|# of Nights:|
We arrived in Miami at 10:30 AM and picked up luggage by 11:00 AM.
Unfortunately there was not a Carnival Rep available in the baggage area to direct passengers to the right line for ground transfers.
Three lines were created for all Carnival sailings from Miami. The ground transportation crew redeemed themselves by making announcements and apologizing for shuttle delays. Some of the ground transportation crew helped to ease the tension in the crowd by having friendly conversations. Some passengers were irate just the same.
I understand that things happen sometimes that cause delays with even with the best of companies. However, the whole Miami cruise line ground transfer situation should be analyzed and improved. They have competition with the regular taxis that charge the same rate. I would consider taking a taxi from the Miami airport the next time.
We did not board until 12:15 PM. The bus driver worked very hard to load the entire luggage by himself. We finally departed at 12:34 PM. The driver turned out to be very pleasant and the experience started to be the Carnival experience even though he was a subcontractor. My vacation was finally starting.
We arrived at the port by 12:55 PM. The approach to the pier, as always, was very exciting. As we approached the pier we could see several huge cruise ships. Royal Caribbean had two ships, NCL had two, and Carnival had the Valor & the Victory. New cruisers could be heard gasping at the size of the ships.
We had to deal with aggressive porters who asked how many pieces of luggage we had and what cabin the luggage was going to even though all of the information was on the pre-sent luggage tag. They gave the tacit impression that your luggage might not make it to the ship if they were not tipped.
We entered the terminal and immediately went to the Carnival Vacation Club VIP desk at around 1:15 PM. Everything was a breeze until we got to the unavoidable photography line. It moved but delayed our progress by 20 minutes. We finally boarded the ship at 1:40 PM.
I immediately noticed the valiant & patriotic themes around the ship. All of the d?cor were images of characters who displayed courage under great adversity. The elevators were designed in such a way as to imply the U.S. Flag or the Stars and Stripes without using red, white and blue. On each of the columns that flanked the elevators the colors were brown and silver vertical stripes. On the floor in front of each column were boxes with 9 squares that reflected against the metallic columns suggesting the stars and stripes of the American flag draped on the columns. On the top of the columns were beautiful gold gilded eagles. These columns and golden eagles were found throughout the ship, but particularly on the Promenade Deck.
We later discovered that the Valor remained true to the courage themes in each of the lounges and all of the corridors. Rosie's Dining Room on the Lido Deck, a beautiful room colored in lime green and yellow, honors women and their contribution to the labor force during the Second World War. The ceramic tiles had paintings of women laborers of different ethnic backgrounds. The climax of the dining room is huge 15 foot painting of Rosie with a bandana on her head, flexing her muscles. The caption above her head said ?We can do it.? That theme had to do with ?Rosie the Riveter." The images demonstrated the contributions of women in the war effort and a continuity of the courageous theme.
The stateroom corridors are decorated with large images of famous courageous people. We spotted Eleanor Roosevelt, Marian Anderson, Rosa Parks, Joan of Arc, Teddy Roosevelt, and Mahatma Gandhi, Moses and Sam Houston and many others that I could not identify by name.
Continuing with the courageous theme, The Ivanhoe lounge, the Valor's main lounge, one is greeted by slightly over life sized replicas of knights in shining armor. The huge knights also surround the interior of the Ivanhoe Lounge like sentinels guarding royalty. There are two medieval castle-like towers that flank the stage on the left and right.
We entered the stateroom at about 2:00 PM. We are always impressed with the beautiful red wood that is used for the closets and the bathroom. The stateroom had three good sized closets and plenty of room under the beds for the luggage. The shower seemed slightly larger and we did not flood the bathroom not even once. We washed up and headed for the Lido deck.
The muster drill took place at 4:00 PM.
We went back to the stateroom and took a nap before dinner.
0ur cabin steward, William from Columbia, introduced himself formally. He actually had greeted us the day before and of course we had seen positive evidence of his taking care of the cabin.
We were assigned to the Lincoln dining room, located on the forward section of the ship. The dining room was a deep pink and beige and had gold and white trim with golden cameos of Lincoln flanking the windows. We did not get the table for two that we had requested. We had to see the maitre d', "Mr. V," to have it changed. He was polite but a little impersonal. He sent us to a waiter who directed us upstairs. Upstairs we asked another waiter where the table was and he directed us to go to the other side on the right and the table turned out to be on the left. We shortly saw the maitre d' personally escorting another party to a nearby table. Hmm!
All was not lost. The next morning at breakfast in the main dining room we ran into the maitre d' from the Washington dining room, our old friend Mehmet. Yes, the maitre d' we had met from the Fascination and the Liberty. Everything was taken care of after that. God is good.
The next night was formal evening and we had a great table for two, thanks to Mehmet. We met our new waiter and assistant waiter, Iulian from Romania and Imade from Bali, Indonesia. The bar waitress, Nicoletta, was also very nice. Our wait staff quickly found out the regular things that we like to eat or drink and made sure we had plenty of it. Imade, the assistant waiter always had a cappuccino for each of us each evening.
Mr. V, to his credit, came to the table to see if we were satisfied with the new table. He turned out to be very entertaining during the waiter presentations and was very friendly during the rest of the cruise.
