Number of Cruises: 5
Cruise Line: Carnival
Ship: Carnival Valor
Sailing Date: 2010-06-6
Itinerary: Western Caribbean
Readers Beware: This is a long review. If you are bored with long reviews, just read the Summary at the beginning and Conclusion at the end. Have a great Cruise!
The Cruisers: Nine people consisting of two families of 40 somethings with two 9 year olds and two 13 year olds, plus grandma, from WI, NC, and MI. Previous cruising experiences of the adults include 3 to 8 prior cruises each on Carnival, Disney, Royal Caribbean, and NCL. This was one family's first Carnival experience after multiple experiences with Royal Caribbean, and Disney.
Summary: All participants thought this was thier best cruise experience to date, and equally attribute this fact to two different factors. 1) We thought we had more fun as a bigger family group, and 2) All involved thought that the Carnival Valor offered the best combination of food, entertainment, service, itinerary and ship amenities for our money than we have ever experienced before.
Embarkation: With one exception, this was the easiest embarkation ever. The Kiosk check in process with only the Fun Pass speeds things up. We arrived at 10:45 am and were not even near being early, compared to other passengers. Everybody sat in the chairs, until the ship was cleared to board. The only bump in the process was when the two unopened bottles of beer left over from the night before which were in my carry on were discovered during security screening. I knew better, but didn't want to give up two bottles of my favorite (Grolsch) beer without trying. While a friendly security guard who could barely read and write struggled to fill out a card documenting my infraction in a private room, a much smoother (but not necessarily more intelligent) guard entered and informed the passenger he was escorting that this was where the strip searches were conducted. Looking at the other passenger's face, I informed him that she didn't seem amused. He apologized and informed her that it was really only a $50 fine. As it looked like at this point, that she was going to kill him and I would have to miss my cruise to appear in court as a witness, I told him to quit while he was ahead, and rejoined my family on their way to the ship. We were having lunch on the Lido deck by Noon.
The Ship: I have to say that by far, I am a fan of Royal Caribbean's ships. That being said, we all agreed that the Carnival Valor's interior themes, art, and decorations made her the ship with the nicest interior that we have ever been on.. The public spaces were nothing short of spectacular without being too over the top. The only negative to the Valor's design is already much written about, and is true for all of Carnival's Liberty class ships. Having cruised on the Liberty a few years ago, we were ready for the poor passenger flow and blockages on decks 3 and 4. We also warned the others in our group. I can not overstate how much better the Valor dÃ©cor was compared to the Liberty. Near the end of cruise, we were still admiring the ship.
The Food: Everybody in our party agreed that the food on the Valor this trip, both in the formal dining rooms, and on the Lido deck was at least a class above all prior cruises. Before this trip, I didn't think that Carnival would match the food that I had on a NCL trip in 2003, but it did. The food also exceeded our experience on the Liberty a couple of years ago, and recent sailings by my mother, and brother on RCCL and Disney ships. We were consistently surprised by the taste, proper preparation and attention to detail in almost everything we ordered. The Lobster Tail, while small, was the most tender and sweet we have ever had. The St. Louis style BBQ ribs were the best I have ever had of that variety. The short ribs were fantastic as well. The women in our party had Chocolate Melting Cake every night for dessert, and many of us enjoyed trying the cold soups each evening. Other favorites were the sushi offerings on deck 5 and the specialty stations on the Lido Deck, like the Fish & Chips, Taco Bar, and more. Even the Pizza counter and Hamburger grill seemed better than past cruises. Our dining room table each night, was a large table in the corner of the upper level of the Washington dining room, with beautiful window views.
Service: Overall service was fantastic. No complaints at all with stateroom service, (Thank you Jerry) and interaction with all staff members was pleasant, and personable. The staff work very hard, and almost all of them still take the time to say hello, and smile. Unlike past cruises, our dinner service staff seemed to be structured a bit differently. Instead of a Waiter, Assistant Waiter, and Busboy, with a separate Sommelier, we had a Waiter assigned to our table, and another 10 person table, who seemed to be assisted occasionally by only one other person. Our Waiter worked his tail off, as we were probably a difficult table with a couple of finicky eaters, plus the rest of us habitually ordering up to 3 appetizers, and desserts that included the cheese tray a cappuccino or coffee, etc. (Thank you Danello SP? From the Philippines). In my opinion, our waiter was being unreasonably overworked, and service sometimes suffered. Something ordered every meal was missed, and our table was often near the last to be served. My wife, spoke briefly and quietly once with Ivan, the Maitre'd, and he later came up to our table, and quizzed my wife on our service, right in front of Danello. We felt this very unprofessional, in my opinion, as the service problem seemed to be in the staff organization, not our waiter. Danello of course was professional, and greeted us warmly and made conversation when he saw us on the Lido deck during lunch, etc. We all had the feeling that if he wasn't so overworked at dinner, he would have been as good as the best waiters that we have experienced in the past. Service at most other tables seemed to be quicker, and I think the primary difference was as simple as the number of people assigned to each waiter. We dropped our quibbles with dinner service, and enjoyed our vacation, (including every dinner). Another insight into service and the staff on the Valor came when speaking with a bartender in the American Lobby Bar. She was from Columbia, and has worked for Carnival for 12 years, in multiple jobs on multiple ships. When I asked her if some ships were known to be better to work on than others, she said yes, and that it wasnâ€™t the ships as much as the perceived management climate on each ship. She was very candid, and did say that her experience with the management team on the Valor was positive. She felt that the team cared about their people, and made good decisions. She felt that staff morale on the Valor was above average, which meshed with our groupâ€™s perception of overall service on the ship.
