by Chris Gerblick
August 27, 2006
Carnival Valor - Deck 6 - Cabin 6458 - August 27th, to September 3rd. Eastern Caribbean Itinerary: Leaving out of Miami, Nassau, St Thomas, St Martin, and back to Miami.
Our kitty cat sitter arrived, our bags were packed and we were ready for our dream vacation! After arriving at the Milwaukee International airport we checked in, swept through security quickly, and were flying to Ft. Lauderdale, without all the hassle and drama of flying out of O'Hare. We booked a roundtrip ticket on Midwest (under $200.00) the cushy blue carpet carried us to out 1st class leather seating (all seats on the plane are 1st class). We watched movies and ate delicious fresh foods before our arrival in Florida. We took a Yellow Taxi to our hotel - The Royal Palm in South beach, Miami. We had to wait until 4:30pm for our room to be ready, so we looked about the city/beach and restaurants and we finally checked in. The hotel was ok, the service was slow, and there was a $15.00 resort fee all guests pay for dry towels at the pool regardless if you swim or not. I got the giggles when they ran out of towels and just ran up to our room and grabbed our own. The hotel manager explained that dry towels are only offered up until 5pm. (I then remembered that we could not check in until 4:30pm). The architecture was Art Deco and the colors were pastel, and our room was overall satisfactory (a dirty old room with a nice view of the ocean & city…not a terrible trade off). We shopped and ate dinner at a Cuban restaurant, and crashed out for the night.
Quick Tips: If your taking a Yellow Cab from Ft Lauderdale to Miami it will be about $100.00 including 10% to 15% tip, Shuttle bus about $25.00 including $5.00 tip. If you are bringing children on your dream cruise vacation, Carnival is TOPS. Children of all ages are seen running and playing all over the ship (even in the adults only hot tub!). Camp Carnival is also available to drop off the little darling angles for the day. Your children will meet other kids their age and have a great time running and playing all over the entire ship. For those of you that are thinking of a cruise as a way to get some quality time…or a slice of time away from the sweet, darling angles….think again……….think really hard about making other plans. When it comes to Carnival, they know how to make sure your children have an excellent time and your children will just know that on a Carnival Fun Ship…Cruising is for KIDS!
What I found out / what happened to me on my first cruise years ago…. A short time in the Caribbean sun with out the protection of a t-shirt or sunblock can cause blistering, sunburn, and a week of great pain.
Embarkation - In the morning we took a yellow cab to the ship and the baggage porters were arguing over baggage turf and tips, when the argument ended we handed a porter our luggage, tipped him and walked into the terminal building. We were very pleased overall with Carnivals check in process and were on board within 45 minutes!
We ate lunch at Rosie's and our room was ready by 1:30pm so we ventured to our cabin with the excitement of opening a present at Christmas. Our room was a Balcony at the back of the ship, the bathroom was clean with crisp white towels, it was very nice with a few complimentary product samples. The bed was two twins that could be pushed together to make a King and finally the balcony, all filthy and stained (one table and two chairs), the glass on the balcony wall facing out was coated with layers of dirt, that will need some serious elbow grease if anyone ever cleans it, and finally no privacy as your neighbors above and to both sides can see you (so I needed to remember …no running out there in my underwear).
The look and feel of the ship: The ship had a hero theme, gaudy, amateurish, juvenile, tacky, & clumsy with gold pennies, and eagles all over. Carnival's Fun Vision video announced that the eagles are covered in gold leaf and then people started ripping them off the walls in the elevators. A picture of Rosie the Riveter was nice and the closest thing I could find resembling a hero.
Breakfast at Rosies Restaurant Lido, the food was basic, with yogurt, hash browns, scrambled eggs, toast and bagels, bacon, cream cheese, butter, French toast, and the three fruits that would haunt me for the rest of the cruise (bananas honeydew, cantaloupe) there was always plenty of these. I would search out and rarely find prunes, oranges, & grapefruits. There was an omelet station where the nice gentleman behind the pans makes each omelet in a little pan starting with a ¼ cup ladle of grease that soaked into my two scrambled eggs very nicely… I thought of another option, threw mine away and stuck to the fresh fruits, croissants, and yogurt.
Typical lunch at the Lido - I was standing in line and wondering why the line was not moving….was the food so good that people could not choose what they wanted? I finally came upon the problem. There was fresh cut water melon, coleslaw, potato salad, and a very large steel bin of burnt fried chicken. People were picking through, digging and digging for that one piece that may not be burnt. Out of curiosity I grabbed a piece and some coleslaw and potato salad, found a table and ate. The chicken had the burnt breading on the outside and a bit of dark burnt gristle underneath, overall the vegetarian lunch was not bad as I love coleslaw and potato salad. The beverage stations were mostly missing cups or had juice cups for coffee (ouch that can burn your hands) and the coffee cups were by the juice machines. All of the cups were cheap plastic cups you would find at a day care or nursery school cafeteria. The beverage stations were mostly out of service and empty however after finding my 3rd beverage station I grabbed a refreshing plastic cup of water with crushed ice.
Dinner at the Lincoln Dinning Room - The food was "average" at best. The steak on the first night was the thickness of a mouse pad, I had no idea why they would ask how I wanted it done…they all were prepared the same. I sat with my steak and realized that when you keep pinching pennies for bigger profits eventually you can really screw up a cruise. Another night I had chilled mango soup, pasta with mushroom soup mixed in, two tablespoon size pieces of chicken, and for desert oh yeah….we scampered out early to the Java Java for hot chocolate ($5.15 each including the mandatory tip). Every dinner at the Lincoln Dinning Room had live entertainment as Carnival is after all a fun ship! Waiters and Waitresses in single file walking about the place singing a Caribbean them song "feeling HOT! HOT! HOT!" as your food not yet served sits on the waiter table getting cold, cold, cold! However the waitresses and waiters are dressed in snappy smart uniforms, are very polite and give you their recommendations (with an accent so thick you cant understand them) from the menu.
