is past, you are likely to find dishes that have spent the better part of their lives under heat lamps. The deli and Asian stations did an excellent job. The deli's sandwiches were piled high, and the corned beef and pastrami were high quality and heated to just the right temperature. The Asian window served a variety of palate-pleasing pan-Asian delicacies that changed daily. Spring rolls were crisp; vegetables nicely stir fried. Preparations -- and this is a compliment -- did not cater to Western tastes. Spicy, sour and pungent dishes were unabashedly what they purported to be.
But the real diamond in the rough for lunch at Rosie's was the upstairs fish and chips restaurant. Try this one early in the week, since most passengers fail to discover it for at least half the cruise, meaning no lines and no waiting. "Fish and chips" is a misnomer. They do serve fish and chips, the fish deliciously battered and fried (and French fries the freshest, most cooked-to-order found anywhere on the ship). But that's only one choice. They also have a very nice Bouillabaisse, seared rare tuna served atop a fresh square of watermelon, fried oyster sandwiches and a bunch of other seafood delicacies.
Dinners in the main dining rooms were inventive, made use of quality ingredients, and invariably arrived at the proper temperature. This was a cruise during which we had not a single meal we would deem a disappointment. Many menus had international accents, and there was frequent use of such trendy ingredients as feta cheese, caviar, rosehip, jicama, Yukon Gold potatoes and baby bok choy. Fusions proliferate, such as Seared Pike Perch on Minted Couscous with Artichoke Foo Yung in Crayfish Vermouth Jus. Each dinner menu included an arrangement of courses that qualified as a "spa" menu, and vegetarian selections for each course.
Most unusual are "degustation" entrees, offering a selection of numerous small portions of a variety of dishes. "Essence of Japan," which was served at the Captain's Welcome Dinner, included: Jumbo Shrimps in Filo; Salmon and Kelp Tempura Roll in Truffled Yuzu Sauce; Petite Filet Mignon with Wasabe Pepper Sauce; Bonito Crusted Green Beans; Poached Tofu Steak on Tosa Zu and Watercress Salad.
There is continental breakfast available during breakfast hours through room service, and there is a 24-hour typical cruise line menu of snacks, desserts and sandwiches. All room service is free of charge.
Also available on all of Carnival's ships is The Chef's Table dining experience, which affords a dozen passengers a multicourse dinner with a master chef, a private cocktail reception and a tour of the galley and its operations. This dining option usually takes place in a nontraditional venue, such as the galley or library, and it can be booked onboard at the information desk for a per-person cost of $75.