The food well prepared and tasted very good. There are many dining options on the ship including our favorite Fish and Chips counter. Not only can you get fish and chips but you can also get fried oysters and chips, bouillabaisse soup and lightly grilled tuna. We also visited the New York Deli and the Orient counter. Of course, there was the 24 hour pizza and ice cream. I forgot to mention that there are a variety of pizzas. Our favorite was one called de Chevre made with goat cheese and mushrooms.
The desserts were better than ever. There were some real cakes made with flour instead of cream to be had. The chocolate buffet was also a lot of fun and very delicious.
We finally encountered our first female cruise director, Jen Baxter. She was very entertaining and made sure that all of the comedians and one hypnotist were very good. The dancers were superb and I think one of the best dance teams that l have ever seen.
We went to the Park West Art 101: Art Collecting Seminar. I found the session very informative and was treated in the end to viewing of a thought provoking cartoon created by Salvador Dali and Walt Disney called Destino.
I made my contribution to the casino and won about $80. I got greedy and ended up with $20. I refused to go bust.
There are also the onboard games with passenger participation that are lots of fun. Some of the games were ?The Newly Wed and Not So Newly Wed Game,? The Hairy Chest Contest,? and ?Survivor.?
Ports of Call
We've been there so many times that we just walked around the downtown area because the ship was going to leave by 2:00 PM.
St. Thomas, V.I.
There is a new immigration procedure when the ship gets to St. Thomas. Everyone had to go through immigration while on the ship. At first it seemed hopeless but the line moved very quickly. Passengers received a sticker that we had to wear to leave the ship. While in St. Thomas we walked to K-Mart to purchase some St. Thomas Chocolate Rum.
I think St. Maarten can easily be called one of my favorite islands. It is very clean and the vendors don?t seem as pushy. We went out to the taxi area and joined some other passengers for a tour of the entire island. Because the dispatcher took the trouble to find a group for us to join we only had to pay $25 per person. The cost is much more if you have a party of two. The driver, ?Easy Boy,? drove us to the downtown area and gave us time to shop. We were taken to the higher part of the island to get a great view of the harbor. The driver later took us to the French side of the island where we stopped a beach that turned out to be a nude beach. That was a first for me.
The two days at sea were very relaxing and passengers can take a rest if they want to or participate in onboard activities.
The debarkation is the only negative of this cruise experience. It might not have been so bad if might flight was not so early. First of all I had booked a 12:35 PM flight with American Airlines. They cancelled the 12:35 PM flight and rescheduled us for an 11:35 flight without even a phone call. We received an e-mail regarding the change. I called the cruise line and they assured me that I could make the 11:35 flight. I checked with the purser?s desk while on the ship and told them that we had an early flight and had to get off the ship early but had too many items to do the self-service debarkation. They assured me that everything would be o.k. I also went to the Carnival Vacation Club desk and was told that we would be leaving the ship at about 8:30 AM and that we should me in the One Small Step Lounge before 8:30 AM.
Well, we did not leave the ship until about 9:45 AM because something happened with Customs. There was complete mayhem with passengers trying to find transport to the airports or other destinations. The line was huge and no help was offered to passengers with early flights because the problem was with Customs. When we got off the ship, we picked up our luggage from the designated area, rushed through Customs and headed for the shuttle to the airport. There are dozens of buses in the area going to different places. There was only one bus going to the American Airlines terminal and everyone was on their own to find their bus. No consideration was given to passengers who had early flights. Ground transportation folks were not very helpful and there were very few of them. When we got to the bus there was a line and no one available to direct passengers as to what to do with luggage and what passengers needed to do to board the bus. We finally did board the bus but it was extremely stressful because of time constraints. While trying to leave the airport, traffic was horrendous. We ended up in an automotive cue to leave the airport. We were almost on the move when a supply truck hindered our progress by trying to park a huge 16 wheeler into a loading dock. We finally got to the airport at 10:45 AM and ended up in another cue for a bus parking space. We were told to wait in the bus until all the luggage was unloaded and had to wait for the bus driver to unload the luggage by himself. We got into the terminal at 11:00 AM, already too late to even attempt to board our plane. We had to book a later flight at 3:31 PM. We were not charged for the change because we had a good explanation for being late and we also explained that the airline had altered our itinerary in the first place.
The overall cruise experience with Carnival is excellent. The onboard service, entertainment, and food are excellent. In fact, it is heavenly. The experience is a very enjoyable one and one seems to have control over what one is going to do on a daily basis while on the cruise. One does not have a care in the world while aboard a Carnival cruise. It just seems to end too early.
Carnival needs to explore how it can improve the ground transportation issue at the airport and inform their contractors that major improvements need to be made in that area. There also should be some correlation with early flight times and debarkation. I did not have a sense that the Valor reps had a handle on that situation.
In Miami, if you have a small party you may want to consider a taxi rather than a shuttle to the pier. The cost is the same. Perhaps the best advice I can give is to book flights after 1:00 PM. It will cause a lot less stress. There are so many ships that arrive on Sunday in Miami that the demand far exceeds the supply for early flights. Carnival needs to use its clout to improve the Customs process and the ground transportation chaos. If Carnival can do that, the passengers will have a completely positive experience from start to end.
I must admit that this is the first time that I?ve had a major problem with debarkation. That is it for early flights for me. I still love Carnival and its crew. The good far outweighs the hassles of ground transport.
I also must say that I've had too many positive experiences on Carnival to think that the negative experience is the norm.
I will sail Carnival again but I'm going to sail some other cruise lines to see how they do things.