My wife and I just returned from our 3rd trip on the Conquest, and thought I'd give you all a quick run down of how our week went.....ok, maybe it won't be so quick after all...I tend to get long winded
We were looking forward to this getaway since we'd finally convinced my best friend to book his first cruise and come with us. It would be exciting seeing a 42yr old act like a little kid when he saw that ship for the first time.
We live just south of Baton Rouge, LA and drove to Galveston since "our" Conquest left New Orleans after hurricane Katrina. We drove west to Winnie, TX, just past Beaumont, and took the highway down to the coast, hung a right and crossed Galveston Bay via the Bolivar Peninsula Free Ferry. This was so much easier than having to drive all the way to Houston and then back down to Galveston. We left BR at 5am and were in the terminal at 9:30am after the 20 minute ferry ride. My first thought at arriving at the terminal, was how easy it was going to be; we used Lighthouse Parking, and they were right there at the pier to take our luggage, since I decided to drop off my wife and friend with the luggage, go park the car and shuttle back. The whole process took maybe all of 15 minutes...this was at 9:30 am however.
We were excited to be early, and were actually about the 3rd group at the terminal...visions of being on board by noon having pizza and sipping a DOTD on the Lido while watching others trickle aboard danced in our heads. Unfortunately that's where the visions stayed. Turns out there was some kind of an "issue" with US Immigration checking the workers onboard the ship, and long story short, we didn't begin embarkation until 2:30 PM!!! So yes boys and girls, we SAT for 5 hours in the terminal, not wanting to leave, and therefore lose our place in line (as was an option frequently trumpeted by the drill sergeant that ran things "his way" inside the terminal waiting area). We did get to meet with Al and Mary & Danny and Tracy, and some other cruise critic members, so that was cool. After sitting tired and hungry we were finally allowed to board the ship, and then we got in another line to go through security at the gangway....another 30 minutes, and finally into the lobby. It'd been a long morning and it could only go up from here.
1st Stop PIZZA!!!!!!!!!!!!! I'd been craving that pizza for quite some time, and it didn't disappoint. Don't know what it is, it's simple...nothing fancy, but Oh so good We visited many times.
We checked our room on the Empress and it was ready, so we dropped off our carry on luggage and took my friend down where his room was, on the Riviera. He had booked a Cat 1A inside, but was upgraded to an ocean view with the 2 portholes, so that was exciting. It was up in the bow though, 3rd room from the front, and he said it was kind of noisy at times...whenever they used the bow thrusters, etc.
We then grabbed a DOTD on the Lido and played tour guides for my friend, showing him the restaurants, clubs, Toulouse Latrec lounge, and the Casino....this is where he spent most of his time.
The ship is still as great as we remember it to be, and loved the fact that we already "knew things" about it. Like where the Fish n Chips are served, the location of all ice cream machines, and that "secret door" to get out over the bridge. J My friend did his share of oooing and Ahhh-ing at the size of the Conquest and its furnishings. The ship was delayed about an hour in departing due to the previously mentioned talk of immigrations inspection. Never did get the real story, but once the ship was underway, it didn't matter anymore. The only bummer was that the ship left the pier during the muster drill, so we didn't get to be "up top" as we backed away. It didn't really matter though, because it was cool and windy the first afternoon and night. I never thought I would have worn a sweatshirt to leave on a cruise, but what can you do about Mother Nature?
The first two sea days were spent milling about the ship, checking in on my buddy in the casino, and mixing drinks in our room. Oh did I mention that. people stress WAAAAAAYYYYYYY to much over the whole smuggling liquor thing. We've been on three cruises and have never had a problem. Just wrap your bottles, stick 'em in the luggage, and hope for gentle baggage handlers. Our bottles of Crown, Rum and Mudslide mix made it to the room without a hitch. But fear not Carnival, we still spent plenty of $$$$ our your drinks !!
The welcome aboard party was fun...we met up with some fellow cruise critic members Danny and Tracy, and cut up with them before dinner. Just a note to the rookies concerning the drinks at the captains party...You don't have to accept the supersweet pass around drinks the waiters have...head to the back bar and have 'em mix your favorite libation. This is the single best piece of advice we've ever gleaned from the CC Boards.
