Heroes Welcome

New Carnival Valor celebrates heroic spirit

By: Jonathan Siskin

As I eagerly made my way aboard December’s inaugural cruise of the Carnival Valor, I joined 2,973 enthusiastic fellow passengers in celebrating the launch of Carnival’s newest mega-ship. Sporting the distinctive red, white and blue fan-shaped funnel, and measuring 952 feet from stem to stern, the sparkling 110,000-ton stunner, built at a cost of $500 million, is the 20th member of the Fun Ship fleet. She joins sisters Carnival Conquest and Carnival Glory as the third Conquest-class vessel. The Valor also becomes the largest Carnival ship ever based in the port of Miami year-round, from where it will depart every Sunday on alternating seven-day eastern and western Caribbean itineraries.

Like other Carnival ships, the Valor exudes a festive, fun-filled atmosphere. This atmosphere has helped make Carnival the world’s most popular cruise line, both to first-time and repeat cruisers (approximately 20 percent on each Carnival sailing are repeaters).

In addition to ports in the Caribbean, Alaska, Canada, New England and Mexico, Carnival will cruise in Europe for the first time this July, when the Carnival Liberty enters service.

The Valor’s decor is dazzling, thanks to the fertile imagination of Carnival’s resident architect Joe Farcus, who has created themed interiors of Carnival ships since 1982. Its centerpiece is a gigantic, glitzy atrium replete with soaring glass elevators. Public spaces feature bold, bright colors that highlight the ship’s central theme the lives and exploits of real and mythical heroes. The main dining rooms are named after presidential icons George Washington and Abraham Lincoln, while the symbolic World War II heroine Rosie the Riveter inspires the two-tiered Rosie’s Restaurant on the Lido deck. Other “heroic” spaces include the Small Step Disco, dedicated to astronaut Neil Armstrong and his famous moon walk, while the Lindy Hop piano bar pays homage to aviator Charles Lindbergh and the first successful crossing of the Atlantic by plane.

Shipload of Superlatives
Similar to the other Conquest ships, the Valor is a huge “floating resort” loaded with amenities and facilities including 22 lounges and bars, four restaurants, four swimming pools, a jogging track and volleyball court, onboard golf, fully equipped spa and fitness center and expansive children’s facilities. Sixty percent of its 1,487 staterooms have oceanviews; 503 are oceanview with balcony while another 337 are oceanview without balcony. Clients seeking top-of-the-line accommodations can choose from 10 luxury penthouse suites and 42 suites.

Food is a major selling point on the Valor, as Carnival has upgraded and expanded its variety of restaurants and menu items in recent years. In addition to six appetizers, two salads, six entrees and four desserts, dinner menus in the main restaurants also offer several low-carb as well as low-calorie SpaCuisine selections. Particularly outstanding is Scarlett’s Supper Club (named after the “Gone With the Wind” heroine), the Valor’s specialty restaurant serving delectable cuts of beef including filet mignon and porterhouse steaks as well as Alaskan king crab and lobster tail. It’s a good idea to make reservations soon after boarding, because it tends to book up quickly (there is a $25 per person fee).

Passengers can also dine informally at Rosie’s Restaurant, which offers extensive breakfast and lunch buffets and features several specialty areas, such as pasta and meat carving stations, a deli serving freshly made sandwiches, a rotisserie offering broiled meats and chicken, a specialty seafood venue plus a 24-hour pizzeria and 24-hour ice cream/frozen yogurt station.

Fun Day And Night
During the day, much of the Valor’s organized fun and games takes place at poolside around four swimming pools, where social hosts organize various deck games. The pool on the Panorama Deck attracts both kids and adults who wait in line to take a ride down the 214-foot-long corkscrew water slide. I preferred to join the contingent of sun worshippers stretched out on lounge chairs sipping pina coladas and basking beneath the warm Caribbean rays.

Once the sun goes down the evening action heats up in the ship’s lounges and watering holes. Many of the entertainment venues are located adjacent to each other on the Promenade deck. Lounges with live or recorded music include the popular Paris Hot Jazz Club featuring “Karaoke Kraziness” and the Lindy Hop Piano Bar with its spirited singalongs. The D.J. in the Small Step disco keeps revelers gyrating into the wee hours of the morning. A big draw on our sailing was the high-energy Shogun Club Casino, with its assortment of slot machines (including the Megacash machine offering the “largest jackpot on the seven seas”) plus blackjack, roulette and craps tables. I’d like to say I broke the bank, but alas, I haven’t quit my day job.

It’s always exciting to sail on a ship featuring something new and different, and the Valor has the distinction of being the world’s first completely wireless cruise ship, offering bow-to-stern Wi-Fi high-speed Internet access. While other Carnival ships currently feature Internet cafes and wireless Internet access in select hot spots, passengers who bring their laptops on the Valor can (for the ship’s standard Internet access fee) go online from every public space and every stateroom. This sophisticated system works with any Wi-Fi enabled laptop and is part of a pilot program that may be expanded to other Carnival ships.

Satisfying the needs of families is a top priority for Carnival, and children’s facilities and programs on the Valor are the most elaborate of any Carnival ship. Among the activities available for the first time in 2005 as part of the Valor’s Camp Carnival program are A-B Seas, a reading program where youth counselors read children’s books aloud to kids and parents in the ships libraries; a science program known as H2Ocean that gives kids the opportunity to create miniature helicopters and hovercraft; Exerseas, a recreational fitness program encouraging kids to participate in intense physical activity; SeaNotes, a new music program that introduces kids to different musical instruments; and WaterColors, an art program where kids can learn techniques employed by professional artists such as oil painting, watercolors and paper mache.

Carnival’s recently launched ad campaign makes a point of touting all the “family friendly” attractions of the line. Based on the enthusiastic participants I observed during the inaugural voyage, the Valor’s Camp Carnival programs promise to be some of the most popular at sea.

Another example of Carnival’s heroic effort paying off.

Growth in Family Market

Clients that sail on Carnival ships consist primarily of singles, couples and families, with approximately 30 percent below age 35, 40 percent aged 35-55 and 30 percent over 55. The family market has grown substantially in recent years, and according to the latest projections more than 500,000 children will sail on a Carnival cruise in 2005, a 300 percent increase in the number of children that sailed 10 years ago.

According to a recent ASTA survey, cruising is a top choice of families, with 75 percent of agents reporting that family bookings have risen over the past three years.

“Ever since Sept. 11 families have been spending more quality time together, and cruising has become one of the most popular travel options of families,” noted ASTA president and CEO Kathy Sudeikis.

The two key factors influencing family vacation decisions are finding something suitable for all ages followed by overall cost.

All About Valor

Company: Carnival Cruise Lines
Size: 110,000 tons
Capacity: 2,974 passengers
Year Built: 2004
Plugging In: 120 and 220 volt current in all cabins; hair dryers supplied.
Hits: Terrific specialty restaurant; complete wireless access; excellent children’s facilities and programs.
Misses: The location of the art auction seemed more obtrusive than normal, and spawned numerous complaints.
Itinerary: Alternating seven-day eastern and western Caribbean year-round out of Miami. Eastern visits Nassau, St. Thomas and St. Maarten, while western calls at Belize City, Roatan, Grand Cayman and Cozumel.
Departure Dates: Every Sunday, year-round
Cost: Beginning at $529 per person