Wow! What a week to remember. Our cruise was the week of March 10th, 2013. I will break this review down by category so it is easier to navigate.
[PRE CRUISE HOTEL]
We stayed at the Quality Inn Gretna. They have a deal of $140 for a hotel room for a night, buffet breakfast, a shuttle to and from the port, and a parking spot for your car for the week. It ended up being right about $166. The room was not the greatest, but not bad. I guess you get what you pay for. We checked in at 8 PM and there was a line of about 8 families. With only 1 person behind the counter, we waited about 22 minutes in line to check in. Our room smelled like chlorine (and the pool was still closed for winter!). Other than that, no issues. The breakfast consisted of Cheerios, Fruit Loops, yogurt, hard boiled eggs, scrambled eggs, grits, sausage gravy, bacon, muffins, biscuits, orange and apple juice, milk and coffee. Noting too exciting. All the food was pretty bland/average. Parking was a regular parking lot. Their shuttle leaves every hour, on the hour, starting at 9 AM, and the bus seats probably 30 people. It was about a 20 minute drive/wait in the shuttle (most of that 20 minutes was waiting to get up to the drop off point). After the cruise, we waited about 30 minutes for a return shuttle. Overall, decent hotel and shuttle services and would CONSIDER using them again.
We arrived at the terminal just after 10 AM. There were really no lines to speak of. Breezed right through. We boarded early on with the platinum members and were on board by 11:30.
[ROOM - MAIN FLOOR, ROOM 2389]
Nice ocean view room. We asked the room steward to remove the drinks in the mini-fridge so we had room for our own stuff and wouldn't be charged. Our room was right under the galley (kitchen), and we occasionally heard dishes or carts rolling. Not a huge problem, but probably would not stay under it again. Other than that, we liked our room location. The lower on the boat and more toward the center you are, the less rocking you feel and it is easy and quick to get to most locations on the ship.
[FOOD & RESTAURANTS]
The food overall on this cruise was always well presented, but never very tasty. Most items were just average/OKAY. There's plenty of it (Guy's Burgers, Sur Mer, Comfort Kitchen, Cezanne Buffet, Deli, Dining Room, Pizza Pirate, Blue Iguana Burritos, and room service), but there weren't many single items that really stood out. My dad said the beef brisket in the dining room on the first night was very tender and excellent. Guy's Burgers was, to us, not as good as everyone makes it out to be. It wasn't bad, though, and most everyone really likes them! The Fish and Chips at Sur Mer was very "fishy" and left much to be desired. 24 hour ice cream and yogurt was usually pretty tasty. Pizza Pirate wasn't very exciting. The pizza is very thin. The Deli is fairly good. The buffet has food items which leave some room for improvement. The Comfort Kitchen is an alternate buffet with different food. I never ate at the burrito bar. The main dining room, Monet, was fairly good each night. Our table had 11 people and because of a serving staff waiting on multiple tables, it usually took a minimum of an hour and a half to eat (3 course meal - starter, main, and dessert). I would have liked that to be a little quicker. They serve only water to drink unless you ask for something different. We got milk with our meal every night. There was also a small late night buffet (11:30 - 1 AM) in the back (aft) pool area each night. They had ham and cheese sandwiches, hot dogs, brownies, cookies, fruit, etc.) There is also a steakhouse on board that offers alternate dining options for $35 per person and a "Chef's Table" experience for $75. We did not go to any of the additional cost restaurants. We ordered room service 3 times during the week, and it took them anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour to bring the food. They could stand to be a little quicker there, so if you order room service, order much earlier than you plan on actually eating it! Overall, lots of food options but no clear cut AWESOME option.
The ship provides you with water, lemonade, and tea at stations during lunch. The lemonade is pretty sweet and the ice/water tastes sort of funky. The tea was either unsweet or very dull. I recommend bringing your own sodas or bottled water. I wish I would have. Sodas were $2.24 per can and a 1.5 liter water bottle was around $4. You can get milk or chocolate milk at any meal for free if you just ask.
Our cruise Director was Gary and the Assistant Cruise Director was George. Gary did an excellent job throughout the week. Not too many annoying announcements! He hosted Hasbro the Game Show and a few other events throughout the week and was getting down with all the young people at a couple of the dancing events! We found him to be very funny, quick witted, and enjoyable. He always kept the crowd laughing and engaged and made even average events extraordinary. George was also very funny and enjoyable with the little quirky things he did.
The Conquest had 3 shows - Brits, Divas, and Motor City. Each of the shows was performed 3 times throughout the week on a different night (total of 9 showings). Motor City was Motown Music, Brits was British music, and Divas was modern music. The shows were fairly entertaining but not quite as good as the old shows before Carnivals 2.0 upgrades. No more big sets or stage full of dancers. You now have a cast of 8 who sing and dance at the same time with light screens behind them. Not as good as the old show, but probably still worth seeing at least once.