1st Formal dinner was nice, and we got my buddy into a suit and tie for it. The wait staff was good and later in the week found out our head waiter Timeteo has been on a Carnival ship for 21 years!!!!!...He was very nice. We took some formal pictures and then went to the "Vegas Style" show, with lots of feathers and not so lots of costume. I got fussed at for taking pictures (without a flash and auto focus turned off), but fussed at nonetheless...lol. Pictures came out good though Takes some talent to dance in all that head gear on a moving ship.
Tuesday we spent more time just EATING...unfortunately...and cruising around the lido. We watched a couple of the deck games, took a bunch of pictures and talked about what we were doing in Jamaica the next day. The Cruise Director for the Conquest is currently Mark Price, and he was pretty good. It's interesting to see how different cruise directors bring new ideas to the ship. We by far had the most rocking midnight deck party Tuesday that we'd ever attended. The energy was high, the music was loud and the "carnival colors" competition kept everyone pumped up.
We decided not to do any resorts or tours, Wednesday though I highly recommend Sunset Beach right near the pier, since we'd been there in the past. Instead we stayed on board until about 10:30 and then hopped a shuttle to Margaritaville. It's a fun place and after a couple of hours of margaritas, I somehow found myself on stage doing a bamboo pole dance or something. I hear there's video but I haven't seen it yet...lol. It's still a fun place, and we went upstairs afterwards to take some pictures of the ship in the distance. Just FYI the waterslide was under repair and in pieces, to anyone who may be planning to go soon.
We took a cab back to the pier around 3:00 and got felt up by the female security agent as we passed through the port. She was "thorough" with her search...and that's all I'll say about that !!!..lol.
We skipped dinner Wednesday night and just dined at the buffet and the pizza / burger / hot dog / ice cream stations. I think it was around this time that we first met the "Naughty Naughty Pasta" guy...lol. The friendliest guy you'd ever want to meet named Praveen from India was manning the Pasta station at the Cezanne Buffet, and he made for laughs the entire time..."come and try my naughty naughty pasta" he'd say...after that it was "Helllloooooo my friends...how are you doing today?" He was hands down the friendliest guy on the ship; all of you who dined at the buffet or Grill station will know who I'm talking about. What you might not know is that on the last day we heard talk that he was actually reprimanded by his supervisor for interacting with the guests TOO MUCH. He was taken off the line and put back into the kitchen area. This is insane. Well, Carnival should take note, because he actually came out into the rear pool area on Sat. afternoon and you would have sworn he was a rock star. People were talking to him and posing for pictures (my wife included). He told us all that his name was Praveen from India, and simply asked that we make a note on the comment cards that we appreciated him being so friendly. The fifty or so people who were back there that afternoon surely did just that...I know we did, and it will be followed up with a letter to Carnival. It is nuts that a person tries to be friendly towards the guests and gets called down. Many workers on the ship in the past wouldn't give us even a smile, much less daily greetings. OK...hopping off the soap box now .
Thursday we were in Grand Cayman and did some snorkeling right off the rocks near the tender port at the Paradise Restaurant. We did this on our last trip, so we knew what to expect, and I think it thoroughly impressed our first time cruiser. For $15 you get to rent all the gear, and $4 for a locker. We were swimming with 5ft tarpon just feet from the shore...and many brightly colored fish were all around. The few large brain coral were neat to see, and some of the older coral formations had spiny sea urchins attached to them. Spent a couple of hours doing this, and then went shopping and got a free margarita at Margaritaville. In Jamaica they give you a wristband for a free one in Grand Cayman, as an enticement to get into the bar...but be wary...they are $7.50 in Montego Bay, but $11 a piece in the Caymans....same size...that's nuts.
Friday we did Paradise Beach in Cozumel. a $14 cab ride got the 3 of us there, and for $9 we got to use all of the water toys Paradise beach has to offer. Snorkeling isn't great, but the water was much clearer than the last time we were there. I made it up that damn iceberg too. It's not as easy as you'd think. And can I tell you it's a long way down the back side of that thing. I highly recommend trying a "dirty Banana" or a "monkey" from the bar...I can still taste 'em. The paradise punch was good too, and my buddy had a yard of long island ice tea that hit the spot.
