Carnival Conquest - Western Caribbean: Carnival Conquest Cruise Review by qqchuck
Overall Member Rating
Carnival Conquest - Western Caribbean
Destination: Western Caribbean
Sunday consisted of the usual check-in fun. I wasnt really pleased that the people who checked in online had to wait about the same amount of time as folks who didnt. Whats the point? Anyway, so were doing the usual emergency drill fun that afternoon, and hundreds, no thousands (3400 guests on this ship + 1200 crew!) of folks are all lined up on the lifeboat deck in their lovely orange lifejackets. The drill is almost complete, when this older guy in a Hawaiian shirt comes strolling down the deck (in the 2 feet of outer deck space still unoccupied by people), no lifejacket, holding a bucket of beer, and looking as clueless as a priest in a topless bar. I have no idea what that was about, but it was funny as hell. What a GOOBER!
We went to dinner and actually had some very nice dinner companions, and since Mom approved, we dont have to ask to be re-seated (she tends to enjoy us being seated alone there are benefits besides the obvious for doing it that More way, but lets not get sidetracked, mkay?)
Our dinner companions are 2 newlyweds (on their honeymoon)in their early twenties, both AGGIES! Whhoop! They live in Plano, but are from San Antonio&nice kids. Also, one other couple in their 50s or so, also nice people, from Marble Falls, TX. So, thats a good start. Dinner was great as it always is on Carnival. Highlights were the Tilapia and fried shrimp appetizer.
The opening show was just ok, and the cruise director is great really funny.
Monday -- Monday I had breakfast in the dining room and met some young folks from Texas. One wa a longhorn, one Baylor, and not sure about the others. They were fun to talk to. I took in some sun, got a pinkish hue (but not sunburn) going, and began my program of vigorous napping. Monday night was the first formal night, so dinner was highlighted by lobster tail and Prime Rib. Yum yum. The Prime Rib on these ships has never seemed that great to me so so fatty, but I just cut around it and eat the good stuff! Of course, we made it to the Captains Reception for some free drinks and hors d'oeuvres (sp?).
The show Monday was supposedly the #1 rated Las Vegas Style Review on a cruise ship, as voted by Cruise magazine subscribers. Sure enough, they had scantily clad women in big hairdresses prancing down a lit staircase. It was pretty authentic, but Im just not that into LV review shows or Broadway reviews either.
Some interesting notes about the ship. The casino is quite large and popular, and they have a single table of Texas Holdem, a $5-10 limit holdem game. I also managed to find the topless deck. There were only 2-3 ladies taking advantage of the topless optional policy, but the deck is not very big, and maybe this will change as the cruise progresses!
Tuesday -- Tuesday I continued my vigorous napping program after having breakfast with Mom in the dining room. Breakfast just wore me out, so I took a nap to recover. After that, it was time for some more laying out& more tough work of course. After getting some sun, I headed to the spa where I sat in the steam room for a while (a mens steam room that has an ocean view I might add very cool design), and then took a shower in one of the spa showers since theyre much bigger than what I have in the room. One thing that is not well known among novice cruisers is that use of the spa facilities is often free tho the design of the spa makes you think you need an appointment to enter, and the cruise lines dont stress that the facilities are free cuz they want you to buy a massage or other spa treatment instead. The locker rooms, whirlpool, steam room, dry sauna, showers, bathrooms, and exercise gym are all free for your enjoyment, so long as you realize that!
After that I wandered about the ship just people watching and watching the sunset. I also attended the past guest reception which basically is like the Captains reception from the night before (free drinks/appetizers), except you watch a 4 minute video on Carnivals past, present and future. Funny story their first ship ever ran aground&so they like to point out that they came from very humble beginnings. Ummm yeah! It says a lot the way they rebounded from that!
Dinner Tuesday night was just ho-hum, but highlighted by an excellent black bean soup and chocolate molten cake with citrus sherbert. Yummy!
The weather so far has been fantabulous! Warm highs in the 80's and 90's, with lots and lots of sunshine. The seas are flatter than I have ever seen before -- it's VERY hard to tell you're even on a ship. I think the weather is due to a high pressure system that's hunkered down between the tropical storms of the east (around Fla) and the tropical storms of the west (Cabo). Suuuuwwweeet!
