The Travellers: Cathy & Jay - about 50ish (he's older, I'm younger) Granddaughters: Andrea, age 10 Emily, age 8
I won't bore you with all the details of our trip to New Orleans, but have to share one small story. On Friday night we were driving to Memphis to stay with my dad for the night. The sunset was spectacular, like nothing we've seen in a while. Emily loves sunsets, and always stops what she's doing to take it all in. She asked me "Grandma, how do you think God makes the sky that color?" I told her I really didn't know. She thought a minute and asked "Do you think those are God's clothes we're seeing? Is that what He's wearing?"
We arrived in New Orleans on Saturday evening, and checked in to our room at the Hilton Riverwalk. We were guests of Harrah's casino, and were able to park in their garage for free for the duration of the cruise. Nice savings.
Since we were traveling with young children, we knew that we didn't belong on Bourbon Street or in any of the 'hot spots' around town. We took them for dinner to Mospero's - Emily was adventurous and had some of everything. Andrea stuck to her burger and fries. The food was good, the atmosphere was very family oriented. By the time we finished dinner it was after 9:00 p.m., and we had some cranky, tired girls on our hands. They had spent the day in a car driving from Memphis to New Orleans and all they wanted to do was swim in the hotel pool. We walked back to the Hilton and enjoyed the people and scenery ... "wow, grandma, those are REAL palm trees!" I stopped by Harrah's to make a donation while Jay and the girls continued to the hotel.
I'm usually the first to rise, so I snuck out of the room about 7:00 a.m. There she was, in all her glory: The Carnival Conquest. Waiting for us. Shimmering in the morning sunrise.
Back to the room, where Andrea was awake. She and I walked down to the Riverwalk area and found Cafe du Monde open and serving beignets and cafe au lait. Great way to start the morning. Andrea loved her beignets, and we bought a few to take back to Emily and Grandpa.
Finally the lazy ones got up ... after much coaxing and a promise of beignets in bed. A stroll the length of the Riverwalk showed just how close we were to the pier. The girls were so excited they were doing cartwheels !!!! Spent some time looking at the shops in the Riverwalk Mall ... the girls were much too excited to do anything but ask every 5 minutes "Can we get on the ship yet?" They didn't want to leave Riverwalk because they could keep an eye on "their" ship.
Now, on to the important stuff. Since there were four of us, we had quite a bit of luggage. Taxi fares are high in New Orleans - it would have been $10 a person to go from the Hilton to the pier. So, we loaded the luggage and me in a taxi, and Jay and the girls walked the few blocks, while I waited at the pier for them with the luggage.
The usual porter talk of "now here is where you tip me $1 a bag" and we were into the line to enter the terminal. It seemed looooooooooong, but it moved quickly. Every few feet someone handed us a piece of paper to read - information about carry on baggage, what to do when you got on the ship, etc. All the Carnival employees that morning were smiling and welcoming. A quick double-check of paperwork to make sure I had everyone's identification (always have to check at the last minute!). The lines inside filled the roped off areas. There were two sections, and we moved down to the second section. Passed the time in line talking to our fellow cruisers. Before we knew it we were at the desk signing in. Computers were moving slowly, but check-in only took a few minutes. Right from there to pick up our sign and sail cards. Followed the crowd to the next room, where we showed ID once again and were asked to sit in rows of chairs. Once all the rows were filled we were up and moving into the next room, where we stood in another line. (What is it with these people and lines??) Embarkation photos by the Carnival staff in front of a fake New Orleans background. Then we were on to the security checkpoint. My husband's belt set off their buzzers, so he had to remove that ... once we got through the detectors he had to stop to put his belt back on as security tried to herd us along ... "keep moving, please, keeping moving." Jay laughed and said "I have to put my belt on ... otherwise my pants will fall down and NOBODY wants to see that." The security guard chuckled, and let us step aside so he could get his belt on.
Up the escalators, where we could see the ship. On one of the balconies was a young couple locked in a passionate embrace. My granddaughters said "ooooooo, grandma, look at that !!!! I bet they don't know we can see them." Everyone on the escalator laughed, and started cheering the couple on ...
Once on the ship we went directly to our cabin to drop off our heavy carry on bags and found several of our suitcases already waiting for us outside the door. This was less than an hour after we left them with our $1-a-bag-porter. We decided to quickly unpack some things or our stateroom would fill to the brim with suitcases. We were on the Main Deck Forward, inside quad room 2295. Our cabin steward knocked on the door about 5 minutes later to introduce himself - his name was Renaldo and we was very friendly and always smiling. Our request to unlock and empty the refrigerator was met with a big smile and "certainly, right away. I will have it done while you are at dinner this evening." And he did. Presto.
