Paul & Cheryl Jakubowski
Occupation:Technology Manager and Teacher
Number of Cruises: 11
Cruise Line: Carnival
Ship: Carnival Valor
Sailing Date: January 1st, 2006
Itinerary: Eastern Caribbean
Carnival Cruise Line
Carnival Valor Cruise Review
Paul & Cheryl Jakubowski
Carnival staff continually referred to the Valor as their flagship during this cruise. It is indeed huge, new (2004), and well appointed. We chose this cruise because of its itinerary coincident to our son’s military leave time; we had a ball spending the New Years’ holiday with him.
There was nothing particularly wrong with this cruise. It’s just that there was nothing particularly right about it, either. Indeed, our room attendant was one of the best we’ve had on any cruise – our cabin was always made up perfectly, on time, and always lots of ice – just like we like it. (Thanks, Wimpy, for the helpful hint about tipping at the start of the cruise and plainly explaining our priorities to her in a personal note. This was the first time we’ve done that, and it worked like a charm!) But outside of the premium priced Scarlett’s Supper Club, that was the only superlative we can think of, and merely the equal of experiences we’ve had elsewhere. Virtually every other aspect of this cruise suffered in comparison to others we’ve been on. If this is the flagship – as good as it gets – this will be our first and last cruise with Carnival. Here’s why:
1) There seemed to us to be a lot more ‘nickel and dime’ activity, at higher prices, than on other lines we’ve sailed. Compared to others we’ve been on, the tickets were actually kind of expensive. Yet…. Want to take an exercise (yoga, step aerobics, ‘body shaping) class? 10 bucks. Want to find out how much it will cost to sign up for wireless Internet access? $3.95 “administration fee” to see the pricing page. Want some water while standing in an interminable line to get through immigration and off the boat in St Thomas? $2.50. Want a few 5x7 photos from the photo gallery? Buy the $20 8x10 you don’t want first. Even the coffee in the specialty coffee bar was more expensive than other lines’ prices.
While we understand that others may like it, we strongly object to the growing practice, the description of which is buried in a back page of the cruise tickets, of automatically including the end-of-cruise tip for our service people on the final bill. It’s one thing to offer the convenience of charging it to your account, as virtually all lines do. It’s something else entirely to have the arrogance to mandate it. Indeed, it’s not implausible to conclude that this misguided corporate policy actually leads to the conditions we’ll discuss next – crew apathy. They are going to get their tip no matter how indifferent they may be toward you. By itself, this policy is enough to discourage us from the families of lines that do it (Carnival, Norwegian, Princess) and encourage us to the lines we know of that don’t (Royal Caribbean).
2) Outside of our cabin attendant, the rest of the crew just looked tired. We were routinely treated like executional detail to be tolerated instead of guests to be served. Officers out in public aggressively avoided eye contact; few crewmembers ever smiled. People pushing large carts of dirty dishes through crowded aisles reminded me of clerks at a Kmart stocking shelves – assuming the customers should get out of THEIR way. Our dining room waiter and assistant waiter seemed frazzled, working more tables, and having less time to spend with our party than has been the case on other lines. Even the wait staffs’ dining room conga line dancing was perfunctory. Most everyone was just going through the motions, and it showed.
3) Much of the food was tired as well. Dinners in the main dining room, while well prepared and presented, had obviously spent long stretches under heat lamps before coming to the table. Some of the buffet food tasted as if it were reconstituted from mixes or was out of a can. In that vein, avoid the pancakes and steam table scrambled eggs at breakfast, and the hamburger bar on the Lido Deck aft – the French fries were inedible. Fresh fruit was abundant and well served, and the lines for fresh prepared eggs and omelets at breakfast went smoothly . We spent a lot of time at the windows which served sushi, fresh made sandwiches, and Chinese food prepared fresh in front of us. Too bad these were hidden away instead of featured – they were much superior to the buffets.
We chose to spend the second formal night, Friday, in Scarlett’s Supper Club, the upscale dining venue on the Valor, because the first formal night, Tuesday, was “lobster night” in the main dining room. Scarlett’s was superb, and highly recommended. Dinner for four, with a good wine, ran to approximately $250 with tip. The steaks were great, but what made the evening special were the desserts! They were amongst the best we’ve had in any restaurant anywhere in the world.
