Occupation:Medical Office Manager/Medical Transcriptionist
Number of Cruises: 4
Cruise Line: Carnival
Ship: Carnival Valor
Sailing Date: October 22nd, 2005
Itinerary: Eastern Caribbean
Being nervous about the impending arrival of Hurricane Wilma, we flew into Miami on Saturday and spent the night at the Airport Hilton, who shuttled us directly to the Port of Miami on Sunday morning. We arrived at the port around 12:00 noon, and we were a little concerned about the luggage handling. The porters were loading luggage for both the Victory and the Valor directly next to each other, and this was NOT close to the Valor. Fortunately all of our luggage arrived in our stateroom within 2-3 hours, but several people lost a few pieces of luggage. I still think they loaded it onto the Victory by mistake.
Embarkation was extremely easy and fast. This is a very well-oiled machine. The only glitch for us was that somewhere between entering the terminal and actually boarding the ship I lost my diamond tennis bracelet. The latch apparently came undone and it fell from my wrist unnoticed. I hoped against hope that whoever found it would have a conscience and turn it in, but no such luck. I will say that the purser on board went above and beyond in attempting to help me locate it, and even made sure I had a letter of documentation for my insurance company before I left the ship.
Because we were celebrating our 25th wedding anniversary, we splurged on a balcony stateroom on the Panorama deck, which is deck 10. This was VERY convenient. We were literally just a hop, skip, and a jump away from the Lido deck; no waiting for elevators to get to the pool, buffets, etc... Being so high I was a little concerned about feeling more motion (the higher you go, the more motion there is), but was pleasantly surprised by how little there was despite the fact that we hit some bad weather, but more about that later. Our room was wonderful, and I think we had the best room steward we’ve ever had! His name was Santiago and he made sure that we had everything we needed, even before we knew we needed it! Because this is a new ship, there was more storage space for our belongings, and we never felt crowded.
We kept hearing rumors that they were planning to close the Port of Miami, and we started getting nervous again. We were scheduled to depart the port at 4:30 pm, but at 3:30 pm it became apparent that we were going to be leaving early. At 3:40 pm the Victory pulled into the channel, at 3:45 pm the Valor pulled into the channel, and right after us the Royal Caribbean ship that was docked behind us pulled into the channel. All 3 ships set out to sea within minutes of each other because apparently the rumors were true and they did close the port soon after we all departed. It was impressive to see all 3 ships leaving at once.
Our first port of call was Nassau, Bahamas. We had planned to go to Pearl Island to “swim with the stingrays”, something I’ve always wanted to do. However, as we waited on the dock with the tour group the wind started to pick up. We waited about 30 minutes to see if the wind would abate, and when it didn’t, all water activities were canceled. Not wanting to waste our day, we went to the dock entrance and for $20.00 took a horse and buggy guided tour around the city. Kind of quaint, but not sure I’d spend money on that again.
Next we hailed a cab that took us to the Atlantis resort where we were allowed nearly free access. There was a tour group there and they apparently thought we were a part of the group and never stopped us from going anywhere on the grounds! I was very impressed with the magnitude and beauty of the Atlantis, but my husband thought it was “dirty” and run-down. I guess I didn’t see the same things he did! For free, this was a “bargain tour”. I would highly recommend this for families that have children with them. There is a lot of visual entertainment.
Unfortunately, the wind started to pick up again and the skies were threatening, so we decided to take a cab back to the ship. Just as we hit the gangplank the clouds let loose and it started to pour. As we boarded the ship an announcement was made that we would be leaving port as soon as everyone was back on the ship to avoid Hurricane Wilma, and we did leave about an hour earlier than originally scheduled.
This was supposed to be the first of our 2 formal nights, but we soon hit high winds and rolling waves. The captain decided to reschedule formal night so that all of the women wouldn’t be walking around in heels, risking their safety. They also canceled the show that night for the safety of the dancers. The ship did pitch around quite a bit and the top 2 decks were closed to guests. It didn’t bother me, but there were quite a few empty seats that evening at dinner.
We then spent the next day at sea, which were picture-perfect. Although our cruise director Josh Riffe was excellent, I didn’t think the activities and entertainment were as impressive as some of the other Carnival ships I’ve been on. Although there was a large group on board for the Clear Channel “Oldies Cruise”, there really wasn’t that much aimed at our age group. This doesn’t mean we didn’t have a great time, because we did. It’s just that a lot of the activities were not our taste. We spent a fair amount of time in the casino, but the slots were REALLY tight until the last 2 nights of the cruise. We don’t play cards, but some of our dinner companions did and they did quite well. Guess we'll have to learn to play cards! We also had trouble getting a drink at the casino bar. One time we waited almost 20 minutes and not one waiter behind the bar would help us. We also waited a long time between ordering and receiving drinks in the Ivanhoe Lounge. Since this is where the ship makes their money, this is definitely an opportunity for improvement.
