Overall thumbs up but restrictive
Carnival Valor Cruise Review to Caribbean - Western
Ship: Carnival Valor
Cabin Type: Inside
Traveled As: Family (older children)
Reviewed: 8 years ago
I consider myself to be a seasoned traveler, but this was my first cruise. There were 13 of us in our group celebrating birthdays, ages ranging from 23 to 89. We figured the cruise format would best accommodate various desires and needs, and we found this to be mostly true.
The actual cost of the cruise was an incredible bang for the buck. For seven nights accommodations, all food included (not alcoholic beverages or soft drinks), many free amenities (very satisfactory gym, entertainment, etc.) and stellar customer service from very friendly staff, it's really an incredible deal. My partner and I got the "open" option for the stateroom which was most economical. We were basically assigned a room where it fit best for Carnival with other stateroom reservations, and we ended up in an inner room but on the 7th deck very close to most things. If you don't have your heart set on a balcony or a particular area of the ship, I would recommend this option.
Understandably, Carnival needs to "up-sell" where ever possible to make money since the actual cost of the cruise is so low. The biggest frustration I had, though, was with the ports/excursions. What we found was that we could simply get off the boat at a port, and find the same exact excursion options for less than half of what Carnival was selling them for. I think the main difference is that if you go with the Carnival excursion, there is some type of "insurance" that if you are late in getting back to the boat, they work with you on it (not sure how). If you go on an independent excursion and the van/bus you are in breaks down and you don't make it back to the boat on time, it's pretty much on you to resolve the problem (and the boat will NOT wait).
I was also surprised at how much influence the cruise ships have at the ports. For example, at Roatan, we wanted to visit a park but were told that it was ONLY open to those who booked the excursion through Carnival. Basically, Carnival has an exclusive on the park while the ship is in port. Another example was at Belize. We wanted to do the "inner tube ride through the caves" excursion, and Carnival limits their offerings of this excursion to 200 people. We were actually willing to book through Carnival for this one and pay the extra (the location is about 1 hour from Belize City), but Carnival sold out. We asked if this excursion would be available independently once we arrived at port, but they said they could not provide information on independent tour options. As a small business owner, in this instance, if Carnival's product (the tour) is sold out and not available, you do your best to meet your customers needs. Instead, they tried to convince us to book one of their other excursions. We rolled the dice, and we were easily able to book the excursion independently at the port.
I also thought the monetary aspect of the "fun pass" was a bit deceptive in an attempt to hide the "extra" optional costs for the cruise. While there is convenience in not needing to carry money or credit cards with you everywhere, its easy to lose track of the money you are spending using ship credit on drinks, in the casino, etc. if you dont pay close attention. I think Carnival counts on this.
I've discovered that a cruise is NOT my ideal way to travel, but for many others it seems to work really well. While I like my independence to be able to go off on my own and explore, I'm sure others like the security and safety of a "package deal" even if it costs more. For someone on a tighter budget and who may not have much experience traveling, this is a great opportunity to economically see some great places and other cultures and expand ones world view.
Food and Dining
Service and Staff
Cabin / Stateroom
Pros: The bang for the buck, GREAT service from staff
Cons: Restrictive, very "packaged"