If you have already booked your cruise on the Conquest out of New Orleans, please read this review only as guide to how best maximize your enjoyment and minimize disappointment. But don't worry--you are about to take a week-long vacation in paradise. There may be better cruises, but this is still a cruise and you can and will have LOTS of fun. Don' worry, Mon!
If, on the other hand, you were a fan of the Conquest when it went out of Galveston then allow me to suggest you forget about this ship and move on. It is not the same.
I convinced nearly my entire family to forego the 4-5 hour trip from Dallas to Galveston to take the new Carnival Magic and, instead, drive the 9 hour trip to take the Conquest out of New Orleans. Big mistake. As if doubling the commute wasn't bad enough, I felt like I spent the entire week apologizing to my family about the quality of the cruise experience.
I last took the Carnival Conquest with my wife, then-3-year-old daughter, and my father and mother-in-law in May 2010. We took the western caribbean itinerary to Jamaica, Grand Cayman, and Cozumel. And we absolutely LOVED it. We had to be pushed off the ship.
This time, however, we were very ready to go home by the time Mother's Day and the end of our cruise came around.
I still love the French Impressionist theme throughout the ship. And, while the ship has continued to age, it is still a very nice ship. It should be even better after its impending overhaul.
But a facelift will not correct the problems we experienced. The food quality has suffered and the service and attitude of the crew and wait staff has suffered greatly. On past cruises, I found myself giving extra cash tips to the crew at the end of the week. This time, however, I ended up reducing the gratuities.
You can continue reading for more in-depth explanation of the likes and dislikes of this cruise. It was not all bad (Camp Carnival, room service, and comedy shows were great), but I believe we could have probably done much better by booking with the new Carnival Magic.
I have been a burgeoning "Carnivalista" and resisted my in-law's invitations to try out their fav Royal Caribbean. However, if I have another experience like I did this past week then I probably will be a Carnival "past guest" for good.
During this cruise we chose a balcony stateroom on Deck 8, the Veranda deck, in the forward portion of the ship. We ended up about 3 rooms behind the ship's bridge. Although the bridge did get in the way of the occasional sunset/rise picture, it was interesting to be able to see the pilot or occasional glimpse of the captain on the bridge. Also, Deck 8 was a great location as it was a short walk up to the Lido Deck for swimming and buffet so we could avoid the slow elevators.
The cabin was as expected and looked exactly as it had on our previous cruise. The only exception was that this cabin had a pullman's bed that our 5-year-old daughter absolutely loved and allowed us to maintain the couch for seating instead of giving it up for her bed throughout the day.
The staterooms are somewhat dated with the old television sets that are not very responsive or clear. However, I imagine this will all be changed with the overhaul of the ship scheduled soon.
CABIN STEWARD AND HOUSEKEEPING
Our greatest disappointment this go-around with the Conquest was the very noticeable drop-off in the level of service provided by the crew. This downturn is enough to potentially scare us away from Carnival for good. (Although, we have decided we will give another try to the Carnival Magic out of Galveston before swearing off Carnival completely).
On the first day, I handed a $20 bill to our Cabin Steward and introduced myself. I told him we were looking forward to a great week onboard. In the past, this has always helped in insuring that the Steward would be attentive and helpful. But, understand, I do not believe an up-front tip is necessary for the cabin steward to provide good service. I just like to let him/her know that good service will be appreciated.
That afternoon I found our steward and asked that the partition between our and my father's balcony be opened. His response: "You do not understand the procedure. You must go to guest services to request that. I cannot help you." Although slightly perturbed by his answer, a trip to guest services a short time later confirmed that the procedures have changed. Still, I believe the steward could have provided a better answer than he did.
Next, I asked our cabin steward to remove the alcohol from the mini-fridge. He replied: "I would rather not. You can take it out and put it somewhere; you should have room." To this, I responded: "I would rather not risk something getting lost and being charged for it." He simply smiled and said that he was sure I would find room for it and not to worry.
The next day after sailing, my wife and I wanted to order room service but we could find no menu. I checked with my family in the cabin on either side and they had no menus. Further, while they had the hanging breakfast room service requests, we were lacking those as well.
So I called room service and asked about the menu. I was told it should be in the cabin and I told them it wasn't. After having her read the menu to me, the room service attendant said she would have a menu sent with our food. It was not.
