The Ivanhoe Theater is massive -- spanning Decks 3, 4 and 5 -- with plush red benches that can seat roughly 1,400 passengers. Carnival Valor's two production shows, "Nightclub Express" and "Far from Over," engage the audience with classic Broadway-style music and dancing. Talented lead singers belt out popular tunes, backed up by competent dancers who change costumes and songs without missing a beat.
Some poles affect the sightlines, and the seats on the third level are not sufficiently tiered to mitigate obstructed views if someone tall sits in front of you. Whether the acoustics or the sound system is to blame, the often-too-loud and tinny-sounding music frequently detracts from the talented singers.
Carnival Valor's "Fun Times" newsletter, as well as the Carnival app, are packed with daytime activities for all ages and interests. The app is particularly great for children (especially teens) who want to check out exactly what’s going on in their club at any given time. A typical day might include themed trivia, a raffle, a cornhole (beanbag toss) competition, silly poolside games and an arts and crafts workshop. The outdoor movie screen also plays TV shows, concerts and family-friendly movies when it's not displaying scenes of tropical beaches or natural landscapes.
The video arcade is hard to miss, as its caboose-inspired entrance stands out along the Promenade. Inside, kids and adults alike can enjoy everything from classics like air hockey and crane games to simulated rides and video games -- with recognizable names like The Terminator, Jurassic Park and Spongebob Squarepants.
Beginning at 5 p.m., the entertainment heats up with live band performances, piano bar sing-alongs, themed shows (such as love and marriage), comedy shows, bingo and other more adult-centric games -- all varying by night. Karaoke is held nightly in the Paris Hot lounge.
On select nights throughout the cruise, two comedians take the Punchliner Comedy Club stage. At the 7:30 p.m. show, each comic pitches a 20-minute family-friendly set of jokes. At the late-evening adults-only shows, the comics alternate, with one headlining at 10:30 and the other at 11:30 p.m. The Punchliner Comedy Club is a big draw, particularly among the 18-plus crowd at the later showings. We recommend arriving to the Eagles Lounge at least 30 minutes prior to the show for a good seat. Note: The late-night acts are quite raunchy and not recommended for anyone who's easily offended. If you sit in the front row, expect to get teased.
The Shogun Club casino is located on Deck 5 and hosts a lively crowd around the clock. Gamblers can try their luck on various card tables and slot machines. Smoking is allowed.
On most nights at 7:30 and 10 p.m. (sometimes 7 and 9:30), Carnival Valor's outdoor screen transforms into Dive-In Movies, where passengers kick back with popcorn, drinks and other snacks. Most movies are PG-rated (such as Cinderella and Kung Fu Panda), though some of the later show times might be PG-13.
From frozen umbrella drinks and margaritas on the rocks to microbrews and handcrafted cocktails, Carnival Valor's bars offer something for everything. Thanks to the addition of four new bars (BlueIguana Tequila Bar, RedFrog Rum Bar, RedFrog Pub and Alchemy Bar), passengers not only enjoy variety, but also fun ambiances that will transport you to different places -- whether it's a Tiki bar on a Caribbean beach or a Prohibition era-inspired apothecary.
American Bar (Deck 3, midship): The ship's atrium bar is hoppin' whenever the space hosts activities or live performances, which typically occur just before and after dinner. It's also the go-to spot for a drink on embarkation day.
Winston's Cigar Bar (Deck 4, midship): Ironically enough, smoking is not allowed at Winston's Cigar Bar. The space is mostly used for karaoke, but not much else. On our cruise, there was hardly anyone ever there except for a few people at the bar or lounging about. It's a shame; the venue is big and beautiful.
RedFrog Pub (Deck 5, midship): The new Key West-style pub is more than just a place to grab drinks; it hosts a variety of daytime activities and games (thanks to a foosball table and "beanbag toss" boards, and even has a stage for occasional live performances. The menu serves up beer, rum and cocktails from the region in addition to Carnival's own brew, ThirstyFrog Red. If you ask, they’ll serve up free plantain chips and pigeon peas with your drinks. The space is fairly large and empty most of the day, when most passengers kick back by the pool bars, but picks up at night just before dinner.
