I am writing this review about four months after returning from my cruise as I just located this site as a place to let my feelings about Conquest and its staff be known. Since I am a part time travel agent I recognize how valuable this site will be for me in booking cruises for future trips and figured getting my experience listed here late was better than never.
My wife, son (6 years old) and I were taking our third cruise together. Each of them has been on a different cruise line because we want to find out which one truly meets our needs and expectations.
Pre-Cruise (non Carnival related)-
We flew into New Orleans on Saturday morning, the day before the cruise (on a red eye flight). We were hoping that by getting in early we could enjoy some of New Orleans prior to the cruise. However, our luggage was lost for the first time in all of our travels and had to spend an extra 4 hours at the airport waiting for the luggage which was on the next flight. Little did we know at the time but that was just the beginning of our vacation troubles. We did enjoy New Orleans but discovered that it was not a place for a six year old at any time of the day. We stayed at the JW Marriott and were very impressed with the service, quality and location of the hotel. I strongly recommend that hotel to anyone traveling to New Orleans in the future. Enough about New Orleans as this information will not help anybody until the city recovers from Katrina.
This was the worst embarkation that I have experienced out of the three cruises I have been on. We got there earlier than Carnival recommends because this has been a successful strategy for us in the past. The initial line moved pretty rapidly so I was encouraged in the beginning. However, when we got to the front of the line we learned that about 1/3 of the ships room keys did not print properly so we would have to get our keys from the purser's desk once we boarded the ship. I figured they would have them all printed up by the time we got on board so it should be an easy process. I would later learn that I was wrong. After our passports were checked and we were checked in (minus the key) we went to a small waiting area. It was not long before we were moved to another area so we were still encouraged by the speed at which we were moving. This was the last time on the entire trip that we were encouraged by anything Carnival did. We then proceeded to wait in line for over an hour to get our picture taken so they could sell it to us later. I know this is a normal process, but I have never waited that long and since I had no intention of purchasing it (it was indoors with a fake background), I would have liked the option of skipping this line. What made it more frustrating was the fact that after the picture we were on the ship within five minutes. I then had to wait in another line at the purser's desk to get our room key. There was only one staff member printing keys (as there was only one machine that printed them). I stood in line for another 1 1/2 hours making it a total of 3 hours from the time I arrived at the dock to the time I was free to roam the ship. Keep in mind that all three of us had one carry on bag in our possession the whole time (we learned from the previous days experience of lost luggage). Overall, I was already upset with this process as I do not go on vacation to stand in line. I will explain later that all I did on this vacation was wait in line and that is a first for any cruise I have been on.
1) Room/general-Most of the ship was fairly nice but I didn't think the layout was as good as other ships I have been on. Our room (balcony)was standard but it didn't come with a refrigerator that we could use for our personal items that we either brought on board or purchased on board (beer, wine, champagne, sodas, food, etc.). Both of our previous cruises included a small refrigerator in our room. I have to be honest, Carnival provided a refrigerator but it was stocked full of items that they wanted to sell to you. There was no room for anything I already purchased so I just removed their items and placed mine in. Then, before the cruise was over and inventory was taken of the items we used, I put them back in. It really wouldn't have been a big deal, but on the first day we asked the room steward to ensure that we had plenty of ice throughout the trip and he did an okay job remembering to bring one bucket per day. We could have used two as it tended to melt rapidly.
2) Pools- Having a six year old (actually, even when he doesn't go with us) the pools can be one of the most important parts of the ship to us. All of us enjoy the water and soaking up the sun, so we usually end up spending most of our ship time by the pool. The biggest problems we had with these pools were:
a) Size of pools were not big enough to accommodate all who wanted to use them.
b) Saltwater- I have been on ships that have fresh water pools and ships that have salt water pools and I cannot stand the salt water pools. It is not a huge issue as I am sure there is very good reason that most ships use the salt water, but it is worth noting for other people that feel the same as me.
c) Hours- the pools closed early each day (usually around 6:00pm). On other cruises we swim until 11:00pm or midnight so we were definitely upset about this. I guess they can't make money selling you pictures or drinks at the shows when you are in the pool so late.