4) There’s been a lot made in other reviews about the wireless internet service on this ship – one of the things besides the sailing date which attracted us to the itinerary. We were not impressed. It was incredibly expensive – 38.5 to 75 cents per minute, depending on the amount of time purchased. We took the 270 minutes for $100; no credit for unused time. We found it agonizingly slow, slower than typical dial-up service on land. Many sites are intentionally throttled back to manage bandwidth. After wasting 30 of those precious minutes, I gave up getting my company VPN to work, so I couldn’t get corporate email. (Our personal Hotmail account worked.) Expect many, many of your minutes to be spent in getting through redirected web pages as the “MTN” (maritime telecom network?) logo pages eat up your time allotment and randomly disable the ‘Back’ button of your web browser. I don’t mean to sound picky to the average internet user, but I install, manage, and maintain wireless networks for a living. What Carnival is doing here is usury, pure and simple. It’s just not that hard, or that expensive, to do what they are doing. It certainly does not justify the prices they charge. If you really want to use this service, I’d suggest waiting for the Internet “happy hours” in the afternoons where Carnival offers rates around 25 cents per minute, and dialing back your expectations to web based email.
5) Miscellaneous notes:
- Who’s watching your dog, or watering your plants, while you are gone? A great ‘thank you’ gift to take back from this itinerary is Don Lorenzo mango rum. It is absolutely delicious, difficult to find in the states, but widely available and inexpensive in The Bahamas, where it is made. We brought back a half dozen bottles (OK, one got consumed in the cabin!) from Nassau this trip.
- Immigration in St. Thomas, which every passenger must clear, whether leaving the ship or not, was a real hassle, made worse by the fact that instead of arriving on time at 8:00AM, we did not dock until 11:00 or so. As a result, we pretty much just stayed on the ship, but this was an uncomfortable time pressure situation for our son, who had a shore excursion to get to. The LONG line to get 3,000 people through immigrations and off this huge ship all at once in the morning was just not well managed by Carnival staff. Indeed, a trying situation was made unfortunately worse by the crew’s lack of updates regarding what was happening. (But there was plenty of staff available to hassle you to buy bottled water at the aforementioned inflated price while in line.) Carnival makes little accommodation for people with shore excursions to get off the ship, other than meaningless, annoyingly loud PA announcements asking for those without them to step aside. (Right!) Our best advice is to skip the organized tours in this port and forget about trying to be among the first off the ship in the morning – wait for the end of the line. It delays you 2-3 hours, but the lower level of stress is well worth it.
- There was lip service paid to the control of underage drinking on this ship. It was all too common to see obnoxious teenagers, obviously drunk (some wannabes pretending to be), cursing loudly in the public areas. This was particularly unfortunate on this sailing, as it seemed the proportion of families with impressionable small children was quite high. Lots of loud running and loud yelling at all hours in the cabin corridors. The official line from the hotel manager was merely a lame, “well, if the parents won’t control their kids, there’s nothing we can do about it.”
- The evening entertainment portion of the cruise seemed a bit jinxed. The juggler got the flu, and the Motown singer missed her flight to St. Thomas. So there was a lot of substitute audience participation nonsense up on stage in the evening, emceed by the perky cruise director. All in all, it was fun, but typical cruise ship afternoon fare. The comedians were amusing, but mainstream pedestrian. All made the hazing of the rowdy teenagers aboard their stock in trade. Nothing particularly original. Expect to arrive to the main theatre as a complete party, as the “seat saving police” are out in full force there. (But they are conspicuously absent out on deck when genuinely needed during the massively crowded days at sea.)
We’ll close by saying that in rereading this review, we realize that we’ve talked a lot about price. Price of this, price of that. This is not normal for us. Cruises are usually a carefree time for us, and we don’t normally think so much about what they are costing. But the atmosphere - the culture - on Carnival just didn’t let us get away from that. There was always the feeling in the back of our minds that if we didn’t pay strict attention, something really bad and really unexpected would happen, cost-wise. This was a new sensation to us; nothing we’ve experienced before on Royal Caribbean, Princess, Norwegian, or Carnival’s Holland America.
Net, it’s not that this cruise was bad; it wasn’t. We had a ball with our son. It’s just that Carnival suffers in comparison to other available options, and we see no compelling reason to go back.