Carnival Valor delivers classic Carnival cruising: a lively crowd that enjoys the multiple bars, big buffets, dance club, deck parties and casino. And in true Carnival fashion, the 2,974-passenger vessel’s decor is themed, though Valor’s focus on American heroes is more restrained than it is on other Carnival ships of a similar era. Heads of Abraham Lincoln, George Washington and other patriots adorn the atrium’s sculptural frieze, faux gilded eagles perch on pedestals near the elevator banks, and the hallway art often suggests heroic or historic moments.
Launched in 2004, Valor has been upgraded to offer new programs and facilities. Enhancements include an outdoor LED screen for watching movies and rock concerts, and now passengers have the choice of dining at the same table at the same time each night or on a flexible schedule. During a February 2011 dry dock, Valor added Serenity, a two-level, adults-only sun deck, as well as two additional types of suites. The ship has the Punchliner Comedy Club Presented by George Lopez, which rolled out as part of Carnival’s Fun Ship 2.0 program, the $500 million fleetwide upgrades begun in October 2011. (Limited deck space means that Valor lacks other Fun Ship 2.0 enhancements, such as new specialty restaurants and bars.)
Overall, Valor delivers a good cruise, representative of the Carnival line. Two musical production shows and the comedy club provide the main entertainment. Parents will find exceptional Camp Carnival programs for kids aged 2 to 11 and teen programs for those 12 to 17. Kids and adults can putt through nine holes of mini-golf, challenge their friends at shuffleboard and slip down Valor’s twisting waterslide. Foodies can bite into a great steak at Scarlett’s Steakhouse and enjoy drinks at Valor’s many bars and lounges.
The service on Valor is consistently excellent. Cabin stewards are attentive and friendly, the dining room waiters are obviously hardworking, and everyone we pass in the hall smiles and waves.
Although Valor doesn’t offer all of Carnival’s newest attractions, cruisers will experience the defining essentials, often at a price below the fares on the newest ships. Decent prices, combined with the Caribbean itinerary, make Valor an excellent choice for first-time cruisers, of which there were many on our most recent sailing.
Carnival Valor Fellow Passengers
Carnival ships draw a lively crowd that skews on the younger side of age 55. On our August voyage, the majority of passengers were honeymooners, couples, families with kids and groups of friends in their 20s, 30s and 40s. Grandparents and older couples sail, too. The biggest cruising nationality is Americans. When the ship departs from San Juan, many passengers are native Puerto Ricans. Caribbean islanders come aboard in Barbados, as do some cruisers from Great Britain since Virgin Air flies nonstop from London to Barbados.
Carnival Valor Dress Code
The casual atmosphere extends to dress. T-shirts and flip-flops predominate during the day. Although blue jeans, collarless shirts and sandals (for men) are technically not allowed in the dining rooms at dinner, passengers wearing these items were not asked to change. Like all seven-night Carnival sailings, Valor hosts two formal nights (termed “cruise elegant”). Most passengers interpret this dress code as cocktail attire — short dresses for women and suits or sports jackets for men — though we did see a smattering of men in tuxedos and scores of women in long gowns.
Carnival Valor Gratuity
Carnival suggests $12 per person, per day, in tips, which go to the cabin service team, the dining room waiter and busboy, and what Carnival labels the “alternative services team,” galley, entertainment and other hotel staff. Tots younger than 2 years old don’t pay gratuities. Carnival automatically posts the tips to your shipboard account, but you can give more or less by contacting the guest services desk. Bar bills include a 15 percent gratuity. Room service personnel expect and appreciate a tip upon delivery of your food.
Carnival Valor Cabins
Carnival Valor’s cabins are comfortable and serviceable. The burnt-orange decor accents, combined with the cherry wood finishes on night tables, drawers and closet doors, create a welcoming ambiance. More than 60 percent of the outside staterooms have balconies, most of which are too narrow to fit lounge chairs that recline. Still, the balconies provide an oasis where you can read a book, look at the stars and catch sea breezes in private.
Closets, plus a desk and room shelving, provide adequate storage. An in-room refrigerator comes stocked with water, juices, soda and beer, but charges apply if you drink them. In-room safes are free to use, but they lock by use of a charge card, not a code. That makes it harder for your cabin mate to use the safe when you leave the cabin with the charge card.
What surprised us most about our balcony cabin was the cathode-ray television. The fat-bodied sets are an anachronism. Nonetheless, you can watch ABC, CBS, NBC, TNT, CNN International, the Cartoon Network and the Discovery Channel, plus pay-for-view movies ($11 each). Suites feature flat-screen televisions.
