First Timers Surprisingly Enamored with Valor: Carnival Valor Cruise Review by 3rinDenver

Carnival Valor 5
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First Timers Surprisingly Enamored with Valor

Sail Date: December 2008
Destination: Western Caribbean
Embarkation: Miami
Pre-Cruise: We flew into Miami Int'l the day before the cruise left, on American. Nothing exciting to note here. We paid $25 incl. tips for our cab ride to the Marriott Biscayne Bay downtown, where we were able to check in an hour early and received a room overlooking the Port of Miami where we could see Carnival, Royal Caribbean, and Norwegian ships in Port. We ended up taking the Metromover (free) from the hotel down to Bayside Marketplace. I don't recommend walking in this area, especially after dark. As a single female, I would not have taken the Metromover, although I did feel safe with my husband in the daytime. Bayside was very touristy a mix of indoor and outdoor mall overlooking the Port. We had a quick dinner, then headed back to our hotel. Sunday morning, we slept in and then went to the deli in the mall between the Marriott and the Doubletree. You can buy bottled water and sodas there, but in all honesty, they are cheaper to buy on the Ship. Overall, I would recommend the More Marriott Biscayne Bay if you just need a place to sleep.....but don't expect to sleep long, as they are still renovating the bottom floors and the construction noise is a bit maddening. It's not in a very walkable part of Miami, and there really is nothing to see or do in the general vicinity. However, the view is stellar and these beds give the "Heavenly Bed" a run for their money.

Embarkation: We took a $12 cab ride to the Port of Miami, where things happened very quickly. Our taxi pulled up to the terminal, and while I was paying him, the Porter grabbed our bags and started putting tags on them. We had forgotten to attach the pre-printed bag tags from the Carnival documents, so we had to fill out tags right in front of the incoming taxis. It all happened so quickly that I didn't have time to grab my "porter" tip envelope.....but I did managed to find $3 in my bag and I handed it over to him. (2 bags and he was going to stand and wait there until I tipped him!) We went through the Security line at the Port in less than 10 minutes, then went to our line in the terminal for another 5 before they handed us our FunPass and allowed us to board. It was probably 12:15 at this time, and we were up on Lido deck by 12:30pm. Very quick embarkation process I was expecting a lot worse.

The Ship: Our room was surprisingly large for an interior. We'd booked a 4A guarantee and were "upgraded" to the 4G on the Riviera deck, midship. It had two twin beds pushed together, two nightstands, a nice vanity with seat, plenty of closet space, and a pretty efficient bathroom. My only complaint with the room, aside from those heinous pale pinks and oranges, were the lamp shades. They were brown from being burned/old/who knows what. If they changed them, then I would say we felt like we'd done pretty well for ourselves. The bed was very comfortable, and the sheets definitely satisfied the thread count snob in me. Our steward introduced himself to us at this time, and that was pretty much the last we saw of him aside from a few "hellos" in the evening. Hubby called him the "ninja," as he was so stealth but everything was always perfect in our room, from the ice in the chest to fresh towels when we needed them. I must add for the ladies out there that the complimentary toiletries on board the ship aren't like standard hotel get shampoo, body wash, razors, and toothpaste. Be sure to carry on your own body moisturizers and hair conditioner. I learned this the hard way and had to buy these items in the ship's store because they were not available. I walked around with the Valor map for an entire day, but am happy to say that I didn't find the Conquest-class ship to be difficult to navigate at all. When in doubt, use the hallways with rooms to move the length of a deck. Since we were on a staircase-only mode of transport (we swore to never use the elevator on the Valor), this never created a hassle. Everyone talks about the over-the-top Farcus designs, but I wasn't shocked by the Valor's eagles, liberty bells, or lighting. In fact, it seemed appropriate. I particularly enjoyed the Eagles lounge and the Ivanhoe Theatre....they were my favorite escapes.

I used the gym several times during our trip and found it satisfactory. Nice weight stations for upper and lower body circuits, in addition to a plethora of treadmills, some bikes, and ellipticals. I really wanted to use the spin bikes (they are more adjustable and take cleats), but they don't allow you to ride them outside of their $10 spin class. While the gym was nearly always busy, you didn't have to wait long to get on the equipment, and you saw people of all shapes, sizes, and clothing (purses included!) in there.