Wednesday is Jamaica, our first port stop, so Im looking forward to getting off the ship after 2 days at sea. Dont get me wrong, they were a great two days, Im just ready for some new scenery. Wednesday We arrived in Jamaica pretty place somewhat mountainous, so thats different from a place like Cozumel or GC. After getting off the boat, we were in the cruise terminal and happened to be by an information desk, so I asked (just for verification of what I already knew) how much the cab ride is to the Sunset Beach resort. She says $5. I get outside and there didnt seem to be a taxi stand so I asked a guy in a JUTA (Official Jamaican taxi folks) about a taxi to SB. He pointed me to a guy who had a JUTA shirt on by was driving a Honda Civic. Before we get in I ask How much to Sunset Beach? he says $10. I say The lady inside said it was $5. He says Oh, ok then. What a jackass. He got $5 and no tip from me. He asked us what time we might return and we told him, even though I wasnt fond of him.
Sunset Beach is a pretty cool place but Jamaica is no Cozumel or Playa. The water is not very clear, and the beach at this particular place wasnt very large. Since its an all inclusive resort, we paid $40 to basically be a guest for the day. Also because its AI, there is no service at the beach, and the liquors are limited and certainly not premium. You pretty much have to get your own stuff from several food and beverage stations.
The facilities are pretty decent. Several pools, lots of beach chairs and beach area (including some au natural option saw one topless sunbather total, but the true au natural beach was farther down and I didnt walk down that far. They also had a mini water park that included a couple of waterslides, a pirate ship play area, and a lazy river. I didnt indulge in any of that, but a couple of adult guys I spoke with said the water slide was fun but it hurt their back. I imagine the kids didnt even notice or were too light to make the surface hurt them. There were plenty of bathrooms and changing rooms, a small slot machine room, and an internet cafe where access was $5US per half hour.
The weather was partly cloudy when we arrived, but that gave way to some good sunshine shortly thereafter enough for me to get my first true sunburn. It wasnt harsh or anything but there was no mistaking it. We enjoyed some drinks and burgers, and I got this meat pie looking thing from the grille that was pretty good. I think they just called it a Meat Patty, Mon In the afternoon it got more cloudy again, so Mom and I ate at the buffet, which was very basic and not all that great, but it was food. After that, I hung by the main pool while Mom tried her hand at Sea Kayaking (included in admission along with wind surfing and snorkeling equipment).
The weather didnt seem to want to let up, so we headed back a little early for the ship. I asked the hotel doorman how much it should cost to get back and he said $6. Then, of course, the taxi driver quoted me 8. I say The guy at the hotel says its $6. He says Ok, if he said so, mon. Again, no tip its just a joke that they try to overcharge you, but I guess enough tourists are dumb about it.
Mom and I both dont really think we ever need to come back to Jamaica again it just wasnt that impressive.
Dinner back on the ship was highlighted by Won Ton Soup and 2 helpings of Beef Wellington!
The show was a magic show by Deja, the Diva of Deception I thought it was just so-so, and it was improved due to the dance numbers by the ships dance staff. I didnt really like Dejas personality, and was not really impressed by her tricks.
The midnite comedian was hilarious, more of a stand up comedy style. He was from North Carolina, and his southern drawl and great jokes kept the audience in stitches.
Thursday -- We arrived in Grand Cayman to better weather, and enjoyed our highlights tour to the Turtle Farm, Hell, Stingray Sandbar. This highlights tour is really only worth doing once, and you get a fair amount of overall tour info about the island. The Stingray city thing was fun as usual, standing in 3 ft of crystal clear water feeding the docile stingrays. It didnt seem like as many as my last trip, but then again, there were a million folks out there doing it too.
After the excursion, Mom and I got some nachos and fajitas to go at Senor Frogs a nice change of pace.
The ship was held up in Jamaica for 3 passengers who apparently were on an excursion (because were pretty sure the ship would have left them otherwise!). We decided to watch the sail away since it is our only pier stop in port. Jamaica from the ocean is a really pretty place with buildings and homes built into the hillsides.
Since we didnt get a serious nap yesterday due to our late sailing from Jamaica, and since I was only going on 5 hours of sleep after the comedian last night, I resumed my program of vigorous napping with a nice 3.5 hr nap Thursday afternoon.
Thursday night was our 2nd formal night. Dinner was highlighted by grilled shrimp and Chateaubriand! The grilled shrimp was in some sort of creamy sauce with cheesy potatoes very tasty!
The show for Thursday was an original musical put on by Carnival called Point and Click It seemingly tells the story of a guy and gal courting after meeting online. The costume and set changes were amazing, and the singing was good, but the plot was lacking a lot of meat or substance. Good idea having an original production, mediocre implementation in my opinion tho.
The r-rated late night comic was funny, but he only did a 35 minute set. Whats up with that?