Alchemy Bar (Deck 5, aft): Handcrafted cocktails have transitioned from mere trend to a preferred drink choice, and Carnival's Alchemy Bar does not disappoint. The ship's bar has the look of an old pharmacy, where talented mixologists in lab coat-style uniforms stir up concoctions using unique ingredients and decorative garnishes. The Cucumber Sunrise -- made with vodka, watermelon syrup and topped with a fresh cucumber -- is a must-try. Just be prepared to spend at least $10 per drink.
Sky Box Sports Bar (Deck 5, aft): With a wall length of flat-screen TVs, game day-inspired snacks and a fun, upbeat vibe, the Sky Box Bar is where you go to watch NFL football and other live sporting events. Carnival shows Sunday- and Monday-night games, as well as playoffs and the Super Bowl. Look out for beer-bucket specials on game days.
One Small Step (Deck 5, midship): Bust a move at the ship's moon landing-inspired nightclub, which features high-tech sound/light systems and impressive beats, courtesy of a professional DJ trained by DJ Irie, the official DJ of Carnival and the Miami Heat. The venue fills up as soon as the last theater showing lets out, and maintains a lively crowd through the wee hours of the morning -- sometimes past 2 a.m. On select nights, One Small Step hosts theme parties (such as the Electric White Night and Michael Jackson Tribute) as well as singles meet-and-greets.
Eagles Lounge (Deck 5, aft): The Eagles Lounge's main attraction is the Punchliner Comedy Club, but it also serves as the location for bingo, trivia and kids' Dr. Seuss activities.
Paris Hot (Deck 5, aft): Zebra-print lounge chairs, neon lighting and sculptures of dancers in banana skirts set the tone for this funky jazz bar, which is also where some of the karaoke takes place. The spotlight is on a small stage at the front of the room, while a bar is tucked away in the back.
Lindy Hop (Deck 5, aft): Although a piano bar, Lindy Hop pays tribute to the original Harlem "shake" with a 1920s vibe and ceiling map of New York City. The venue has a small stage, bar and piano where sing-alongs draw crowds. During the day, the space is used for spa seminars and other activities.
Dream Bar (Deck 5, midship): The Dream Bar is a hot spot at night, thanks to its location along the Promenade and close proximity to the casino and small stage frequented by live bands. It's where passengers stop for pre- and post-dinner drinks, or liquid courage before hitting the slots.
RedFrog Rum Bar (Deck 9, midship): The RedFrog Rum Bar epitomizes cruise ship pool bars. It's Caribbean-themed, laid-back, and the place to go for obligatory favorites like pina coladas and daiquiris. Treat yourself to a glass (or pitcher) while you head-bop to the sound of steel drums.
BlueIguana Tequila Bar (Deck 9, midship): If you're going to order a margarita, this is your spot. The bar features an extensive list of Mexican tequila -- the magic elixir in its excellent margaritas, which can be ordered by the glass or in a pitcher. It also serves up a slew of cocktails and Mexican beer -- and a combination of the two: a beer cocktail, because why not?
Carnival Valor has three pools, a water slide and six whirlpools.
The main pool (Argonaut) is the liveliest, flanked by the outdoor movie screen and just steps away from the Lido bars, restaurants and buffet. It has two adjacent hot tubs and is surrounded by deck chairs, all facing the screen. To get a chair on a sea day, arrive early, before breakfast. As is frequently the case, passengers "claim" the most-wanted spots with a towel or random article of clothing, and come back later. Carnival does have an official chair-hogging policy (saving chairs even if you never use them) in place, though we didn't see it enforced on our cruise.
One deck higher, the small Dolphin pool is next to the slide exit and therefore popular among the kiddos.
All the way at the back of the ship, the adults-only Prometheus pool is a quieter alternative to the main pool. Just don't expect to hear the sea breeze rolling; the pool gets packed. To truly get away from it all, opt for a dip in one of the adults-only Serenity deck whirlpools.
The 214-foot Twister water slide begins at Deck 14 and ends at Deck 10. It's open to all ages, although some of the adults who tried it on our cruise admitted to getting stuck halfway down. It wasn't anything serious, but did make for some laughs and awkward views for those watching from above.