It was a shame seeing the destruction still evident near the pier we docked at...just North of the Puerta Maya pier. It used to be THE shopping area, but now it is just a pile of rubble and concrete in the water. A new area has been built and it's pretty nice, and there is a ton of typical tourista shopping, but also Senor Frogs right by the pier . We met up with some fellow cruisers my friend talked to at Paradise Beach and we cut up and had a good time there. This was highlight number two of my buddy's trip. Lets just say there was a VERY friendly bikini clad patron who kept the party rockin. I'm sure pictures of her "assets" will turn up somewhere on the internet, as cameras were out in full force...lol. A word of caution about the shot girl at Senor Frogs; it doesn't work the same way as some other clubs we visited....she came up, did the head tilt thing, blew the whistle gave everyone shots that we assumed were "on the house", but then said..."that'll be $18 for the shots". I didn't call her over and ask for that, so if you're not inclined to part with your cash...you may want to fend her off.
We didn't go to dinner Friday or Saturday night, as we wanted to chow down on Pizza and burgers some more. The dining room is nice, but having to get dressed after spending a long day in the sun just sometimes isn't worth it. This was a "chill out" vacation, so that's what we did.
Saturday was the last sea day of course and we spent some time up on the lido catching our last rays before having to pack to come home. We also hit the shops to get our duty free liquor....arriba!!!After getting our luggage together, we set it out and took off for one last night of roaming about the ship. We took in the Carnival Legends show, which was great. This kind of takes the place of the guest talent show we'd been to in the past. All during the week they "auditioned" singers while Karaoke was going on, to sing songs by certain stars (Elvis, Madonna, Sinatra, Garth Brooks, etc...) and the audience voted on who they thought was the best. Then on the last night the winners performed on stage in full costume with the Carnival Conquest Dancers and the Orchestra. It was great, and I highly recommend checking it out. Your fellow guests may have more talent than you know.
Overall it was another great cruise....about the most negative thing I could say is that our room selection wasn't the greatest. I like to pick 'em and unfortunately didn't do too good of a job on this one. We were right across the hall from the "pantry" which is where the room attendants pick up dishes from room service, etc at 6AM in the morning!! So everyday we heard the clanging of glasses and dishes as they did their jobs. It only lasted about an hour each morning, but it was annoying at times. Our cabin was 7368 on the Empress deck, in case you're wondering.
Debarkation on Sunday was another long drawn out procedure, because the Ecstacy was late departing and took up our slot at the pier. The Conquest was supposed to be docked at 6am and at 7:15 I looked out the window and we were still moving. An announcement was made that we were being delayed because we had to squeeze in at the end of the pier. This made for a long walk through the terminal to retrieve luggage, and go through customs. We were off the ship at about 10:30 am, but not into our car until about noon.
Once again, the Lighthouse Parking staff was right where they said they'd be, to get us and our luggage back to the car. I highly recommend them...book online to save $5 ($50 for the week). We asked our Shuttle driver if he knew why the Ecstacy was delayed, and HE said it was because when she docked on Saturday morning, they began replacing 2 engines. Don't know if this was true, but I'm just delivering it how I got it J He said they had to cut holes in 2 decks...use a crane to hoist the engines in....and then re-weld the decks. He swears he watched them working on it. Anyway, they didn't get finished and the cruise was cut short a day, and all guests got to spend there first night "at sea" in Galveston ..lol. Supposedly they offered $50PP credit for the lost day. Again...I have no confirmation of this story, but would love for someone to back me up if they heard the same thing.
The wait for the ferry to get off Galveston and head back toward Louisiana was longer...about 30 minutes, but that was due to the number of people getting off the ships in port I'm sure.
Had a great time and would do it again next week if we could. It was great meeting all the folks from Cruise Critic that we ran across, and sorry we didn't get to meet more of you. Maybe next time.