3) Hot tubs- The hot tubs were closed all week for a technical upgrade. By reading other reviews I noticed that at least 3 cruises were affected by this. Maybe it could not have been avoided, but it definitely affected our enjoyment of the cruise and many other people who we talked to.
4) Water slide- The water slide hours were posted but it was never open when it was supposed to be. There was a stipulation about weather affecting the hours, but how could it be closed at 11:00am when it was supposed to open and then open at 11:45am with no change in the weather? I think it was just poor management. We would show up at the time is was supposed to be open so my son could go on it a few times before the line got too long and it was not open. We would then walk around for an hour or so and come back to see it open and the line at least 30 minutes long.
5) Camp Carnival (children's camp)- The hours of this camp were much more restrictive than other cruise lines. On top of that they (like the water slide) were never open when they were supposed to be. After dinner we would take our son to the camp so he could play a little more before bed and we could get some time alone together to go to the casino, bars or other places children were not allowed. The camp was only going to be open for two hours. By the time they opened up 20 minutes late (this happened on a regular basis) and we stood in line for another 20 minutes to check him in we only had an hour before we had to go back and pick him up as they were not going to extend the hours to make up for them being late. My son is easy going and can be entertained doing almost anything. However, he was completely bored with the activities they had him doing. His previous experiences on other ships were much better and it got to the point that he didn't want to go. So much for the adult time.
1) Room steward- He always greeted us by name and took good care of our needs. Our son enjoyed a new towel animal each night. The only thing we asked of him was fresh towels as we took many showers (and used them for swimming) and a lot of ice. He didn't do either one of them very well at first since we had to continually ask. However after about three days he got with the program and understood. We were very happy with him and left an extra tip on the last night. (Carnival charges the tips to your room and allocated them out automatically).
2) Dining room staff- Our two waiters at dinner each night were by far the best staff that we ran into on the ship. They not only met but exceeded our expectations. We have been fortunate enough to have great waiters on all of our cruises and this is the part of the cruise that I tend to enjoy the most. They always entertain our son and cater to him so that he enjoys his time in what is typically an "adult" place/time.
3) Misc. staff- It must be a part of the Carnival training program to attempt to constantly be selling to their guests. I can appreciate that this is a way for them to make money (for the company and for themselves with tips). I also appreciate someone doing there job and providing excellent service because it is not something you find very often anymore. However, the constant "harassing" of guests who are just trying to relax and enjoy themselves either by the pool, reading a book, taking a nap, or whatever you like to do and not be disturbed was a disgrace. If you were on deck without a drink in your hand (or one that was almost empty) you would be asked multiple times (sometimes by the same person over and over) if you wanted more. We ended up buying a bucket of beer so that we could enjoy 30 minutes of peace and quiet. It didn't work! The worst part is they would not leave until you answered them. An ideal way of them handling the customer service end without bothering guests is to just walk around and say out load that they are available to take your order. If you want something you will stop them, if not, keep walking. The same thing happened with the photographers and anyone else who could sell you anything.
The port shopper was excellent (probably the best one I have seen)as he was easily accessible/willing to help you with any purchases. The cruise director and his staff kept everyone well entertained.
4) Entertainment- We went to the shows the first couple of nights but didn't enjoy them. Most of the shows conflicted with either our dinner time or Camp Carnival times. After the first couple of nights we attempted to go to at least three other shows and were only able to endure one complete show. I am not sure if it was just our displeasure with the trip in general or if the shows did not meet our tastes.
1) We did the beach break in Montego Bay and had a great time. The only downfall of that excursion was the amount of time actually on the beach. I cannot remember exactly the time but I think we were only there for about three hours. That was not nearly enough time to enjoy the sun, water, drinks, food and activities while getting a nap in. We stopped at Jimmy Buffet's Margaritaville before going back to the ship and had a good time. They have a waterslide that drops you right into the ocean. Of course my son was too chicken to do that (so was I so I am glad he didn't want to do it) but it was fun watching everyone else do it. The margaritas are strong there so be careful! I won't go into anymore detail but make sure you stop there if you are in the area (there is also a good one in Ocho Rios at the end of the pier- a little too convenient).
