This was my first cruise on a non-Fantasy class ship with Carnival, and both my husband and I are impressed with the Carnival 2.0 upgrades done aboard the Conquest. The ship looked and felt almost brand new, which only added to the element of luxury already present with the ship's French Impressionist themed decor. Everything from the cabins to the pool decks to the dining rooms was simply lovely. Although, from what I understand, our Cruise's itinerary was uncommon for the Carnival Conquest, we cannot wait to cruise aboard the Conquest again, regardless of her destinations!
EMBARKATION: We sailed out of New Orleans, and we just love the updated ease of this terminal. We flew into New Orleans the day before our sailing and spent the evening enjoying the hospitality of the city. The next morning after a mandatory breakfast of chicory coffee and beignets at Cafe Du Monde, we took a quick taxi ride from our hotel, the Intercontinental, to the terminal. We arrived just before noon, quickly made our way through the check-in and boarding lines, and soon found ourselves on-ship.
THE STATEROOM: Our stateroom was ready by 12:30pm. Imagine our delighted surprise when we walked in and discovered that the normal, ocean-view staterooms on the Conquest are easily the equivalent of the balcony suites on the Carnival Fascination, only without the actual balcony itself. We had an unaccustomed amount of space for a Riviera deck stateroom! Both sides of the bed had its own end-table and lamp, the couch was both comfy and spacious, the coffee table was mobile and non-intrusive, and we still had 3 full closets, extra drawers and storage space, a flat-screen television, a mini-refrigerator, and lots of mirrors. I thought the bathroom was especially well-designed on the Conquest because it has actual vanity space with extra shelves extending up the sides of the mirror, and the head is located just outside the shower in an ideal location to provide an easy prop for ladies when shaving our legs.
The only drawback I found about the stateroom was a very minor one. The hairdryer is perm-attached into the top drawer of the bureau, and since it is a coiled cord hairdryer, those with long hair may have difficulty stretching it far enough to reach.
THE SHIP: After boarding and dropping our carry-on bags in the room, we made our way upstairs. We were immediately surprised at the lack of lines we found in general on-board the ship, and this fortunately continued throughout the week. While our sailing was not at capacity, I would estimate we had between 85%-90% capacity and yet we spent very little time waiting in a line of any sort on-board.
All public areas of the ship were kept immaculately clean during our entire cruise. This, coupled with the lovely decor of the ship, made an otherwise average cruise feel even more luxurious. Both my husband and I loved the understated elegance of the French Impressionist theme as compared to some of the more garish decors of the Fantasy-class ships. We even spent a good part of our week debating the names and artists from our art appreciation classes in college for all of the beautiful painting reproductions scattered throughout the decor on-board!
Our itinerary included three fun days at sea, and my husband and I spent the majority of those days parked on lounge-chairs by the main pool on the Lido deck. We LOVED the addition of the large-screen by the pool and the theater-style seating around the pool. These allowed for much more interaction with the guests and the pool-side entertainment. We thoroughly enjoyed The Morning Show each morning with the Cruise Director and Asst. Cruise Director, Gary and George. Despite being "adults", we spent an inordinate amount of time perfecting our runs down the twisty-twirly slide on the Lido deck and naturally judging other "adults" on their slide runs. Although our weather was so nice that we never had to take advantage of it, we loved that the aft pool deck had a retractable roof. We found the pool-area's design to be far superior to any other ship we'd been aboard.
We found the entertainment areas to be nicely upgraded as well. The Toulouse Lautrec theater was enormous with surprisingly comfy seating. The lobby was especially well-designed to that it became an excellent entertainment venue as well. With the exception of the smoke wafting out from the casino, the Promenade was a delight to walk and browse and shop. Unfortunately, we did not make it to the Comedy Club, but we heard it was quite nice. I did like that there weren't an over-abundance of night clubs on-board because the large number on other ships usually splits the crowd so much that no place ever seems to have a good group out dancing.
ALCHEMY BAR: Our single most favorite aspect of the new Conquest design though was the Alchemy Bar. I cannot speak highly enough about just how much we enjoyed our time spent there, and I certainly cannot categorize it to just Ship or Activities or Entertainment or Ambiance because it was all of these and more! Making the Alchemy Bar even better is the crowd that it draws. Its location is prime, and the drinks/service/show put on by Adri, Brian, and Izabella are so enticing that many who stop by while wandering the Promenade are apt to stay and mingle. We met many, many of the nicest people we've met on any cruise while having a drink at the Alchemy Bar. We wandered by our first day aboard, and after giving Adri a brief description of the types of tastes that I and my husband prefer, we soon learned that Adri is a cross between a magician and a mind-reader. Do not make the mistake of thinking this is your average martini bar where you sit down, order a drink, and merely enjoy a nice cocktail. Sure, you could do that if what you want, but doing so would be a waste of of the Alchemy Bar's special je ne sais quoi and certainly of Adri's talent. She brings the delightful palate of a discriminating chef to the art of cocktail making, so trust me when I tell you to let Adri have her way with you - just give her a brief description of your tastes and then let HER tell YOU what you want! If you enjoy a nice cocktail every once in a while, you will not be disappointed in a sojourn at the Alchemy Bar.