A nine-hole mini-golf course is located on Deck 12, above the sports complex. A sliver of space for shuffleboard and the beanbag toss also can be found on the forward port (left) side of Deck 10. There are also two ping-pong tables and a giant chess board on Deck 12, forward.
Carnival Valor offers ample opportunities to soak up some vitamin D. The ship's pools are surrounded by deck space, plus you'll find "hidden gem" areas like Deck 11 aft and along the sides of Deck 10 aft offering a more peaceful retreat.
Serenity, the adults-only lounge area, spans Decks 12 and 14. The lower level is furnished with padded lounge chairs, canopy beds and couches under an awning. This is also where you'll find the towel stations and Serenity bar, which serves alcohol a la carte and complimentary infused water. The upper deck features hammocks, even more lounge chairs and two whirlpools set at a cool temperature on hot days. Serenity servers also walk around to take drink orders.
Guest services and the shore excursions desk are located on Deck 3, on the outskirts of the ship's atrium. We found the service here to be consistently excellent. Crew members are friendly, knowledgeable and diligent -- a good thing, considering most passengers at guest services are there to inquire about some sort of issue or misunderstanding.
Also in the vicinity are the Betsy Ross Room (a card room, though mostly its used for Chef's Table dinners) and John Paul Jones Room, the ship's dedicated art gallery. Art auctions, blow-out sales and giveaways are held here throughout each sailing.
Head up the stairs, and you'll find the Pixels Gallery and studio, where all those pictures you took in port, at dinner or on formal night are displayed for all to see. Professional photos are free to have taken, but you'll pay for any print you wish to take home. The Iliad Library also is on this floor. It's an intimate space, with cozy seating nooks and an array of books and board games. The book selection is limited and a bit unorganized, but there are a variety of games such as Battleship, Jenga, Life and Clue.
Carnival Valor's Fun Shops, as well as the new Cherry on Top candy store, are all on Deck 5. The shops sell everything from clothing and accessories to toiletries and souvenirs. Alcohol, high-end jewelry and watches, and perfume and cologne have their own dedicated spaces. Throughout the cruise, tables outside the shops attempt to lure in passerbys with various sales and product premiers.
The Internet Cafe is a walk-through space on Deck 4, with several PC computers available for use. Carnival offers an excellent internet package structure that allows you to purchase Wi-Fi, based on how you plan to use it. It's a nice complement to Carnival Valor's already strong connection.
The Social plan -- which includes access to Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, LinkedIn, Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp and top airline websites -- is available for $40 for a five-day cruise. The Value package ($60 per five-day cruise) allows you to surf the web and access email, in addition to social media. And the third package, Premium, costs $25 per day ($70 for the whole cruise) and includes all of the above, plus Skype video calling and connection speeds up to three times faster than the Value plan. All plans exclude Snapchat and video streaming sites such as Netflix and Hulu.
Carnival Valor does not have a dedicated chapel onboard. Instead, weddings and religious services take place in the Capital Room (conference room) on Deck 4.
Self-service launderettes are located in all cabin corridors, each with two to three washing machines, two to three dryers and an ironing board. Machines no longer accept coins, but instead are operated using room key cards and cost $3 per cycle. Vending machines dispense small boxes of detergent and softener, at $1.50 a piece.
There are three ATMs onboard, all located on Deck 5 midship.
Spa Carnival and the ship's fitness center are both on Deck 11, forward. The location is conveniently one flight of stairs away from the adults-only Serenity deck, which makes for a relaxing pre- or post-spa hangout. On the flip side, it's also directly below the kids' club, so treatments are subject to the sound of thumping little feet. Another quirk is that there's no waiting room for spa customers. Instead, you look for an empty chair in the busy salon. Still, we found the spa itself to be relaxing for what it is -- a simple facility for basic indulgences.
Facials, massages and body treatments are similar to what you'd find on land. They run the gamut from hydra-lift facials and anti-cellulite/firming services to deep tissue massages and salt scrubs. The prices are pretty high, considering the menu is pretty standard. For example: A 50-minute deep tissue massage costs $129 while a 75-minute, half-body seaweed massage costs $195. Acupuncture, waxing and teeth-whitening services also are available.
