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Carnival Valor

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If you're looking for a fun, affordable cruise with fewer sea days and floating resort-like amenities, Carnival Valor might be your perfect match.

The 2,980-passenger ship stands out among its fleetmates with port-intensive itineraries (one sea day versus two on a five-night sailing, for example), and, like its fleetmates, embraces the "no shoes, no shirt, no problems" mantra with multiple pools, Tiki-style bars, a three-deck-high water slide and handful of complimentary dining options.

Many of its bars and restaurants were added during a May 2016 refurb -- part of Carnival's $500 million Fun Ship 2.0 investment. The line's much-loved Guy's Burger Joint and BlueIguana Cantina are now open for lunch, while the BlueIguana Tequila Bar, RedFrog Rum Bar, RedFrog Pub and Alchemy Bar serve even more flowing drinks from morning to night. Those who've sailed on the ship before also will notice the new Cherry on Top candy shop and changes to the kids' club.

One of Carnival Valor's most appealing attributes is that it doesn't seem to draw one particular type of traveller over another. Friends can let loose, families can bond and couples can play without the ship ever feeling like a spring break party or playground. All ages and backgrounds come together at the main pool, outdoor movie nights and various deck games like Ping-Pong and cornhole (beanbag toss).

The service is also some of the friendliest and most attentive we've experienced on a mainstream cruise ship. Every crew member -- from the cabin stewards and guest services receptionists to the bartenders and waiters -- embodied the line's "Fun Ship" culture and made sure everyone was satisfied and having a good time.

Another reason we fell in love with this ship? Its decor pays tribute to American history in a fun, creative way.

Unlike some of the line's older ships that flaunt trippy colours and sculptures, Carnival Valor doesn't come across as ostentatious. Floors and cocktail tables are American flag print, and the trim is decked out with tiny Liberty Bells. Passing through the atrium, hallways and lounges almost feels like a scavenger hunt. See how many U.S. presidents, landmarks and major events you can identify in the artwork -- keep your eyes peeled for the Apollo 11 moonwalk!

It's also worth noting, the new Carnival Hub app is an extremely fun (and useful) addition to Valor. While cruisers still receive the nightly Fun Times newsletter in their staterooms, the app offers so much more. It has all the obvious info like weather forecasts, deck plans and an updated version of what’s on where and when. But you can also manage your account on the app, book shore excursions and even interact with the ship’s performers. Top tip: not many people realize it, but the Hub even has a pizza delivery service. Just click the button and that thin crust Hawaiian you've been craving will be delivered to you (for a fee) to wherever you are on the ship, night or day, in a pizza box -- now that’s what we call service!

Daytime: "Cruise Casual" is how Carnival describes its dress code. During the day, T-shirts, shorts, bathing suit cover-ups and flip-flops prevail.

Evening: At night, the dress code translates to T-shirts with khaki pants or shorts for men and billowy blouses with shorts or casual sundresses for women. Both men and women can wear jeans, as long as they're not cutoff. Carnival also hosts "Cruise Elegant" nights, once during a short cruise and twice on longer sailings. This is an opportunity for passengers to get dolled up to their liking. Dress slacks, dress shirts and sport coats (optional) are suitable for men. The line suggests cocktail dresses, pantsuits, elegant skirts and blouses for women. Quite a few passengers on our sailing went all-out with tuxedos and evening gowns, plus some that looked like prom dresses.

Not permitted: Bathing suits are not allowed in any of the dining rooms -- even if you're simply passing through the buffet. Gym shorts, flip-flops and men's sleeveless shirts are prohibited in all dining venues except the buffet at night.

Theatre

The Ivanhoe Theater is massive -- spanning Decks 3, 4 and 5 -- with plush red benches that can seat roughly 1,400 passengers. Carnival Valor's two production shows, "Nightclub Express" and "Far from Over," engage the audience with classic Broadway-style music and dancing. Talented lead singers belt out popular tunes, backed up by competent dancers who change costumes and songs without missing a beat.

