A quick background...Our cruise was 5/13... we were a small group of 7 celebrating our son's graduation from Rice Univ. We chose Carnival because of the timing and location from Houston to Galveston. My parents flew from NC, my husband and I from SC (53 and 50), my son from Michigan, cousin from NJ and our graduating son from Houston locally. We traveled from Houston on Sunday morning in a rental van which had to be returned by 9:30 am in Galveston near the infamous causeway which apparently had been a nightmare traveling on these past weeks according to the CC Boards. We found the trip very easy, no closures and stress free! Since we arrived early to return the van, the Enterprise Car Rental shuttle had us at the port by 10 am. We were quickly approached by porters and Carnival Staff who were helpful and happy! They took our luggage, we crossed our fingers and were led up to the checkin area.
Embarkation: Here the 7 of us were instructed to sit as we were told we would have to stand at least an hour before we could check in starting at 11 am. There were about 20 or so others this early as well. Since my elderly mother has trouble standing, one staff member Ellie, assured us that we would not have to stand in a line, and we could all sit in an area where she would escort us to the line once the other cruisers started to fill up the room where everyone waited. Anyone with a disability was placed here so as not to be uncomfortable waiting in a long line. We were also told that there were 3 large wedding parties that would have priority over everyone and that they would all be meeting here as well. At 11 am, the wedding parties were quickly escorted through security and into the registration lines. Ellie then asked our group to proceed next where we were escorted directly through security and the first ones to start check in. We had a few minor problems with our checkin as the computers locked up as they were changing some of our room details but the attendants who helped us did everything manually and we were all processed quickly and led toward the gangway.
As we approached the long walk along to the gangway, we were met by a staff member who quickly stopped us and told us to wait, right as we were ready to step onto the gangway to the ship. And wait we did! For about another 1/2 hour of not moving. Apparently their computers were down and they could not let anyone onboard for security reasons as the entry would not take the Sign and Sail cards and the pictures for entry. At least that was what we were told as we stood there. Many people behind us apparently were getting very warm, elderly people had trouble standing, including my mother, so wheelchairs and chairs were being requested. Carnival staff members were passing us by nonstop with as many wheelchairs as possible as the wait approached an hour. Our group of 7 was allowed to pass onto the ship with my mother being pushed in a wheelchair by a staff member. We were now on the ship, but could not gain access inside because of the problem so we waited another 1/2 hour or so standing right at the ship's entrance on the lobby deck. The staff did accommodate people in wheelchairs and let them inside to sit in the airconditioned lobby, some even offered drinks, but the rest of us only stood outside and waited. Finally at about 12:45, we were let on the ship. We were the lucky ones as we were stopped in the beginning of the line early. I can only imagine what the line looked like behind us and outside once the crowd arrived. Arriving early at 10 am was an advantage for us this day! I did hear people had to wait in the heat a long time!
The ship is huge... and better than I anticipated. To be honest, we have cruised 8 times before on 4 cruise lines, and Carnival was not one of our favorites so we didn't know what to expect. We were told we could not enter our rooms for another hour, at 2 pm, so we all went up to the Lido deck for lunch. Since we were in the beginning of the line when the problem and wait occurred, we just about had the ship to ourselves when it came time to eat when we embarked. We ate our lunch as the ship slowly filled up, and by the time we were finished, we could check out our rooms. Our family had rooms all over the ship.
Parents and cousin were on deck 2, outside window cabins. They said it was spacious, bathroom was a little bigger than on other ships, and they had a couch in the room. My 2 sons were in cabin 1003 directly forward on deck 10. We soon found out that it was a handicapped room as the door was oversized, as well as the room and the bathroom was huge. This was great for my one son who is 6'5". They loved their cabin and had a door to an outside deck just around the corner from their cabin that they could go out on even though this was not a "balcony cabin".
My husband and I had 8442 Aft with an oversized balcony and bigger room. The bath was the same as a reg cabin, but the room had tons of space. Only we had no couch. Only 1 chair and a stool. We found this odd as there was so much space that was wasted but only one of us could sit at a time, or sit on the bed. We actually called the desk about this, and someone actually told us we had to "request a couch". We laughed at this, as this was an "upgrade" and of all the cruises we have been on, we just normally had a sofa or loveseat and never requested one. We asked about a few extra chairs, they promised to get us a few, which they did the next day. Our balcony was double the size of the other cabins which was nice.
We had late seating in the Monet Dining Room, table 330. Our wait staff was excellent! On the 8 cruises we've been on with Norwegian, Celebrity (our favorite) Royal Carib and Carnival, our waiter and assistant were the best!!!! Kudos to Gultekin Ogruk , "TK", "The Bear" from Turkey and Wahyuni, "Yuni" from Indonesia. They felt like family and we had such a great time with them. They remembered everything, were full of stories, just can't say enough about them.
Food was okay... not great, but certain dishes were better than normal. The service made up for any food that may not have been up to our expectations. Several nights we ordered multiple appetizers instead of a dinner... TK brought us whatever we asked for, if not more.