Friday -- Friday we anchored just off the coast of Cozumel. Usually most cruise ships dock there, but apparently some or all of the piers are under re-construction from hurricane damage. We anchored at 9am, and I figured for a ship so big, that it would be an hour or so before we'd be able to debark, since those with shore trips booked through the cruise line get to get off first. It went much faster than I've ever seen on a ship that size. It seemed like they had bukus of ferries to help us unload. I didn't see many other ships in port, so maybe that was why.
Due to my mis-under-estimating[sic], we ended up on the downtown Cozumel pier at about 10:08, missing the 10:00 ferry to Playa by just 8 minutes. I think if we had been on deck to get our tender tickets when they were first giving them out, I'm sure we'd have made the 10:00 ferry. This wouldn't have been a big deal if there was an 11am ferry, but there wasn't. In fact, the ferry schedule was kind of hosed, maybe due to the fact that it's low season down there in Sept/Oct and early Nov. To further complicate matters, the ferry schedule is displayed with two different colors, and if you don't pay attention to what color applies to what day of the month, you could get seriously hosed.
Mom and I had to make a strategic decision. We really wanted to go to Playa Del Carmen, but the way the ferry schedule ran that day, we would have to leave at Noon and return on the 3pm ferry from Playa (since there wasn't another one until 5pm(arriving CZM 5:35) and we were supposed to be back on the Cozumel pier by NLT 5pm. We decided to go ahead and do it since a) we'd get 1.5 hrs in Cozumel before the Noon ferry and b) we really weren't that interested in Cozumel since we've been there a zillion times. Plus, Mom had never been to Playa before, and I really wanted to show her the town.
When we docked at Playa, we took a cab straight to the northern beach area by Mamita's Beach Club. I just wanted to show Mom the beach so she'd know that Playa had a more traditional beach with lots of swimming area and beautiful turquoise water. I also wanted to show here the cool lounge chairs, umbrellas, and "beach beds" that were available. In essence, I was giving Mom the Playa highlights tour. After a few mins at the north beach, we got back in the cab and headed down towards the north end of the central 5th Avenue district. I think we landed at around Calle 22 and 5th Ave.
As an aside, Playa is my favorite vacation destination in the world, followed by places like Vegas, Hawaii, London, and Prague. The prices are VERY reasonable, the turquoise water beaches are gorgeous, and the 5th Avenue district is so lively, diverse, and flavorful that ANYONE can find something to suit their tastes. The shopping ranges from typical Mexican chachkey(sp?) stores(where everything is negotiable), to nicer fixed price souvenir shops, to trendy boutiques, galleries, and decorative item stores. The dining ranges from cheap Mexican and Pizza places, to reasonably priced Mexican restaurants, to moderately priced American, Seafood, Italian, and Mexican restaurants, all the way up to trendy and upscale restaurants of all types. The same type of range also applies to spas (with a million places to get a massage, including beachdide) and hotels(but no mega hotels downtown -- mostly boutique hotels in all different, reasonable, price ranges, $50-120/night in low season). Other places of business worth mentioning are the numerous beach clubs(that will gladly serve you food and drinks without having to get out of your beach chair!), tour shops (mopeds, rental cars, jet ski, scuba, parasailing, jeep tours, cenote tours, etc etc etc), and late night dance clubs. And all of this within a block of 5th Avenue in a roughly 10 block stretch of the popular, "pedestrian only" street. Did I mention 5th Avenue is 1-2 blocks from the gorgeous turquoise water beaches? I'm going back for a 5 night stay next month, which will be my 3rd visit there this year!
After landing at 22 and 5th, we strolled down 5th while I pointed out all of the places of business(restaurants, shops, hotels, etc) I prefer and have experience with. We went by one of my favorite hotels, La Tortuga, and took a pic of the pool. We then stopped at my favorite Mexican style restaurant, La Palapa Hemingways, for a wonderful (but not cheap -- it's more moderate, like American prices -- or slightly higher depending on what you order). We had some Guacamole (which is made tableside), I had some "Sopa De Lima" with Chicken, which is a Mayan/Regional specialty, shrimp ceviche, and Mom had the fish tacos. Everything was excellent except the Guac. It was kind of bland, but in their defense, we told them to go easy on the heat. We added lots of salt and some lime juice and it was better after that. Coming from Texas tho, we prepare Guac quite often so we have our own finicky tastes for that dish.
After lunch, we did a quick walk back to the pier to make sure we made the 3:00 ferry. I felt really bad that Mom didn't get a chance to truly experience Playa, but I think she saw enough to give her a strong taste for more. She said she really liked it. For some reason, I can laud the strengths of Playa, but folks can't truly experience it unless they visit. It's such a cool place -- it's tourist focused without being a tourist trap, and the Mexican people there are really hospitable!
