October 29, 2006
Before we booked our cruise, I reviewed numerous critics and found most of them useless. Either the critic was describing the "all-time-greatest-best-perfectest(sic)-travel experience", and I just couldn't believe a word. Or I read the other extreme as in "we-will-never-again-use-this-cruise-line-because-of-bla-bla-bla-and-the-weather-was-bad". This does not really help anyone trying to make up his mind, which cruise line, which ship and which cruise to book. I hope to do better by writing truly about everything that we experienced during this cruise. If I do not voice an opinion on something, I either did not use this feature or forgot about it.
I'm German living with my Puerto Rican wife in Germany, so I had to include the flights into the consideration, which cruise we should take. We wanted direct, non-stop flights to/from the cruise port to a western Caribbean cruise. The main concern was the price, as money was tight. Our choice finally was the Carnival Valor sailing out of Miami to Grand Cayman, Roatan / Honduras, Belize and Costa Maya / Mexico.
TIP: Complete your passport details online (or let the travel agent do so) before going to the port and print the Fun Pass, which confirms that the data required is complete. This saves you one of the lines. Large bags must be left with the baggage handlers on the pier (a tip of USD 1.00 per bag is recommended). They arrived two hours later at the cabin, but this could take longer.
TIP: Identify each of your bags with at least two baggage tags provided by the cruise line giving your name, sailing date and cabin number. Have some clothing in your carry-on, maybe including bathing suits, to get through the first hours on the ship.
Our room also was much bigger than the ones we had on other ships. There was enough space and enough hangers for all clothes (and we always take a lot of clothes). 4 bags did nicely fit under the king size bed. Ladies will enjoy the large make-up mirror with good lighting. A hair dryer and 2 bath robes are also provided. The safe is free of charge and functions with any card with magnetic strip. The bath room had space for my comb, tooth brush and deo stick. Plus around 100 bottles, things and tubes that my wife travels with. Razors, soap, body lotion and other stuff are provided in a basket. If you need more, your cabin attendant will be happy to deliver. The shower is not what you are used to, but I had no problem showering my 250 pounds. I was surprised to have good Dove shampoo available (not the oil stripping type that you get even in good hotels) and shower gel.
TIP: Bring another card with magnetic strip so that you do not have to use a credit card for opening and closing the safe.
For lunch we always used Rosie's including Deli, Fish & Chips, Grille and Oriental. I doubt that anyone would stay hungry there with so many choices of different foods. Quality is mostly good. Even the hot dogs are something special. Dinner we always had on our reserved table in the Washington Dining Room Upper Level. Service at dinner is much better than at breakfast. The quality of the food is always between good and excellent (maybe except for the sirloin steak that was not really medium, but the filet mignon was perfect). Most of the seafood is excellent and getting a second serving of lobster is no problem (where else do you get such a service for free). Dinner really is a high light of this cruise.
As a teaser before dinner you can get some sushi at Togo Sushi.
One more thing: Eating good pizza at 0430am is a hit. Try it. TIP: Try to get the second sitting for dinner (2030hrs in Lincoln or preferably 2000hrs in Washington Dining Room). The first sitting may be okay for parents with kids, but is much too early for my taste. You have lots of choices to bridge the hunger gap until 8pm. If you are planned for the Lincoln Room Upper Level, try to change to any other location, as this level is used by lots of people as a walk-through from the theatre to the back part of the ship.
Many cruise critics have also voiced complaints that the drinks are watered down. I don't drink liquor or cocktails, but have seen many drinks being prepared for others, also for guests that were not sitting at the bar and watching. Most of the time the bar keepers added a little extra. You will most probably exact measures at the lobby bar and the most extra at the casino bar. Also my white wine glass was a little fuller there. When you plan to drink more than 3 cans of soft drinks or club soda per day, it would make sense to buy a "Fountain Card' at USD 5.50 for adults (plus 15%).
In Rosie's you have water, ice tea and other drinks free of charge most of the day. TIP: If you want to buy a Fountain Card and a souvenir cup and can get by with the free drinks at Rosie's for some hours, wait until 1 hour after the ship has left Miami. Before that 7% Miami state tax is added to all bills.
I nearly forgot, but there is also nice classical music in the lobby bar.
The Fitness Center is excellent with a good variety of machines to work out.
Visiting ports shore excursions: We were a bit unlucky with the weather. As we no longer snorkel or swim with walruses (or whatever marine fauna is around), the only excursion we planned was to the Mayan ruins near Belize. It was raining so hard that we skipped even that, hoping to have better conditions to visit the ruins near Costa Maya. But there we couldn't even anchor due to strong winds and currents. So the only things we saw during our shore excursions was the same souvenirs at similar souvenir shops at the different ports. Last year in Grenada I bought a T-Shirt saying "Different Island, Same Shit'. This is true also in the Western Caribbean.
Overall it was a very good week of vacation. We can highly recommend to cruise with the Carnival Valor.
One last note: For this 7-day cruise we paid USD 1198 for the two of us, less than USD 86 per person per day. That much vacation value you only get on cruises.
Priscilla and Holger