Bathrooms, while compact, are functional, each featuring a small curtained shower, one sink vanity and storage shelves on either side of the mirror. The magnifying mirror is set high on the wall — best for tall people and not useful at all as a makeup mirror for most women. Bathrobes come with the cabins. In conjunction with promotions, the bathrooms are typically stocked with a basket of free samples. On our sailing, the only two giveaways were toothpaste and dental floss.
Standard cabins include 185-square-foot inside and porthole cabins, and 220-square-foot outside cabins with picture windows. Balcony staterooms are a cozy but functional 185 square feet with 35-square-foot balconies, but the aft-view extended balcony staterooms feature larger 60-square-foot balconies.
Suites include 275-square-foot wheelchair-accessible ocean suites, each of which has a balcony, and 275-square-foot junior suites, also with balconies. The six Deluxe Ocean View suites (also called Scenic Ocean View staterooms) on deck 9 are 250 square feet apiece. These have walls of slanted windows but no balconies. Two 500-square-foot Captain’s Suites, located on Deck 9, are the largest accommodations onboard. Each has a separate bedroom with a bathroom, a sitting area with another bath, plus a couch and a desk. Light streams in from the wall of windows; however, some people find that the slanted windows in the sitting area foster a feeling of confinement.
Carnival Valor Dining
As part of Carnival’s Signature Dining, you choose to have dinner either in the same main dining room (Washington, decks 3 and 4 aft, or Lincoln, Deck 4 forward) at the same table every night at 6 p.m. or 8:15 p.m., or you can opt for “Your Time Dining,” arriving in the Lincoln dining room, Deck 3 forward, anytime between 5:45 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. Wait times depend on when you show up, how many are in your group and if you want your own table. You can limit the time in line by arriving early and opting to sit with fellow passengers.
We always considered Carnival’s food to be among the best of the mass-market lines. Alas, we think the dining room meals have gone down a notch in quality. You can still get a good meal, but you should choose carefully. The always-available fried chicken is crispy, but the hamburger is just okay, and the grilled fish is variable. The turkey, lobster and some pastas are good. Our fried shrimp repeatedly arrived half-cooked, and the steak is tough. However, nobody starves on a cruise. The waiter will whisk away the unpalatable item and quickly bring something else.
The sea-day brunch in the dining room offers relaxing service while also thinning the crowd at Rosie’s, the buffet area. The brunch menu features a range of items that include smoked salmon and bagels, eggs Benedict, omelets, chicken quesadillas, pork chops, French toast, mac ‘n’ cheese and grilled salmon, plus ice cream, caramelized cheesecake and chocolate brownies. Again, the quality varies. Our table found the smoked salmon and the French toast tasty, but the omelets greasy. The Washington dining room on Deck 3 serves open-seating breakfast daily from 7:30 a.m. to 9:30 a.m.
Scarlett’s Steakhouse, Deck 10, Valor’s only specialty restaurant, serves a tasty meal. Reserve ahead, and be prepared to pay $35 per person for a four-course dinner that includes an appetizer, salad, entree and dessert. The jumbo shrimp cocktail and the grilled Portobello mushroom are several classes above those served in the dining room, as are the steaks, lobster, lamb chops and grilled fish. The quiet atmosphere with background music is conducive to conversation. While the steakhouse once had dancing to live piano music, that’s now gone.
Taste Bar on deck 5 serves small bites of items available at the line’s newer eateries that are not on Valor. Several nights a week at select times, you can sample the roast pork and chicken lime tortilla soup from BlueIguana Cantina, the no-nonsense meatball from Cucina del Capitano, and the pepper pot soup and fried sweet potatoes from the Red Frog Pub. A nice way to try items from restaurants and bars unavailable on Valor, the delicious bites make us eager to book a cruise on Carnival vessels that offer the showcased eateries.
Rosie’s, the Deck 9 buffet, serves breakfast, lunch and dinner. Themed with tile mosaics that depict WWII’s Rosie the Riveter and working women wearing hard hats and handling blowtorches, Rosie’s provides ample seating indoors, as well as tables outdoors near the pool.
However, when everyone wants to leave the ship at the same time, expect waits at the buffet. In St. Thomas, our first port, at Rosie’s we waited 20 minutes for an omelet. The line moved so slowly that the omelet was cold by the time we scooped our hot cereal. When we arrived at Rosie’s closer to 9:30 a.m., the lines moved quickly.