That evening, with no menu, I went to guest services to ask for a menu. Again, I was told it was in our cabin and I had overlooked it. Insisting otherwise, however, I explained that NO ONE in any nearby cabins had a menu, either. Further, we did not having the door hangers. Guest services apologized and provided a menu.
However, about 30 minutes after visiting guest services, I received a visit from the cabin steward. He had the door hangers and, after handing them to me, he said: "You should have called me directly. When you go to guest services, all they do is call me. So please call me first and do not call guest services." Now feeling quite awkward, I found myself apologizing to HIM because I went to guest services for HIS FAILURES.
One night we returned to the room after dinner to find that a used and dirty scotch brite pad was left on the bathroom sink.
Halfway through the cruise I needed some laundry done. There were no bags or request forms in the room. (Again, something else I was later informed SHOULD have been provided). I called the steward and he brought me a white paper bag. I put 3 items in, filled out the blank spaces on the bag, and left it for the steward to pick up the next day.
However, that afternoon I returned from our excursion to discover that the bag was still in the room. Only now the steward had remembered to bring the laundry request form and left it on top of the bag. The problem then was that, in order to get the laundry done when I wanted because it was not picked up that day, it would cost me an extra 50% rush processing fee. Again, because the steward failed to provide the necessary papers.
Finally, the towel animals were overall unimaginative and sloppy. Of 7 nights, we could only guess at 2 creations--an elephant and a heart. (And the heart was not very imaginative as I could roll up a towel to make a heart). The other nights we never could guess what the towel was supposed to be.
FOOD SERVICE AND FOOD QUALITY
We were also disappointed with the dining room service. On our last cruise on the Conquest, by the second night the wait staff had begun calling us by name and were becoming well aware of our preferences. Also, throughout the cruise they were always attentive, friendly, and never far off. We got to know their stories and shared ours. Before leaving, we made sure to increase our gratuity to the wait staff.
That did not happen this time around.
The wait staff never once referred to my wife by name. My 5-year-old only ate with us on about 3 occasions but she was ignored each time. Another toddler in our group was given attention and the wait staff made napkin animals to her delight. Not once did a single waiter even try speaking to my daughter.
Furthermore, the wait staff always seemed to be busy with other tables. We had to wait to try and flag them down for requests of drink refills, condiments, or additional bread. On the first night we asked for iced tea; on the second night it was automatically provided. Each night after that, however, it was a wait to try and get anyone's attention to bring some iced tea and we settled for water the rest of the cruise.
The food quality has lost much of its magic, as well. On our last cruise I was introduced to polenta--a vegetarian alternative dish--and eagerly anticipated having it again. This cruise, however, it was runny and cold and lacked flavor. The lobster tail was flavorless and chewy. The lasagna bolognese had a good flavor but the beef was grisly and poor quality. The prime rib was still good, however, and they offered a very good selection of delicious soups as starters throughout the week. The other highlight was that they still offer the warm chocolate melting cake each night and it is still a treat.
The buffet also seemed to lack much of the pizazz it once had. At best, it might match the quality of a Golden Corral buffet but I'm not sure that description might not be overly generous.
The pizza was still fairly good and served without too much delay. I only had the mongolian stir fry the first day and was not overly impressed, but then I can only compare it to Genghis Grill and do not believe that is a fair comparison.
Finally, I will say that room service was MUCH improved on this cruise over the last. I was only able to order room service once on my previous cruise because I could never get anyone to answer. Even then it was served with an unreasonable delay.
On this cruise, however, room service answered quickly and the food was delivered in no more than 15-20 minutes after the order was placed. The grilled cheese was one of the best I have ever had and both my wife and I loved the mozzarella and portobello sandwich and chicken fajita wrap. Sure, the menu is limited but what is offered is very good. Many times, the quality of room service well-exceeded what was offered on the buffet.
As always, we loved the Seaside Theatre. They played family favorites such as Toy Story and Lion King. We also watched Field of Dreams and GoldenEye. The last night The Break-Up played and I would have loved to watch all of it but for the fact we forgot to put our suitcases out for collection.
Still, there is nothing like sitting out on Lido with a blanket, drink, ice cream, piece of pizza, popcorn etc., and watching a movie.