So, once back on board, we took our normal pre-dinner nap and headed to Dinner. I don't recall the dinner highlights, but it was excellent as always. I should mention at this point that by this time in the trip, I've decided I don't like our waiter(Kohmen) much. He just wasn't very hospitable or friendly. I'm sure it doesn't come easy for him, coming from Indonesia, to watch some fat American order 3-4 entrees and sometimes only take a few bites of one (generally that was when I was experimenting with a dish or just too full and wanted to taste a dish). On the contrary, the assistant waiter(Danish) was just the opposite. Nice, friendly, professional and extremely hospitable -- he was from India. That guy deserves a promotion and will probably end up as a maitre 'd before it's all over. I should also mention that EVERY other waiter/asst waiter I've ever encountered with Carnival has been just like Danish, so I still have full confidence in Carnival and their waitstaff.
Saturday -- Saturday was spent with my normal vigorous napping program. We attended the debarkation talk and I learned nothing new, but I didn't have any other big priorities at the time and the cruise director is so good that he makes even a boring talk like that interesting to listen to. Lots of great jokes, and a couple of really sincere moral comments too. He made the point that if you try to bring drugs off of the ship, customs(and their pooch) WILL find out and arrest you, and that not only should you get rid of any drugs you might have, but that you should get them out of your life altogether because you don't need them to make you a better person! The other cool point he made was at the end after bringing the staff up on stage for a round of applause. He mentioned that one of his mentor cruise directors had passed away recently and that he wanted to end the talk by quoting a saying from his former mentor. "Love People, NOT Things... and Use Things, NOT People"... This and the appreciation given throughout the cruise for folks who serve their fellow man (military, police, firefighters, family supporting the aforementioned, etc) was very popular with cruisers, and also made people feel welcome and feel good on the ship. Somehow, when you know someone has the right heart and character, you feel good that they're in charge, because you know they use that same heart and character to lead and serve you. I've seen other cruise directors that were funny, but I've never seen one that was funny and so full of integrity and character. Bravo, Carnival! (I should also note that Todd, the cruise director, mentioned that he would be leaving the ship in a few weeks, which by my estimate, means about early-late October -- I hope he's not leaving Carnival, but I wish him well regardless.)
Dinner that last night was great again, but again I don't remember the highlights. I saw Danish give several patrons hugs(initiated by the cruisers it seemed) as they were leaving the dining room the last night. They must have liked him too. What a cool dude.
The show the last night was the 3rd evolution or so of the "Guest Talent Show" that I've seen. I say 3rd evolution because I've seen this type of show before on Carnival, and they've made some improvements. It's now more of a Karaoke show(as opposed to straight talent show) where they target certain well known celebrities to be impersonated, and the staff have costumes to match the celebrities and make it a good show, AND dance routines by the dancers to support the singers -- really nice work! (It also appeared that the singers had been mentored on their performances possibly -- which is also a professional touch!) In addition, the cruise staff do a couple of numbers themselves that are hilarious and not to be missed. I won't say what they did cuz I don't want to spoil the fun -- but let's just say they did some hilarious celebrity Karaoke impersonations themselves! Of course, the guest singers were kind of hit and miss, but Aretha and Frank Sinatra were Theatre quality performers in their own rights. I think this show is great, and could probably use one more evolution and it will then be a Carnival signature show that folks will look forward to every Carnival cruise(or at least every 6+ day cruise -- the performers have to have some time to audition and practice) they go on.
I had one last ice cream cone and headed to bed.
Sunday -- Debarkation went rather quickly, quicker than I've ever seen it before. I scheduled a moderately early flight so that we could get off first(after the self service debarkers who had to schlep all their bags off the ship), but by the time we actually got off, our deck was already being called (Deck 7). Because of this, our bags were on the far side of the terminal, and we didn't have to get in the longer line to go through customs.... woooohoooo! That line appeared to be about a 40 minute wait vs. 5-7 for us.
WHY IT'S GOOD TO BE BACK ON CARNIVAL!
It's the little things that add up when it comes to Carnival Cruises vs. the other lines. The cruise lines Ive been on all do the big things well (cabins, meals, port visits, etc), and so theres just not much difference to point to there. So, it comes down to the little things that mean so much.