If you're itching for a spa visit but are on a tight budget, look out for daily deals in the ship's "Fun Times" newsletter. You'll find some some pretty good deals advertised on port days. The Spa Topia (a 75-minute package that includes a full-body hot stone or bamboo massage, scalp massage and facial) dropped from $291 to $149 during our Nassau port of call.
Next to the spa, the salon offers haircuts, styling blowouts and keratin treatments as well as manicures and pedicures at slightly more reasonable prices. A wash, style and dry starts at $35, and a traditional 45-minute pedicure is $45. Men have their own section in the menu for spa and grooming services.
The fitness center is nestled at the ship's nose, filling the space with light and gorgeous views through a wall of windows and skylights. Equipment is pretty standard, ranging from a variety of treadmills, ellipticals and stationary bikes to free weights starting as low as 5 pounds -- all surrounded by adequate space, so you never feel cramped.
A small studio in the center of the room offers classes such as group cycling, Pilates and yoga for an additional fee.
To access the fitness center, you must walk through the spa and locker rooms. This is also where you'll find a roomy sauna with a view, which is free of charge and does not require a spa treatment purchase.
Carnival Valor's outdoor sports complex is located on the other side of the ship, on Deck 11. It includes a basketball and volleyball court and is surrounded by a wide jogging track (nine laps equals a mile).
Carnival has earned itself a leading reputation in the family cruise market. The line's popular Camp Ocean program offers a slew of top-notch, supervised activities for kids ages 2 to 11, while other activities are available for tweens, teens and little ones under 2. Six months is the minimum age to sail on Carnival.
One of our favorite elements of the program is Seuss at Sea, which encourages kids to read through a series of fun activities such as a character parade, interactive story time, arts and crafts, and character breakfast. The best part: It's open to all ages. Events are noted in the ship's daily newsletter.
The Penguins program (ages 2 to 5) treats little ones to activities like sing-alongs, story time and pajama parties. Stingrays (ages 6 to 8) and Sharks (9 to 11) enjoy more active options such as balloon volleyball and Mr. Potato Head relay races. "Under the Sea" trivia, a "Design Your Own Cruise Ship" workshop and other educational activities also are included. All 2 to 5 year olds must be signed in and out by a parent or legal guardian, while kids 9 and older can sign themselves in/out with a parent's or legal guardian's consent.
Additionally, kids can make their own customized bears at the Beary Cuddly Workshop -- soon to be the Build-a-Bear Workshop at Sea, thanks to a new partnership with the popular toy company. Like the land-based stores, Carnival's workshop allows kids to build and dress their bears with a variety of outfits and accessories, such as tutus, high-top sneakers, bathing suits and sunglasses for an extra fee.
Most Camp Ocean activities take place in the kids' club, Deck 12 aft, which is open from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. on port days and 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. on sea days. (One hour every day, usually between 5 and 6 p.m., the kids' club is closed for "Family Free Time.") However, some activities are held at other parts of the ship, such as the mini-golf course. Optional beach bashes (supervised outings in particular ports that include games and lunch) are open to Stingrays and Sharks for an additional $15 per child, plus gratuity.
Kids under 2 are permitted to visit the kids' club during specified time frames, when organized activities are not taking place -- usually 8 a.m. to noon on port days and 8 to 10 a.m. on sea days. Parents can leave kids under 2 in the youth staff's care for a nominal fee ($6.75 per hour, per child, plus a 15-percent gratuity) or use the Camp Ocean facility with their kids for free. Babysitting is available from 10 p.m. to 1 a.m. through the Night Owls program. The cost is also $6.75 per hour, per child, plus 15-percent gratuity.
Carnival wisely offers separate programs and facilities for tweens (12 to 14) and teens (15 to 17).
At Circle C, a small room in an out of the way space on Deck 4, tweens play Wii games, go on digital scavenger hunts and congregate at socials. This group also meets around the ship to play Ping-Pong and mini-golf and plunge down the water slide.
Club 02 for teens is centrally located on the Deck 4, in between the Lincoln Dining Room and Winston's Cigar Bar. The room is a large, friendly space complete with a juice bar, dance floor and area for video games.
* May require additional fees