Sunday - 2006 Carnival Valor Wine CruiseThe launch day for our 7 day Eastern Caribbean cruise with the Presidential Wine Club on the Carnival Valor had arrived!
We landed in Miami International Airport at 8:50am. It was a reasonable although convoluted walk down to the baggage claim area. Unfortunately, my boyfriend, Bob's, bag didn't come through. We waited a while, then asked an employee. We were told all bags were now off. We went to the baggage claim area and he wanted us to wait around for future flights to land, in case one had our bag. It seemed odd to us that FedEx can track your package to know where it was, but the airlines even though they barcode your suitcases, don't know which plane it's on :). Luckily, they did eventually find our bag about 15 minutes later and we were off.
We got into the taxi at 9:32am. The cabs all have a flat fare out to the docks so it doesn't matter how "long" it takes via traffic or anything. It's a straight $24. Off we went. The ride was smooth, and it took maybe 15 minutes. By 9:49am we were in the car-line at the dock waiting to get to the cart area. He dropped us off right at the baggage carts. We then walked a short distance to the main terminal building and headed in. We got there at 10:03am, they had everyone go into the VIP line. FunPass didn't matter. There were about 15 people in that line, so we hit the desk at 10:18.
The lady there wasn't extremely clue-ful :) She asked us for our customs forms twice (tho she had them already), gave us the wrong tickets, and gave us the wrong key cards. Maybe she was new? When we were set, at 10:27, we went straight through security, no line there. Literally at 10:30 we were in the main line. About 100 of us waited in the "big room" until 10:52, then they let us into a larger lounge with chairs. We all sat there for about an hour, until 11:41am. Then it was up the escalator and onto the ship! So while there was a wait, it wasn't a wait as in "trudging along step by step". It was more that the ship wasn't open yet, and besides that big room line waiting, we got to hang out on chairs in the lounge and relax. Very orderly. Note that you're not allowed to use cell phones in the lobby for security reasons.
So we showed our ship card and photo ID, went up the escalators, skipped past the ship photographers, showed our ship card at the boat's entrance, and we were on the boat! They were still cleaning the rooms. They wouldn't let us get into our rooms until 1:30, tho they would let us put our carry on luggage in there. So pretty much everyone went up to the food decks to get something to eat. The waiters were circulating with drinks and waters, being available but not pushy. We hung out up there until 1:30.
Room time! I finally got to shower. I was in sweats and a long sleeved shirt having come from Up North - these clothes were quite toasty on the ship!. I felt more human again.
We took a ton of photos, going all over the ship. It's the exact same layout as the Liberty which we were on last year. I know each of us has our own preference, but I *adored* the Liberty's art deco kinds of decor. The tables in the buffet area were just gorgeous. The murals on the ends of the stairwells were gorgeous. The moving-light chandelier. Everything was beautiful. So while I appreciate the "old style Americana" of the Valor, it's just not as appealing to me. There are a lot of Liberty Bells, the industrial diner look of Rosie's, the plaster-looking portraits of presidents everywhere. I'm sure some people will really like this style, but I found myself wistfully thinking of how some of these same rooms were done up on the Liberty.
We were upgraded to a balcony, which is a treat. I really like being able to lounge out on our balcony in the evenings, watching the sun set. We're with the Wine Club - this is the yearly Wine Club cruise so Bob Dickinson and Georges Blanc (the chef) are both on the ship. They sit a table over from us. Most people we meet through dinner and the other activities they have scheduled for us (tastings, movies etc) are wine lovers, and most of us have brought several bottles on board with us. We have 3, another couple brought 4, another brought 6. The rules state that while you can't bring "alcohol" on you can bring "fine wine" if you pay a $10 corkage fee at the restaurant. Since, with the wines we're bringing, $10 is less than the markup they charge on their wines, it works out really well. In essence we save money this way. Plus it means we have a bottle of port in our room, so we bring the delicious German Chocolate Cake back to our room and have port and cake on our balcony.
OK, standard lifeboat drill time. During the lifeboat drill, one of the Carnival instructors had a shirt that said "PORN KING" on it, which several of us found inapprorpriate while he was sitting there leading families through the lifeboat drill.
Then we were off! Another ship went out past us and we all stood on our balconies waving at each other. It was great fun. Then we headed off, with jet skiiers coming alongside, people waving from the shore and cheering, it was great.
The wine event schedule hadn't been distributed yet, but we knew in advance what it was going to be, so we were prepared for the timing. There was a 6:30 opening cermeony in the Eagle lounge. This had lovely wooden inlaid tables with American Eagles. The room was completely full of people, with several wines being poured for free, from the Marquee line - a set of wines the wine club had featured. Christopher, their general manager, was there to discuss the wines. There was a Riesling - spritsy with a light, mild flavor. This went nicely with the lobster with green beans appetizer. The pinot noir was a little tart, but with nice fruit flavors. The semillon-chardonnay had a hint of butter and grass. There was also an OK merlot. Other appetizers included blue point oysters in ice gaspacho, crab and fois gras.
We ran into George and Pam who we'd met on the previous wine cruise, as well as Linda, Charlene and our other table mates from that cruise as well. It was sort of like a fun reunion. There was also a precocious teen, Kyle, who was there with his parents. I made Kyle an origami crane, which he loved, so I made him a Japanese samurai hat. He was able to reverse engineer it and make me one! Quite neat.
Then we all headed up to dinner. We had been initially set for a table of four. We much rather like big tables where you can meet many different people, but we were OK with this table. We sat - and were immediately told we would be moved because a family wanted this table. They walked us all the way down one side, then all the way back up the other side, then finally figured out where we should go and took us to a big round 10 person table. We were the only ones there. There were several other tables around us with only a few people each. We asked if maybe we could band together into a few tables and were told we couldn't. So a number of people sat separately during this meal. Our waiter didn't speak English well and couldn't answer several of our questions. I'll have to find our food choices later and put them in. I had a glass of the Nobilo Sauvignon Blanc which was quite tasty. Bob went with the waiter's suggestion of the George Blanc Burgundy and was less impressed with that.
First was an asparagus cream soup, which was tasty. The salad was salady :). The pan seared tilapia with a herb butter sauce was nicely done. They also provided a bonus appetizer of raw tuna which was spicy and flavorful.
I loved the melted chocolate cake last year on the Liberty and was thrilled to see it was a 'special selection' on the menu this year. I ordered it. Unfortunately, it came super steamed, super hot, with no liquid at all. It was like a chocolate sponge cake. Ah well, I figured I'd try again tomorrow.
We were worn out and headed back to the room. We're on the 7th floor and it has been very quiet. No strange noises, no problems at all. We can hear the "dong" and "ding dong" of the elevators, though, quietly. We have my laptop with me for work / mail reasons and we brought the first season of House on DVD to watch. We saw one episode before Bob fell fast asleep. I then began working on downloading my mail. It took me almost 3 hours to get it all downloaded because of the super slow connection. I didn't have any issues like this on the Liberty. I'll not ethat it's $100 for 250 minutes - they say you get a bonus for signing up the first day, but it doesn't show up on your sign-up page, and there's no "total usage" report. They only show you, when you log out, what you used that time. There's also a $3.95 activation fee for the first logon only.
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