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 detract from talented singers.

Daily Fun

Carnival Valor's "Fun Times" newsletter, as well as the Carnival app, are packed with daytime activities for all ages and interests. The app is particularly great for children (especially teens) who want to check out exactly what’s going on in their club at any given time. A typical day might include themed trivia, a raffle, a cornhole (beanbag toss) competition, silly poolside games and an arts and crafts workshop. The outdoor movie screen also plays TV shows, concerts and family-friendly movies when it's not displaying scenes of tropical beaches or natural landscapes.

The video arcade is hard to miss, as its caboose-inspired entrance stands out along the Promenade. Inside, kids and adults alike can enjoy everything from classics like air hockey and crane games to simulated rides and video games -- with recognizable names like The Terminator, Jurassic Park and Spongebob Squarepants.

At Night

Beginning at 5 p.m., the entertainment heats up with live band performances, piano bar sing-alongs, themed shows (such as love and marriage), comedy shows, bingo and other more adult-centric games -- all varying by night. Karaoke is held nightly in the Paris Hot lounge.

On select nights throughout the cruise, two comedians take the Punchliner Comedy Club stage. At the 7:30 p.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 10:30 and the other at 11:30 p.m. The Punchliner Comedy Club is a big draw, particularly among the 18-plus crowd at the later showings. We recommend arriving to the Eagles Lounge at least 30 minutes prior to the show for a good seat. Note: The late-night acts are quite raunchy and not recommended for anyone who's easily offended. If you sit in the front row, expect to get teased.

The Shogun Club casino is located on Deck 5 and hosts a lively crowd around the clock. Gamblers can try their luck on various card tables and slot machines. Smoking is allowed.

On most nights at 7:30 and 10 p.m. (sometimes 7 and 9:30), Carnival Valor's outdoor screen transforms into Dive-In Movies, where passengers kick back with popcorn, drinks and other snacks. Most movies are PG-rated (such as Cinderella and Kung Fu Panda), though some of the later show times might be PG-13.

Carnival Valor Bars and Lounges

From frozen umbrella drinks and margaritas on the rocks to microbrews and handcrafted cocktails, Carnival Valor's bars offer something for everything. Thanks to the addition of four new bars (BlueIguana Tequila Bar, RedFrog Rum Bar, RedFrog Pub and Alchemy Bar), passengers not only enjoy variety, but also fun ambiences that will transport you to different places -- whether it's a Tiki bar on a Caribbean beach or a Prohibition era-inspired apothecary.

American Bar (Deck 3, midship): The ship's atrium bar is hoppin' whenever the space hosts activities or live performances, which typically occur just before and after dinner. It's also the go-to spot for a drink on embarkation day.

Winston's Cigar Bar (Deck 4, midship): Ironically enough, smoking is not allowed at Winston's Cigar Bar. The space is mostly used for karaoke, but not much else. On our cruise, there was hardly anyone ever there except for a few people at the bar or lounging about. It's a shame; the venue is big and beautiful.

RedFrog Pub (Deck 5, midship): The new Key West-style pub is more than just a place to grab drinks; it hosts a variety of daytime activities and games (thanks to a foosball table and "beanbag toss" boards, and even has a stage for occasional live performances. The menu serves up beer, rum and cocktails from the region in addition to Carnival's own brew, ThirstyFrog Red. If you ask, they’ll serve up free plantain chips and pigeon peas with your drinks. The space is fairly large and empty most of the day, when most passengers kick back by the pool bars, but picks up at night just before dinner.

Alchemy Bar (Deck 5, aft): Handcrafted cocktails have transitioned from mere trend to a preferred drink choice, and Carnival's Alchemy Bar does not disappoint. The ship's bar has the look of an old pharmacy, where talented mixologists in lab coat-style uniforms stir up concoctions using unique ingredients and decorative garnishes. The Cucumber Sunrise -- made with vodka, watermelon syrup and topped with a fresh cucumber -- is a must-try. Just be prepared to spend at least $10 per drink.