This is the 4th Carnival cruise we’ve been on, and I think the food on this ship was far superior to anything we’ve experienced before. Also, the dining experience has been mastered on the Valor. Because we like to tour the islands and then take a nap, we always opt for the late seating. We were seated in the Lincoln dining room, with Kenroy as our waiter and a bubbly little blonde by the name of Julia as his assistant. Kenroy never missed a beat when it came to our orders, and all courses were delivered with exact precision. I thought the shows in the dining room were a little lame, but cute nonetheless. The shows on our other ships were much more lively and involved the guests to a greater degree.
Food in the buffet was pretty much the usual standard fare. The only thing that was really different for us was the chocolate fountain that was the lunch highlight one day. If you like chocolate, you don’t want to miss this one! They also have an upscale restaurant called Scarlet’s that is available by reservation only for $30.00 per person. We had done this on the Conquest and although the experience was well worth every penny, we are just not that comfortable in such a “fancy” setting. They had none of the wines I like, none of the whiskey that my husband likes, and we are definitely not the type of people who enjoy a string quartet during our dining experience! Therefore, we chose to forego dining at Scarlet’s on this cruise.
Our next stop was St. Thomas. Because we had left the US and traveled to another country (the Bahamas), and we were now re-entering a US territory, we were told that we would have to go through customs before being allowed to leave the ship. This was to begin at approximately 9:00 am. Although Josh assured us that this was a quick procedure and there was no need to line up early, quite a few people thought they would get a jump on everyone else and got in line at 6:30 am so they could be first off of the ship. My husband and I came down at 9:00 am, saw the LONG, LONG line and groaned because we had a tour at 10:00 am. We needn’t have worried. We were off the ship 15 minutes later. Josh was right, and those people who wasted 3 hours of their life waiting in line for a procedure that took only 15 minutes anyway were crazy. You do NOT need to get in line early. We made our shore excursion with plenty of time to spare.
We booked the Ultimate Island Experience, and although we had been to Magen’s Bay on a previous cruise, the weather had been overcast and we were eager to see this beautiful beach at its best. This time we were not disappointed. The water was clear liquid turquoise. We enjoyed a long swim and a BBC, a drink first introduced to us at Magen’s Bay. Although they make this drink on the ship, no one makes it quite like the bartenders at Magen’s Bay. Well worth trying. After 2 hours on the beach our next stop was Blackbeard’s Hill, a quaint little resort that allowed us full use of their facilities, including the pools, and a tour of their grounds. We swam a little, then enjoyed a refreshing beverage in their outside bar that overlooked one of the 3 pools. We also had a very entertaining chat with one of the owners, who was originally from the states. From there we could have taken a shuttle into town, but we chose to walk down through the back of the resorts’ property. They have winding cobblestone-type stairs that lead directly into town, and this was a very picturesque walk. We did a little shopping (hey, it WAS our 25th!), and then took a cab back to the ship. During this tour there were also ample opportunities for picture taking.
Our next port of call was St. Maarten/St. Martin. We had never been to this island before and were unsure of which tour to take. We finally decided on the Divi Little Bay Resort trip. This included a short cab ride to the resort, Caribbean style music, volleyball, crab races, lunch, 2 complimentary drinks, and the cab ride back to the ship. This was a spectacular beach! The water was amazing and the view breathtaking. Chairs were included, but umbrellas rented for $5.00, which were a good investment. We were in the water almost the entire time we were on this beach because it was just so beautiful. There were also shells for collecting on this beach, something you don’t see very often. If you are so inclined, there was also a tiki-style bar on the beach for additional drinks. This tour is well worth the price if you’re a beach person.
We returned to the ship, showered and had lunch, then decided to rent a cab for an island tour. They charged us a total of $30.00 for both of us, and we received a very informative tour of St. Maarten. Because our driver had another party to pick up at Orient Beach, he asked if we would mind going with him, and of course we were up to the challenge. Anyone not familiar with this beach should know that a portion of it is “clothing optional”, and is on the French side of the island. This was another spectacular beach! Although we didn’t swim, we walked the beach and then enjoyed a drink in the outside bar that runs along the beach. There is also a restaurant here with tables interspersed among the palm trees, right on the sand. Very cool!!
During our last 2 days on the ship, both at sea, one was sunny and warm, but we hit an all-day squall on the 2nd. Kind of a lost day, but hey, it’s October. All in all we had a wonderful time and I would highly recommend the Valor. In fact, as I write this review our closest friends are on the same ship, headed towards the western Caribbean!