Our quad room worked well for us. The girls enjoyed the upper bunks with their own lights, climbing the ladders, and that they could see the television from bed !!! One of the lower beds could not see television when the upper berths were lowered. With the berths lowered, the room felt quite crowded, but when raised the room opened up quite a bit. We had gone with the over-the-bathroom door shoe holder, and it sure came in handy. All our essentials fit quite nicely in there, with room to spare. Our closet contained 4 bathrobes, so for those who want to know, YES, interior cabins come with bathrobes on the Conquest. The hairdryer was in a dresser drawer, and wasn't very powerful. If you have more than three strands of hair on your head, I would suggest bringing your own hair dryer from home. The shower had two dispensers: one for shampoo and one for body gel. I would have preferred one for shampoo and one for conditioner (because we forgot ours!). The usual butt-hugging shower curtain did little to keep the water contained inside the shower, especially when the girls were taking their showers.
We were on one of the Past Guest Reunion cruises, and our Cabin Steward quickly delivered our bag of goodies. We were surprised to find four of everything in the nice waterproof bag. (The girls were not past cruisers!). The towels, T-shirts and key chains were a big hit. The girls slept in their T-shirts every night. The bag was used for beach trips, and to carry home some wonderful gifts they received.
We were quickly up on deck, cell phone in hand. The girls were STARVING.
As we headed back to the Lido Deck buffet, a charming man came up to me and said "Are you mommacathy? Do I know you from Cruise Critic?" It was Selucrey, and he had already found quite a few Cruise Critic folks and they were at the bar with drinks in hand. It was a great way to start the cruise! We couldn't stick around long, because the STARVING girls kept tugging at my sleeve ...
With just beignets for breakfast, they were ready for some food. I don't remember what we ate, but I'm sure there was pizza involved. "Our Table" became the one next to the pizza counter for the duration of the week. If we were looking for each other, we always knew to look there !!!
The sail away was exciting. We called Andrea & Emily's mommy on the cellphone, and she was watching the web cam at the Port of New Orleans' website ... The girls jumped up and down and waved - and mommy was SURE she saw us ... :wink:
Lifeboat drill was uneventful. Then we were off to our 6:15 dinner.
Our dinner companions also were traveling with two children, about the same age as ours. The two older girls hit it off from the first moment, and were inseparable the entire cruise. The other two weren't compatible - ours was an 8 year old girl, theirs was a 7 year old boy, need I say more? I think there were cooties involved somehow. My only disappointment was that our tablemates weren't into the dining room experience. First formal night the woman wore a skirt, cotton top and flip flops. We were in formal wear and had done our hair, had photos taken, and were using our best grown up manners. They were more the shorts and t-shirts people. Didn't spoil the cruise, but it did detract a bit from the festive feeling we had created ... Even Andrea noticed. She had wanted to have a formal picture taken with her new best friend, but whispered to grandpa "I can't have a formal picture taken with her, I'm all dressed up and she's not and that wouldn't look very good."
Our servers were Martin and his assistant, Veronica. Martin was from Honduras and Veronica was from Peru. Emily has been learning Spanish in school, and the first evening she said "Buenos dias" to Veronica - well that started her daily Spanish lessons from Veronica, even if we saw her on the Lido deck, she would speak simple phrases to Emily and encourage her to give her answers in Spanish. Every evening she came and got the girls to dance with the dancing waiters. They laughed and danced and paraded around the dining room. The last night of the cruise, an elderly woman we had been speaking to, who sat across the aisle from us at dinner came over and complimented us on the girls' behavior, and asked to take a picture of them.
The kids all ordered every evening from the adult menu ... Martin was quite surprised that our girls liked their steaks medium rare. He would serve them first, then carefully cut their steaks, always joking "Now, do I get the first bite??" The bar waitress was very attentive. The girls like Shirley Temples, and every evening she made sure their Shirley Temples were waiting for them at the table when they arrived. They were very impressed.
Our first adventure was to attend the Camp Carnival sign-up and family party. We were dancing in Henri's Disco. Lots of interaction and silly games. Funship Freddy came by to dance with us. That's got to be one hot costume to be wearing in the Caribbean! Made new friends and had a great time. I've kept copies of all the Camp Carnival daily activity sheets and hope to scan them some day soon. The counselors were great, the activities were very age appropriate. The 10 year old was old enough to sign herself in and out of Camp Carnival, but I had to sign the 8 year old in and out. She was a little jealous of her sister's freedom, but I could see that the size of the ship was a little overwhelming for her ... and 10 year old sisters don't always take good care of their 8 year old sisters, so I was glad she had to be signed in and out. One evening my husband and I had a "date" and we were able to sign a permission slip for our dinner companions to sign Emily in and out for us. That meant we could go to dinner at the Point (more to come on that) and not have to worry about timing.