Sky Box Sports Bar (Deck 5, aft): With a wall length of flat-screen TVs, game day-inspired snacks and a fun, upbeat vibe, the Sky Box Bar is where you go to watch NFL football and other live sporting events. Carnival shows Sunday- and Monday-night games, as well as playoffs and the Super Bowl. Look out for beer-bucket specials on game days.

One Small Step (Deck 5, midship): Bust a move at the ship's moon landing-inspired nightclub, which features high-tech sound/light systems and impressive beats, courtesy of a professional DJ trained by DJ Irie, the official DJ of Carnival and the Miami Heat. The venue fills up as soon as the last theatre showing lets out, and maintains a lively crowd through the wee hours of the morning -- sometimes past 2 a.m. On select nights, One Small Step hosts theme parties (such as the Electric White Night and Michael Jackson Tribute) as well as singles meet-and-greets.

Eagles Lounge (Deck 5, aft): The Eagles Lounge's main attraction is the Punchliner Comedy Club, but it also serves as the location for bingo, trivia and kids' Dr. Seuss activities.

Paris Hot (Deck 5, aft): Zebra-print lounge chairs, neon lighting and sculptures of dancers in banana skirts set the tone for this funky jazz bar, which is also where some of the karaoke takes place. The spotlight is on a small stage at the front of the room, while a bar is tucked away in the back.

Lindy Hop (Deck 5, aft): Although a piano bar, Lindy Hop pays tribute to the original Harlem "shake" with a 1920s vibe and ceiling map of New York City. The venue has a small stage, bar and piano where sing-alongs draw crowds. During the day, the space is used for spa seminars and other activities.

Dream Bar (Deck 5, midship): The Dream Bar is a hot spot at night, thanks to its location along the Promenade and close proximity to the casino and small stage frequented by live bands. It's where passengers stop for pre- and post-dinner drinks, or liquid courage before hitting the slots.

RedFrog Rum Bar (Deck 9, midship): The RedFrog Rum Bar epitomizes cruise ship pool bars. It's Caribbean-themed, laid-back, and the place to go for obligatory favourites like pina coladas and daiquiris. Treat yourself to a glass (or pitcher) while you head-bop to the sound of steel drums.

BlueIguana Tequila Bar (Deck 9, midship): If you're going to order a margarita, this is your spot. The bar features an extensive list of Mexican tequila -- the magic elixir in its excellent margaritas, which can be ordered by the glass or in a pitcher. It also serves up a slew of cocktails and Mexican beer -- and a combination of the two: a beer cocktail, because why not?

Carnival Valor Outdoor Recreation

Pools

Carnival Valor has three pools, a water slide and six whirlpools.

The main pool (Argonaut) is the liveliest, flanked by the outdoor movie screen and just steps away from the Lido bars, restaurants and buffet. It has two adjacent hot tubs and is surrounded by deck chairs, all facing the screen. To get a chair on a sea day, arrive early, before breakfast. As is frequently the case, passengers "claim" the most-wanted spots with a towel or random article of clothing, and come back later. Carnival does have an official chair-hogging policy (saving chairs even if you never use them) in place, though we didn't see it enforced on our cruise.

One deck higher, the small Dolphin pool is next to the slide exit and therefore popular among the kiddos.

All the way at the back of the ship, the adults-only Prometheus pool is a quieter alternative to the main pool. Just don't expect to hear the sea breeze rolling; the pool gets packed. To truly get away from it all, opt for a dip in one of the adults-only Serenity deck whirlpools.

Recreation

The 214-foot Twister water slide begins at Deck 14 and ends at Deck 10. It's open to all ages, although some of the adults who tried it on our cruise admitted to getting stuck halfway down. It wasn't anything serious but did make for some laughs and awkward views for those watching from above.

