My wife and I booked our first ever cruise for the Carnival Conquest when it was still one of the larger and newer ships in the Carnival fleet. However, Hurricane Katrina came and it was relocated. We cancelled and booked another trip instead. Now several years later, we cruised with the same couple we went with on that first cruise, only this time with our children and we finally got to sail on the Conquest - just before the 2.0 upgrade.
This cruise included myself and my wife and our two daughters, aged 14 and 12. We met our friends with their 3 boys and traveled as a group.
We knew we were sailing on the first Saints home game so decided to drive in the day before and take our girls to the French Quarter for a bit of sightseeing. I dropped the family off at an area hotel and parked at the Fulton Street Garage, an easy walk to the hotel. It was a hot afternoon, but we caught a streetcar to the FQ, visited Jackson Square and the cathedral, and had a great lunch. We discovered later that waits for streetcars can be even longer than waits for elevators on the Conquest, so we did more walking than originally intended, but had a great time.
On Sunday we all walked to the garage, pulled our luggage from the vehicles and caught the shuttle to the cruise ship. The shuttles ran regularly and it wasn't a problem to find a porter to assist us with the bags once we exited the shuttle. There were no problems with embarkation; the rooms were ready more quickly than I have experienced before. After lunch on the Lido deck our luggage arrived; we stood with lots of people for the muster drill, and were soon on our way down the Mississippi.
The Conquest is the largest ship I have sailed on to date, but was very easy to navigate and never felt crowded to me. We do hate that we are forced to walk past or through the casino (cigarette smoke bothers my wife's asthma) to get to so many areas, but that's the way it's been on every other ship so we've come to expect it and just moved quickly.
I found the ship's decor to be more understated than others and enjoyed the impressionist theme. My youngest daughter was already a fan of Monet and was particularly happy with the abundance of water lilies in the Monet dining room. We had no problems finding seats in either the Toulouse Lautrec lounge or for the comedy shows in Degas.
We were pleased with our stateroom and the service of our steward; he kept the ice bucket filled and made it a point to learn all of our names and greeted us each time we passed by in the hallway.
I will say that the rooms were on the warm side and a portable fan may have been nice. We heard from at least one person who had their extension cord and some appliance confiscated, but I had no issues with the one I brought with my CPAP.
The cruise felt very smooth, although our dining table was in the aft corner and my oldest chose not to eat there one or two nights due to the movement.
We ate each night in the Monet dining room because this cruise was all about relaxation. My wife thought the less she had to do, the better! So it was a given that having a napkin placed in the lap, having food delivered, and getting warm melting cake each night was mandatory. I had read many complaints about the service but we were pleased with it. I will admit that it did seem to begin taking longer after about halfway through the week, and we had to skip a show or two, but we enjoyed the food. Even picky me only ordered flat iron steak one night and found something else that I liked each other night.
We enjoyed eating breakfast in the dining room when we could so that we would be seated with and talk to other people.
Dress codes seemed to be followed in the dining room. I left the tux at home and wore a suit on elegant nights and was glad that I did. I think I only saw one tuxedo, and many men were sans tie or jacket, but still nothing too casual. Naturally, I did see at least one baseball cap on an elegant night but it was the exception.
Lunch was in Cezanne and my wife enjoyed the Fish and Chips. I only had pizza (Calzone actually) once, and I think one visit to the grill, but enjoyed the soft serve ice cream a few times a day.
We thought that Gary was an excellent CD, although we primarily went to smaller events that were hosted by his capable staff.
There were the usual trivia games, lido deck contests, etc. We did prefer the piano bar host on our last cruise where songbooks were available for people to select and everyone sing along.
We saw some of the family shows with the comedians and a few of the main show acts. After watching the cheesy "Point and Click" show, I realized the dancers were not nearly as bad nor as undressed as reviews led me to believe. It made me wish I had taken my youngest daughter to see "Voila Paris" after all. But if we ever sail again, we may chance it then since the shows rarely change from what I hear.
I was impressed with the amount of activities available for the 12 - 14 year old crowd. Two of our friends' sons fell into this category along with my daughters. The girls had a great time here and were always busy. We left notes for each other in the room to keep up with schedules and when they weren't with us, they were with their new friends.
This was the largest and longest running roll call group for any of our previous cruises. Since we were traveling with friends, we didn't really interact as much, but did briefly attend the meet and greet (where another member had graciously provided lanyards for each attendee) and enjoyed putting some faces to names. I did participate in my first poker crawl with our group and enjoyed seeing other cabins and having a bit more time to interact with our fellow cruise critic cruisers.
I will say that the number of negative reviews had me wondering about this cruise. However, we were determined to have a good time and were traveling with friends so we weren't worried at all. I'd say that having lowered expectations makes everything better, because we were pleasantly surprised by how much we enjoyed everything!
PORTS OF CALL:
This was our first visit to Jamaica, but we chose to remain on the ship. I did take the girls off to see if we could get their passports stamped (The immigration officer told me they no longer do that so I didn't bother at the other stops) and we walked around the immediate area before returning to the ship to take advantage of the smaller crowds. Our family enjoyed being the only ones on the miniature golf course. We considered a taxi to Doctor's Cave Beach, but since cab fare is per person rather than cab and we had excursions planned for the other stops, we chose to stay. Our friends went, however, and they really enjoyed it.
Grand Cayman was the port of call we were the most excited about. We and our friends had been here once before on our first cruise and booked an excursion to Stingray city and Rum Point. We enjoyed it so much we wanted the kids to experience it and was hoping for good weather. As it turns out, the day was perfect and this was the highlight of our trip as we had hoped. We booked a tour before we left through Soto's Cruises and were surprised that we found so little mention of them in other reviews. The very personable Kerry met us at the docks and our two families were the only ones who had booked the morning tour.
We had an entire boat for 9 people! The captain and guide were friendly and helpful and we had plenty of time at Stingray City where each person had ample opportunity to handle the rays. The boat was covered and had plenty of punch and water, as well as a bathroom. They also provided snorkel gear for our stop at "shark reef" where the water was clear, the fish were numerous and colorful, and everyone had a great time! Our girls will never forget the trip. Of course, they took photos and I found them to be inexpensive enough to purchase as a souvenir. However, they had no problems with us using our own cameras also. We'll make sure to book through Soto on our next trip!
In Cozumel, we had our first visit to Paradise Beach. We knew the kids would enjoy the water toys, and they certainly did. My wife and I chose to pay the small fee for lounges and umbrellas and enjoyed the down time. The pool was as nice as it looked in the photos and everyone enjoyed it.
We were in one of the final zones called to exit the ship, but we didn't find the stairs and lobby as crowded as we had on previous cruises. The process still took a bit longer and we had to wait for a porter once we found our luggage, but it wasn't too bad. After getting our shuttle to the parking garage, I pulled the van around, we loaded our luggage and were out on our way, already wondering when we might go again. I suspect that we will return to the Conquest one day after the upgrades.