Preface - DW and I are in our mid fifties, and this was our 6th cruise, 3rd with Carnival. We love cruising, and go as often as time and our cruise fund will allow. We always enjoy cruising with friends and relatives, but are just as comfortable sailing by ourselves as was the case this time. This particular cruise was basically a spur of the moment thing. Because business was slow at work, we were encouraged to "use any extra vacation time" that we might have. Now, I don't know about you, but I have never had any "extra" vacation time. DW is a traveling consultant and is "on the bench" (not currently assigned to any billable client), so the timing was right as we prefer cruising when most kids are in school. Anyway, we made a few calls and managed to score a decent fare. 3 days later, the price dropped $240.00 and our travel agent, bless his heart, got this amount credited to our on board account.
Embarkation - In a word...painless. We live in the Dallas area and chose to drive to Houston on Friday before the cruise. We stayed with my sister and her husband who live there and drove the other 50 miles to Galveston on Sunday morning. We crossed the causeway onto Galveston Island at 11:00 a.m. and parked at The Lighthouse parking facility as we had booked a reservation with them on line several weeks before. We paid $60.00 for the week for covered parking and their shuttle picked us up almost immediately. We were dropped off at the far north end of the terminal building and hailed a porter to take our bags and were inside the terminal building by noon. The line for security was about 100 people deep and moved so quickly, it could hardly have been considered a line. Customs, however, took a bit longer, but we slogged through and boarded Conquest at 12:40 p.m. After receiving our S&S cards, we were directed to the Lido Deck for lunch. Ship - We had never sailed on Conquest before but have had our eye on her ever since her maiden voyage in December 2002. At 110,000 tons, she's one of 5 sister ships that heads up Carnival's fleet of mega liners. The theme throughout this ship is "impressionistic" and incorporates the works of some of the masters of that movement, hence the venues named after the likes of Cezanne, Monet, Degas, Gauguin, Renoir etc. We thought the dEcor was quite pleasing and the general color palette seemed to reinforce the theme that was being portrayed. The grand atrium called The Studio was the centerpiece for this theme and featured a multi-storied mural based on their art. The flow from one end of the ship to the other on decks 3 and 4, however, is broken by the forward dining room, and one is forced to go up to the promenade to bypass this obstacle. This proved to be quite cumbersome to many passengers and I heard more than one person say it only adds to the confusion of such a large ship. All in all, though, she's a real jewel and the pride of the Carnival fleet IMHO.
Room - We received an automatic double upgrade to a category 8C by booking when we did and were assigned to cabin #8343, ocean view w/private balcony on the Veranda Deck (8) just forward of the mid ship elevators on the starboard side. The room was great with plenty of storage space. The bathroom facilities were also quite adequate and the water pressure in the shower was fantastic, the best I've ever experienced on any ship. Our cabin steward Vincente and his assistant Putu were fantastic. They always seemed to be available, but were never, ever in the way. They kept our cabin orderly and we found our sheets turned down with mints and a towel animal every evening when we returned from dinner. We also loved the balcony although the first two days at sea were windy and cool, so we didn't get to use it much until the weather warmed up. There was one drawback to this room. During the day there was a lot of noise generated by people dragging chairs and chaises across the floor on the Lido Deck which is located directly above the Veranda Deck. This wasn't so much of a problem at night, but if you like to spend time in this cabin during the day, be aware that you will experience a lot of noise from the Lido Deck.
Dining - We opted for 5:45 early dining and were assigned table #344 for two in the aft section in the Monet Dining Room. The table was located about 20 feet from the aft windows and we had a fantastic view of the ship's wake as it trailed away from us. I cannot say enough about our waiter Romeldo from the Philippines, and his assistant Andrias from Indonesia. They were a great team and the service they provided was only superb. We dined here almost every night. We had breakfast every day in the Restaurant Cezanne buffet. It was adequate, but the fare was exactly the same from one day to the next. If you're looking for variety, perhaps your dining room or room service might be a better option. Lunch here also sadly lacked variety. We ate at "The Point" on Wednesday and it was also very very good. The Sky Grill and the 24 hr. pizzeria were always great as was Paul's Deli and the ceviche at Ser Mer was to die for. DW ordered her coffee and Danish from room service every morning and the service was always prompt and courteous.
Entertainment - We tried to take in every show at the Toulouse-Lautrec Lounge but we missed the magician and one comedy act. We also missed the talent show on the last night. We thought the Las Vegas style shows were well done and the dancing and choreography were well executed and quite entertaining. The comedy shows that we did see were also quite engaging and the juggler was unbelievable. Other acts throughout the ship were also very entertaining including the piano player in the Blues lounge and Blood Power, the cover band who performed nightly in Vincent's across the promenade. There was Karaoke almost every night in the Degas Lounge at the aft end of the promenade. I can't comment personally on the casino as I am the world's unluckiest gambler, but DW walked away from the slots up $11.25. The mortgage burning will take place next week....LOL!