A nine-hole mini-golf course is located on Deck 12, above the sports complex. A sliver of space for the shuffleboard and the beanbag toss also can be found on the forward port (left) side of Deck 10. There are also two ping-pong tables and a giant chess board on Deck 12, forward.

Sun Decks

Carnival Valor offers ample opportunities to soak up some vitamin D. The ship's pools are surrounded by deck space, plus you'll find "hidden gem" areas like Deck 11 aft and along the sides of Deck 10 aft offering a more peaceful retreat.

Serenity, the adults-only lounge area, spans Decks 12 and 14. The lower level is furnished with padded lounge chairs, canopy beds and couches under an awning. This is also where you'll find the towel stations and Serenity bar, which serves alcohol a la carte and complimentary infused water. The upper deck features hammocks, even more, lounge chairs and two whirlpools set at a cool temperature on hot days. Serenity servers also walk around to take drink orders.

Carnival Valor Services

Guest services and the shore excursions desk are located on Deck 3, on the outskirts of the ship's atrium. We found the service here to be consistently excellent. Crew members are friendly, knowledgeable and diligent -- a good thing, considering most passengers at guest services are there to inquire about some sort of issue or misunderstanding.

Also in the vicinity are the Betsy Ross Room (a card room, though mostly its used for Chef's Table dinners) and John Paul Jones Room, the ship's dedicated art gallery. Art auctions, blow-out sales and giveaways are held here throughout each sailing.

Head up the stairs, and you'll find the Pixels Gallery and studio, where all those pictures you took in port, at dinner or on formal night are displayed for all to see. Professional photos are free to have taken, but you'll pay for any print you wish to take home. The Iliad Library also is on this floor. It's an intimate space, with cozy seating nooks and an array of books and board games. The book selection is limited and a bit unorganized, but there are a variety of games such as Battleship, Jenga, Life and Clue.

Carnival Valor's Fun Shops, as well as the new Cherry on Top candy store, are all on Deck 5. The shops sell everything from clothing and accessories to toiletries and souvenirs. Alcohol, high-end jewellery and watches, and perfume and cologne have their own dedicated spaces. Throughout the cruise, tables outside the shops attempt to lure in passerbys with various sales and product premiers.

The Internet Cafe is a walk-through space on Deck 4, with several PC computers available for use. Carnival offers an excellent internet package structure that allows you to purchase Wi-Fi, based on how you plan to use it. It's a nice complement to Carnival Valor's already strong connection.

The Social plan -- which includes access to Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, LinkedIn, Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp and top airline websites -- is available for $40 for a five-day cruise. The Value package ($60 per five-day cruise) allows you to surf the web and access email, in addition to social media. And the third package, Premium, costs $25 per day ($70 for the whole cruise) and includes all of the above, plus Skype video calling and connection speeds up to three times faster than the Value plan. All plans exclude Snapchat and video streaming sites such as Netflix and Hulu.

Carnival Valor does not have a dedicated chapel onboard. Instead, weddings and religious services take place in the Capital Room (conference room) on Deck 4.

Self-service launderettes are located in all cabin corridors, each with two to three washing machines, two to three dryers and an ironing board. Machines no longer accept coins, but instead are operated using room key cards and cost $3 per cycle. Vending machines dispense small boxes of detergent and softener, at $1.50 a piece.

There are three ATMs onboard, all located on Deck 5 midship.

Spa Carnival and the ship's fitness centre are both on Deck 11, forward. The location is conveniently one flight of stairs away from the adults-only Serenity deck, which makes for a relaxing pre- or post-spa hangout. On the flip side, it's also directly below the kids' club, so treatments are subject to the sound of thumping little feet. Another quirk is that there's no waiting room for spa customers. Instead, you look for an empty chair in the busy salon. Still, we found the spa itself to be relaxing for what it is -- a simple facility for basic indulgences.