Dining: We had the late 8:15pm seating in the Washington Dining Room. This gave us plenty of time on the trip to prepare for dinner and to stay on shore as long as possible. It took a few days to get used to eating so late, but the salad bar at Rosie's was a lifesaver for an early evening "snack." Our head waiter was a very proud and professional gentlemen who treated us very well. He knew after the second day that I needed a cappuccino for desert, so he would send it out with the desert menu every night thereafter. Our wine steward took very good care of us, even though my husband was using the dreaded soda card and I rarely ordered a glass of wine. She came to us every night with a smile, knew our names, and always had a Diet Coke at the table waiting for us. Dinner was always fun because it felt like we were back amongst friends. Our maitre' d was always present, walking around and talking to the tables to make sure we had what we needed. Although this was a nice gesture, our waiter took incredibly good care of us, so it was almost offensive if he implied we weren't being taken care of! He would do announcements between the entree and desert every night, and sometimes the waiters would get together and sing. I thought it was fairly subdued and not as over-the-top as I had read. Our waiter had a great voice, so it was fun to see him smile and show it off so much! Dinners themselves weren't bad. I can't say I was expecting much considering that they were feeding 3000 guests in 3 hours, but there was always something on the menu that looked appealing and I really didn't have anything that was unpalatable. (OK, maybe the diet pumpkin cake, but our waiter warned us it would be bad and sent out an alternative desert with it!) I found the chefs to be very imaginative when it came to their sauces and side dishes.....I had everything in the main dining room from tilapia (mediocre) to rack of lamb (sinful) and pasta with seafood (the very best). I found the Bitter n' Blanc desert to be my favorite. I wish it were on the menu every night! My husband is a picky eater, but he had a different cut of red meat every single night....I didn't think it would be possible. How would I rank this to real-world dining? For sure, a step up from chains like Chili's and Applebees. The buffet on Lido, Rosie's, was our standbye when we got back from excursions and had not had lunch. We tried out everything the fish & chips stand, Mongolian BBQ, the pizza, and the deli. Ended up liking the regular buffet the best, as there was always a fresh salad bar and fresh fruit available for an afternoon snack. They also had deserts that were very similar to those served in the dining room, so you never really missed out. My husband lived on the pizza, and while he complained about the 5-minute wait every time, he never complained about the pizza itself. My only complaint with Rosie's was that they shut down the buffet lines RIGHT at the time that's listed in the Caper, even if there were loads of people in line. If you are at the late seating, it's hard to eat lunch right at 12:00pm.....sometimes we'd head up around 2:00pm and we couldn't eat a slow, leisurely lunch for fear that everything would shut down at 2:30. There was also 24-hour soft-serve fat free frozen yogurt available. I didn't discover this until the comedian on the fourth night made fun of all the people gorging themselves on the ice cream. We had dinner one night at Scarlett's. It was very small and intimate, and the waiters and waitresses were all very professional and formal. Almost a bit too formal for us. If I could describe it, I would say that our dinner was "overdone." A lot can be said for simplicity, and I found that Scarlett's liked to overcomplicate their dishes and menus. It was definitely a good value for the money, but I can't say that I would return. In fact, my husband preferred the main dining room to our evening at Scarlett's.

We ordered room service on every morning we had a shore excursion. So, 3 times. You are able to request a certain time frame with which your breakfast will be delivered, but I learned the hard way after the first morning that those times mean nothing. Our first day, breakfast came 20 minutes early. I was still drowsy, in bed, in my nightgown, when room service knocked on the door. While I had a tip on the nightstand, I was so disoriented that all I managed to do was grab my robe, open the door, and take the tray. I remember him standing in the doorway looking confused as I shut the door in his face. I believe I woke up 10 minutes later and felt horribly guilty. :) The second day I was prepared and got out of bed and dressed a 1/2 hour before I'd requested room service. This time, they were 10 minutes early. And on the last day, they were 15 minutes early....but alas, I grew smart. The menu was simple not much to choose from for breakfast - but it was enough to get us late risers up and running so we could get off the ship first. On Board Activities: Our cruise director, Chris Jefferson, did an incredible job at keeping us informed and busy while on the Valor. He emceed every show, and was on the loudspeaker every morning giving us directions on tendering, returning to the ship, or disembarking. We spent lots of time attending the different trivia sessions with Asst. Director Dave in the non-smoking areas, although it was a shame we never got to do the Sports Trivia as it was in the Bronx Bar. (so much smoke!) We liked watching the deck parties, and on the second to last night I finally gave in and joined the dancing on Lido when Matt led us all in some cheesy line dances. Overall, I think we were busy ALL the time and saw and did as much as we possibly could. I credit Chris and his team for seeing to it that we were never bored and always well-informed.