First of all, Pizza and Ice Cream available 24 hours a day. Who doesn't like unlimited Pizza and Ice Cream? You won't find this on RC or Princess. The mere fact that all you have to do to pay for something is SHOW your card makes me happy. The other two cruise lines I've been on have to TAKE your card, SWIPE it, then bring it back to you. You're constantly having to take your card out, put your card up, and overall just keep track of that pesky card. On Carnival, you just show it to them for a few seconds and put it back. They write down or punch in your four digit folio number and you can put your card away. This allows you to keep it in a see-through plastic case on a lanyard, or my personal favorite, the retractable id card thing that hooks on your belt. Either way, it's just lower maintenance and less to think about, and on a vacation, that means a lot.
The cruise directors are better, and the entertainments better. Lucky for us, even the ship is better. The Conquest is the biggest ship class in Carnivals fleet until the Freedom class comes out early next year. The coolest feature of this newer ship is the retractable roof pool(also adults only) on the back of the ship. Other cool features include more deck/layout space, better wind protection, and new outdoor showers in these new deck spaces so you can cool off while laying out without having to hunt down a pool and fight the crowds.
The central (loud pool as I call it) pool has been redesigned in such a way as to allow more deck/layout space, but in a sort of amphitheater design so that more folks can enjoy the sun and the festivities, including the Carnival signature water slide. It's also designed in such a way as to have a stage that is useful for both daytime pool music and night time deck parties. Like other carnival ships, the nightspot row allows night prowlers to pub crawl among the several late night party spots without having to schlep all over the ship, another of my favorite Carnival ship features.
Another small nicety of Carnival is the friendliness of their wait staff and the "song and dance" shows that they put on almost every night. In addition, our Maitre' D had some humorous things to say every night. Jokes like " A passenger asked me if the waiters stay on board?" and "Have fun tomorrow in Nassau" when we're clearly headed to Jamaica or Mexico instead. It's a good "Just to make sure you're listening" joke. And of course, the ever popular cruise quest question, "Do you have your own generators on board?"... with the usual punch line, "No, we're still plugged in in Galveston, but we just have a very long extension cord." (Ba dum pum pum, chhhhhhh) I digress, but the waiter shows are always fun, and they often get the guests involved, and for some weird reason, it just makes you feel at home and feel welcome. I can't explain it!
Ive noticed some interesting improvements on the ship that were actually suggestions Id made when I last sailed Carnival a couple of years ago. Of course I know it wasnt because of me, but Im sure others had the same common sense suggestions. First of all, there is now a sandwich bar/deli in the dining room as an alternative to the hamburger station. Second, the carnival capers (daily schedule) now comes with a complete schedule that you can tear off and easily carry with you in your shorts. Another suggestion I and Im sure others made was to list the Deck# along with the deck name for locations for scheduled activities. Some people do better with names, some better with numbers! Ive also heard they have an original show (with a plot line) later this week, which was another one of my suggestions. Itll be interesting to see if its entertaining.
I must admit, our room is smaller than those on older Carnival ships. However, what they have taken away in space has pretty much been compensated for in the efficiency of the space that is remaining. Our one small complaint about the room is that neither of the two small closets goes all the way to the floor, so with long evening gowns, for instance, they cant hang fully extended. This is a very minor problem that could be easily fixed and retrofitted, so Im gonna make the suggestion. The bathroom is also slightly smaller, but is well designed. For instance, the floor is designed in such a way as to drain water to the perimeter of the bathroom, away from your feet. In addition, a feature I've always seen on Carnival in showers is the detachable shower head. It stuns me the other cruise lines have not caught on to this -- it's a WONDERFUL feature when your a big dude and have little space to maneuver, AND it helps get sand out of those hard to reach places -- and I think you know what I mean! Also, the shower is just as roomy or even roomier than any Ive seen in similar rooms on other lines ships, so like I said, the smaller room is not that big a deal. The mere fact that I paid about the same as I did 3 years ago for a 7 day cruise on Carnival with similar ports($550 total for a room roughly 3-4 categories above the lowest category), and in a similar but smaller room, tells me the efficiencies are paying off in the face of rising prices.
Another thing Ive decided I like better on Carnival is the overall friendliness of the staff and cruise directors. The staff on Princess could be quite stuffy, and the cruise director was an @ss in person. RC was just ok in this regard. This time the staff is very friendly and the cruise director is one of the best Ive seen.
One other thing I dont really like but I think is inevitable is the presence of Carnival Vacation Club salespeople. Its sort of a timeshare type thing, like timeshares and car leases, its a product that appeals to everyone, but only really makes sense for a VERY small minority. In a survey of 100 club members recently on cruisecritic.com discussion boards, only 2 said they would do it again. Luckily, the salespeople are not intrusive or annoying(and wont approach you if you dont approach them first), so its easy enough to avoid the hard sell by simply not going up and speaking with them. Less
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