DINING: Both my husband and I found the food aboard the Conquest to be better than Carnival's normal fare. Included in the 2.0 upgrade were Guy's Burger Joint and the Blue Iguana Cantina, and both were well worth their advertisement. We found ourselves spending very little time in the Cezanne dining room for buffet dining, other than the occasional slice of pizza. Instead, we'd have an early brunch in the Renoir dining room where the Huevos Rancheros was spectacular, a late lunch at either Guy's or the Blue Iguana, early evening sushi in the Cezanne dining room, and late evening dinner in the Monet dining room.
While my husband preferred the burgers from Guy's, which were quite tasty, I personally tended towards the burrito bar from the Blue Iguana because the burritos were simply delicious plus I could name my ingredients, which means I could have a surprisingly healthy lunch. We were disappointed to discover that the Conquest no longer has a sushi bar in the early evenings; however, most nights there were a few sushi selections available from the Cezanne dining room. For the days in port, the ship served their typical seated breakfast fare instead of the brunch.
The Conquest does have a The Point steak house, and we would highly recommend this for at least one night of your cruise. The price is only $35/person, but the meal is easily equivalent to a $200+ dinner at one of the top echelon steak houses here in Atlanta. The portion sizes at the steak house are enormous though, so come with your appetite intact!
All in all, we are happy to report that we found the dining experience aboard the Conquest to be a cut above our previous Carnival cruises.
ACTIVITIES AND ENTERTAINMENT: My husband and I don't typically engage in too many of the on-board activities when we cruise beyond jumping into a few of the trivia contests. Given the large monitor and the theater seating design at the Lido deck's main pool though, we found ourselves spectating far more activities than we ever had previously, which we enjoyed immensely. The DJ mixing by the pool leaned too heavily into pop, R&B, and country, but he did play the occasional rock song when asked. Each afternoon also brought a live "guy and his guitar" style performance, which we also really enjoyed. We did attend a performance of The Brits one evening. We found it to be a somewhat lackluster performance, but we did hear from several other passengers that the Divas performance was very good.
SERVICE: In all areas except one, the on-board service was stellar. When eating brunch in the Renoir dining room on fun day at sea days, we strongly recommend that you request be be seated downstairs. Apparently the service upstairs during the brunch is done a la carte so you can easily find yourself waiting 45+ minutes for your breakfast to arrive. The server was extremely apologetic about the delay, and when we requested downstairs seating the next day, we did not experience the same problem. That was the only service downfall we experienced on the entire cruise though. In all other areas, the staff was extremely attentive, friendly and very quick with their service.
One thing we found odd on this cruise as opposed to previous cruises was that we had a "stealth" room-porter. Our room was perfectly serviced, but whereas our porter is usually ever-present and ready with friendly interaction, on this cruise, we rarely saw our room porter. He was there the moment we called if we needed something, and he learned our likes and proclivities quickly and readily indulged them for us, we just didn't see him very much. Again though, he did do an excellent job.
PORTS AND SHORE EXCURSIONS: This cruise was my reward for getting my dive certification, so it was chosen primarily on the merits of the diving offered at the ports of call. We dove with the ship in Roatan, Honduras, and we dove off ship in Belize. We chose not to dive in Cozumel.
