Sunday, January 1, 2017

Give Me Liberty or Give Me Valor- Embarkation

Give Me Liberty or Give Me Valor

A Day of Firsts
Saturday, December 17, 2016

In December 2016 Chris and I took our 2 kids, Natalie (7) and Luke (4) on a Caribbean Cruise aboard the Carnival Valor sailing out of Galveston, TX. This beautiful floating resort took us to the following destinations: 

Costa Maya, Mexico
Cozumel, Mexico 

The Carnival Valor... Our home away from home for the next 6 days! 

Chris and I have been on 8 other cruises prior to this one; 5 with Carnival, 2 with Royal Caribbean and 1 with Princess. This cruise was all about spending time with our kids and enjoying time away from our hectic and busy teaching lives. This blog will include daily entries of our 6 days, a broad "Foodies" blog highlighting all of the food options available on the Carnival Valor as well as an extensive photo review of the ship. Thank you SO MUCH to all my followers... without you the blog would not be as popular as it is today! Be sure to stay tuned as the posts come through over the next few days and weeks. 

Pre-Cruise Crisis 
Chris and I booked this cruise in April 2015 as a 5 day cruise out of Galveston, TX on the Carnival Liberty. At that point we had not taken the kids on a cruise yet but had the Carnival Triumph booked for November 2015. The price for this cruise was so low ($219/ per person) that despite having not been on a cruise with the kids we decided to just pull the plug and book it in April 2015. Shortly there after, we got a notice from Carnival that this cruise was now a 6 day cruise and a port, Costa Maya, would be added at no additional cost to us. We were ecstatic, especially since Chris and I had never been to Costa Maya! In late October and November 2016 the Carnival Liberty started having propulsion issues and several of it's sailings were affected. In early November we got an email from Carnival explaining that our sailing would now be on the Carnival Valor instead of the Liberty. This in turn created a MASSIVE amount of problems for us and everyone on this sailing because despite being "Sister Ships", the Carnival Valor would not accommodate all four of us in the exact same cabin number we had booked on the Liberty. In the end we really lucked out and were upgraded (FOR FREE) to a "Deluxe Scenic Oceanview" cabin on the Lido deck. This was a HUGE upgrade and we were VERY appreciative. You can read more about these pre-cruise crisis issues HERE.

The day we had been waiting on for over 21 months had finally arrived and all four of us were ecstatic. We were up and packing final items before 6AM. We got packed and were on the road by 7:30AM. We were unsure if I-45 would be opened as it had been shut down the previous 3 weekends so we left early just to be sure. We made it down to Buccee's in Texas City by 8:50AM. We made our pit stop and then headed down to Galveston. to the cruise pier It was rainy and somewhat foggy but we were pulling into Terminal 2 by 9:37AM. Chris dropped me off with the luggage and the kids while he went to park the car at EZ Park about 3 blocks away. Tip- EZ Park is a great place to park for shorter cruises and those that are not the usual Sunday to Sunday cruises out of Galveston. We parked 6 days (uncovered) for only $55. 

A view of the EZ Parking lot from the ship! 

On the road selfie!

Hello Galveston!

She is pulling in... She's here!

Since the Carnival Valor was coming from Port Everglades, FL as an empty ship, we assumed she would already be in Galveston when we arrived. She did not arrive until 10AM which in turn delayed the whole boarding process. In fact, the luggage drop off did not even open until right after 10AM so this created a VERY long line just to drop off luggage. During the 25 minutes we waited for this to open a line of 200+ formed. Once the luggage was dropped off we all meandered over to the check-in line. We had Faster to the Fun (FTTF) and a 10-10:30 check-in time but that did not matter as pretty much all of the other 200 had FTTF as well. 

Tip- Carnival has staggered check-in at the port of Galveston. This means you will have to arrive during your check-in time. If you arrive early, the port authorities will not allow you to enter and you will have to wait in line outside. Even in mid-December it was pretty hot outside. Be sure to choose a check-in time AS EARLY AS POSSIBLE in "My Cruise Manager". If you pay for FTTF ($69/ cabin) you can check-in anytime. Just be aware of this and plan ahead. This is for ALL Carnival sailings out of Galveston (among many other ports as well). 

We're here and waiting in line to drop off our bags!

Luke kept himself entertained by wheeling his suitcase everywhere! 