Pool area: We all hung out at the AFT pool area, away from the main crowd in the middle of the ship where all of the activities were. We ventured out there, but mainly hung out where the Pizza and hotdog/hamburger grill was, a bar, pool and 2 hot tubs. Plenty of seating for us, as it was less crowded and a more subdued crowd. Plus, this area was just one deck and directly above our cabin 8442. And easy access to the informal dining room for lunch too. We ate our lunch outside here every sea day.
Montego Bay Jamaica... My husband, one son and I braved the long trip to Dunn's River Falls by bus by taking an outside excursion booked through Island Marketing. They were fantastic. We booked all 3 excursions through them. Katie was helpful with the live chat with any questions about booking, etc. I had to make a change in a reservation the day before the cruise while i was at a hotel computer in Houston, and I contacted her through the live chat, she immediately changed my reservation for the Falls from 4 to 3 people, sent me a new confirmation letter to my email and I was able to print it up at the hotel within 10 minutes of contacting her through Island Marketing's website... Unbelievably easy and efficient!
The Falls was fantastic. Takes an hour to climb, can be rough, but it's so much fun... only negative... TOO MANY PEOPLE! We were talking to a few people there who had done this a few years before and they said the crowd was much smaller. It was just too crowded and I thought it could be a little dangerous with this many people snaking around each other as they put us in groups and we had to hold hands in a line. There were multiple lines trying to climb the falls and sometimes it got a little too close with others and was easy to lose your balance... but overall, great experience. They should just limit the amount of visitors and not try to make as much money as possible. Also, the locals will hawk you to death with their souvenirs as you try to exit.
Grand Caymans: Again we went through Island Marketing. We had to tender here from the ship, but it was painless and we had plenty of time. We had to walk a short 4 blocks to Capt. Bryan's for the Buccaneer Stingray Tour once we tendered and arrived about 1/2 hour early there. We paid our excursion, went next door to a little coffee shop and then walked back and boarded the bus to get to our Buccaneer boat. We swam with the stingrays.... GREAT! help a stingray, kissed the stingray... then we got back on the Buccaneer and snorkeled in 2 different areas... saw exotic fish and coral... nice day! Would recommend this tour. You can purchase a CD of pix they take of you with the stingrays etc... we also took underwater photos ourselves...
Cozumel: Island Mktg. Took a taxi to Nachi Cocom Beach Club... All inclusive for $49 each. Unlimited drinks from the bar, a fantastic lunch... actually we had too much to eat and it was great! Staff there were very accommodating... set up lounge chairs and mats under oversized straw umbrellas... My son went jet skiing, cousin and I went parasailing... wow... that was great! For my 50th birthday, parasailing is the way to go!!!!! This is a great beach day... not crowded at all! I would go back here in a heartbeat. And everyone there was great!
Back to the ship... lots of fun activities. There was a mixed crowd this week... Lots of 20 year olds, young couples, middle aged (ha, like us)... not many kids at all due to school being in session and the end of the school year. I actually loved that there weren't hundreds of 6-15 year olds running around... been there, done that. Just a few little ones and young adults. This was a great mix and a great crowd of people.
Evening Entertainment: We saw some great entertainment... good comedian, magician was a little strange... juggler was great, dancing okay. A few good vocalists, but one night when my husband and i didn't go, my parents said there was one vocalist who was not that great and some people actually left. One vocalist who did Motown and got the crowd going... that was a great show.
Ship was very clean, didn't seem like there were 3,200 people onboard. Nice sushi bar, decent Casino, although we don't live to gamble like some. Lots of different dance clubs and bar areas.
Now to the Cruise Director... Mark Price has got to be the best one we've ever seen. I can't even remember any others on the 7 ships we've sailed so that should say something about this one. He is entertaining himself! Funny guy, gets everyone involved, just the best. They should hold onto him! Conquest has something unique as well... they set everyone up in teams of Red, White and Blue, and for every activity onboard, whoever participates in something or wins some event etc, points go towards their "team"... we were the Red Team... funny how you get caught up in this as they announce the Team Point totals everynight at dinner. The Red team was ahead everynight and we all cheered like we were in a high school pep rally again, but honestly, I don't know what team "won" the last night, or what that even meant... I just think it's a fun idea to get everyone motivated and involved... You definitely get caught up in the "competition" at times.
Debarkation: Not unlike any other cruiseline we've been on. What made it difficult for us is that our family was spread out all over so we all had different colored tags and were called at various times. Unfortunately my parents were called last and we had to wait for them. We had a Carnival Transfer bus to the airport, so we had to wait for them. Next time, or if anyone is in the same predicament, I would say to take them with you early when your tag color is called and argue with them as you leave. Otherwise, we spent much too long waiting for them while we were all set on the bus. I would suggest that once you find your luggage in the luggage graveyard, stand in the "Porter line", pay a porter to put all of your luggage and stuff on his cart, and he will bring you to a shorter line for customs. Once my parents did come down, I already found their luggage, my husband and the rest of our group were already on the bus, and we let the porter guide us through quickly. ... there's so much to say... the good overwhelmed any negatives... and let's face it, there is always something to complain about, only we felt that whatever we complained about was minor compared to the overall experience. We decided that this ship and experience changed our minds about Carnival. We would definitely sail on the Conquest again!