It was spring break for the kids and our most awaited vacation was here. Our cruise trip to western Caribbean, sailed on Carnival cruise. The cruise started from Galveston port in Texas.
Before the trip I was surfing through web to find out several details. I always like to be prepared and do my research before any trip. In order to travel with Kids I like to be planned and want no surprises. Also I don't want to miss anything important, like forgetting to pack for an Elegant night or missing out on fun shore activities. Between Pinterest and several websites I was able to grab lot of details if not all.
Once we were back, many of my friends were asking several questions about the trip. So I thought of writing this post to help those who are in my boat ;-). Which ever cruise you might be planning to go on, these tips will help you to make your trip as smooth and stress free as possible. This might seem like a long post but at the end it will answer many of the questions you may have.
- Ship : Carnival Valor
- Port of Embarkation: Galveston, TX
- Length: 5 nights & 6 days
- Destination: Western Caribbean
- Ports of call: Cozumel and Progreso
- When: Spring break 2017
Where to buy tickets:
There are several websites that would sell these tickets. Expedia, cruise lines themselves and also Costco are on top of my mind. There are also agents who are specialized in cruises and would book tickets. This is helpful incase of complex itineraries. I would suggest you check with Costco as they usually have great cruise deals that comes with reliability. Going with Costco also will save you little money if you are adding a travel protection insurance. This cost will be higher if you directly book with cruise lines.
In our case, we booked through Carnival directly and we had a very good experience and great customer service.
To find out more details on how to find a good deal on Carnival, click here: Cruise Deals
When to book:
Book as early as possible to knock a great deal and also to get a desired room location. But do find out their cancellation policies, incase something unexpected would happen and you have to drop. Look into their Travel protection plan and clauses.
Usually during spring break the prices are more due to the fact it's vacation time and also weather starts getting better in Carriabbean. But again off season is cheaper yet it might be hurricane season, LOL.
Sometimes cruises might have last minute deals if they have vacant cabins. So consider all these and book your vacation.
Location of state room to pick :
The lower decks are known to have less motion compared to higher decks. Also the state room in the middle of the ship would be more stable than at the front or back. So middle of the ship, lower deck would have less motion. Saying that, our state room was on 2nd deck and in the middle but I still felt little motion. But it didn't bother me though.
But if you love to party and aren't bothered about motion, upper decks would be the choice.
Check your ship plan before you book to see which level has what facilities like Pool, buffet, restaurants etc. Carnival valor has water slide, golf , table tennis, running track on top decks. Also kids camp (day care) is on top deck.
What type of Stateroom to pick:
There are rooms with No view (Inside room), Obstructed view, Porthole, Window view and finally a Balcony with patio. Price depends on the state room type. Traveling in groups can opt for connecting state rooms.
Since I have Kids I didn't want a balcony room and opted for room with Window view. So I can have a view and natural light. The window has a seat kind of space where Kids can sit.
My Kids loved to sit there and look out the window. Sometimes they saw other ships. Also they would look out to see if they are close to shore. My little one was expecting to see Sharks and whales , Lol but he didn't see any.
These cabins have ample lighting . They are cozy but I felt it's enough space as you will be spending more time on the ship and less inside. Also the rooms have enough storage. The bathroom will be tiny but still has space for toiletries. Overall I'm impressed by these cabins. So go with your budget and book the cabin.
One more thing to look while booking cabin is, the type of beds you want. For example we pick a room with Queen bed, Sofa bed and upper bunk bed. You have few options to choose based on how many people are in cabin.
Cute Towel animal greets you in the state room
Once the tickets are booked:
Once the tickets are booked and as time comes closer you have other things to take care before onboard.
- Create an account with the cruise line website. Complete registration forms. This requires all travelers personal information including passport details etc..
- If you have Kids and are planning to send them to Camp Carnival, register. You can leave kids there and pamper yourself. You can go to a spa or relax by pool or even doing fun shopping. They are even open during night time.
- Select dinner option, fixed time or open dining. For details check next section.
- Check out the shore excursions and book. You can go with Carnival or other tour companies. We booked through Carnival though.
- Order a pack of water bottles. They will deliver to your room. if you wanna carry a bottle of water when you step out to shore excursion or even carry it on cruise while going around, it's cheaper. It costs about $5 for 12 pack if I remember correctly.
- Select a time slot to check in on the day of embarkation. You have to select a time slot (30 minute window) and show up during that time. If you go earlier than your time you need to wait.
- Print all forms including Boarding pass and Luggage tags, one for each luggage.
- Explore your mobile phone plan options with your carrier. We added Mexico plan and were able to use voice and data on-shore. The charges were pretty cheap. We were even able to send all the cool pics we clicked, to our near and dear. More over we felt comfortable coz we were able to let the family know we are safe and having fun.
- Download cruise line mobile app if they have one. CarnivalHub app was really helpful during sailing.
Food on Carnival:
Now to the most important thing :-) , Food. Carnival has several specialty restaurants along with the Main dining room and Lido buffet. Many of them are free and some will charge you. Being a vegetarian I was suspicious about food choices but there were enough choices and you will definitely not go hungry.
You can check your carnival hub app for daily dining options and timings.
While Breakfast and lunch options would be Buffet on Lido deck (Deck 9) , Dinner will be served in MDR (Main dining room). On Sea days there will be brunch and evening Tea in the Dining room. There are two dining rooms, Washington and Lincoln dining rooms on Valor.