The rest of our embarkation morning was filled with a lot of lines and a lot of waiting. We got into the Priority Line (For platinum and FTTF guests) at 10:05AM but again there were well over 200+ in line with us. Usually Carnival limits FTTF to just 15-30 cabins but this was well over 50 to 100 cabins worth of people. My Personal Vacation Planner (PVP) told me that in the craziness of switching ships Carnival DOUBLE BOOKED the FTTF... OOPS! While waiting in line to drop off the luggage Chris dropped one of our 12 packs of Dr. Pepper and it leaked all over him and our luggage which made our line waiting even more difficult. We were able to enter the building and begin the 1st part of the check-in process by 10:27 and were officially checked in on the Carnival Valor by 10:45AM. We waited in the upstairs lobby of Terminal 2 until 11:40AM when the boarding process FINALLY began. They allowed all of the Platinum guests on board first them had the FTTF mass get in line to get on board. We waited with the masses for another 20 minutes and were finally on board by 11:58AM, which is easily our LATEST boarding time in recent history. 

Tip- We were told the original delay of the ship was due to fog in Galveston Bay and then the boarding delay was due to new computer systems. Carnival has done away with the massive machines that you put your Sail and Sign card into and is now scanning cards with tablets. I really missed the DING! I had read prior to this sailing that this new computer system was causing delays all over so be prepared to wait longer than usual. 

We are officially ON the ship! 

Natalie is SO excited to have a RED card... Next stop- GOLD! 

After we made our way to the very forward of the ship and toured our AMAZING room. We dropped our luggage and quickly made our way to the Lido eating areas. We all indulged in our favorites and enjoyed our 1st of many tasty lunches. I enjoyed Guy's Burgers with the kids and Chris had his favorite... Mongolian Wok
Tip- Be sure to make your way to the Lido for lunch EARLY as it fills up REALLY fast! Mongolian Wok is GREAT but ALWAYS has a line so embarkation day is a great time to try it out!

Carnival Valor Stateroom 9198- Deluxe Scenic Ocean-view

The other half of the room! It was VERY large-well over 200 SQFT!

Our 1st look out the massive floor to ceiling window! 

The Carnival Freedom was also in port!

Our 1st Guy's Burger of the trip! 

Hello from Lido deck! 

Rosie's Restaurant... I LOVED this decor!

After lunch we decided 83* was too hot to walk around in jeans so we all went to the room to change. As we arrived at 1:15PM we saw 3 of our 4 suitcases had already arrived. This is a HUGE payoff of the $69 FTTF fee. This perk has proven to payoff each and every time we purchase this! We then walked up to deck 14 and played a round of mini-golf before the masses arrived. Despite only having 10-20 people on this course, there was not enough golf balls. Tip- Be sure to bring your own golf balls if mini-golf is high on your priority list or you do not want to wait. This lack of golf balls was a problem throughout the sailing. We played our traditional embarkation day round of 9 holes and once again, Chris won by 1 hole. I cannot wait until we rematch on the Carnival Dream in March 2017!

Our traditional bench pic! 

3 of the 4 suitcases arrived shortly after 1PM!

Time to run some laps... oddly enough Luke was faster than Natalie! 

Mini golf round 1!

This was all the balls they had and there were only few more people playing!

The kids are ALREADY having the time of their lives! 

The Carnival Valor in Galveston!

The Carnival Valor atrium lobby decorated for Christmas! 

This was a very neat homemade village! 

More Christmas decor in the Ivanhoe Theater!

The kids saw the pools and hot tubs and decided they wanted to swim and since it was so HOT I obliged. We quickly went back to the room to get in swimwear but I learned I needed to unpack in order to feel more organized. Even though it was a large room (Larger than a standard balcony in fact), it is always best to fully unpack early in the cruise to not have to live out of a suitcase. I unpacked and organized while Chris took them to the pool. They swam in the hot tub and pool for a bit and then made their way to the water-slide. Even Luke was able to ride it and he immediately fell in LOVE with the water-slide. In fact, we got our money's worth with him and the water-slide. Chris and the kids enjoyed the pools, hot tubs and slide for close to 2 hours before it was time to get ready for the muster drill which was supposedly happening at 3:30PM. I sent them to the room to get dry and change while I went to the Camp Ocean to finalize registering the kids for the week long camp activities. 

TIP- If you have kids (2-18) be sure to register them online inside the "My Cruise Manager" BEFORE you set sail. This helps speed up the process a LOT! BUT... you will still need to go and complete the registration process once on board. You can do this as soon as your board the ship and the earlier the better. Most ships offer an "Open House" from 1-4PM on embarkation day. DO YOUR REGISTRATION THEN! If you wait until the official opening at 5PM, you WILL have to wait. We had 1,200 kids (out of 3,600 total) on this sailing and there seemed to always be a line. 