Facials, massages and body treatments are similar to what you'd find on land. They run the gamut from hydra-lift facials and anti-cellulite/firming services to deep tissue massages and salt scrubs. The prices are pretty high, considering the menu is pretty standard. For example A 50-minute deep tissue massage costs $129 while a 75-minute, half-body seaweed massage costs $195. Acupuncture, waxing and teeth-whitening services also are available.

If you're itching for a spa visit but are on a tight budget, look out for daily deals in the ship's "Fun Times" newsletter. You'll find some pretty good deals advertised on port days. The Spa Topia (a 75-minute package that includes a full-body hot stone or bamboo massage, scalp massage and facial) dropped from $291 to $149 during our Nassau port of call.

Next to the spa, the salon offers haircuts, styling blowouts and keratin treatments as well as manicures and pedicures at slightly more reasonable prices. A wash, style and dry starts at $35, and a traditional 45-minute pedicure is $45. Men have their own section in the menu for spa and grooming services.

Fitness

The fitness centre is nestled at the ship's nose, filling the space with light and gorgeous views through a wall of windows and skylights. Equipment is pretty standard, ranging from a variety of treadmills, ellipticals and stationary bikes to free weights starting as low as 5 pounds -- all surrounded by adequate space, so you never feel cramped.

A small studio in the centre of the room offers classes such as group cycling, Pilates and yoga for an additional fee.

To access the fitness centre, you must walk through the spa and locker rooms. This is also where you'll find a roomy sauna with a view, which is free of charge and does not require a spa treatment purchase.

Carnival Valor's outdoor sports complex is located on the other side of the ship, on Deck 11. It includes a basketball and volleyball court and is surrounded by a wide jogging track (nine laps equals a mile).

Most of Carnival Valor's dining is included in the cruise fare -- even the new speciality restaurants, Guy's Burger Joint and BlueIguana Cantina, whose quality could easily warrant a surcharge. With the two additions, as well as upgrades to its buffet, the ship serves up enough variety to keep your taste buds satisfied throughout your cruise -- with the option to splurge on a juicy prime rib or Maine lobster, if you wish.

Free Dining

Washington Dining Room (Decks 3 and 4, aft) and Lincoln Dining Room (Decks 3 and 4, forward): Following the American history theme, Carnival Valor's two main dining rooms not only share presidentially inspired names, but also nearly identical layouts: Art Deco design; muted pink colour scheme with pops of bright coral, gold and white; walls of windows; and ornate chandeliers. The only difference is the size; Washington seats 1,122 while Lincoln has a capacity for only 744.

For dinner, you can choose to eat in the Washington Dining Room, 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 anytime between 5:45 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. The Lincoln Dining Room also offers the same set dining times. 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.

The menu is divided into two groups: dishes that are available every day -- such as a Caesar salad, southern fried chicken and steakhouse selections that are available for an extra charge -- and items that change daily. The rotating menu includes appetizers, one "Didja" (did you ever …) dish described as "food you always wanted to try, but did not dare" and entrees.

Dinners were consistently good, but nothing "out of this world." Our only gripe was the portion sizes; the lobster ravioli was clearly designed for a light eater, while the roasted duck looked like it could have fed the entire table. We recommend asking your waiter about portion sizes before you order. Those with larger appetites also can double up on portions or appetizers.

Rotating appetizers usually include a hot soup and chilled soup every night, as well as a salad and a heartier dish, like chicken tenders. Of course, we ordered the "Didja" dish in addition to our appetizer every night. They were hit or miss; the alligator fritters were delicious, but the cured salmon with candied tomato … not so much. We appreciate the inventiveness, though. Meanwhile, popular entrees include linguini with Italian sausage, pan-seared tilapia and meatloaf. You can also select from a variety of sides. Items containing nuts or soy are noted on the menu. Those with special dietary requirements must make special arrangements with their maitre d' in advance.

