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Josie

Age: 27

Occupation:writer

Number of Cruises: 2

Cruise Line: Carnival

Ship: Carnival Valor

Sailing Date: 2011-06-29

Itinerary: Eastern Caribbean

I just returned from a 7-day Eastern Caribbean cruise (Half Moon Cay, St. Thomas [V.I.], San Juan [P.R.], Grand Turk) with my husband and another couple. We had a decent time overall but all agreed we probably wouldn't cruise again, or if we did, not on this particular cruise line. We had high expectations for the food and entertainment options on the ship that weren't exceeded. That said, we did manage to enjoy ourselves.

I felt pretty seasick on a previous cruise so was worried about that again this time, but I did not feel sick once on this ship, and I wasn't using any seasickness remedies. I noticed that things on the ship, like big paintings on easels, were not strapped down, so my assumption is that this ship is always pretty smooth sailing. You do feel movement, though it's more like on an airplane with light rumblings and slight jerks, which are actually calming and easy to sleep to, rather than the rolling motion that makes you seasick.

While the food was fresh and there were plenty of options every meal, I don't think I ever had fish that was cooked correctly or any dish that was particularly mouth-watering -- a disappointment compared to the Disney cruise, which had some of the best food I've ever eaten. There are two basic options for eating that are free -- the main restaurant and a more casual buffet-style diner. We noticed both had very similar menu options every night with a few differences. A map of the ship will show that there is a Sushi Bar, a Burrito Bar, a pizza place, and a Mongolian Wok, but all of these are literally windows within the same diner or counters on the ship, not actual eateries themselves. The sushi bar served exactly three pieces of sushi on a small plate, so that was not the meal option we thought it would be, just more of a snack. You can also pay $30 a person and make reservations to eat at a steak house restaurant on the ship, which we did not do, as the cruise cost enough in itself.

We wanted a balcony room because the last cruise I was on I felt sick anytime I was in an enclosed room. Since we booked only a month in advance, the only balcony room left was a premier balcony room, which was sickeningly more expensive that our friends paid, who chose an interior room on the bottom deck. The premier room was quite a bit more spacious than other rooms (it was about the size of a standard hotel room) and the balcony was longer with two chairs and a lounge chair. Depending on the type of traveler you are, how long the cruise is, and how much time you plan on spending in your room, the larger room is probably worth it for a more relaxing and luxurious trip. If you need frequent retreats from the mass humanity on the ship or are worried about feeling sick, it's a must in my opinion.

The Carnival Valor was built in 2004, and the decor already looked a little dated, although they were thoroughly and impressively clean and actually pretty cozy. Plenty of storage (in our room, at least), clean and comfortable king-sized bed, and a TV with enough channels to keep you entertained before bed. The bathroom was also nice, with enough shelves, counter space and places to hang things.

A few things were quite entertaining, like the big shows at night in the theater -- they were hour-long performances with truly talented dancers and singers and lots of lights, costumes and special effects. A few other highlights were comedians almost every night (with family and adult shows) and a comedic hypnotist show. Other than that, most of the activities on the agenda sounded more exciting on paper than when you actually go to them. Plenty of opportunities to play Bingo, trivia, and casino games. This ship largely consists of different types of bars -- sports bar, wine bar, cigar lounge, piano bar, latin club, dancing club, and a few other lounge areas. We found ourselves unamused with the options on the agenda several nights of the cruise and ended up having two-hour dinners to pass some time. Also, we grew weary of pitches to buy something at nearly every activity, show, or presentation we went to. Your initial booking cost is only HALF of what you'll spend on this cruise, even with meals included, or a fraction if you pay for excursions. You pay extra for drinks (including coffee and soft drinks), Bingo cards, spa treatments, photos that the staff photographers take of you, yoga and other fitness classes, bakery desserts and gourmet coffee (better quality than in the buffet), etc. It's possible to avoid all these extra costs, as we did, but it is vacation and you end up paying for a few regardless.

We don't have kids, but I would say there was plenty to do on this ship for children and families including karaoke sessions for teens, a water slide, a small basketball and volleyball court, mini golf, a shuffleboard area, an arcade, and a club area for kids to hang out. The pools are small and always packed, as are the jacuzzis.

The gym was a good size with an impressive selection of equipment and connected to a spa with a steam room and sauna, which are free to use. The trainers in the gym gave regular health presentations that were quite informative, also free, but they try to sell personal evaluations, one-on-one training sessions, and supplements afterwards.

I found most of the excursions to be exorbitantly priced for what you were getting (a short trip and being herded around in a large group). If you have a family and booked one excursion at each port, I can't imagine how much you'd be paying. That said, when you arrive at the ports, the only easy way out of the madness to immediately get to something cool is to be on a tour or excursion group. Our plan was to explore on our own, which no one makes easy. For example, a taxi to anywhere out of the St. Thomas port is $10 a person, but from anywhere else on the island, it's only $1 or $2. Your options in St. Thomas are to pay that price to get out of the crowds and to a nice beach somewhere (some beaches cost money too, but not Coqui or Sapphire, which was lovely), book an excursion, or wander around on foot by the port, which is mostly shopping and some fun restaurants just outside the gate.

The taxi system at the port on Grand Turk was very unorganized. It was $5 to go downtown or $35 for an hour-long tour of the island. After we managed to fill a van with people who wanted a tour, we negotiated just $20 a person, and once we got out of the port area, we realized there were bike, scooter and golf cart rentals, which would have really been the way to go considering how small and flat Grand Turk is. The one excursion we did book was a catamaran sail and snorkel trip in Grand Turk. This $70/person excursion was fun, though short. The boat sailed out only about 15 minutes, we snorkeled for about 30 minutes, then enjoyed bottomless rum drinks (included!) and dancing on the deck on the short ride back. They walk around with pitchers of rum punch and continually refill your cup. Plus the crew was very friendly and fun.

San Juan is probably one of the best ports in the Caribbean because all of Old San Juan (the best part of Puerto Rico) is within walking distance from the ship. There is plenty to see and do in Old San Juan for small $3 to $5 fees without paying for tours or excursions.

Overall, we had a nice time. The majority of people on the ship seemed to be loving every second, so it could be assumed that we are just not cruise types of people. We like to spend a bit more time at the places we travel, and a cruise does not allow this. The nice part about this cruise was that you could truly be in mindless vacation mode and didn't have to worry about a thing. Meals are always available, the room is always clean (at least twice a day), and you can busy yourself with as much or as little as you want. Trying to escape the tourist areas and really experience the islands and trying to make the most of your 6-8 hours at each destination was the most difficult part.

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