Number of Cruises: 2
Cruise Line: Carnival
Ship: Carnival Valor
Sailing Date: June 19th, 2005
Itinerary: Western Caribbean
The primary reason why I am writing a review is because I found other reviews very helpful with my recent cruise experience. Doing some research helped my family enjoy our experience better. Therefore, I hope for those that read this find it very helpful.
Even though our overall cruise experience was great, the embarkation process was not very good at all. I don’t know if the process was slow was because of security issues and everything with 9/11, but it took us about two hours to get on the boat with checking bags, checking in, and getting our Sail & Sign/Room Cards. So be prepared to stand in long lines! We showed up at 2:00pm, so I recommend arriving earlier if your transportation plans allow you to do so. Once on the boat, everyone is required to participate in the emergency evacuation plan which takes about an hour, which is also kind of a pain.
Pretty Nice. We booked the inside cabin which was on the 6th Floor (Upper Deck). It was one of the cheaper rooms but we do so since we are very rarely in our room. There was plenty of space for all of our clothes, even with rooming with 2 women (guys you know how that can be). It was nice that our shower had a shampoo and soap dispenser. If I would have known that I wouldn’t have brought soap or shampoo. Also, our cabin steward (Bernard) was very good with leaving us clean towels for both our room and the pool. So there is no need to bring any towels. I was pretty surprised they actually had a TV with cable. They had Fox and CNN as well as other channels to watch if you wanted to. But like I said earlier, we were very rarely in our room.
*** The room I was in was not equipped with an alarm clock which I wish I would have known before hand. However, you can get a wake-up call everyday at no cost, but most may prefer to have an alarm clock (I like to hit Snooze about 5 times before I wake up).
The food was one of the highlights of the cruise. You have the option of eating in the main dining rooms for every meal (Washington or Lincoln Dining Rooms – 3rd & 4th Floors) or eating at Rosie’s Restaurant (9th Floor – Lido Deck). Generally, my family and I ate the buffet for breakfast and usually chose from a variety of food for lunch. If you don’t want the buffet for lunch, they also serve burgers/fries, deli sandwiches, pizza, or Chinese every day for lunch which was great. We found that we really didn’t feel like eating in the dining room for breakfast and lunch mainly because it was quicker to get our own food (At Rosie’s). The lines were generally not very long which was nice. Dinner however was the best part. We ate during the early dinner sitting (5:45) and had excellent service by Franjo & Christina and the 4-course meal every night was excellent. As far as the main dish, there was both great steaks and seafood to choose from. Also, they served excellent salads, appetizers, and deserts. Also, at the end of every dinner all the waiters/servers did some kind of skit that was pretty entertaining.
One secret that no one really knows about is the sushi bar located on Promenade Deck (Deck #5). It is free and it is all you can eat Sushi. I am not that big of fan of sushi, but I have to say after this cruise I am kind of hooked. The sushi bar is only open from 5 – 8:30 every night. We usually stopped for a few pieces before dinner.
There was also a 24-hour pizzeria which is located at the back of the ship on Deck #9, Lido Deck.
Shows: The shows were some of the best parts of the cruise. Every night there was some type of entertainment located at the Ivanhoe Theatre (3rd, 4th, 5th Floors). Two different nights there were professional comedians, two nights featured the Vegas/Broadway shows, and the last night was Valor Idol (yes, like American Idol). The Vegas/Broadway shows and comedians were very good. It is definitely worth your time to see the shows which generally lasted about an hour.
Casino: The casino was pretty nice, but very smoky though (like most casino’s); however it was very clean and had a pretty good array of games and tables to play. Important: Don’t waste your money on the slots because they are REALLY tight.
Pool: On the “Fun Day at Sea” Days, we spent a lot of our time at the pool. Although there were many people on the Pool Deck (Lido Deck – 9th Floor), it was very relaxing and also entertaining. During the day, a calypso band played Caribbean music and they were pretty good. There are many things to do on the Pool Deck (swim, hot tub, lay out, water slide, relax). Also during the day Carnival Employees put on games and activities to get people active during the day such as Survivor, Men’s Hairy Chest Competition, etc. Important: If you want good deck chairs, I suggest putting items such as towels or other cheap personal items on the chairs early in the morning (i.e. 8:00am) to get where you want to spend your day in the sun. If you don’t, the deck chairs fill up pretty fast in the morning.
Clubs/Bars: There was a pretty good variety of clubs and bars which were all on the 5th Floor (Promenade Deck). There was a lounge for the older crowd, a karaoke bar, dance/disco bar, piano bar, martini bar, and a teen dance club. The karaoke and piano bars were pretty small, so if you are big fans of either I suggest getting there shortly after the evening shows.
Nassau: At Nassau, we originally booked the “Yellowbird Party Boat,” which I have heard is a really fun excursion, however the day before we stopped at Nassau we were informed that the excursion was cancelled. We were a little disappointed, but Carnival really has not much to do with the excursions. As a result, we booked the Catamaran Snorkel tour. The tour guide showed us the highlights and history of the island which was pretty interesting, but the snorkeling was the best part. The coral reef there was ok, but we have seen nicer reefs. We did however see a lot of fish though and the water is amazingly clear and clean. After the tour we looked at some of the little shops close to the boat (Not much for shopping – wait for St. Thomas or St. Martin). We also stopped at Senor Frogs which was about a 5 minute walk to the boat which was a fun atmosphere and made great margaritas.
