I can start out by saying that, pre-plan as we did, our trip turned out somewhat differently than we planned; however, we made the most out of what we were given and had a great vacation! By now, you probably know that due to Hurricane Dennis the 7/3 Conquest sailing skipped Grand Cayman and was extended an additional day because the port authorities closed the Mississippi. Captain Queirolo did a great job keeping us informed about the hurricane and letting us know what we would be doing. We did get extra time in Cozumel as a result of skipping Grand Cayman; we docked at 8 pm Thursday and stayed until 6 pm Friday. We were advised before arrival in Cozumel that there was a possibility that Conquest would not dock in New Orleans until Monday and that folks who really needed to return Sunday might want to consider alternate travel arrangements from Cozumel. The seas were rough Sunday as we cruised the Gulf and felt the effects of Dennis; a number of fellow pax suffered from mal de mer, but others weathered the waves well. Once we confirmed that we would be delayed, there were lines at the Internet cafe to send e-mails, as well as folks up on Deck 14 leaning over the rail trying to get cell phone signals.
Pre-Cruise: You know the saying about the best-laid plans of mice and men? We were scheduled to fly to New Orleans from Albany NY via O'Hare the morning of Friday 7/1. Our flight left Albany on schedule, but when we arrived in Chicago learned that our connecting flight to New Orleans was cancelled. The earliest they could re-book us was Saturday at 3:00 (although we did receive a free hotel room near the airport). That ended our plans of touring New Orleans and sailing on the Steamboat Natchez and left us with an unplanned day in Chicago. We decided to take the El downtown, went to the Navy Pier, took a boat excursion on the Chicago River, and had dinner at Riva Cafe on the Navy Pier. Not what we planned, but we had a great time anyway. When we arrived in New Orleans the next day (around 6:30), we stayed at the Royal St. Charles and walked over to Bourbon Street to have dinner at Mike Anderson's (really good - our thanks to those on the New Orleans board who recommended it).
Embarkation: Went fairly smoothly; we arrived at the pier 11:20 and were on board by 12:30. Our cabins were ready at 2:00; DH and I had balcony cabin 9287 on Lido Deck, and the boys were in oceanview cabin 1379 on Rivera Deck. Boat drill was at 5:15. (Note to Carnival: a 5:15 boat drill doesn't mesh well with a 5:45 dinner seating. No one wants to dress up for boat drill, but it doesn't leave much time to finish the drill, change clothes, and make it to dinner on time. If the drill was at 5:00, it would be much more manageable.)
Aboard: There wasn't an extensive (but there was certainly some) amount of chair saving; we never had a problem finding a place on deck within reasonable proximity of the pool. (For those who carp about kids in the swimming pools: would you believe our 5 YO left the kids' pool because there were adults in there? A couple of sunbathers who didn't want to swim, but did want to cool off took over the kids' pool.) A couple of neat activities for sea days - the sommelier offers wine tastings on the sea days for $8.00 each day (four wine samples each time) at The Point - the tasting and lecture lasted about 40 minutes and was well worth the price. Several trivia contests; on Sunday I won the much coveted 24 kt (plastic!) ship on a stick. There were some Fourth of July festivities - in the Monet dining room, the waiters sang Happy Birthday and Yankee Doodle, and before the production show "Formidable," one of the featured singers sang "God Bless the USA." Todd, the cruise director, then invited current military personnel and veterans to join him on stage for recognition.
Shows: Really enjoyed "Formidable," the show on the first formal night. Not as crazy about "Point and Click," the second production show (which, due to our schedule, was not performed until Saturday night). I think seeing performers with briefcases and references to Wall Street reminded me a little too much of what I went on vacation to get away from! Saw Phat Kat's comedy routine during the welcome aboard show, but unfortunately was too tired for his midnight show - sorry to miss it! Marc Reuben is a hysterical ventriloquist, and Manuel Zuniga is an unbelievable juggler - and very funny, as well.
Camp Carnival: We were told that there were 900 kids aboard. There were a couple of elevator-button-pushers whom we wished were elsewhere, but for the most part the kids were well behaved. Camp Carnival took good care of our 5 YO and 9 YO; 5 YO hated leaving when camp closed. Both of them had a number of "buddies" we ran into around the ship (and one we met in the NOLA airport while leaving); high fives all around and "Look! There's my friend!" Lots of good activities. 14 YO did a few Camp Carnival activities, but being a bit of a loner was perfectly happy to go swimming, eat pizza, and go to the arcade. The teen area on Conquest is great; there's a teen disco attached to the arcade, so there's no doubling up with the adult disco (and the resulting "kick-the-kids-our at 10:45" routine).