Disembarkation: We opted to skip self disembarkation and to just receive a number, as we had a flight out of Miami the next day and were not in a rush. We tried to sleep in a little, but received a wakeup call at 5:45am. Chris didn't come on the loudspeaker to start the process until 7:30am, though. We were group #30, so next to last. We left our room at 8:30am and then went up to Rosie's for a leisurely breakfast. Right about the time when we started to get bored, our number was called. 10am, I believe? We waited in the American Lobby for another half hour, as Miami customs put a halt to our disembarkation. Finally, we were off by 10:30am and through customs by 10:45, en route to our new hotel, the Courtyard Marriott Downtown.

Post Cruise: I will also review this hotel, as I think it's a more suitable choice for a pre-cruise stay. It's very close to Bayside Marketplace and within a block or two of both a Walgreens and another pharmacy. So you can stock up on supplies pre-cruise there. The neighborhood felt much safer to me, and it's a little closer to the Port. Our room was just fine, although there's also construction across the street so you won't get much sleep on weekdays.

We toured South Beach on Sunday afternoon (taxi from Bayside was $16) and then on Monday morning had a leisurely walk to Mary Brickell Village before heading to the airport. Overall, it was too much time in Miami, and we wished we'd been able to book a Carnival tour from the ship on disembarkation day because it turns out they were cheaper than what the guides on the street were selling! Less

Published 12/21/08

Cabin review: 4G1310 Interior

Cabin #1310 very quiet location. Very little ship movement. Larger than expected. PLenty of closet space.

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Port and Shore Excursions

Belize City is a tender port, surrounded by reefs so that ships can only get within ~4 miles of shore. That morning was cloudy and windy, but we were booked on Major Tom's cave tubing excursion and needed to get on the first tender out. Chris J had told us that if we were needing to get off with the Carnival excursions, that we should meet in Ivanhoe rather than go to get tender tickets. So we went to Ivanhoe and when the first tender was dismissed to the gangway, we went with them. All was well until it was my turn to swipe my FunPass then they halted the tender operation, sent the first boat to shore, and sent the rest of us back to Ivanhoe to wait until the Captain could find a suitable position for the Valor to tender passengers safely. In the interim, Carnival canceled all water-based excursions because of the rough seas.

An hour (maybe more) later, they finally called "Group 1." We had gone back to our room, so we tried to slip back in the tender line....but unfortunately, they were pretty adamant about having the silly number! So I got all upset, went back to the room, and changed, giving up on my cave tubing because I knew it was a 5+ hour excursion and didn't want to risk not making it back to the Ship on time.

We pulled ticket #11 and we ended up in Belize City by 11:45am. It was drizzly and pretty miserable out, and the crowds were pretty atrocious. (Only 2 ships that day, though?) We never bothered venturing outside the gates, as there were so many people hovering by the security guards we were a little frightened. We bought a token wood hummingbird from a vendor inside the gates, then went back to the Valor. It was a disappointing day, made all the more disappointing in knowing that Belize is usually peoples' favorite stops if they do an excursion there. Alas, I shall have to return one day!

We docked in Puerta Maya and immediately headed to the UltraMar shuttle to the mainland. We had booked Carnival's Tulum tour. It was a gorgeous day, albeit a little chilly by Mexican standards. The shuttle ride took a 1/2 hour, and although bumpy, I didn't see anyone get sick. We arrived safely in Playa del Carmen where we were greeted by the tour company who swiftly and stealthily placed us in groups of 40. Our tour guide was an adorable recent college grad who majored in history, and she gave us a phenomenal history of Mexican and Mayan culture en route to Tulum on the bus.

We stopped 10 minutes outside of Tulum at a Mayan Cultural Center. I will admit, I bought into it until I got home and realized that the Mayan Calendar I thought I had purchased came with a sheet of paper describing how to read the "Aztec Calendar." Hey, at least they had bathrooms and food to buy.