Rosie’s does a good job at lunch. The carvery features beef, ham, turkey or other meat. At the popular Mongolian Wok, you select the vegetables, noodles, meats, seafood and poultry for servers to stir-fry while you wait. Along with such salad staples as potato and coleslaw, you might find Asian salad one day and pickled squash salad another day. Food windows along the room’s sides serve deli sandwiches, paninis and burritos. Don’t miss Fish and Chips, located up the stairs in Rosie’s. Along with battered fish, you can try ceviche, bouillabaisse, smoked salmon and sushi. Outdoors, near the pool, separate areas offer pizza, burgers and ice cream.
Rosie’s and the pool area also offer after-hours food. Rosie’s serves late-night snacks from 11:30 p.m. to 1 a.m. You can always grab a sandwich at Rosie’s deli station, which opens at 11 a.m. and does not close until 11 p.m. In addition, the pizza and ice cream services are available 24 hours a day, as is room service.
Room service is convenient, especially for those early-morning shore tours. In the morning, you can wake up to cold cereal, fruit, smoked salmon and bagels, as well as juices and coffee delivered to your cabin. Snacks, desserts and sandwiches are available throughout the day and night.
At the Java Cafe, Deck 5, you can purchase tastier coffee and bigger cookies than those served in the dining room.
Carnival Valor Entertainment
For evening entertainment, Valor relies upon production shows, comedy performances and audience participation events. Valor’s two musical shows, “Nightclub Express” and “Far From Over,” engage the audience with classic Broadway-style fare. Talented lead singers belt out popular tunes, backed up by competent dancers who change costumes and songs without missing a beat.
The shows take place in the Ivanhoe Theater, which rises up three levels on decks 3, 4 and 5 forward. Some poles affect the sightlines, and the seats on the third level are not sufficiently tiered to mitigate obstructed views if someone tall sits in front of you. Whether the acoustics or the sound system is to blame, the often-too-loud and tinny-sounding music frequently detracts from the talented singers.
For two nights each — a total of four nights — two pairs of comics deliver laughs at the Punchliner Comedy Club Presented by George Lopez. Since Lopez signed on as curator, the comics are often better known and funnier than previous onboard funnymen. At the 7:30p.m. show, each comic pitches a 20-minute family-friendly set of jokes. At the late-evening adults-only shows, the comics alternate, with one headlining at 9:15 p.m. and 11:15 p.m. and the other at 10:15 p.m. That’s 16 comedy sets in a week, with 14 of them on our cruise presenting fresh material. The Punchliner Comedy Club is a big draw, particularly with the cruisers in their 20s, 30s and 40s, often with standing-room-only crowds. It’s held in the Eagles Lounge, a mix of tables and comfortable banquettes.
That’s the good news. The bad news: Four cruise nights feature no prime entertainment. Although the juggler at the Ivanhoe Theater is appealing, his act isn’t memorable. Other entertainment evenings consist of the sailaway party, audience participation shows like the Game of Love and the passenger talent show.
You can also entertain yourself at the ship’s various lounges. Try your skill at karaoke at Paris Hot, sip wine at Jeanne’s Wine Bar, sing along at the Lindy Hop piano bar, and dance at One Small Step disco. The atrium’s bar, Deck 3, offers some seating and decent standing-room-only views of the afternoon and evening entertainment from the railings on the floor above.
Bronx Bar, the popular sports bar, is unusually small, and Winston’s Cigar Bar, which allows smoking, is, by contrast, much larger and less utilized, especially during the day. At night, Winston’s offers a variety of live music, including classical, Latin and pop tunes by a duo that also performs in the atrium, which is a nice place to sip a drink, people-watch and enjoy various singers, musicians and dancers.
A singer and backup musicians perform in King Promenade outside the Shogun Casino. The casino itself offers rows of slot machines and table games, including roulette, blackjack, poker and craps.
At night, watch a movie under the stars on Carnival Seaside Theater’s LED screen, visible on decks 9 and 10. During the day, you can grab a deck chair and take in a taped video of a concert. Additional daytime activities run the gamut of traditional cruise fun, from trivia contests, salsa dance competitions and putt-putt challenges to bean bag contests, Ping-Pong, shuffleboard and volleyball games.
Carnival Valor Public Rooms
Most of the public rooms are both easily accessible and comfortable, with a few glaring exceptions. A nightly traffic jam occurs when diners attempt to get to the Washington dining room for dinner and afterward from there to the Ivanhoe Theater for the show. Although both are on Deck 3, you must walk across on Deck 5 and then go back down two levels. The circuitous route is necessary because the ship’s galley is in the middle.
Off the atrium on Deck 3 are the reception and shore tour desks. Most of the time staff levels keep the waits short.