For the dive in Honduras, we purchased the ship-sponsored, 2-tank certified dive excursion. The muster point was a short walk from the pier, and once we completed the necessary paperwork, we were escorted to small buses for the drive to Anthony's Key for our dive. Each bus carried about 20-25 passengers, and the trip to Anthony's Key took about a half hour. Once at Anthony's Key, the dive masters took you directly to your dive boat. There were about 20 divers per boat, and the boats did seem to be in excellent repair. The dive masters took care of gathering and assembling all of our equipment for us, which was nice, and the dive outfit itself had very nice facilities. The dive masters did not query anyone about their amount of diving experience, though, and since this was my first ocean dive and I did not know enough to volunteer that information to the dive master, my first dive proved to be extremely challenging and could have ended very poorly if not for the intervention of the dive masters, Louis and Ben. The boat ride to the dive site was only about 2 minutes. The weather was rainy and very windy, so the water was quite choppy with 6'-8' swells. Because there were so many of us on the dive boat, we were somewhat rushed off of the boat so that no one wasted their air waiting on such a large group to enter the water. I was sent off the boat with my snorkel still in my mouth and without having a chance to test my BCD or my weights. Unfortunately, I took in a large lung-full of salt water, could not locate my regulator, was unable to inflate my BCD, and began panicking in an effort to keep my head above water in the large swells. Fortunately, the Louis spotted me after about 5 minutes and swam out to me to find out what was wrong. When I explained my issues, he attempted to calm me down by telling me "don't worry, you've done this many times before." When I responded that this was my first ocean dive, he was visibly shocked and said they should have been told. He then did a fantastic job of calming me down, getting my BCD inflated, getting my regulator into my mouth, and towing me back to the drop site because the current had taken me so far away from the others. The first dive was to 80', and the visibility was very good. We saw quite a bit of wild life, and even saw a baby sea turtle who was too small to know any better and kept swimming up to all of the divers to check them out! Unfortunately for me, my hyperventilating had caused me to blow through my air supply, so when Ben asked for the first air check at the expected 1,500 PSI mark, I discovered that I only had less than 300 PSI left in my tank. Since 700 PSI is what was needed to get me back to the surface including my safety stop time, we went straight to Ben and showed him my air gauge when he seemed to misread my air supply report. When he saw how little air I had left, he immediately gave me his secondary regulator, and buddy-breathed me up to the safety stop. Once at the safety stop, he switched me over to buddy-breathing with my husband's secondary regulator, gave us instructions for how long to stay at 15', and went back to take care of the rest of the group and get them back to the dive boat. We did make it back to the surface without any further issues. We went back to the dock for our surface interval, then after another 2 minute boat ride, we arrived at our second dive site. Fortunately, this dive went far better than the first, although the water was still extremely choppy due to the weather. The second dive was to be over a wreck then around across the reef and back up. Although the equipment seemed nice and in very good repair, we discovered on my second dive that my depth gauge did not work. The dive was only supposed to be to 60', but since they sent me in as the third diver so I could get my bearings, my husband caught me at about 85', yanked me back up to 60', and when he tried to show me my depth faux pas, realized that my depth gauge was broken. The dive masters kept a closer reign on me for this dive, and although there were no further issues, I did blow my tank before the rest of the group again and had to surface about 5 minutes before everyone else. The dive masters took very good care of me once they discovered I was a novice diver, but I would strongly recommend to anyone else taking this excursion that you make them aware of your dive experience if you are less than an expert, experienced diver.
In Belize, the ship is too large to dock, so expect a fairly long tinder to shore - about 30 minutes. For our Belize dive, we dove with an off-ship company because of their extremely high recommendations on the PADI site, Sea Sports Belize. Belize is where I fell in love with diving. While I had read that Belize has the best diving in the Western Hemisphere. experiencing this for yourself is very different. The diving in Belize was spectacular! It was like diving in an aquarium. The weather was sunny and very windy, so the swells were 6'-8' like they were in Honduras the day before. Underwater though, the reef and the colors and the abundance of sea life were stunning. The dive experience with Sea Sports Belize was amazing as well. If you are a diver and you get the chance, DO NOT miss diving Belize, especially with Sea Sports Belize as your guide!
For our Cozumel stop, my husband and I elected to be tourists for the day. We'd been to Cozumel back in April with his two sons (9 and 13), and we'd run the Amazing Cozumel Race, which is far and away the best ship-sponsored excursion I've ever done. For this trip, we walked around, shopped, drank cold beers along the way and visited many of the sites and attractions that we'd blown by running the Amazing Cozumel Race. Cozumel is a very tourist-friendly town, and its downtown boardwalk is a fun place to spend a nice, lazy day.
DISEMBARKATION: We were slated for the last group to disembark the ship, so we thought we'd sleep late the last morning of the cruise. What we did not know is that you're awakened and asked to vacate your room several hours before your actual disembarkation time. Our room porter was exceedingly patient with us though, once we explained our misunderstanding, so we gathered our remaining things with undue haste, vacated our room, and gathered in the Toulouse Lautrek theater to await our groups disembarkation time. Despite being in the last group, the disembarkation process only took about an hour, which speaks to the relative efficiency of the terminal.
SUMMARY: In our opinion, the new Conquest 2.0 upgrade was well worth it as this was our best cruise experience thus far. When we get the chance, we will definitely book another cruise on this ship. Some of the things I'm already looking forward to on my next Conquest cruise are: lounging by the big screen on the Lido deck's main pool, the Huevos Rancheros for brunch, the Blue Iguana burrito bar, a special night at The Point, and definitely, definitely, definitely the Alchemy Bar!