Our Carnival Valor Cruise out of Miami Review August 2012
On Saturday we took a taxi ($12) to the POM. The ride to the port always gets me so excited. I am giddy and nervous like a child :) We arrived about 11:15-11:20. (I was too excited to check my watch) Porters immediately took our luggage and steered us in the right direction. Once inside, the line to check our passports and boarding pass ran rather smoothly. (5-10 minutes) We went up the escalators and waited maybe another 5 minutes to get up to the Carnival folks to check in. After that process was finally complete we waited about 20 minutes in the infamous chairs before we were called to board. The line to get on the ship and have our picture taken was maybe 10 minutes. All in all embarkation went well and we were finally ready to set off on our cruise :)
The Valor was beautiful!! We are used to the Conquest class so the layout was familiar, but it is always nice to see the different decorating schemes. I have heard some people remark they did not like all the American flags everywhere, but I loved them!
Muster drill-check. (FYI: Miami was HOT. Standing on deck packed like sardines seemed especially long and miserable this day.) Bags are delivered-check. Drink of the day- check. Finally… we set sail!! Mark headed immediately to the casino... as usual. Mom, Trenton and I headed for the Spa Tour and Raffle and Camp Carnival Check in and then dinner. We had early seating but ended up switching to Any Time Dining. That is certainly the way to go! The only issue was formal night. We had to wait in line about 30-40 minutes before we got a table. All other nights were a breeze! All but one night we were set at the same table with the same wait staff, which was nice. All nights we had a table by the window so we could see the ocean. (Our original table was upstairs with no view)
We did not attend any shows and not really for any particular reason :) Just didn’t happen this time.
I had read about the infamous “Drinks are on us” cards that you could score in the casino if you played enough. It is based on a point system. Well… Under this new plan… leave your hubby unattended for several hours on the first night of the cruise drinking mojitos and apparently they will give you one of those little cards :) The next night when I joined him in the casino he was presented with one of the “drinks are on us cards” by the casino host and all these passengers and dealers were telling him Hi and calling him by name. He couldn’t remember any of them! Ha! Also, here’s a little tip… If you order a premium drink from the bar (such as a mojito) you can take your receipt to the cashier in the casino and they will give you a $5 match play coupon. You better believe I was going through some pockets after I found that out… lol. (Mark’s pockets… not the other passengers :) Just felt the need to clear that up!)
All the regular games were there. 3 card poker, craps, roulette, Caribbean stud, Face Up Blackjack, several Blackjack tables with varying limits. They also had the new Poker Pro Computerized Blackjack. I did not personally play it because I kept watching and people would sit down and 20 minutes later were all gone. It didn’t seem like anyone was winning. My mom tried it out and said she lost her money. So we just stayed at the dealer tables.
The only poker table is the automated Poker Pro and it is fine. It looked empty a lot a first, but someone basically has to just sit down at it and then all of a sudden, it will fill up. It is 1-2 no limit. Min buy in is $20 and max is $200. The money can be charged to your sign and sail card and your winnings will go back on it. To claim your money you go the cashier at the casino and cash it out. The poker table has proven to be profitable for me on several occasions and this cruise was no different… Mark says it’s more because I have boobs and less because of my keen poker skill. Regardless, I still win…
Food: I had read several reviews of people complaining about the food. I personally thought it was fantastic… all of it.
Breakfast we went Rosie’s on the Lido deck. There was a special “egg” entrée that changed every day. They had anything from eggs benedict, to egg quesadilla, quiche … there was always something. It was all delicious and I think I gained 5 pounds just from eating the eggs and breakfast potatoes alone! I Love potatoes! They also had pancakes, waffles, French toast, fruit, cereal, yogurt. They were constantly refilling the bins so nothing looked like it had been sitting there forever.
Lunch we opted for Rosie’s as well. Fish N Chips never disappoints, we also tried the burrito bar (fantastic!) and the sandwich bar (wonderful). We did have to stand in line, but not for any amount of time. It seemed to move pretty quickly and they made your order right in front of you. The buffet lines in Rosie’s were good as well. Never ate anything I thought wasn’t fresh or worth it.
Chocolate Buffet was nice. Lots of options. They were even making smoothies in the middle, but we didn’t stop for those.