The shops include a jewelry store, as well as a sundries shop that stocks over-the-counter meds, makeup, sweatshirts and other items you might have forgotten. To reach the small Internet cafe, you must enter through Winston’s with its smoky air. Wi-Fi is available, so that might be a better bet. For Internet use on any device, pricing is 75 cents per minute, or you can buy a package: 45 minutes for $29, 120 minutes for $59, 240 minutes for $89 or 480 minutes for $159.
Self-service launderettes are located on decks 1, 2 and 6 through 9. They are equipped with washers, dryers, an iron and ironing board, and vending machines to purchase detergent.
Carnival Valor Spa & Fitness
The two pools on Deck 9 feature whirlpool spas. To get a chaise lounge (unpadded) on a sea day, arrive early, before breakfast. As is frequently the case, passengers claim these most-wanted spots with a towel and come back later. The 214-foot twisting waterslide on Deck 10 ends in a small pool, and Camp Carnival has a wading pool on Deck 12 near its facility. Serenity, the adults-only lounge area, spans decks 12 and 14. The lower level features comfortable chairs with footstools, as well as a couch under an awning, while the upper level is furnished with chaise lounges with folding hoods for shade.
The Steiner Elemis spa, Deck 11, offers a range of massages and treatments from skilled technicians. Unlike spas on other ships, there is no area to relax while waiting for a service. Instead you sit in an empty chair in the adjacent salon and listen to the chatter of stylists and the buzz of blow dryers.
At the gym, also on Deck 11, you can work out with free weights or on treadmills, bikes and other exercise machines. You can also sweat through spinning classes and stretch at yoga for extra fees.
Other fitness options include a jogging track on Deck 11 — nine circuits equal a mile — and basketball and volleyball courts. There’s a golf driving cage, and instruction is offered through the ship’s onboard golf program.
Carnival Valor Family
Carnival Cruise Lines is a leader in creating and delivering engaging programs for kids and teens. On our August just-before-school-starts Caribbean sailing, more than 200 children, ages 2 to 17, signed up for Carnival’s youth activities.
Camp Carnival, the line’s longtime successful program, is currently on Valor. (An updated program, Camp Ocean, is coming by 2016. ) The supervised children’s programs utilize age-appropriate divisions, creating activities for ages 2 to 5, 6 to 8 and 9 to 11. Little ones sing silly songs, do sponge painting, have their faces painted and listen to stories. Kids from ages 6 to 8 color T-shirts, create sand art and engage in paper ball wars. The 9- to 11-year-olds go on scavenger hunts, challenge each other in Ping-Pong, and craft bracelets and picture frames. Parents (and grandparents) can join the kids in such daily activities as games, “races” and teddy bear crafting (the latter for an extra fee).
On sea days, Camp Carnival keeps kids busy from 9:45 a.m. to 5 p.m., with a break for lunch. On port days, the camp starts at 7:45 a.m. to accommodate passengers going ashore. Kids ages 2 to11 can dine nightly from 6 to 6:45 p.m. with their counselors in Rosie’s on such kid-pleasing fare as chicken nuggets and mac ‘n’ cheese. Evening activities run from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. Group baby-sitting is available from 10 p.m. to 1 a.m. at $6.75 per hour, per child, plus a 15 percent gratuity.
Located on Deck 12, Camp Carnival divides its space into three different areas. The sections for ages 2 to 5 and 6 to 8 both feature windows, creating a light and welcoming area. In between is a windowless, uninviting room with a video screen; that’s the place for the 9 to 11 set to congregate. They deserve a more engaging space, especially since, starting at age 9, kids can sign themselves in and out of the program with parental consent. A more engaging room might keep kids in the program for longer periods.
Carnival wisely offers separate programs and facilities for younger teens and older ones. At Circle C, a small room in an out-of-the-way space on Deck 4, tweens from ages 12 to 14 play Wii games, go on digital scavenger hunts and congregate at socials. This group also meets around the ship to play Ping-Pong and mini-golf and zip down the waterslide. Club 02 for 15- to 17-year-olds is centrally located on the Deck 5 King Promenade. The room is a large, friendly space divided into a place for hanging out that’s complete with a juice bar, as well as an area for video games and a dance floor. On port days, activities for 12- to 17-year-olds start at 7 p.m. and run until 1 a.m. These older teens play midnight volleyball, do Karaoke and dance.
With Camp Carnival’s active children’s program, families sometimes need to schedule time together. You can team up with your kids for sports trivia, play mini-golf, try shuffleboard, watch movies on deck, and simply hang out together poolside, enjoying the sea breezes.