Friday, May 11, 2012

Carnival Valor 8 Day Caribbean Cruise Review

Being able to get away from the madness that all of our lives entail is essential to staying sane and focused on what is important. Too often we don’t allow ourselves a moment to take a breath and enjoy the small things around us. That is why we do our segments entitled “Road Trippin.” If it weren’t for these getaways we might be the next ones on the roof with the rifle looking to settle a few scores, believe us. Last December we took our readers aboard the Carnival Splendor, a massive ship that called Long Beach, CA home. Well this time we headed to the big East Coast on down to South Beach Miami and took a little spin on the Carnival Valor.

The Carnival Valor, a ship that calls Miami, Florida home is one of the many amazing vessels in Carnival’s arsenal of Fun Ships. Checking into our Ocean Suite on the 7th Floor / Empress Deck, for eight days was just the start of an amazing vacation. We took full advantage of our VIP booking and avoided the rather lengthy lines on one of the most humid morning I have yet to experience in my life. 

Located in the “Midship” section of the ship the spacious 300 square foot suite is situated just around the corner from the Atrium elevators, which you will pass through more times than you can count over the next week. Featuring a King size bed, floor to ceiling mirrors and a large sliding glass door that leads out onto your own private balcony, the interior of this suit itself is 30% larger than a standard Ocean-View Suite.

There is a living room with a sofa that can convert into a bed (we used that couch as nothing more than a place to stack all the items we bought in the various ports we hit.) The room comes complete with a flat-screen television (showing various news channels from around the World as well as a complimentary movie that shows every four hours on a rotating system.)

One of the great things about the Ocean Suite is that it features a private bathroom with a shower/whirlpool tub combination, a walk-in closet and plenty of cabinet and drawer space. This space comes in really handy if you come prepared with multiple changes of clothes, shoes and other items to help stay fresh the entire trip.

For the most part on a cruise you will find yourself surrounded by food. which is why we love to take these cruises. You can check out all the ship has to offer pretty much round the clock as well as hit up the spots real locals prefer to eat at when in port.

Starting off with Grand Turk, Turks & Caicos we got off the Valor nice and early and got to work hitting up the bars, restaurants and spots to shop at where the locals sell what they actually make on the island. We eventually found ourselves at Jacks Shack, where the lovely couple Jack & Janet were on hand hosting all of the other vacationers, cruisers and regulars who just wanted to get some Sun, strong drinks and good food.

 Adjacent to Jack & Janets actual shack is Leroy working up something magical on the grill in the form of Jerked Chicken, Plantains and Peas & Rice. Sipping on some Bambarra Rum, snacking on fresh made Jerked Chicken with your feet in the sand, with your most previous of Loved Ones is something you will never forget.
You can go online and search all day for places to visit while in Grand Turk, but if you miss out on Jacks Shack, you will regret it. About a 2 minute walk up the beach from where the Ship docks you will walk right passed a few a spots that just scream “tourists wasting time on food they could have had at home.” You will see Jack & Janet working in the shack while their dog Topher digs at his leisure for sand crabs in the nearby water. After you finish your meal (or hell even while your eating) you can simply take 30 steps to the water and cool off, should you feel that your overheating.

 Umbrella covered lounges are scattered al over close by so make yourself ay home, this is truly what Island Paradise feels like. If your not the type to want to lounge out at enjoy good food, may we suggest you take up Carnival on any one of the many tourist friendly shore excursions such as snorkeling with the local fish, horseback riding around the bay or taking a small boat ride around while sipping champagne to see the local sea life. 

Back on board the boat, The Captains dinners, are usually the nights they pull out all the stops and serve the higher end fair that people are looking forward to eating. Lets face the facts, a lot of people just don’t a get chance to eat Filet Mignons and Lobster (but if you follow along on our site, you will see its not that hard to do with a bit of Proper Planning.) So when you see people ordering four, five and six plates because they can, don’t catch feelings and look down on them, be happy they are having a great time like you should be doing.

The always delicious, Cognac Infused Lobster & Seafood Bisque 

Wagyu Beef Carpaccio

Ahi Tuna 

Filet & Vegetables

Vanilla Ice Cream w/ Fresh Cobbler & Dark Chocolate Tuiles
Eating at Scarlett’s Steakhouse to us was a must, how can you not even step foot in what Carnival hails as the pinnacle of the Culinary experience. At $30.00 per person for what would average around $80.00 a person at your local fine dining steakhouse (think Ruths Chris, Houstons or Ritz-Carlton, not Sizzler or Outback, you wont be let down or disappointed.)
Starting off with a delicious Steak Tar Tare, Lobster Bisque and Beef Carpacchio the meal is the kind of dining experience they should make more available on the cruise for those that wish to take advantage of it.
Perfectly seared Steaks, Chops and delicious filets of fish such as Chilean Sea Bass are readily available at Scarlett’s and their staff of highly trained Chefs are waiting eagerly to fulfill your Culinary dreams upon entering the dimly lit, loft that exudes old world class and charm.
Finish that off with a gourmet prepared dessert or some vintage liquors and you will be well on your way to an evening that couldn’t be beat by any means.

