Carnival Grows Up

| March 4, 2005

Since taking my first Carnival cruise in 1993, I've seen the line reinvent itself into a company that builds some of the most noteworthy ships in the industry -- with some of the highest levels of creature comforts. During my recent one-week cruise on the new 110,000-ton Carnival Valor, I saw even more steps in that progress. It was only the seventh voyage of the new ship, sailing from Miami to the Eastern Caribbean but the biggest bang for the buck I've seen in years.

Carnival Valor
I found big changes from what I remembered of the "old" Carnival experience: There were fewer public announcements, and I didn't feel pressured to spend money on any service or item. For one week, I dined on extraordinary food and saw consistently high levels of service. In my balcony cabin were more amenities, including a soft fluffy robe, a make-up mirror and a hair dryer. My fellow passengers, primarily in the 35-55 age group, were typical middle-class Americans. At dinner, the waiters did minimal dancing -- and even the traditional baked Alaska was missing from the sophisticated menu.

The 2,974-passenger Carnival Valor doesn't grab you with the Tivoli lights and the garish colors found on the older Carnival vessels; instead, one's eyes are drawn to very creative custom artwork depicting the vessel's theme, "Heroes". The central atrium is lined with bas-relief faces of early American presidents and other famous people from the 18th and 19th centuries. Architect and designer Joe Farcus used the U.S. flag as his inspiration for the atrium's design, with a wavy dark red and beige dance floor and red and gray granite floor and cocktail tables.

I loved Carnival Valor's wide promenade -- furnished with cozy leather chairs and sofas -- that connects many of the public rooms. Here you'll find the casino, coffee bar, Sushi bar (open from 5:30 to 8:30 each evening), disco and teen lounge. What I didn't care for is the layout of dining rooms, which requires passengers to go up a floor and then back down two decks to enter the two-deck dining room (it took me about five days to get my bearings).

In the restaurants, I found beautiful rooms that ensured each meal was a delightful experience. The two main dining rooms, Washington and Lincoln, have soft, warm colors like pink, burgundy and pale coral neon ceilings. The lido buffet restaurant, Rosie's, pays tribute to Rosie the Riveter, the symbol of women working back home in World War II. It's decorated with soft yellow and green tile and inlaid tile work with scenes of Rosie. I loved the Bronx Sports Bar, re-creating the Yankee Stadium neighborhood, and the clubby Winston's cigar bar with enormous hand-painted panels of WW I-era naval ships.

Bronx Sports Bar
For me personally, the two most important aspects of any seagoing voyage are food and service. Valor's offerings of two most important food groups – coffee and chocolate – were sublime, perhaps the best I've ever had aboard any ship. On Valor's dinner menu I found endless options, coupled with elegant presentation of each course. At dinner in the Washington Dining Room, entrees ranged from chateaubriand to lobster, fresh perch, filet mignon and Japanese delicacies. One could also choose items from a low-carb and spa menu (although the chef admitted to me that these aren't in great demand). At lunch in the main dining room I had the best baby back ribs I've ever tasted.

Shogun Club Casino
Lunch in Rosie's, the lido buffet, included choices of fresh stir-fried chicken or beef, five or so different entrees, New York deli sandwiches, Chinese food and a half dozen or so desserts. And you'll find 24-hour pizza (nine varieties), Caesar salad and self-serve ice cream in the aft area of the lido. Meat was perfectly cooked, the sauces wonderfully flavorful, vegetables crisp and desserts sinfully rich.

Java Cafe
The pinnacle of Valor's dining options is Scarlett's, the ship's private supper club. It is well worth the $25 surcharge because one gets an unforgettable three-hour gourmet experience more grand than I've experienced in New York. The elegant restaurant is drop-dead gorgeous, and the sumptuous meal is served by a polished staff of four. A chef presents a platter of meat cuts and lobster at your table; after you make your selections, he cooks it in an open grill visible from many areas of the restaurant. The options are mouth-watering: a 24-ounce porterhouse, 14-ounce strip loin, nine-ounce filet mignon, Chilean sea bass, lobster and Alaskan King Crab. I savored every morsel of this incredible dinner.

Rosie's Restaurant
One thing about Carnival that hasn't changed much on Valor: It still offers some of the highest-caliber entertainment you'll find at sea. Strolling around the ship at night I found a lively piano bar, a late-night comedy club, a classical trio, lavish Las Vegas-style productions with a 10-piece orchestra, country music, cabaret and soloists. In the Ivanhoe Show Lounge, two production shows have a cast of 10 dancers and two excellent singers performing songs of the 60's, 70's and 80's. Lasers, a moving orchestra pit and lavish costumes add to the spectacular shows. The ship's large casino was busy from noon through the wee hours. One of Carnivals' biggest hits, the piano bar, was packed each evening. Teens have their own private club on Carnival Valor, with music and video games.

Each night, passengers are given a daily program of the next day's activities, with a list of events as long as your arm for filling the time between meals. Fitness buffs will find a large state-of-the-art gym with all the pushing, pulling and aerobic machines one could want. Exercise classes are available throughout the day (there's a $10 surcharge for Pilates); outdoors, there's volleyball and basketball and a designated walking track But most passenngers seemed content to spend a day at sea on deck, either poolside -- where a terrific band performed -- or in the further reaches of the ship where only the sound of the sea intruded.

Washington Restaurant
Carnival Valor's cabins are large by industry standards, nicely decorated and offering all the amenities one could want with ample closets and drawers. The sybaritic pleasure of sailing in a stateroom with private veranda is well worth the extra money, but Carnival's standard inside and outside cabins are large and comfortable as well. Cabin sizes are: 185 square feet inside; 220 s.f. outside; 220 s.f. balcony cabin; 230 s.f. family stateroom; 340 s.f. suites. Standard amenities include color TV, hair dryer, make-up mirror, large bathroom vanity area. Comfy bathrobes are provided in suites.

Carnival Valor sails year-round from Miami on alternating seven-day eastern and western Caribbean cruises. Eastern Caribbean cruises call in Nassau, St. Thomas and St. Maarten, while western Caribbean cruises visit Belize, Honduras, Grand Cayman and Cozumel.

Reservations and additional information may be obtained from travel agents or visiting

Copyright © Anne Campbell. All rights reserved.

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