We arrived in Tulum on December 12th, which is the Dia de la Virgen de Guadeloupe. (Virgin Mary day) They expected 3,000 pilgrims at Tulum in addition to as many tourists, but this didn't alter our experience at all. In fact, the celebrations outside of the ruins were certainly enhanced by this day. We enjoyed our tour of Tulum and our hour to enjoy the Beach/sightsee. We got back on the bus and Carnival had arranged for us all to have a "snack" of soda and three packaged foods. Junk food, of course, but at least it wouldn't make you sick!

They got us back to the Pier in Cozumel with an hour and a half to spare before we had to get on the Valor, so we enjoyed the shopping in the immediate area before heading back to our ship for the last time. We felt that the Tulum trip was worth every penny, and Carnival had batted 2 for 2 on shore excursions for us. Well done!

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We decided once on shore that we wanted to do an excursion, so we found Moby Dick by the Pier and opted to do their 3-hour stingray city/snorkel tour. They did a great job transporting us around and giving us time with the rays. I thought that they were very respectful of the rays and knowledgeable, so this was a relief to me. As an ex-biologist and a student of conservation, I'll admit I was weary of going to this tourist trap, but the rays are gluttons for food and there's absolutely nothing keeping them unnatural as it is, at least it's doing wonders for awareness!

I also did a little snorkeling on the reef by the sandbar, but the swells were pretty big and it was just a rough day out there. Our boat had to pluck snorkelers out of the water who couldn't swim back. I would definitely recommend this group to experienced snorkelers or to anyone who just intends to visit Stingray City.

After the tour, we had a few hours to poke around Georgetown. Was surprised to see how Americanized it all was......there were 5 ships in town, so it was too crowded to really enjoy. The Port area itself is well-developed. If you do nothing all day but get off the ship and meander, you should have no troubles keeping busy and finding a good place to eat. It's totally safe and pedestrian-friendly.

Be still my heart! Isla Roatan enchanted me as soon as we approached the Pier at Coxen Hole. It's really the only island on our itinerary with any elevation change to note, and its hillsides were lush with dense tropical trees. We were greeted by dancers and percussionists at the Pier it made me smile because it felt pretty authentic to a tourist like me. Carnival is almost finished with construction of the two buildings on their Pier. Another Diamonds Int'l big shocker! But at least it's not totally shameless in size. We'd booked through Carnival and did the "kayak and snorkel." This ended up being the best part of our entire cruise....only 4 couples in our tour, and we hopped on a bus and headed to the West End where we made the Cannibal Cafe our home base. In addition to our main tour guide and the owner of the Cafe, we also had a head guide who used to be a master Scuba instructor and three of his teenage assistants. We first went and snorkeled in Half Moon Bay, with all of us following our guide, accompanied by the teenagers and chased by a "rescue kayak." My husband is a doggie paddler and NOT a strong swimmer, but they made him feel so safe and secure that he never had any anxiety in the water at all. I found the Bay to be very calm and relaxing, and beautiful, but I do think the reef I saw in Grand Cayman looked a little healthier? After snorkeling, we showered, dried off, and then were treated to a snack of homemade quesadillas, fresh fruit, and lemonade. Oh, it was heavenly! I had been afraid to eat or drink anything non-bottled, but I couldn't resist and I am glad I couldn't. Once we were full, we were given our paddles and life vests and then walked down the West End a little to get to our kayaks. We paralleled the shore in a procession, making our way past quaint little seaside restaurants and sleepy inns. We stopped at a "resort" owned by our guide's family and walked up the hill for a quick hike. They talked to us about their upbringing and the local flora and fauna.....we got to see all sorts of fruit, deer, "rabbits" (I swear they were large rodents), and trees that produced the most fragrant leaves imagineable. The views from the top of the hill were gorgeous, and the breeze and solitude really were calming. My favorite part of the trip, I think. We loved our teenage guides as well. They wanted to know about snow, so we chatted the whole way back to the Cafe about skiing! At this point, it was time to get back to the Valor, so we packed up our things and headed back via minibus. A phenomenal, wonderful, extraordinary day with the kindest, most genuine people you could hope to meet. I left the island feeling satisfied....if everything else on this cruise went wrong, I at least had this experience to take with me.
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