Waking up the next day in San Juan, Puerto Rico we had to quickly get ourselves outside as the weather was great, the skies were clear and the smells of the street were calling our names. Finding ourselves in the Manolín Café, we couldn’t be happier when our waiter quickly got us seated in the cut so we could watch all the locals enjoy themselves over some amazing food. Manolín Café is a killer local diner that serves steaks, seafood, Rice & Beans to die for and strong mixed drinks, what more could you ask for.
Tearing thru a few plates of Churrasco a la Parilla, Biftec de Lomillo, Tostones and Mofongo we could hardly pull ourselves away from the table to get a bit of shopping in. Puerto Rico has good shopping as well, especially if you know some Spanish you can haggle with the people selling whatever it may be your trying to purchase.
We picked up a huge hand carved Molcajete (Mortor & Pestle) that was put to use as soon as we got home. A treat I hope to hold onto for many, many years and pass on to my kids. 

We stumbled thru a few various bars, trying local beers before finishing off more of these great Chupa Chupa shots than we could count. Leaving Puerto Rico in the evening was great because we got to see the lights and sounds of the city at night as it came to life, while we pulled out into the ocean and headed towards St. Maarten.

The following morning we arrived early in St. Maarten, refreshed from the night before in Puerto Rico we knew today was going to be great, and it was. Avoiding all of the tourist trap shopping spots and heading straight to the beach we ended up at the Barefoot Terrace, where we got into a few plates of Jerk Chicken, Rice & Peas and Planters Punch (what we commonly call Hurricanes here in the States.)
With a spot right on the front balcony overlooking the beach it was great to be able to eat and still enjoy all of the local life as it would normally take place is if you weren’t there. From people hocking local goods or trying to just tell you how beautiful your kids are going to be once you have them, St. Maarten is the kind of place you don’t just visit once in your life. 

I must also say that everyone in the streets were really helpful in helping us find our way around town. Oftentimes people are scared to ask directions when they are out of town, don’t be that person in St. Maarten, everyone is down to help you have a good time while your in the neighborhood.

Getting out and getting a good start early the next morning in Charlotte Amalie, St, Thomas is the best thing you can do. With numerous attractions and activities it is impossible to take it all in, in one day. From local historical monuments such as the oldest Synagogue in continuous use under the American Flag, also known as Beracha Veshalom Vegimulth Hasidim Synagogue, to snorkeling activities the island is packed with great things to take in or take home with you.

To eat we were told far and wide that the best place to eat was Gladys’ Café, so off we went. Having two huge plates of Fresh Pan Seared Grouper, Creole Style w/ Plantains, Peas and Rice and Sauteed Vegetables topped off with Gladys’ homemade Mango Hotsauce, this was in my opinion the best meal on the entire trip.
When the locals are cool to kick it with, then you know your going to have a good day, and unless your just a stuck up pompous ass, then you should have nothing but the best of times in all of the places we visited on this trip. Everywhere we stopped, the people in Charlotte Amalie had nothing but love to show us.

Grouper Fillet Pan Seared Creole Style w/ Rice & Peas, Veggies.

Back on board the ship, late night around 11:30 they kicked off a Mexican Buffet that brought everyone out for a little late night snacking and drinking. Its fun to watch people at this time of night who obviously don’t drink for days on end, try to maneuver through rooms of crowded people, with little to no grace at all. These are the times you cant help but laugh at the people who are trying their absolute best to just keep the party going, but are failing miserably…

Vegetarian Lasagna

Chocolate Molten Lava Cake w/ Vanilla Bean Ice Cream

Sesame Ginger Chicken Legs (already snacked on a few before taking pics)

What’s important and must be pointed out is the fact that every single day and night you will be seeing the same staff on the boat. Whether it be your dining room staff, the employees in the bars and restaurants you choose to frequent or most importantly the cabin stewards. If you are lucky, you will have the right group like we had in Alit & Michael. 
These are the kind of guys who take the extra steps to ensure your trip runs smoother than you think you had properly planned for. By recognizing your likes and dislikes as well as calling you by name whenever they see you, the people who are in these positions are the crucial front line in keeping a good face on Carnivals World wide image. 

Our trip was made all that much better when every single night we were treated to an impromptu performance by Carlos from Peru who worked in multiple areas on the ship. A true go to kind of guy whenever something was lacking, he has the kind of attitude you find in a friend, not a person stuck on a ship away from their loved ones for months and months at a time.

After all was said and done, we were back in Miami, for a few days to soak up some Sun at the lovely Ritz-Carlton, South Beach. Check back for more photos of the trip to come…
For more info on the all of the spots, check the websites below:


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