Separate dessert and wine menus are available for those who are interested. The wine list includes a variety of reds and whites, with a few sparkling and rose options. There's also a section titled "Gifft Wines," which features Carnival partner Kathie Lee Gifford's own chardonnay, red blend and rose. For dessert, you can order a cheese or fruit plate, choose from various flavours of sorbet and ice cream, or -- if you're a chocolate lover -- just skip reading the menu and order the warm chocolate melting cake (trust us on this one).

Breakfast (open seating) is served in the Washington Dining Room daily, from 7:30 to 9:30 a.m. -- except on sea days, when Carnival's SeaDay Brunch is open from 8:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. Menu items include huevos rancheros (eggs on tortillas, topped with salsa), corn flake-crusted French toast and loaded mac 'n' cheese. Lunch is not offered in either of the main dining rooms, although on sea days, the Washington Dining Room opens for Carnival's Tea Time, from 3 to 4 p.m.

Rosie's Restaurant (Deck 9, aft or midship): Rosie's, the ship's Lido buffet, serves breakfast, lunch and dinner as well as after-hours munchies. 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. It includes the Breakfast Grill, which is packed from 7:30 to 10:30 a.m., Chef's Choice (different themed bites served each day from noon to 2:30 p.m.) and Sweet Spot dessert station and a number of speciality stations. Note: A late-risers breakfast buffet is served from 9 a.m. to noon.

Items are pretty basic and include pancakes, bacon and eggs Benedict for breakfast; salad, ribs and sauteed vegetables for lunch; and penne mariscos, meatloaf and pasta for dinner; chocolate cake, Jell-O and lemon cupcakes for snacks. Seating can be hard to find during breakfast and lunch hours; you'll have better luck finding an open table toward the back of the buffet, upstairs near Ol’ Fashioned BBQ and around the aft pool.

Guy's Burger Joint (Deck 9, midship): The poolside grill developed by Food Network personality Guy Fieri serves up some of our favourite burgers at sea from noon to 6 p.m. Choose one of six meat patties with a side of hand-cut fries, and dress it to your liking at the toppings bar, with basics like lettuce and tomato, heavier flavours ranging from sauteed onions to bacon crumbles, and a variety of sauces (we recommend the chipotle mayo). There was always a long line for Guy's on our cruise, but it's well worth the wait. Veggie burgers are available upon request.

BlueIguana Cantina (Deck 9, midship): On the other side of Guy's Burger Joint, the BlueIguana Cantina serves made-to-order burritos and tacos for breakfast (7:30 to 10:30 a.m.) and lunch (noon to 2:30 p.m.). The burrito station was the more popular of the two on our cruise. Start by selecting a wheat or jalapeno wrap and a main filling (steak, chicken or shrimp for lunch and chicken sausage, ham or scrambled eggs for breakfast), then stuff it with as many ingredients as you like. Tacos are more grab-and-go; choose between chicken, fish or pork, and finish it off at the salsa bar. The salsa bar includes standard toppings like Monterey Jack cheese, onions and cilantro as well as more unique options such as watermelon and jicama sauce and black bean and corn. There's also a variety of hot sauces and fresh watermelon slices.

Mongolian Wok (Deck 9, aft): The popular lunch-only Asian buffet station lets you select vegetables, noodles, meats, seafood and poultry for servers to stir-fry. You can also add more flavour with one of three sauces: black bean (mild), Thai barbecue (medium) or Szechwan (hot). Expect massive lines on sea days.

Ol’ Fashioned BBQ (Deck 10, aft): This buffet station (it’s on the second level of the buffet all the way at the back) is a meat lover’s paradise, dishing up pork butt, chicken and smoked beef, all cooked to perfection. Sides are just as tasty -- mac 'n cheese, scratch-made slaw and slightly smoky molasses baked beans -- as is the range of BBQ sauces to slather over your plate.

Carnival Deli (Deck 9, aft): Open from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m., the Carnival Deli offers made-to-order wraps, sandwiches and bagels -- with both cold and hot selections. Options include tuna salad on white bread; smoked salmon on a bagel; and arugula, roasted peppers and mozzarella on focaccia.