For Dinner you have an option of choosing a fixed time and be served at the same table, same time every day or you can go with open dining where you have an option to go when you want. Your option will be specified on your fun card (you will get during the boarding) along with the dining room name. We opted for Open dining as I wanna go when I'm hungry but not based on my time. Sometimes we got a seat immediately and sometimes we had to wait more than 15 minutes. If you wanna be seated at same table, served by the same crew and without any wait, opt for timed dining.
Other than the buffet and Dining rooms, there are 24/7 Pizza, Deli, Burger place are open on Carnival Valor. You can download Carnival Hub app which would show what is served and where and also timings on daily basis. The App was also useful as to find all the activities on the cruise on daily basis along with time and location.
Breakfast buffet will have Pancakes, waffles, Eggs, fruits, omelette, cereals, pastries and lot more options. The Coffee was not so great but they have coffee bar where you can buy speciality coffees. Coffee was probably the only thing we paid for on cruise :-).
Also Soda is not free on cruise. I saw people carrying pack of soda cans onto the cruise. Or you can buy unlimited soda package on cruise. Since we don't prefer soda we haven't bought it.
Lemonade and water are the only free non alcoholic beverages provided. During breakfast there will be OJ .
Lunch buffet every day will have salad, fruits. I haven't paid attention to non vegetarian food though. Also there is "Sweet spot" on the side, which every day serves several sweet treats like cookies, pie, mousse and several other desserts.
The dinners in dining room are decent. Different Menu every day with ample options to choose. For vegetarians the options might be less. We ordered Indian vegetarian almost every day. It's in the menu. If you don't see it ask for it. It was decent. The elaborated meal is served with Rice, Dhal (lentils), 2 veg curries, Papad and very little raita. We used to order plain yogurt along with it as Indian meal feels incomplete without yogurt. Rice and Dhal were consistently good. Curries were hit and miss.
My favorites from veg menu were crispy stuffed Portobello mushrooms, Ricotta Ravioli and of course Indian vegetarian.
Dessert menu during dinner is spectacular. We don't have much of a sweet tooth but still we enjoyed em. Few of my fav were melted chocolate cake which we ordered every time it's on the menu, Chocolate pannacotta, Strawberry parfait (which was actually strawberry mousse) and tropical fruit plate. Don't miss the melted chocolate cake.
Guys Burger joint serves Vegetarian burger and Fries. Another great option for herbivorous. The meal is free.
Last but not least you can order room service anytime. They have a simple menu.
Carnival has few Internet packages to meet your requirements. And of course they are not free. But who wants Internet when the ultimate goal is to relax and have fun.
What to Pack:
Make sure to check luggage weight and restrictions. You can get those details from cruise line website. We were allowed 2 luggages each, 50 pounds a piece.
Here is a list :
- Swim suits, flip flops , swim coveralls. No need of beach towels as Carnival provides those or pack if you prefer your own.
- Sunglasses, Hats, sunscreen lotion.
- Nausea medicine incase if you have motion sickness. Nausea bands have good reviews. We got em from Walmart. If you don't use them and don't open them you should be able to return em.
- Casual wear for mornings. Sundresses, T shirts, shorts etc.
- Semi formal wear for dinner.
- Formal wear for elegant day. Usually there is 1 elegant day on 5 day cruise and 2 on 7 day cruise. If you do not want to dress up you can still go grab a pizza.
- Footwear keeping in mind about formal wear, walking on cruise and shore excursions.
- Toiletries. Cruise will provide shower gel and shampoo. But I carried my own shampoo. You can buy travel size toiletries from Walmart or other stores.
- Currency (Dollars ) if you are planning to shop on shore, also to give tips. You will be giving tips a lot.
- Chargers and Power extension cord to charge your devices as the room will have only one power outlet.
Parking on the day:
If you are driving:
Check online. You have several parking lots near port. Most of em provide shuttle service. You can reserve your spot ahead in some parking lots which would be convenient as some lots might fill up fast, especially if they are closer to port. Parking charges might run a minimum of $50 for 5 days. At least thats what we paid.
If you fly and are staying in a hotel, some of em have shuttle services.
Day of disembarkation:
You have an option of carrying your luggage in which case you will be the first ones to get out of the ship. This is helpful if you have a plane to catch. Or you can leave luggage and pick up at port. This will help you if you have big pieces of luggage and you don't wanna carry the weight. In this case you need to leave luggage outside of your room the night before. You will receive specific directions day before. Do not forget to keep stuff for the next day like clothes, medicines etc.
In the morning breakfast will be served on lido deck buffet. You can check out the room, have breakfast and wait at designated areas for your zone number to be called. Zone number will be on your luggage tags provided to you day before. You will be going thru customs, then pick your luggage and head on to your hotel/car.
On the day of embarkation:
- Carry all necessary documents.
- Make sure to follow luggage restrictions.
- Show up during your selected time slot .
- Drop luggage at the spot.
- Go through check in procedure. Every person will get a sail and fun card. This will also be your room key.
- Get on the ship.
- Let the fun begin.
- Our cabin was ready by the time we reached. Our luggage came after an hour or so.
- Lunch was served on lido buffet on that day.
Do check out cruise critic website for more tips.
Check Carnival Valor website
Disclaimer : Lastly... the above info was given based on my experience. Make sure to check with cruise lines or your rep. for any questions you may have, as rules might change often.