To start, I have noticed a lot of reviews complaining about the quality of the food on Carnival, in particular, the buffet. Being a veteran of past Celebrity and Royal Caribbean cruises, I will let you in on a little secret: go to their boards and you will probably see the same thing being said about them.
As someone who does not eat a lot of processed foods, the best description for the food I had on the Conquest would be "good". The fruit and vegetables were fresh, and the chicken, seafood, and meat dishes were all cooked properly and not overly garnished with exotic sauces. If you are a foodie, you will probably disagree, but for all the complaining I keep reading in these reviews, I still noticed that everyone around me at the buffet filled their 'servicing platter sized' plates to the brim with food, consuming it with glee and haste.
With that preamble, on to the review...
New Orleans (Friday -- Sunday Morning)
The Conquest sailed from New Orleans on a Sunday, so like many people, we drove down early to stay a couple of nights in a hotel before the cruise. A word of warning to those of you with young children, there are quite a few "adult" clubs on Bourbon Street, and I am sure there were several parents who had to have the facts of life talk with their kids after promenading past them and giving them an eyeful. We took a ghost tour from Flanagan's pub on Phillip Street, it was entertaining with a good history of the not-so-good people of New Orleans. Someone brought a four year old on this tour, so the guide toned down some of the descriptions of the crimes.
Thus a reoccurring theme: New Orleans, great for kids during the day. At night: not so much.
We stayed at the Royal St. Charles one block from the French Qtr. I won't go in to all the details, but it was marginal, as they tacked on an internet charge on our bill that I was not told about up front and it had a very small area to load/unload your luggage. Valet parking charges are about average for New Orleans (about $40/night) so I booked ahead with Premium Parking for $21 on Iberville St nearby.
We waited until 10:30 to check out of the hotel, as we purchased the First To The Fun package for the ship and did not see the point in arriving before the ship began boarding. Here is the timeline we followed:
In NOLA port parking: 10:45 (including waiting behind the car that was pumping his $112 into the ticketing machine one dollar at a time, for the record, you didn't make any friends there, mister!)
In priority boarding line: 11:00
On Conquest: 11:10
In cabin: 11:20
If you ask me if FTTF package is worth the money, the answer is yes. Some else stated that the lines were not very long that they bypassed, but I disagree, as I was led past at least 800-1200 cruisers waiting their turn to get boarding cards, smile for the obligatory photo, and then wait in the line behind the ropes while I walked right onto the ship.
The only gripe is that we did not get one of our suitcases until after 4:00pm. When we queried by phone, they asked if we had any 'contraband', which we denied. Turns out, the handle broke on the top of the case and they put it aside. When finally told of the issue, we informed them that it was not a limited edition Dolce and Gabbana, but a Kmart blue light special. Probably could have squeezed some money out of Carnival for the damage, but they got enough on their plate right now without worrying about my cheap suitcase.
When you board and are hungry, go to deck 9 (Lido), as the buffet is open on the rear/aft of the ship. Some of the buffet areas have some different items, but the main lines will have the same foods, and there are four of them, so feel free to get in the shortest line. Beverages are at different areas from the buffet line, and are generally water or ice tea.
Our cabin was about the size of an average cruise ship cabin, big enough to fit two average sized people comfortably. (If you are tall, large, or have more than two people in your cabin, you will disagree with me.) The shower in particular was very tight, but since it is a curtained off area and not the Maxwell Smart type tube I have seen on other ships, it serves its function for most people.
We had an aft facing balcony on Deck 9, and if you, like us, enjoy listening to the sound of the ship's wake without a constant breeze in your face, this cabin is for you. My kindle and I had a lot of quality time in the extended balcony, and most of the trip it was not in direct sunlight.
The cabin staff were friendly and helpful, coming into the room twice a day (morning and evening) to clean your cabin and make your bed. If you need anything else from them, just ask.
Fun Days at Sea
Our cruise went to Roatan/Mahogany Bay as its first stop, so we had two days at sea. Read your paper from the night before to see how much or how little you want to do, it's your choice. Our preference is to lay about in the morning to catch some sun and then do activities in the afternoon.
As for reserving lounge chairs, yes, everyone does it. It is rude and irritating, but it still does not stop your fellow cruisers from cheating you out of a seat by the pool. Here are a few hints:
Most people reserve seats very quickly by the pool. If you want to lay by the pool like we did, we got out there by 7:30am. (and yes, we stayed with our chairs, unlike the majority) By 8:00-8:30, all of the seats nearest the pools were reserved.
The crew members attending the pool areas do not want to upset passengers, so they will not generally start removing towels from seats until after lunch. They will put a sticker on the seat and then come back 40 minutes later, removing the contents if the sticker is still there and no one is in the seat.