St. Thomas: To tell you the truth, I was a little disappointed with St. Thomas mainly because St. Thomas was really “hyped up” to me by others and I thought it was nice, but not extravagant. Also, it was a little dirtier then I expected. Again, our original excursion that we booked was later cancelled the day before we arrived at St. Thomas. We were really excited to do the Bon Tiki Party Boat, however it was cancelled. Therefore, we did the Megan’s Bay excursion which took us to the beach for about two hours then took us to Paradise Point for a short period, where we were able to overlook the port as well as part of the island and its surroundings. Paradise Point was a great place to take some really good pictures. As far as shopping, there were many places to shop for jewelry, liquor, cologne, perfumes, watches, etc. To get to the main shopping area, it was $4 per person/each way to get from the boat to downtown. Since our tour didn’t start until 1:00, we did our shopping in the morning, came back to the ship to eat lunch, and then met at the port to do our shore tour after lunch which saved us some money for lunch.
Forewarning: Once the boat docks, since St. Thomas is the United States, you must go through the customs line where you must show your passport/birth certificate, I.D., and Sail & Sign Card. The process isn’t very bad, but when 3,000 people try to do it at the same time it is kind of a mess. Words of Advice: If you aren’t in a huge hurry to get on the island or don’t want to stand in line for an hour, just relax by the pool or your room until 10:30 or so when the lines aren’t long.
St. Martin: This was our favorite stop. The island is very clean and very beautiful. In the morning, the first thing we did was shop. To get to the main shopping area, you can take a water taxi which is about a 5 minute boat ride to the main area ($5 per person all day pass). What’s nice about the water taxi is that it is only $5 and you can go back and forth all day. Once you pay your $5 they give you a wristband and that covers you all day, which was nice when we wanted to go back for lunch after shopping all morning. As far as the shopping, there were many places to shop; I want to say there were at least 30 jewelry stores in the main shopping area not including other shops such as liquor, perfumes, cigar, trinkets, etc. I got a really good deal on a watch for $300 that is $450 plus tax here in the states. Since we had bad luck booking excursions we didn’t book any on this stop. However, we did manage to make it to Orient Beach which we heard we couldn’t miss. We took a taxi from the boat to the beach; it was $5 per person/each way. The reason why it is five bucks is because Orient Beach is on the Northeast side of the island (French side) and the ship docks on the southern part of the island (Dutch side), therefore it is about a 30-40 minute cab ride both there and back. We arranged our taxicab driver to pick us up at 3:30 to take us back, which worked out great. The drive was worth it! The beach is very clean and the water is very blue and warm. There are also things you can do once you get to the beach. We saw people jet skiing and parasailing which you can purchase once you get to the beach. Otherwise you can rent chairs and umbrellas if you want to which were like ten bucks or so. There is also a small bar by the beach if you want to purchase drinks called bikini bar.
IMPORTANT: Bring your Sign & Sail card and photo I.D. with you at every port; you will not be able to get off or on the boats without you Sign & Sail card. Also, since we had two excursions that were cancelled, I recommend having a backup excursion you would like to do instead of randomly picking one the night before like we did. Hopefully you all have better luck! Also, when you port at St. Thomas & St. Martin, even though the ship docks until 7 or 8 at night, note that many of the shops at the main shopping areas close at 5 so don’t wait till the end of the day to do your shopping.
Again, this process was kind of a pain. We even waited until the last call to get off the ship and we had to wait in line around two hours for everyone to get through customs and to get their luggage. Be prepared to wait in lines.
I have sailed with Carnival twice now and I can’t wait to go again. For the money, you really can’t get a better deal with amount of food, great entertainment, incomparable service, and other amenities on the ship. If you’re deciding whether to go to the Eastern versus the Western Caribbean, I would tell you it’s a toss up, you really can’t go wrong either way (Our favorites were Cozumel-Western & St. Martin-Eastern). I’d say the excursions were better on the Western route but the shopping and scenery was better on the Eastern part. Overall, my only complaint was getting on and off the boat which isn’t totally controlled by Carnival (i.e. Customs/Security), otherwise we really had a great experience.
*Bring water bottle(s) to take on the islands. You can fill them up on the ship before you get on the islands.
*No need to bring towels. Carnival will give you plenty and are great about giving you fresh towels at least daily.
*If you drink, I recommend bringing on a bottle of alcohol or two of your choice in your suitcase. This will save you significantly on your Sign & Sail Bill. I brought a bottle of rum and nothing was said, however don’t display it, I believe the stewards can take it away and give it back to you at the end of the cruise.
*You don’t need to bring soap or shampoo unless you are dependent on the type of shampoo/soap you use. Every shower has a soap (lever 2000) & shampoo (generic) dispenser.
*On your suitcases, tie the same color of string or pieces of yarn on your luggage; this helps you identify your luggage not only at the end of the cruise when you pick up your bags, but also at the airport.