The first two days were days at sea. Relaxed by the pool. Ate too much. Made our donations at the casino. I'm a 3 card poker player, and met some fun folks playing cards. Those sea days become a blur, and it's hard to remember what happened when, and we don't even drink!
We ate all our breakfast and lunch meals on the Lido deck. The kids could have kids fare and were happy with that. Our only complaint was the situation of the omelette station - it is at the end of the line, and holds everything up. Even if you don't want an omelette, you are held up by the people ahead of you who do, because where they have to stand blocks all the other food. There are generally 4 or more food lines open at a time, so we would look around for the shortest one. The food at Sur Mer was very good, as was the Sushi.
On Tuesday Selucrey (Dan) from the Cruise Critic boards and his wife stopped by our cabin to deliver "little" gifts they had for the girls ... my goodness!!! "Little" must mean something else in Louisiana, because they sure weren't little gifts! Each girl received a huge Mardi Gras bear, and a bag filled with beads and treasures. What generous people!
On Tuesday evening we had to make a stop in Grand Cayman to drop off a man who was ill ... rumor was that it was a heart attack. I had met his wife, and she only told me that he was "very ill."
Wednesday morning, Jamaica We were up early, up to the Lido Deck for breakfast. We had made arrangements with another couple to meet up and make our own tour. Off the ship we found a JUTA taxi driver and negotiated a five hour tour for $100. His name was Garry, and I have his information if anyone wants a great tour guide of Jamaica. We drove all over Montego Bay. One of our stops was the Richmon Hotel for a great view. One of the couples I had met playing cards in the casino were there - getting married. Their witnesses were there to take video, but were instead walking the bride down the aisle, so I took up their video camera and videotaped the wedding. The bride was gorgeous, her flowers were provided by the hotel and were breathtaking. A german shepherd wandered in and out of the gazebo, becoming part of the wedding party - but I don't think bride and groom even noticed. We went to a place called "Scotchie's" for jerk pork and chicken and the best sweet potatoes you'll ever taste. The kids looked at the menu and said "Grandma, we can't afford to eat here, a chicken costs $600 !!!!" We had to explain that was $600 Jamaican dollars, and it was very cheap in American dollars and they could eat anything they wanted. We recommend it highly, but suggest you have Jamaican money before you get there - their exchange rate isn't very good. It was our second time there, and we found out the first time!
Emily asked Garry (our guide) if he knew somewhere she could get her hair braided. He picked up his cell phone and made a quick call. In 5 minutes we were at a little shop where Emily's hair was quickly braided by two delightful women who talked to her the whole time. They put extra braids in and refused payment for them, they were a gift to Emily.
By having Garry with us we were never approached by people begging or offering "smoke." He made sure everyone knew we were HIS people, and not to be bothered. He explained things to the kids and pointed out sugar cane growing, animals and plants.
Thursday morning, Grand Cayman We had an early morning excursion booked with Nativeway Watersports, and had to be off on one of the first tender boats. We immediately found the Nativeway sign, and were told to meet in 30 minutes, so we walked across the street and looked around at the shops.
Our excursion with Nativeway was a trip to Stingray City and a coral reef to snorkel. The water was pretty rough that morning, and about half the passengers on our boat got seasick, my husband included. I'm not a very strong swimmer, and was wearing a vest - still had trouble staying above water. I'd end up head down, feet up in the air. It was too much for the girls. This was their first time to even SEE the ocean, so it was a lot to take in. They really wanted to see the stingrays, but the water was too high and the swells too big for them. Emily finally let our boat operator carry her out, where she petted and held a Stingray. She was very happy. At the coral reef, again we were faced with high swells. The girls sat on the rear deck of the boat and let their feet dangle down. Emily even got in the water, holding on to the ladder and paddling around, but wouldn't wear a snorkel mask. I would highly recommend Nativeway. Our guides were kind and patient, especially with the children. One of them would dive off the side of the boat, pick up a stingray and bring it close enough for the kids to pet. Their price was $25 a person, US.
We had lunch at Paradise, not too expensive. Poor Emily had developed a cold sore, and we were in search of something for that. In Jamaica they wanted $6 for a tube of medicated chapstick. We found Carmex for $1.29 in Grand Cayman.