Entertainment: In our group's opinion, entertainment on the Valor was great! My wife, the most experienced cruiser among us, said that the singing and dancing production shows were the best that she has seen, and the first she really ever enjoyed. We especially enjoyed the 80's show. The adults in our group absolutely loved the two comedy acts: Percy Crews II, and (I forgot his first name) Brown. They were hilarious. We found a magic act and juggling act to be good, but not great. Big Tex, the cruise director was the best we have seen as well. The Newlywed Game, Pool Games and similar cruise fare were not attended by us, but the buzz about these activities was all good. Ship-wide announcements were not overdone, and Tex didn't talk down to people, and he didn't overplay the Texan cruise director gimmick. The bands around the ship sounded ok to good, but we didn't get to any of the Piano bar venues.
Kids Programs: The 13 year olds got the most out their opportunity to meet other kids their age on the ship. The boys seemed to peel away from the Circle C right away to do their own thing, while the girls used as a meeting place, and sporadically enjoyed the activities. Our 9 year olds in the Camp Carnival program on the other hand loved every minute of it, to include a 10pm to 3:30am final party. They dropped the kids off at our staterooms that night. Facilities for all ages were good, plus many activities took place in many different ship venues.
Rooms: My brotherâ€™s family and grandma had two balcony rooms with an adjoining door that they seemed quite happy with. Our family of 4 squeezed into an interior room. Space was small, but storage was good. It was adequate.
Ports of Call:
Grand Cayman: We have been here before, and it is generally our least favorite stop as we find it overly commercialized with high prices. My wife, sister in law and the kids went swimming with the Stingrays via Carnival excursion and loved it. My brother and I hung out a little while at Margaritaville while grandma shopped, but bought nothing.
Roatan Honduras: This was a surprise favorite for everybody. The artificial cruise tourist compound was beautiful, as was the man made beach (Mahagony Beach). My wife and sister and law claimed they liked the prices, although I thought it was just usual cruise port chain stores. In any event, they loved the shopping right there. I had read good things about the zip line operation across the street from the cruise compound, so my brother and I took the kids there as an impulse decision. It proved to be one of the highlights of the trip. Clip-N-Zip charges $40 per person, and offers a 1 Â½ hour zip lining experience on 14 platforms and 11 zip-lines. It was safe, exciting and fun for allâ€¦I hung my wifeâ€™s camera around my neck, and got some great pictures. After paying the $40, they immediately strap you in your harness, put on your helmet, and load you in the back of a pickup. You are driven over one forested hill, and up another. On the second hill, you climb a trail, then metal steps, up to your first platform. The staff instruct you in how to position yourself, and how to slow down. From there on, you are zipping and clipping through the treetops, down a couple of valleys, back to where you started. We all loved it. After zip-lining and shopping, we all met at Fat Tuesdayâ€™s for a drink, where we were reminded that Roatan is in Honduras. The electricity generator for the island was performing sporadically, so Fat Tuesdayâ€™s and the other island bars had no ice for drinks, and limited refrigeration for the beer. The chair lift from the cruise compound to the beach was also being intermittently stranded. Our group was hungry and thirsty, so most got back on the ship, while my wife and I went and checked out the beach, which we enjoyed.