The live bands were somewhat disappointing to us. The calypso band was mediocre, at best, and managed to mangle even Bob Marley's best. Other songs which we had a feeling we should know were nearly completely unrecognizable. Most of the time we could not even understand the lyrics being sung.
Further, I thought on our last cruise more than one band performed around the pool during the week. This time we were stuck with the same calypso band throughout the week. This was disappointing.
The band in the promenade which plays outside the casino was, bottom line, not good. I believe the singer in the atrium was the same as on our previous cruise and, while I admit she isn't American Idol material, we loved her then and love her still for her attitude, stamina, and smile.
As for the shows in the Toulouse Latrec Lounge, we only caught the magic show and the Married Show. The magic show was the EXACT SAME ACT as we had the pleasure of watching two years ago---down to the snow in the theater at the end. It is a very entertaining show but we were disappointed that in two-years time Carnival could not manage to put together a new show.
The Married Show (think "Newlyweds" Game Show on a cruise ship) was boring. We could not tell if that was a result of boring contestants or a bad host. Overall, we thought Cruise Director Paul was funny. However, he spent far too much time talking about his past marriages and not nearly enough time actually talking to the contestants and poking at them for their answers. The past marriage shows we have seen were far funnier.
The comedy shows were very good. My favorite was probably Carl Faulkenberry, who showed up during the second half of the cruise. A Jerry Springer look-alike, Faulkenberry spends as much time successfully interacting with and playing off the crowd as he does going through prepared material. Still, all of the comedians were funny.
Finally, Vincent's Bar featured the sing-along performances of "Barry." We loved Barry, but I will warn you that as the night gets older and the drinking heavier, Barry does get crude. Still, he is funny and friendly and I would highly recommend stopping in for at least 30 minutes during your week.
Our experience this cruise with Camp Carnival exceeded even the last--and the last time was not bad. These staff members are so well-trained and friendly, I believe they deserve their own gratuity. One in particular, Tessa from Canada, (known as Miss Tinkerbell to the campers) drew our respect and admiration.
Our 5-year-old daughter was in heaven and loved every minute she had to spend in Camp Carnival. She never wanted to leave and insisted on eating dinner with the Camp nearly every night. And she was kept so busy that when picked up at the end of the evening, she quickly crawled up into bed and went right to sleep without fuss.
Thank you Camp Carnival for being the absolute best part of this cruise for my entire family.
We chose to walk Duval Street during our stop in Key West. It was about a 10 to 11 block walk down Duval to the Key West Butterfly Conservatory. I cannot more highly recommend stopping in. I imagined a greenhouse with a few butterflies. But the minute we walked through the double-doors and these beautiful Blue Morpho butterflies began swirling playfully around our heads, we thought we were in heaven. Between the sounds of the birds and water trickling and sights of thousands of butterflies dancing throughout, this was a very magical stop. It is a memory my family will hold forever.
There are also plenty of great shops and restaurants. You definitely want to try some Key Lime Pie, but family said the chocolate dipped version was way too rich. We stuck with the Roof Top Cafe, recommended in the port-of-call guide by Carnival. We were not disappointed. The 2-for-1 margaritas were good, the conch fritters delicious, and the Key Lime Pie was everything we had hoped. My wife also loved the BBQ chicken sandwich.
In one word: Disappointing. We chose to book our own excursion with Barry at Paradise Cove on Deadman's Reef. However, the beach was dirty and snorkeling not at all what we had hoped. Of course, the sea was very rough and we could not venture as far out as we hoped. Still, I would not return.
The shopping at Port Lucaya Marketplace, while limited, was somewhat rewarding. The Carnival-recommended shops were good and offered very reasonable deals. Venturing a little ways off found some small independent peddlers who almost seemed put-out to even sell to the nosy American tourists.
Both of our cab drivers repeatedly mentioned that Bahamas (and especially Freeport) is dependent upon tourism--and specifically American tourism--to survive. So, in ignorance, one might believe the Bahamians that rely upon that tourism to make a living might be a bit more cordial to those of us willing to hand over our green. But no. Overall, both in Freeport and in Nassau, the Bahamians were very rude and unprofessional.
We booked an excursion through Carnival for the Blue Lagoon Private Island with lunch. This is one I would highly recommend. The waters were crystal clear, the beach sand white, clean, and powdery, and there was more to do than could be jammed in to 3 hours. Blue Lagoon was one of the high points of our cruise.