Additional Dinning options - There is a sushi bar that is never crowded, good sushi (a delicious and healthy alternative) and open for 2 hours every evening. On the lido there is a hamburger, French fry and hotdog stand (long lines) , fish & chips stand hidden on another deck away from the Lido, and finally there is also a pizzeria often without any pizza so you wait.
Shore Excursions- St Thomas - Captain Nautica's Ultimate Snorkel Expedition- This was in fact Ultimate. We took a short ride to a nature-protected island on a Navy Seals type boat. Once the safety lecture was over I jumped in and saw a Barracuda the size of well… as big as I am. I snorkeled up to about 7 squid, each lined up in perfect uniform manner, big black eyes. I took their picture and as I swam away they followed me, kind of creeping me out but then maybe they were curious also. Beautiful stingrays, and schools of colorful fish swimming in circles. I also saw sea turtles grazing on the sea grass, coming up for air every now and then. The coral was fantastic, and the water was warm and clear. All in all the $79.00 per person was well worth it. I cruise about 3 times per year and love to snorkel, this was in fact the best experience I have ever had. The guides name was Steve and he and his assistant did a fantastic job, they also took us to a sunken ship.
St Martin Power Snorkel Adventure -$75.00- St Martin (The French Side) - We took a very long and bumpy ride to the French side of the island, and then we sat on a banana boat that was pulled by fishing boat to a separate island. The banana boat was pulled by a damaged rope that looked like it could snap and hit you in the face at any moment. This boat had to make multiple trips to get everyone and then we all received our power snorkel engines that pull you through the water. It's a great idea to look down at the fish but also look ahead so you do not crash into anyone by accident. The water was murky, the coral was of poor quality and there were few fish to be seen. The French guide ran ahead quickly without the clumsy & slow moving power snorkel machine while telling everyone to keep up with her. Long story short, two of the tourist's machines broke down in the water and the poor souls had to haul the machines back about a quarter mile to the beach. When they explained what happened to the French guide she suddenly forgot all her English Speaking Skills and stood terrified that they might ask for a refund. While at the beach I tried to eat at a French beachside place (something like "Kitaki") to stay in the shade, a hamburger and fries costs about 20 euro but 1 hour was not enough time to be served. After waiting about 30 minutes we did not get our order taken, "got a clue", and had to leave. We all baked in the sun for an hour feeling hot, feeling hot, feeling hot, hot, hot!, And went back to the ship.
Entertainment - The entertainment lounge experience was what it was. I sat down and there seats were so crammed together that my legs and feet tingled. Since the comedy show was so boring I left. On another night it was the Adult comedy show (same entertainer)…not funny just a few swear words and the best part was walking out and going to bed. (uummm not so fast as we will learn more about that later) The Casino was excellent, fantastic variety of craps, slots, blackjack, poker, & a bar that had my favorite beer..Amstel Lite! They could improve on the beer by serving it in a bottle so you could avoid the tinny tast from the can however in Carnivals defense the less amount of glass onboard the better…there were too many people dancing barefoot, getting drunk, dropping their glass's and accidentally stepping in the broken glass. (Feeling HOT, HOT, HOT, on the Carnival Fun Ship!) An unexpected event that was entertaining was getting from one place to another like a mouse through a maze. Only Decks 4 & 8 go from front to back and Deck 4 is often blocked with huge steel doors when you get to the dinning area. You need to come up with a strategy on getting to your destination like going to the Lido, cutting across and taking an elevator down to get to the casino. Take an elevator bank too far or too short and you fail…try try again on your fun ship! Trying to navigate from one part of the ship to another is also a great source of exercise.
Cruise Director: The cruise director had her responsibilities to do, announcing the days events, sales, hosting shows, special offerings, & tours ETC. Putting all of that aside, she was like your neighbor….down to earth and an ego that was not so huge it might sink the ship. I actually liked her and her assistant from Brazil was adorable with his "kissy kissy bye bye" at the end of his announcements. The cruise director and her asst compliment each other very nicely.
Carnival Vacation Club (CVC)- this is a seminar I watched on TV and in the beginning of the cruise I attended a one on one meeting with a Carnival Vacation Club representative. I crunched the numbers and found it to be a very expensive hassle of cash to points conversions, restrictions, contracts, finance charges, and I could only go to properties owned and ran by Carnival Corporation, a poor value at best. By not joining I can continue to be free to make my own vacation decisions and choices, spend less money, and save hundreds and thousands in finance charges. For me CVC was and forever will be a mess on the floor that I can step over.
Evening /Early Morning on the Fun Ship:
Teatime: Carnival actually got this one right, nailed it on the head, and scored a home run! Excellent live classical music with a fantastic pianist, & two very talented violinists. Finger sandwiches, a variety of hot teas, real deserts that would make a professional baker blush, a variety of seating arrangements to choose from, and a room cut off from the outside with leather seating, ornate furniture, and beautiful carpet. (Not much wiggle room here for improvement!)
Debarkation - After calling our color tags leaving the ship took about 30 minutes and went very smoothly.
In Conclusion & Overall Impression: Saturday afternoon…the last day of the cruise I lay on my Carnival Comfort Bed reflecting on the past weeks events knowing each one had a unique meaning and value to me, the cruise director came on the intercom encouraging everyone to fill out their comment cards and in return they might win a Fabulous Carnival FUN SHIP 3, 5, or 7 day vacation, I was then suddenly overcome with a feeling of anger, disgust and fear so I did the only thing that could make me feel better. I packed!