When I went on my first cruise 20 years ago, I knew instantly I had discovered my ideal type of holiday.
Fantastic food, entertainment and the chance to flit between the Caribbean’s stunning sun-kissed islands. What could be better?
So having averaged at least one cruise a year since then and experienced half a dozen of the major cruise lines, I’d like to think I know my subject.
Or at least I thought I did until this summer, when for the first time I went with Carnival. for now I know I’ve been missing something very good.
Carnival has always had the tag of being the “party line”, and I have to admit that I thought it might be a little too rowdy for me, wife Simone and children Jamie, 14, and Rachel, 10.
So I am pleased to report that I was wrong. Forget rowdy, the Carnival experience is FUN.
Considering that its fares are lower than other major lines, no corners are cut.
The food was faultless and the entertainment first class.
The friendly staff couldn’t do enough for us and the party atmosphere had just the right balance.
The only main difference is that the dress code is more casual.
We boarded Carnival Valor in Miami and were impressed by its decor, which focuses on American presidents. It was also pleasing to find that our four-berth cabin was spacious enough to ensure we’d all be comfortable for seven nights.
The welcome-aboard buffet is always a good indication of what may lie ahead and I immediately knew we were in for treat in the coming days. I particularly liked the Mongolian wok buffet, where you selected your own ingredients and handed them to the chef to cook for you while you watched.
It was so good I ended up visiting it every lunchtime but other choices included a deli, a burrito bar and a fish and chip station.
The menu offered a great selection across the week and every meal was delicious – especially the chocolate souffle.
Apart from the food, we enjoyed the waiters’ singing and dancing and the magician who visited our table to entertain the kids with a card trick or two, something I have not seen on other cruises.
The highlight was a visit to the signature steak restaurant, Scarlett’s.
It was fine dining at its best. you pay a cover charge but it is worth the experience. After dinner our choices included a show in the theatre, a trip to the comedy club, a session in the casino or a deck party, so we were never short on entertainment.
The biggest and best show of the week was the ship’s singers and dancers performing Far from over, a tribute to 80s music.
Cruising has allowed me to see much of the Caribbean, but this was the first time I had stopped in Belize, which gave me the chance to educate the kids by touring the Mayan ruins of Altun Ha and learn the history of the ceremonial site.
I learned something new, too. Belize has a blue hole just off the main coastline which is one of the best diving and snorkelling spots in the world, but the locals reckon it was only discovered in 1969 when Neil Armstrong saw it from space in Apollo 11.
Another of our stops was the Honduran island of Roatan. in Gumbalimba Park we saw colourful birds and capuchin monkeys, followed by a couple of hours at Tabyana Beach, another of the well planned and reasonably priced excursions.
Sea days were spent lazing on deck in front of the big screen, laughing at the pool games, enjoying a cocktail or two.
I can’t wait to get the next Carnival party started.