If you are a late riser, there are more chairs available to sun in the morning on decks 10-12. When I did my morning walk on the jogging track they were filling up slowly.
As the day goes on, chairs will open up closer to the pool, if you are patient. My advice is don't let other people's greedy behavior ruin your cruise, as I met some very nice people who reserved three extra chairs for their kids that the kids never used.
If you have a large group, I would grab a couple of chairs and then rotate during the day. I saw some doing this and it appear to work well for them. After all, if you spend 48 hours (4 days at sea x 12 hours) in the sun during the cruise, you will look like that tan-addicted lady on the evening news last year, and that would not be good.
Roatan is an island off the coast of Honduras. It has wonderful beaches and lush vegetation. At least, that is what it looked like from the ship, as it proved to be too windy and the Captain told us in his heavily accented English that we would not be docking there.
Many people were upset about not docking, but if the Captain felt it was not safe, then based on the recent problems in the news for Carnival, I for one am happy not to have ABC News shoving a camera in my face asking what I saw when the ship ran aground.
So it was another day of lounge chair roulette on the Conquest.
I did the Xunantunich ruins tour. And no, I still cannot pronounce it properly. Took all day to get there and back, but if you like history, jerk chicken, seeing the Belize countryside from a bus, and don't;t mind sweating profusely for about an hour, this tour is for you. If you have mobility issues, this tour is not for you, as it was 98f on site with 85% humidity, with many people choosing not to climb to the top of El Castillo due to the climate and the difficulty of the climb. Additionally, you have to walk up hill from the vans to the site, easy enough for someone who is fit, but I saw a lot of people struggling.
If it is raining or has been raining, they will not let you climb up El Castillo. There is a reason for this. It was fairly treacherous climbing back down on a dry day, and, for the record, Belize does not have a branch of OSHA in their government, because they would shut this climb down in the USA quicker than pitbull chasing a porkchop. For the record, I personally loved this tour, even if just for the drive across Belize and seeing the country.
At Belize, we used tenders as there is no dock. Due to the shallows around Belize City, the tenders had a 30 minute roundtrip to the ship. Thus when we got back to Belize City from the tour, the line for tenders was very long. We had to wait 45 minutes till we could get on a tender to the ship. It was very hot and sunny, so they let a group that had been waiting in the sun go ahead of the main line that snaked through the shopping area. A man behindme got very upset and even shouted at the Belize Security person waiting near the front of the line. He also threatened to write a bad review on Carnival. I must commend the security officer for keeping his cool, as the upset person was nearly belligerent, and in other situations would have ended up on that NatGeo show, Locked Up Abroad talking about what a hellhole Belizan jail cells are. As for threating to write a bad review of tending in Belize, you wouldn't be the first or the last.
Someone gave me a tip: they went to a nearby waterhole , ordered a beer, and watched the line. When it got really short, they got in it. (Thanks for that tip, Dan)
Due to the length of the trip to the ship, Belize will always have tendering lines, especially if you wait till an hour before departure to get a tender.
If you let it irritate you, it will. If you don't, it won't.
We docked in Cozumel, thus avoiding a tender riot. We did not do a tour here, as I just read my kindle sitting in front of the fake ruins fountain while my wife bought trinkets and such for the people freezing at home. This proved to be a fun exercise, as the Carnival Dream also came in from Galveston, so I got to meet a lot of people from both shops who congregated around the fountain before joining their tours. Again, a lot of tours were cancelled due to high winds, so when booking non-Carnival sponsored events, make sure your deposit is refundable.
When getting off in Cozumel, you have to walk the gauntlet through a large shopping building. While my wife was in there I watched the security guard at the doors leading back to the ship checking packages to make sure nothing was stolen. I thought he might be profiling, as he check a few African-American passengers while I watched, but he proved me wrong: he was only checking bags of attractive women. Go figure...
It was warm, but it was overcast most of the morning in Cozumel, so most people who spent the day at the all-inclusive resorts were disappointed. We actually got a lounge chair close to the pool, so all in all a good day.
We elected to self-assist, keeping our luggage overnight and getting off the boat first. We were scheduled to leave at 7:15 from the deck three dining room, but they called us to go at 7:00, so we left earlier than planned.
Some of the priority group had trouble with their bags and were crabby as all get out. But to repeat, we were getting off the ship first, and a small group of you were upset. Really? Really?
Alas, other than the lack of manners of my fellow travelers, we were off, through customs and immigration, and in the car by 7:23am. Not too shabby...
Sorry if I have sounded off on some of my fellow passengers, but some of us had a lot of fun in spite of your grandest efforts to turn an enjoyable vacation into a visit to the dentist.
So, to sum it up, I will use the same catchline I use when I buy something on Ebay:
"Good quality, prompting shipping, would do business again."