Pizza Pirate (Deck 9, aft): The Pizza Pirate is a night owl's best friend, as it's open 24 hours. Satisfy your craving any time of day with thin-crust slices such as pepperoni, margherita and prosciutto. Gluten-free pies are available by request.

Soft Serve & Froyo (Deck 9, midship): This self-serve ice cream station allows you to swirl chocolate or vanilla custard, or flavoured frozen yoghurt (there's an option to mix with custard), into a cone or cup. Open 24 hours.

Room Service: Carnival offers a continental breakfast, free of charge. The menu allows you to pick and choose as many items as you want from different sections: fresh fruit or smoked salmon, cereals, breakfast breads, yoghurt, hot and cold beverages and condiments. Our fruit was a bit under-ripe, but the croissants were soft and fluffy, and paired perfectly with a cup of coffee on our balcony. Carnival also offers a handful of room service meals a la carte, available 24/7. They include chicken wings ($5), spicy fried firecracker shrimp ($6), Cobb salad ($4) and chicken quesadilla ($5). 

Fee Dining

Chef's Table (Deck 3, midship); $75: The Chef's Table is an exclusive dining experience for only 14 passengers. Hosted by the ship's master executive chef, it includes cocktails and hors d'oeuvres, a multicourse dinner with dishes not found on any other menu and a galley tour. It's held once per cruise in the Betsy Ross Room.

Java Cafe (Deck 5, midship); a la carte: When coffee in the buffet or main dining room just doesn't cut it, head to the Java Cafe. The retro space serves up speciality iced and hot coffee as well as a variety of cakes and gelato.

Green Eggs and Ham Breakfast (Deck 5, aft); $6: Part of Carnival's Seuss at Sea family program, the Green Eggs and Ham Breakfast is held in the Washington Dining Room once per cruise (typically on a sea day). All ages are welcome to join, and reservations are recommended. During the breakfast, the dining room is decked out in Dr. Seuss-inspired decor while characters such as the Cat in the Hat, Thing One and Thing Two and Sam-I-Am make the rounds. Menu items include Truffula Tree Pancake stacks, Horton's Cereal-Crusted French Toast and Fox in Socks Steak and Eggs.

Sushi at Sea (Deck 9, aft); a la carte: This sushi counter was added to Rosie's lido buffet in 2017. On offer are four sushi or sashimi options for $1.50 a piece, as well as rolls for either $5 (California or spicy tuna) or $7.50 (bang bang bonsai or tempura) apiece. Diners place their order at the counter, are given a pager and then paged when their order is ready.

Seafood Shack (Deck 9, aft); a la carte: This casual, New England-style shack is adjacent to the pool at the back of the ship and is open from noon to 5 p.m. There’s fresh seafood sitting on ice at the ready and dishes range from clam chowder ($4) to lobster roll ($12) to steamed lobster to oysters.

Scarlett's (Deck 10, aft); $38: Carnival Valor's only for-fee speciality restaurant is a must for date nights and celebrations, thanks to its intimate ambience, higher-quality dishes and more personalized service. Reserve ahead, and be prepared to pay $38 per person for a four-course dinner that includes an appetizer, salad, entree with sides and a dessert. We fell in love with the beef carpaccio (the truffle oil was a nice touch) and ahi tuna tartare -- both several classes above the appetizers served in the dining room. The entrees also were quite impressive, though again, we recommend inquiring about portion sizes before you order. Diners also are treated to chef's compliments, courtesy of the theatre-style kitchen; the night we went, it was a delicious charred salmon and chilled tomato soup. Wines and cocktails are available, as is dessert, which ranges from caramelized apples to a chocolate sampler.

Carnival Valor keeps choosing a cabin simple with four main categories: interior, ocean-view, balcony and suite. Within each category there are a number of cabins that might cost you a little less (such as an obstructed ocean view) or a little more (an aft-view extended balcony, for example).

