April 3 – Back Home from Carnival Valor and Summary

Because Spring Break air was so horribly expensive I had to do what I could to drop the price—and that meant being creative about transportation.  The cruise left from Miami, and air was quite expensive.  I ended up flying in to Ft Lauderdale and renting a car to drive to Miami, using a taxi to get to the ship.  Going home we had to drive to Tampa, which is about 3 hours away.  Because we had to pick up a rental car in downtown Miami we had to get off that ship early to beat the crowd as there were three ships disembarking passengers that morning.  The car rental place was going to be pretty busy and their shuttles were going to be packed.  I had done a car rental shuttle in Miami back in July and to say it was less than magical is an understatement.    

When doing a “walk off” from a cruise ship, you pretty much take all your stuff and go directly to the Customs area.  Its nice to bypass the crowds who are eating breakfast and then going off in their organized debarkation groups.  No hassles waiting for bags to come around on the baggage carousel, or looking for them in a designated area.  Nope, just take your own stuff and go.  I have yet to find a problem with this except for the fact that I have to get up early.  So the four of us just schlepped off the ship with all of our bags , got into the Customs line, and then proceeded to the taxi stand.  If it took us 20 minutes from the time we left the room to the rental agency  I would be surprised.  By using the taxi we had successfully beaten the crowds of three cruise ships (including the massive Allure of the Seas) and were at the rental agency before 8am.  I went in and got the car, and as DH waited for the car with the kids I was able to go up the block  to Starbucks and get a decent cup of coffee.  (Cruise ship coffee for the most part is dreadful and even though I don’t care for Starbucks after I’ve got a few ice cubes and milk in it, I can drink it.) 

The bring me the car—and its got about ¼ of a tank of gas.  Groan…  finding gas in downtown Miami was going to be tough.  So I go back into the agency to tell them its not full and they write it down so I’m not penalized when I return it.  Back into the car—and now I find someone’s wallet.  Being the good citizen that I am, I go BACK into the agency to turn in the wallet.    We are finally able to get on our way and find the Florida Turnpike to head north.  After a comedy of errors including a long traffic delay for an accident, stopping for gas and food, and a trip to WalMart in Jupiter, FL for a car cellphone charger,  we start looking at our flights that night.  We were on Southwest out of Tampa—and this was the weekend that SWA had cancelled flights because of the rip in the fuselage of an aircraft.    We learn that we have a four hour flight delay and decide to go to Downtown Disney.   After a several hour drive north, and  a nice lunch at Raglan Road and some general wasting of time, we head towards Tampa. 

Once at the airport they can’t tell us if we have an airplane or not however they take our bags and give us a pass to get to the gate.  The idea is that the gate would give us the boarding passes once they have an aircraft.  It was fine because internet in the Tampa airport is free and there are far worse places to be stuck.  We finally boarded around 9:30pm and were back on land in Indiana by midnight.  Kudos to the pilots here because weather conditions were horribly windy and to say it was rough coming in was an understatement.   I wanted to kiss the ground when we finally landed.  Made it back home by 1am. 

During all of our family “together time” on this cruise were able to compare it to our other cruise experiences.  We had all previously sailed Carnival as a family as well as many cruises on Disney.  My other cruise experiences have been with Royal Caribbean (loved it), NCL (it was OK and I’m not itching to go back due to their extra charges) and Princess (not me but loved the ship.)  Because I keep trying out cruise lines I will say that Carnival is a really great vacation value for cruising and it was the main reason why I booked it.  (We travel agents do not travel for free —I pay for my trips just like you do.)  The Valor was not a “party cruise” in any sense and I bristle when I hear “Carnival” and “party cruise” together.   We saw no bad guest behavior, or anyone falling down drunk, or anything we’d have to explain to our kids on this cruise.  What I noticed on this trip as well as my prior cruise on Carnival, was average people having a vacation.    The food was great, service was really good, and I enjoyed being on this ship.  Western Caribbean is an itinerary which I enjoy because there’s so much to do, and we all loved Roatan and would go back there in a minute.     Belize even was pretty good with the excursion. 

Will I sail Carnival again?  Yes, in a few years.  Was there anything I disliked about Carnival?  Not a thing, and it was a good value for what I paid.  Did I love anything about Carnival?  Yes—the robes in the stateroom.  I loved that robe so much that I actually bought one.  However I need to experience another cruise line, and for next Spring Break its going to be Holland America Line.  They’ve done a lot to appeal to a younger passenger base and I’m booked on the Eurodam for March 2012.  I’ve toured several HAL ships and they remind me of the Disney Magic and Wonder with décor and size.  I like my ships a bit smaller than the biggies I’ve been on lately, and there’s a lot on the Eurodam that I like including the self guided art tour.  (Holland America has fine art on their ships and they have an iPod tour available.)  Will be another one to cross off the list—and of course another trip report!

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