2) Cayman Islands- we did not do a tour because we had been here twice before. However, from past experience the stingray city and turtle farm were great but Hell was overrated. Shopping is convenient here.
3) Cozumel- We had also been here twice before so we didn't do a tour. We have some favorite shops that we go to and I have a couple of bars I stop at while my wife shops. I understand this is a great spot for snorkeling but I just enjoy the atmosphere in this town. Hopefully the recent hurricane did not destroy it.
By the end of the second day all three of us were so disappointed that we were ready to take advantage of Carnival's money back guarantee. However, we knew the next three days were days in port and were looking forward to them. We just changed our attitudes by trying to ignore all of the things we felt did not meet our expectations in comparing them to previous cruise and our week got a lot better. As I have read in many reviews, I did say at the time that even a bad vacation week is better than the best work week. I talked to many people on the last sea day about their experience on the ship and found that most people who had never cruised before had a great time. People who have been on other Carnival cruise had mixed feelings about Conquest. And people who had been on other cruise lines felt they would never go on Carnival again. For what it is worth, I would not go on another Carnival cruise and will not recommend them to any of my clients who have cruised before.
The best thing about this particular cruise (besides being away from work) was the food. The buffet was standard, nothing too good or bad about it. However, the pizza and poolside grills became our favorite lunchtime hang out. There was also multiple ice cream/yogurt machines throughout the boat that made it nice to have a free (not many things on this boat were free) treat at any time.
We only went to the regular dining rooms and did not try the specialty dinner places. However, the food in our dining room (dinner and breakfast but especially dinner) was the best I have had on any of my cruises. That is really saying a lot for me as I have enjoyed all of the dining experiences I have had on every ship. The food is always prepared correctly, the service is excellent and the selection is broad enough to find at least one entree that satisfies all of us. I always enjoy meeting the people at our table and getting to know them by dining with them each day of the cruise.
Since we had only done one excursion during the cruise and our flight left late the day we got back into New Orleans, we figured we would do a swamp tour. This would also get us VIP status and off the boat first. We couldn't wait to get off, so this was a no brainer for us.
We didn't know that to Carnival, VIP meant "Very Insignificant Person". We still had to wait in line with everyone else to get off the boat so VIP did not get us off anytime sooner. When we got the the luggage we noticed that half of the boat must have been VIP as the VIP luggage section was larger than any color (the other way your luggage was tagged if you were not a VIP). We had to snake every aisle to find our luggage and even though it was together outside our door, our three pieces were in three separate spots in the terminal. By this time, Carnival had become quite comical to us, so all we could do was laugh at our VIP status. The worst part is we were just getting back into a semi good vacation mood and were willing to forgive Carnival for ruining our vacation. This was just the final straw.
An interesting thing about the Swamp tour was the guide told us about the biggest fear of New Orleans residents. Apparently they felt that if a big enough hurricane hit the town, there was fear that the levees would not hold up and could flood New Orleans with 20 feet of water (enough to flood the French Quarter and most of the town). I found that to be very interesting at the time. Coming from California and fearing "The Big one", I thought at least you can prepare for your disaster with the notice a hurricane brings and you have time to repair the levees. I found his comments even more interesting 8 weeks later when Hurricane Katrina proved him to be right. After seeing all of the coverage on TV, I'll take my chances with an earthquake.
Our next cruise is going to be with Celebrity cruise lines on the Mercury. After finding this site and reading the mixed reviews, I can see that this will also not be the best cruise I have ever been on, but at least having vital information up front will help prepare us for any possible issues. I appreciate all of the input that people give and hope I can help somebody with my ramblings in this review.
Just for a frame of reference, if you really want a good cruise, I recommend the Mariner of the Seas by Royal Caribbean. It is a beautiful new ship, great staff, top notch entertainment and it visits some great ports.