Dinner: we ate in the Lincoln Dining Room. Service was wonderful. Food was always hot. I really love the option of Didja Ever: always something new there that perhaps you have heard of and never tried before (shark rolls, fried alligator, frog legs) … Personally not a fan of the frog legs but everything else I got there was amazing! The lobster on the first formal night did not disappoint!
Sushi: One of my favorites! It was all really, really good. It was open 5-8 pm daily. At 5 the line was rather long, but around 7 or so you could just walk right up. Trenton was even scarfing it down.
Chef’s Table: This was a truly amazing experience and one not to be missed if you can fit it into your budget. $75 per person. The chef met us in the main lobby, took us through the dining room and into the galley. We were with a group of 8. We were served champagne and several appetizers. The Chef had asked for allergy information the day before and had adequately prepared for someone with gluten intolerance and a shellfish allergy. I was impressed. Next we took a tour of the galley, showing us all areas and how the food was prepared. It was eye opening! We also stopped in their bakery section for a lesson on how to make the warm chocolate melting cake. After that we were taken to a small room off the side of the dining room and served an amazing presentation of food. All of it was delicious! And by saying ALL, I mean all 147 courses! Well… maybe not quite that many but it was soooo much food. The chef was very friendly and engaging, answered any question we asked. He had the magician come in during the middle for us to “take a break from eating” haha. The magician was really good! He fooled everyone including my extremely skeptical husband. He had a whole silver dollar hidden under Mark’s watch. Which led me to attempt to take his wine away with the “How did you not notice that huge coin under your watch! Really?” lol He was awesome! By the time dessert came around I was fearful someone would have to roll me out of the room! We were also served our choice of red wine, white wine, or both during the dinner, which was included in the price. Awesome experience… we will definitely do this again. Sooo worth it. My mom and Mark had no idea what it was and walked/rolled away in awe :) (My little surprise was a success!)
Spa: I enjoyed the spa tour on the first day. It is amazing how much they do and the services they offer. The gym is also very nice. The first day they offered a special that was for 75 minutes. (full body massage, foot reflexology, head massage, and facial for $129) I jumped on that and booked 2. One for Mark and 1 for me. It was wonderful and did not disappoint.
Camp Carnival: This was my Trenton’s first time in the 9-11 age group. I was shocked when I saw that 9 year olds could sign themselves in and out of Camp Carnival without a parent present. (With parental approval). My initial thought was No Way Jose! The catch here was they have Scavenger hunts 2-3 times a day. If the children are not allowed to sign themselves out, they cannot participate… hence they are left with the younger kids. The kids are separated out into groups and then sent on a little hunt around the ship. This is not adult supervised. My son is an only child and quite responsible, but I am still the “over protective mom”. I did finally agree to let him do this and over the course of the week allowed him some more freedom. His age group was often in the Capital Room which was exactly 2 floors below our room. I did end up allowing him to call me and say “Mom, I’m coming home" :) Sign himself out and come to the room. It was a huge progression for Mommy :) He enjoyed all the activities and dinner with the kids.
Room: We booked balcony rooms and had the divider opened between the 2. We had rooms 6398 and 6400. This was the perfect set up. Trenton could sleep in the room with grandma, have his own bed instead of a couch and still move freely between the 2 rooms via the balcony. It was the perfect setup until we tried to sleep that night. Apparently we scored rooms over the disco… never, ever, ever do this unless you plan to be IN the disco until it closes … at 3:30 AM! Our room stewards were so friendly, accommodating and truly did a fantastic job. We always tip extra, but these guys got even more this time. Well deserved!!
Debarkation: We saw an option for $20 per person Carnival would pick up your bags, take them to the airport and check them in for you. We were all over this. Who wants to mess with their luggage at the end of vacation? We exited the boat that morning in a leisurely manner. (Translation: as we were being kicked out of our rooms :/) We walked right passed everyone searching for their luggage in the baggage claim and straight up to customs. 2 seconds later we were exiting the terminal. No lines. We paid the $16 airport shuttle transfer in advance. Walked around the corner and boarded the bus for the airport. No lines and no waiting. The true test was if our bags were waiting for us when we got off the plane at DFW and they were. Success!
Yep... There's more coming. We stopped a few places along the way :) TBC...