Belize: After consulting with everybody about the hazards of booking a long excursion through a private company and risking not getting back on the ship on time, we took a risk and booked online an excursion to the Mayan ruins of Lamanai via Island Marketing. This excursion takes a lot of time and consists of a 1 to 1 Â½ hour van ride to Orange Walk in northern Belize, then a 1 hour boat ride 25 miles up the New River featuring wildlife viewing to Lamanai which includes a guided tour of the ruins. The tour of the ruins also features the chance to climb one of the higher Mayan temples in existence. We all got up early, and were the second group to arrive in the Eagles Lounge to get in line to receive early tender tickets to Belize. The morning was frustrating and full of tension as bad weather came and went, and the Valor had trouble initiating Tender operations. As a result, we sat stewing in the Eagles Lounge for almost an extra hour and a half looking at our watches. When we finally stepped off our tender in Belize City, our Island Marketing Rep was right there, with assistants, and they quickly separated those going to Lamanai from their other excursions, and got us processed and on a charter bus. There were 20 of us, which is a unusually large number for this excursion and it turned out that Island Marketing was running around behind the scenes to accommodate. (They had to rent a bigger boat, for example). Jenny, our guide on the bus was fantastic. For almost a full hour, she spoke about Belize's geography, culture, language, school systems, housing etc., as we drove first through the city, then into the country. She was intelligent, witty, and informative. We arrived at the New River for a bathroom stop, as they quickly prepared a larger boat to handle all 20 of us. My wife said the boat ride alone was worth the $75 per person excursion fee. For 25 miles of winding mangrove lined river channels, I.C., our guide ran the 400 hp engines full our banking down narrow channels, this way and that. I have no idea how he navigated the many twists, turns, and different streams. He sometimes stopped or slowed the boat looking for wildlife, but because of our late departure, this was kept to an unfortunate minimum. We really only saw some bats on a tree. He did see a Manatee come off the shore into the water, but we missed it. Lamanai itself look amazing, and we were the only people there. This tour was very rushed. I.C. definitely knows his stuff, but we rushed through everything, and then quickly climbed the temple. This was as amazing as I had hoped it would be. During all of this, passengers kept expressing concern over the time, to which I.C. replied that we shouldnâ€™t worry, as he has been doing this for 15 years, and was not going to put himself in a position to have to pay for our tickets home. After the boat ride back down the New River, they laid out lunch in the picnic shelter. It was delicious and we sucked it down in about 10 minutes. We had asked for it on the bus, but they said we had time. There are many threads on Cruisecritic about whether there is enough time to do Lamanai, and particularly about whether Island Marketing will get you back to the ship on time. My thoughts are as follows: 1) Had we not been late off the ship, the extra 1 Â½ hours would have made our trip much better..both for the Lamanai tour, and the wildlife viewing. 2) At this point in time, with their current staff, Island Marketing, is super professional, on top of the time issues, and absolutely will get you back on time. If you book this excursion, (even if you start late), sit back and enjoy the experience! 3) The entire Lamanai excursion is specialâ€¦.more time would be much better, but as my wife said, (she spent a few months in Belize on a teacherâ€™s program years ago), the bus ride, tour guides, and river cruise was more than worth what we paid alone for a fun and experiential one day look at Belize.
Cozumel: This of course is a very popular cruise stop, and much written about. We shopped in the new cruise port area in the early morning, then took a taxi to Nachi Cocum Beach. We booked this through Island Marketing as well. Itâ€™s a small private beach with a large Palapa restaurant, swimming pool with swim up bar, and Palapas and Palms shading the beach chairs. Adult price is $49 and includes all inclusive drinks, and any 3 items off a very nice menu. You can order your food in the restaurant, from your assigned lounge chairs on the beach, or from the pool deck. Our waiter hinted that we could order anything, in any quantity off the menu. The food was excellent, but between the sun, drinks, ocean, and pool, we probably ordered only half the food we were entitled to, if that. I purchased massages for my wife and mom, and said they were great! They were reportedly cheaper and better than the massages offered on board. The kids kept saying â€œthis is paradiseâ€, and in fact, at this beach, you are truly buying the Corona commercial for a day. It was great!
Ports of Call Overview and Tips: The kids rated our stops as follows: 1) Roatan (Clip-N-Zip), 2)Cozumel (Nachi-Cocum Beach) 3)Grand Cayman (Stingray City) 4)Belize (Lamanai excursion) The adults had more trouble deciding, and had comments such as comparing apples to oranges. I think with time, the Lamanai trip in Belize will gain in significance for both kids and adults. Tips for the Ports of Call include: Plan on Zip-n-Clip in Roatan as a must do. Book other excursions privately, online. Trust Island Marketing and their Lamanai excursionâ€¦let them worry about the time. Nachi Cocum is a great escape from the cruise ship crowds, and is what a beach day should be.
Conclusion: My apologies about the long review, but we hope this helps you in your planning. I think our perception in some areas are more positive then other reviews that I have seen here, but, maybe the saying is true, that your vacation is what you make of it. My brother, and his family who have become addicted to Disney, actually thanked us for steering them to this Cruise, as they now look forward to cruising both lines in the future.
We had a GREAT vacation on the Carnival Valor, and consider it our best cruise to date. We hope you have a great experience too.