The kids loved the water-slide! 

I was SO proud of my boy for facing his fear and going down the slide! 

I love being on a cruise ship! 

I wish I could zoom in even more... he was having a BLAST! 

We made our way to the lobby on deck 3 in preparation of the muster drill. It was 4PM and we had heard no word of the muster drill start. Natalie's suitcase had still not arrived so I took advantage of the short FTTF Guest Services line and asked about her bag as well as ask for the digital thermostat in our room to be looked at. We ventured over to the Red Frog Pub and played a few games of "shuffle board" as it was empty in anticipation of the Muster Drill! We stayed there until about 4:50PM and finally the muster station meeting was called. Usually Chris and I hang out until the FINAL call for the meeting (usually the 3rd or 4th announcement) but this time a worker saw us and would not allow us to go anywhere but the muster drill so unfortunately, we were the 1st at our location which meant we were squished in the back. Tip- wait at least 10 minutes after the 1st announcement to go to your station, otherwise you will be at the back! In the hot Texas heat, it is NO FUN! Still it took another 20 minutes to get the meeting going and it was 5:20PM. We set sail for Costa Maya, Mexico at 5:45PM, nearly 2 hours later than scheduled! 

I had read about these digital thermostats and tried to get it to be cooler in our room with no luck!
(This was about 72 * F) 

They are ready in case of an emergency! 

Luke said "Mommy. this is day #1"- Oh how I LOVE my boy! 

Traditional life-preserver picture! 

Like Mother- like Daughter... Me on the Magic in 2015 and Natalie the Valor in 2016!
We loved Red Frog Pub!

They really enjoyed the shuffle board game! 

Games in the Red Frog Pub... this was REALLY neat but always packed later in the cruise! 

Family Embarkation picture- We are ready to set sail! 

Buried in the masses at the Muster Station meeting! 

We left the meeting and went straight to Guy's Burgers as the kids were hungry. We took them back to our room to try to watch sail away from our floor to ceiling window but it was already nearly dark and we did not see much of anything. We headed down to dinner in the Main Dining Room in our jeans and t-shirts, which was a first for me but everyone else was also VERY casual so it was fine. 

The kids' pre-dinner before the MDR dinner- yep, we've already trained them right!

We had YOUR TIME DINING and could eat in the MDR anytime from 5:45 to 9PM. This works out very well for us and we use this dining time for most, if not all. of our cruises. We had to wait in line for about 20 minutes but were seated in the dining room by 6:15PM. The Carnival Valor has the American Table menus and we thoroughly enjoyed them. Be sure to check out the upcoming food blog for more info and LOTS AND LOTS of PICTURES! At the end of dinner our waiter brought over each of the kids a small birthday cake as we were celebrating their birthdays. 

Tip- If you are celebrating a birthday or an anniversary be sure to enter it into your "My Cruise Manager" prior to sailing. It is FREE and a great way to celebrate just about ANYTHING on board. 

Dinner selfie! 

Celebrating their birthdays of 2016 in the Main Dining Room!

The cakes were VERY small but perfect for a special birthday dessert! 

After dinner we ventured into the Ivanhoe Theater to try to catch the tail end of the Thriller dance lessons but we were too late to get on stage. We meandered around the ship for a little while before the kids talked us into getting into the pool. It was COLD but we had a blast. We all swam for about an hour before Luke got really cold. We headed to the Lido buffet area to get Hot Chocolate, which turned out to be a nightly tradition for Miss Natalie. We went back to the room with intentions to get back out and explore but Luke fell asleep while we were showering. We called it an early night and were all sound asleep by 10:45PM. 

Natalie LOVED her new snorkel set she got from... well, Santa (Just a little early)! 

Natalie swimming in the pool by herself! 

Due to the delay in sailing we were going FAST... the pool turned into a wave pool! 

It was an excellent embarkation day full of firsts: Natalie swam by herself in the pool, Luke got over his fear and went down the water- slide, we enjoyed dinner casually instead of all of the fuss of getting dressed up and we were delayed in sailing by nearly 2 hours. It was a day for the memory books but we loved every minute. The next day was 1 of only 2 sea days and all four of us were looking forward to a day of rest and relaxation. 

Keep Calm and CRUISE on! 

Stay tuned for Day 2! 

God is good... ALL the time! 

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