My wife and I sailed on the Conquest Nov. 13-20, flying on Continental non-stop from Kansas City to Houston Intercontinental. Then we took the shuttle on to Galveston. We are both 48, this is our third cruise with Carnival. Originally, booked this flying Midwest to New Orleans, before Katrina made history. Continental provided an uneventful trip, unlike nightmare of flying American, on the previous cruise. The next time I will drive to Galveston though-airfare to Houston is always more expensive.
Arriving in Houston, I found the first area of improvement needed for Carnival. The two young men representing Carnival were sitting down, and difficult to see in a crowded terminal. Their Royal Caribbean counterparts, were always standing, moving, and displaying their Royal Caribbean placards, over their heads. Since these two men were the first contact points, they need to be more visible.
EMBARKATION: Arriving at the cruise terminal is the next area of improvement needed-not by Carnival but, by the City of Galveston. Traffic control is very disorganized. We sat on our bus in front of the terminal for 30 minutes before unloading of luggage could begin. Many personal passenger vehicles pulled in front of buses that were being directed to park in that location. Simple separate queues of shuttle vehicles and personal vehicles would enhance this process. Porters were not directed in a logical manner, but those porters were efficient once they started unloading. Once inside the terminal, the entire process from entrance to boarding the ship was thirty minutes! That was the quickest and least painless yet. After reading previous reviews, I was pleasantly surprised how quick this went-well done on this point. As a note, Carnival's online FunPass did nothing to speed the process-from now on - I fill out the FunPass sent with the mailed documents.
CONQUEST: This is a large, beautiful ship; her crew was constantly cleaning, providing maintenance. Restrooms were always cleaned or being cleaned. After the last cruise on the Victory, this was an area of concern. Other than one dirty carpet, she looked as she was on her maiden voyage. Walls were clean, railings were shiny and wood was spotlessly finished. My only complaints are Conquest is a cold ship and has indigestion. The temperatures in most public rooms, especially the Cezanne restaurant, required long sleeves. This lasted throughout the cruise. When we ate there, we usually sat outside as it was warmer. The other complaint, which subsided after day three, was the sewage odor. It appeared is unusual places, around the forward and aft elevators. Most noticeable, was on the journey down the hall to the Monet dining room. That tends to curb the appetite. The crew was very professional, but not overly personal. Aldo, our room steward, was exceptional, keeping our room spotless, while providing and warm smile and greeting. Our cabin was the farthest forward inside cabin. The bedding was most comfortable, and the comforter was thick and beyond warm. Even during the last two days of rougher weather, only slight movement could be felt. Don't waste time and money on Bonine, Conquest is very smooth-unless it's hurricane season.. Deck chairs were plenty anytime during the cruise, many were still stacked-another very pleasant surprise. The water slide was never crowded, nor was any of the pools or hot tubs.
DINING: I'm not a picky diner and have always cruised with Carnival, so I knew what to expect. The Cezanne (Lido deck) restaurant needs some improvement, entrees tended to be repeated and bland. The desserts were very bland, sometimes barely edible. The Sur Mer (deck above the Cezanne) provided some tasty dishes. The Deli had some exceptional sandwiches, especially the Reuben. The grill provided good fries and decent meals; unfortunately the buns ruined the meal. Those buns should be relegated to skeet-shooting, unless a bun-steamer is installed in the future. As always, the pizza was outstanding - a long standing Carnival tradition lives on. The formal dining was usually very good; highlights were the prime rib and chateaubriand-among many others. Only one night did the entrees just not do anything for us. Above all, order the crème Brule when it is available-I've tasted none better! However, the breakfast meals were not as appetizing. Service in Lido deck the dining areas were friendly and efficient. Tables were cleaned often, and empty tables were always available. Service in the aft formal dining room was unusual. They were professional and efficient, but not too personable. We had difficulty getting recommendations on entrees. They also never remember each diner's personal likes and dislikes (no coffee, only one roll, etc.)-this was a first for us.
ENTERTAINMENT: I really have issue with Carnival in this area. The crew did an excellent job in their duties. Todd and all his staff were entertaining, personable, and did an excellent job convey their sincerity in their jobs. However, this cruise was unusual in the ship had two large groups being catered to-a jazz group and casino group. I understand (and rightfully so) that the jazz group had paid a premium to be provided some famous artists that they exclusively could enjoy. And the casino group also paid a premium for using the casino facilities. My problem was Carnival (office in Miami) which must have decided that the rest of the customers did not need entertainment. There was one Broadway-style show (and very good), the rest of the cruise consisted of adult comedy, poor comedy and a poor ventriloquist. The single show each night was also at 11pm. In addition, the late shows were usually crowded as the two large groups attended the late show. Past cruises provided an early Broadway style show and the adult or other comedy was at 11 pm. As a result of this, I will no longer be cruising with Carnival. I most certainly will confirm whether a specialty-theme group(s) is involved.
PORTS OF CALL: Montego Bay, Jamaica, we toured the Croydon plantation, which was interesting, but not spectacular. We had planned to go on the canopy zip line, but at $110/pp, that was too expensive. Next time I will pay my $40/pp and go to Sunset Beach. I did feel safe on the Carnival tour, but I would not have gone on a "personal" tour here. The horror stories you've heard of the Cozumel taxi drivers-well, they're rookies compared to the bus drivers of Jamaica. Next was Grand Cayman, I felt very safe and at ease here, I would not hesitate to take a personal excursion here. The organization at the terminal could use improvement and expansion here. Tenders were fast and efficient in passenger delivery. We did the stingray/turtle farm tour through Carnival, at $70/pp. It was well worth the money-and highlight of the excursions. There is still much at damage when Ivan went through in 2004, but the beaches and most of the excursions were good. Our last stop was originally in Cozumel, which changed to Playa Del Carmen, then back to Cozumel after we left Grand Cayman. I'm glad I didn't book anything online here, as hurricane Gamma forced our departure, before any tenders left for Cozumel. I can't blame Carnival for that, but learned to get my beach excursion in earlier the next time we follow this itinerary.
DISEMBARKATION: I can't critique too much here. I had read all the horror stories on this, so we carried our bags off. Those using this option are first off the ship. That was only a 25 minute process-quick and painless-I recommend it if you have a few bags. Twenty minutes later, the shuttle departed from Houston. We changed our e-tickets at Houston and arrived back home four hours ahead of schedule. Overall, I think Conquest is a beautiful, well-maintained ship, with a good crew and staff. Being the largest in Carnival's ship classes, she did not seem as crowded as the Victory was. Without the theme groups and Carnival HQ not providing enough entertainment, I would recommend this cruise in a heartbeat. I believe that the City of Galveston has improved their service area to the Conquest, and eliminated the growing pains first experienced when she moved from New Orleans. Now if they can get traffic control under control-Conquest should have an enjoyable stay there.