Cabins are spacious, in good condition despite their age and share similar decor: a burnt-orange color scheme with cherry-wood end tables, drawers and closet doors. A number of suites also feature pops of red and gold, giving them a slightly more regal appearance.

Each cabin comes with adequate storage (closets with hangers, a desk and shelving); two terry cloth robes; a hairdryer; safe; telephone; two twin beds that can convert to a queen (suites have king-sized beds); and flat-screen TV streaming networks like CNN and TNT as well as cable movies and one channel dedicated to providing information about ship-wide activities, events and procedures; and a mini-fridge.

Bathrooms also offer lots of storage space above the sink. There's no shelving in the shower, so consider bringing a hanging bath caddy if you use a lot of products. Additional features include a makeup mirror, 115-volt outlet and 230-volt European outlet (hidden in the upper corner) and basic toiletries (bars of hand soap and shampoo and body wash via shower dispensers).

One downside was the lack of outlets. Interior and balcony cabins are equipped with only one 110-volt and one 220-volt European outlet (not including the ones in the bathroom), and there are no outlets next to the beds.

Here's a breakdown of cabin categories. Note: Cabins that sleep four or more are equipped with either pullout sofa beds or bunk-style pulldown beds.

Interior: Carnival Valor's interior cabins start at 185 square feet, which is spacious when compared to the industry standard. There are 589 interior cabins, including 11 upper/lower (meaning there's one twin bed and a pulldown bunk bed) options that offer a little extra room. A select number of cabins are connected by doors, which are ideal for multigenerational families. On the flip side, they tend to let in more sound, so noise can be an issue if you have loud neighbours. Most interior cabins sleep four.

Oceanview: Ocean-view cabins come in at 220 square feet. There are 337 total, including a handful of scenic ocean-view cabins (floor-to-ceiling windows) and obstructed ocean-view cabins. Like the majority of interior cabins, all ocean-view cabins sleep four except the obstructed view (for two). All ocean-view cabins feature connecting doors for easy access among large groups.

Balcony: More than 60 percent of the outside staterooms have balconies, although the majority is too narrow to fit lounge chairs that recline and all are equipped with the same plastic furniture (two chairs) and small cocktail tables. Still, the balconies provide an oasis where you can read a book, enjoy room service and catch sea breezes in private.

Carnival Valor's 521 balcony cabins are the same size as interior cabins (185 square feet), but configurations and sizes vary based on subcategories: standard balcony, Premium, Premium Vista, and Aft-View Extended. Premium and Premium Vista cabins feature whopping 75-square-foot balconies and sleep only two as opposed to four, which allows for more use of the space. The Aft-View Extended cabins feature 60-square-foot balconies, while the remaining balconies measure at 35 square feet. Only standard balconies include connecting doors.

Suite: Suites are broken up into four sub-categories: Junior Suite, Ocean Suite, Grand Suite and Captain's Suite. Features above and beyond what you'll find in lower-category rooms include a shower/whirlpool tub combo, double sinks, walk-in closet, king-sized bed, granite countertops in the cabin and bathroom (except in the Junior Suite), larger sitting area with a couch (double sleeper sofa in some cabins for third and fourth passengers) and VIP check-in. 

Junior Suites, of which there are only two, are equal in size to Premium and Premium Vista cabins, at 275 square feet with 50-square-foot balconies. They sleep up to two.

Ocean Suites are also 275 square feet, but have room for four and larger balconies (65 square feet).

The 345-square-foot Grand Suites also sleep four but feature an 85-square-foot balcony and a larger tub.

The largest suite is the Captain's Suite, which offers 548 square feet with a 258-square-foot balcony and sleeps up to five. Its standout features are a separate bedroom, two bathrooms (one master bath in the bedroom, one smaller in the living room) and a wall of windows that fills the room with light.

There are 27 wheelchair-accessible cabins onboard: 23 interior, one ocean view, two balconies and one suite.

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