Friday morning, Cozumel This is one of my favorite places. We had breakfast, got off the ship and took a taxi directly to Chankanaab. This time the girls weren't as afraid. There is an area with very shallow water, where you can almost walk right out into the ocean, with sandy beach and lounge chairs. The entrance to the park was $10 US for adults, children 10 and under were free. We rented snorkel gear from them for about $6 a person. My husband has leg problems, and can't swim because of them, so I was the one taking the girls out. Andrea went first, and wasn't timid. She wanted me to hold on to her life vest, but she had her face in the water, looking down the entire time. She had her underwater camera and took lots of pictures.
Emily took some coaxing, but once she got there she was excited. I had her look back to see how far she had gone ... she took one look and then just plopped her snorkel mask right back in the water.
They spent a few more hours swimming around, having a grand time.
My husband had promised to buy me a Mexican fire opal this time for my birthday/anniversary gift ... we weren't finding them at the shops by the pier, so the girls (they were tired and hungry and crabby by this time) and I got on the ship and he took a taxi downtown to shop. Of course, right after he left, I went in a shop and found a ring ... but I think he got a much better deal by going downtown.
Andrea went straight to the pool ... Emily took a little power nap with me.
Friday evening The first thing we had done as we boarded the ship was make reservations at the Point for Friday night, which was our wedding anniversary. It was quite an experience... of course it starts out with my husband losing his sail and sign card, and calling from the Point to have new ones issued. Seated at the table next to us was a couple I had spent a good deal of time at the casino with - and they were witnesses at the wedding in Jamaica. We ended up sharing a table with them, and had a delightful evening.
Carnival has tried very hard to make the Point a five-star dining experience. They ALMOST have it right ... just a few things need to be tweaked. The first thing is the chairs. They either need more padding, or they just need to get different chairs. All four of us found them very uncomfortable to sit in, and they cut the circulation off on the back of our legs. The windows are covered with blinds, so there is no romantic ocean view while dining. We peeked out the windows, and there wasn't even a view, just cleaning equipment storage. There is also no bathroom in the Point, you have to leave the restaurant and go down a floor.
I had the surf & turf, which was broiled lobster & filet, both done to perfection. The Lobster Bisque is probably the best I've ever had. My husband had the porterhouse, which was cooked exactly the way he ordered.
The servers were not quite as attentive as they could have been. Their recitation of the menu was memorized and very rote, not much excitement. They could not describe ingredients in dishes to us or explain preparation. The presentation of the food was very "artistic" ... big white plates with little dabs of this and that.
It was a delightful evening, the food was well above that in the dining room, but the Point just misses the mark, in our opinion.
The girls had Camp Carnival parties that evening - Emily's went until midnight and Andrea's went to 3:30 a.m. They were very happy with their experience, but slept until 11:00 the next day!
Saturday was our last sea day. We spent most of it by the pool. I believe that was the Chocolate buffet day ... which was MARVELOUS.
My thoughts, especially for those traveling with kids:
If you're traveling with kids, Camp Carnival is SUPERB. By the second day the counselors knew each child by name, recognized the parents, knew who were siblings. By the second day the kids knew their way around the ship better than we did. I've thought I should have only packed each girl 5 swimsuits and 2 dresses. I think they wore their swimsuits more than they wore anything. Make sure any flip flops are broken in ... blisters on vacation aren't fun. The only medication I needed was cold sore medication, and it was the only thing I forgot to bring!! Save a few "underwater camera" photos for the kids to take pictures of their friends around the pool. And buy your underwater cameras at Walmart before you leave home, they're half the price you'll find on the ship or in the islands. The over-the-door holder saves a lot of precious space. Bring your own blow dryer for hair ... the ones in the cabins aren't nearly strong enough.
The music on the Lido deck is repetitious. The same series of songs played over and over and over. Security WILL talk to people acting inappropriately, especially quickly during the 12-2 "family swim time" without prompting from guests.
There are whirlpools on the Lido deck where children ARE allowed, if accompanied by an adult. Only the AFT whirlpool is for adults-only. We made sure the girls followed this rule. The whirlpool just under the slide is COLD. Very COLD. The others were nice & warm. The slide is a big hit. If you're an adult, lying down will make you go down much faster than sitting up.
We purchased drink cards for the kids, and they never had a problem at any of the bars getting a soft drink. The servers were very polite to them and waited on them promptly. I was looking down at the lobby bar one afternoon, and there sat 8 year old Emily, sipping a Coke, and having a chat with the bartender and a young couple. Everyone was laughing and having a good time.
The girls really enjoyed formal nights. We went to each and every photograph station to have our pictures taken, and picked the very best of them to purchase.
If you have any questions, you can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org