Excursions: In Montego Bay, we signed up for the Carnival-sponsored Overland Tour and Black River Safari. Aside from the five of us, there were only four other passengers signed up for this one. It involves a drive to the other side of the island, then a pontoon boat ride on the Black River, home to the American crocodile. (Before this, I never knew there was an American crocodile.) The boat operator had raw chicken to feed to the crocodiles, which came right up to the boat. The kids were thrilled! The scenery is great; the operator takes you to a mangrove forest where you're surrounded by trees with roots growing down (up?) from (to?) the branches. It's a great opportunity to see Jamaica's natural beauty. The tough part of this excursion: the bus ride to Black River. Being a poor country, Jamaica does not have a very good road system, and much of the trip to and from Black River was spent going over very bumpy, narrow, and winding roads and high speeds, avoiding pedestrians and oncoming traffic in a frightening manner. We've never had a problem with our kids and motion sickness, but our two youngest didn't do well with the ride. The trip does give you a good view of life in Jamaica - from the very wealthy to the poorest. We saw metal-roofed shacks that looked abandoned and said "Surely no one can be living there," then saw the laundry on the clothesline behind the house. Saw the kids alongside the road, trying to sell fresh fruits and vegetables to those passing by. Lots of neighborhood jerk stands, bars, and roadside churches. Then you'd pass by a wealthy person's house, or a gated resort. Our 14 YO was really stunned by seeing Third World lifestyles in this part of Jamaica.
In Cozumel, we disembarked when we arrived Thursday night at 8:00. We walked down the pier, did some shopping, and then returned to the ship for the evening. Friday morning, we took a cab downtown to Cozumel Mini Golf (which we read about on the Cozumel board). It was very hot, but the kids had a great time. Saw the turtle and one of the iguanas - the kids could hardly believe they could practically walk up to an iguana! We then walked to the waterfront and took a cab to Paradise Beach. What a great way to spend an afternoon if you have kids (or even if you don't)! The water was a bit stirred up due to the weather and wasn't the clearest, but the water temperature was great and it was wonderful just floating around. 14 YO spent his afternoon climbing the iceberg and jumping off, and then took his 9 YO brother on the trampoline. Paradise Beach was definitely the highlight of the cruise for 14 YO! The 5 YO has never been a big fan of anything other than kiddie pools, but he loved swimming at Paradise Beach!
Food: We ate in the Monet dining room each night - we liked it so much, we saw no need to sample The Point (although we did visit it for the wine tastings, and it's a very handsome space). My favorites; Lobster tail, filet mignon, West Indian pumpkin soup, wild mushroom soup. Also enjoyed Sur Mer for lunch (deck 10 in the Cezanne Restaurant); the bouillabaisse is very good.
Staff: We thought Todd Wittmer was a great cruise director. He is genuinely funny, and we didn't feel like he was constantly trying to sell "inch of gold" or art auctions (although those activities were certainly well publicized). Assistant CD Malcolm (in the Middle) was very good as well (don't ask him whether he plays basketball!) Our dining room staff (Ziya and Yusuf, with Ricky on bar service) took good care of us in Monet - brought out extra appetizers and desserts often (even if we were too full)! Our cabin steward Franklin kept our cabin impeccable, and our son's stewardess Ines was a great "mother hen." I wish she was here to keep our sons' rooms in order!
Nitpicks: Any number of folks felt free to leave used glasses or dishes wherever they finished them. Several times I moved a glass from one of the stairwell risers to a place where it might not be as easily stepped upon. The cabin and deck staff do remove dishes on a regular basis, but it's best to leave glasses in a safe place before abandoning them!
Boat drill really needs to be earlier than 5:15, as noted above. It's too close to the 5:45 dinner seating.
The hot tubs were not operating all week, but the staff just gave day-by-day notices of their non-operation in the Capers. I had read on these boards that they have not been operational for several weeks, so I wasn't surprised; however, for those who didn't know about the "upgrade," it would have been nice to know upfront that the Jacuzzis wouldn't be open at all.
Debarkation was relatively easy, given the changed schedule; however, it would have been nice to have someone dockside to direct folks to where they needed to be for various transportation services. We stood in line for 1/2 hour for the wrong shuttle - we were in line for the shuttle to parking lots, rather than the shuttle to the airport.
Conclusion: We were very happy with this cruise - had a lot of fun. I'd like to try again for Grand Cayman. We're looking at several options for next year; a friend of ours is interested in trying out cruising from NYC, and we'd like to cruise with friends, so maybe we'll sail Victory against next year to Canada. Or maybe Legend? Or maybe Miracle? Or maybe....