Shore excursions - We booked the River Tubing excursion in Jamaica through Carnival because we had never been here before and had heard all of the horror stories about this country and what could happen if one were to stray from the beaten path, so we decided to play it safe and stay with a large group. I would highly recommend this activity for anyone who is the least bit physically active and enjoys nature, whether you book through the ship, or try it on your own. We were picked up in an air conditioned bus at the terminal and were driven about 25 or 30 miles up into the hills to the spot where we put in. We were issued a life jacket marched down to the banks of the Grand River where we "lowered" ourselves into our tubes. The tubes were then lashed together two abreast and 12 deep. We must have looked like a floating roller coaster. Our appointed guide then tied his inflatable kayak to the lead tubes which just happened to contain DW and myself. He did all the work guiding our floating coaster down through this meandering jungle stream by employing two paddles whose handles had been shortened to better fit the needs of a one-man navigation system, and he did all this backwards while facing upstream! Needless to say these guys were ripped. They had the upper body strength of some Nubian god. The trip downstream took about an hour and a half to the point where we took out and all along the way we checked out the local flora and fauna while kicking back with some rum punch. A mishap took place here when I inadvertently tangled with a river rock and my wedding ring got pulled right off my finger and is now resting securely at the bottom of the Grand River. The transport back to our bus was in what looked like an open air military surplus vehicle, and the driver wasted no time in getting us back to our tour busses. Wow, what a ride. It was as much fun as the tubing itself. Then it was back to the ship for a 5:30 p.m. sail away. In Grand Cayman we again booked our excursion through Carnival mainly due to time constraints. We prefer to err on the side of caution so to speak, so that if we were delayed in any way on this excursion, the ship would not leave without us as long as we were booked through Carnival. We don't mind paying a little more to have that guarantee. We pulled in next to the Celebrity Century at 7:00 a.m. and were joined later by RCCL Rhapsody of the Seas. We opted for the Stingray Sandbar, Hell and Turtle Farm combination tour. Grand Cayman is completely surrounded by a coral reef which makes a deep water pier impossible, so, all passengers must be tendered in. We were escorted to our tour busses and drove north along Seven Mile Beach. Our guide pointed out the Governor's home, the oldest home on the island (built in 1912), the school, and then we stopped at Hell which is an old outcropping of dead sea coral at the north end of the island. From there, we drove to the Tortuga Rum Cake Factory and then on to the Turtle Farm and toured that facility. Then it was on to the boat that took us out to the stingrays. What an amazing experience! We did this two years ago and found these creatures to be absolutely awe inspiring, so it was definitely worth going again. We made it back to the tender dock shortly after 3:00 p.m. and were back on Conquest by 3:30. Our last stop was Cozumel where we did the Royal Dolphin Swim at Chankanaab Park. We booked this excursion through Shore Trips and were not disappointed. We took a cab for $10.00 and entered the park. We found our group and were split into smaller groups of 8. We were assigned a guide and viewed a short film about using dolphin hand signals so that we could communicate with them in the water. Then it was off to the dolphin pen and into the water. WE were also accompanied by the park paparazzi who took both stills and video of our encounter. Our dolphins were named Madonna and Malinche. We each got to do a dorsal fin pull, a foot push, a kiss, a hug and were able to pet them as they swam by in front of us. It truly was an experience of a lifetime and one we will certainly never forget. If this is something that you might be interested in doing, by all means don't put it off. It's a bit pricey, but who can put a price on an experience you may never have again, not to mention learning something about another one of God's gentlest and most social of creatures? We also bought the DVD of our experience as well as a few of the still shots. It was certainly money well spent and we would definitely do this excursion again.
Days at Sea - During our days at sea we tried to make it to every trivia event that was offered. I never won a thing, however DW won a Carnival metal which supposedly entitled her to go straight to the front of the buffet line but we never put it to the test. No luck with bingo either but we only played 2 or 3 times. The newlywed/not-so-newlywed game was a real hoot also. We spent a lot of time exploring the ship and, unfortunately, DW spent some time in the infirmary when her bursitis flared up. This was the first time either of us had even looked for the infirmary on any cruise, let alone spent any time there. The best the doctor could do for her was Tylenol w/ codeine. Because of the pain she ended up spending a lot of time in our cabin nursing her sore left arm.
Disembarkation - We had considered using the self-assist plan, but with DW partially incapacitated by her bursitis, we opted, instead, to follow standard disembarkation procedures and had our bags in the hallway by 8:00p.m. Saturday night. We arose at 7:00 a.m. Sunday just in time to watch the final docking procedure, and I went up to the buffet for breakfast. I brought some back for DW who was wavering between pain and lala land from the codeine. We decided to just wait in our cabin until our color was called which accomplished two things: 1. She had time to regain a modicum of consciousness, and 2. We managed to avoid the inevitable hoards of people waiting to exit the ship. Our color was called at 9:25 and we were off the ship and through customs by 9:45. We found a porter, located our bags, and were on the shuttle back to our car and on the road back to Big D by 10:10.
Final Thoughts - DW would especially like to express her sincere gratitude to the ship's medical staff for all they did to relieve her discomfort. There always seemed to be something to do for all ages throughout the cruise except for the last day at sea. I don't know why, but we couldn't seem to find much of anything that interested us on this day except for sports trivia. I would have to blame the cruise director for dropping the ball here as the schedule of events would have to fall under his responsibility. We weren't the only ones to notice this either as we heard the same comment expressed by others at dinner that evening. This was a great cruise on a beautiful ship and I would recommend it to anyone. We would definitely cruise on Conquest again.
Despite all of the negatives mentioned above, we managed to stay focused on relaxing and having a good time. We're booked on the Carnival Spirit for another cruise in October of this year to celebrate our 25th wedding anniversary. This time it's Hawaii. Aloha ya'll!