Besides the shows, there are a lot of other things to do on board! Hasbro the Gameshow is a nice new addition to the ship! It was done 3 times during the week, playing 2 different games each "episode". They picked about 80% adults to participate, so it's more or less for the kids to 'watch' than to 'get involved'. They pick random people from the audience to come on stage and play the game. Everyone picked walked away with a consolation prize (card game and a $20 Hasbro.com gift card). Other shows throughout the week included Carnivalaire (trivia questions), Gender Showdown (very entertaining!), The Love Show, The Liars Club, and a few others. All of those were good and worth seeing. Superstar Live is a new form of Karaoke with a live backup band instead of a CD. It was a 4 piece band + a backup singer. Very cool idea and we loved it! They gave each participant a Superstar Live Lanyard for participating. The ship also had a talent show. Each performer got a bottle of champagne and a plastic trophy. There were various bands that played on board throughout the week in the casino, lobby, Lido Deck, and Degas Lounge.
With the 2.0 upgrades, the ship now focuses heavily on comedians (a money saver for Carnival). There were 2 comedians on board for the first half of the week, and 2 new/different comedians the last half. The comedy brunch is open on the 3 sea days, which was served in the Renoir Dining Room. You eat breakfast, and every hour, on the hour, a comedian comes out and tells jokes for about 5 minutes (no joke, literally 5 minutes). It's barely any comedy... Then at night on select nights, the comedians had their own show (which lasted about 30 minutes each). There were 5 shows scheduled each night, about an hour apart from each other. The first 2 were family friendly and the last 3 were MAJORLY dirty! (Lots of cussing and dirty jokes). They make everyone clear out of the Degas lounge after each show to give the people waiting outside a chance to get in and see the next show. They need a bigger lounge with all the people that wanted to watch! So starting about 7:30, you had a comedian go for about 30 minutes, then they clear out the lounge and you have to wait another 30 minutes for the next routine. Comedians were very good for the most part and very funny!
[PORT - MONTEGO BAY]
Not much to say here. Very pretty/beautiful, but very hot. We did not do anything here because we had heard it was a very unsafe place and that you should not do an excursion unless you book with Carnival. We heard stories about taxi's taking people out in the middle of nowhere and demanding money to get them back. We also heard a tour bus got robbed and raided. We got off the boat and did some shopping by the port - that's it. The main attraction in Jamaica is Dunn's Rivers Falls, which is a good 2 hour drive from the port. We weren't willing to venture that far away from the ship in a foreign country when we heard it wasn't that safe and you are limited on time. We wouldn't really care much to port here again for any reason other than nice scenery. (This is also a great place to zip line).
[PORT - CAYMAN ISLANDS/GRAND CAYMAN]
Due to bad weather, Stingray City closed down for the day. We were very disappointed we did not get to do our excursion. Looked like a nice place to visit, but the weather ruined the day for us.
[PORT - COZUMEL]
Cozumel was gorgeous and a favorite port among many. We went to Chankanaab. It was a park that had everything you could want to do. It was $21 per person to get in (there is a coupon for $2 off online you can print and take with you). They had their own private (and very nice) beach, pools, restaurants, snorkeling, ruins, dolphin and manatee show, and sea lion show, among other things. The sea lion show was excellent and definitely worth seeing. We opted to snorkel. They had snorkeling from shore (rocky area). The rental of snorkel equipment was $15 per person and included a snorkel mask and tube, a life jacket, and a locker for your belongings. If you bring your own snorkel gear, I think they let you use the life jackets for free. The snorkeling was nice and had quite a variety of fish to see, even very close to the shore! Chankanaab was only about 5 minutes from the boat and it was $11 total for the 3 of us to ride in a taxi ($11 per ride, so $22 to get there and back). We could still see the ship from the private beach we were on. Very nice, clean, and friendly park and we would definitely go back there again!
It was spring break, which meant an abundance of kids, teens, and college students. Nothing too wild or disruptive.
[ON BOARD PLACES TO VISIT]
There are 3 pools on the boat, each with their own hot tubs. The pool in the main lido area has the most going on around it (musician during the day, people laying out and pool games, and 2 bars). The next pool is up by the bottom of the water slide. The last pool is in the back of the boat near the ice cream machine and Pizza Pirate. The back pool was generally less active/crowded. Almost all of the hot tubs were filled with kids jumping in and out like it was a kiddy pool. There is a basketball and volleyball court on board (which you must pass through to get to the mini-golf course). The golf was enjoyable and not as windy as it has been on past cruises. The mini-golf and the basketball are somewhat hidden unless you know they are there. (They are near the giant red and blue Carnival smokestack). The Taste Bar is also a neat place you can visit between 5:30 - 8:30 each night, that lets you sample a unique food.
We went to the dining room early for breakfast and disembarked with the self-assist option. They call decks 1 and 2 first. It took less than 30 minutes to get from our room through all the checkpoints.
Fairly good trip! Food could be better and I am very disappointed with the 2.0 upgrades overall. The shows done before were far superior to what is being done now. The old layout even had a singer, a magician, and a couple of other shows that are completely gone now. There were nights on this cruise where there was nothing to see in the main lounge (Toulouse Lautrec Lounge) except re-runs of the shows they've already done earlier in the week. Pretty disappointing there. Make sure to be careful and wash your hands frequently because a member of my family who very rarely gets sick was out cold for about 3 of the 7 days (which also included a trip to the on board medical center). It can happen to anyone, so just keep that in mind! Great staff who was always willing to serve with a smile. The room stewards always addressed me by name and they were all friendly. Great to see how much they care about the guests. I wouldn't hesitate to take another Carnival cruise.