Our group consisted of 7 people; 2 adults in early 70's, 3 adults in mid forties, and 2 teenagers (13 & 18). My family of 4 has been on the Conquest for a 7 night cruise each June in 2005, 2006, and 2007 so this is my third review of this mega ship. This year we brought along my sister and my parents to celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary. And my daughter graduated from high school on Saturday afternoon before the cruise started so we celebrated that too and added another reason to go on the cruise this year (as if we needed a reason :-)
My sister and parents drove from Fort Worth to San Antonio Saturday to attend my daughter's HS graduation and then we drove 2 vehicles for a short 4 hour drive to Galveston Sunday morning, arriving before noon. I had prepaid online for 2 slots at Lighthouse Parking which saved $10 for the week. They loaded our 11 bags and 7 people and dropped us at the terminal where we easily found a porter to take our bags inside while we started the security and checkin process which took about an hour. Almost all Carnival cruisers use the FunPass checkin and we were no exception. We heard comments about the FunPass line being longer, but it did move faster. After getting to the parking lot around 12:30 pm, we were onboard the ship by 1:45 pm.
Upon boarding, my parents received a tour from my kids who had cruised on the Conquest with us twice before. This allowed my wife and I time to put up graduation decorations in my daughter's room which she shared with my sister. Also, we had arranged for a dozen roses to be in my parent's room using the Bon Voyage services offered on the Carnival website. The roses were in their room on the 1st day as requested and were beautiful. We had 3 balcony rooms next to each other on the forward starboard side. We asked for the dividers between our room to be opened but were told it was only allowed on port days. And in fact, during the 3 port days the divider was open as promised. Then while we were at dinner on the 3rd port day, they were closed again for the final sea day back to Galveston. I inquired at the Purser's Desk about the reason for the "port day rule" regarding the balcony dividers but all I got was a shrug along with "I'm not really sure why, but it is orders from the bridge". Well, it's hard to question "orders from the bridge" so I gave up. But I'd really like to hear the real reason someday. Since I learned so many cool things and answers on cruisecritic.com, perhaps I'll find the answer to this one on here too!
The two sea days were mostly sunny and very warm. The waves on the 2nd day picked up some (4 foot) and although it was noticed it didn't really affect anyone that I heard about. We've cruised the Western Caribbean for a week each June for the last 4 years, usually in the mid June, and this year the first week of June. Every year we've been blessed by mostly sunny skies and relatively calm seas. While it may cost more to cruise in early June, the benefit of good weather seems worth it.
For our stay in Montego Bay, Jamaica, we took the group to the Sunset Beach Resort. Having learned all about it on cruisecritic.com last year and found it be MARVELOUS we shared it the whole family. As a result, I believe my parents may move to Jamaica or at least fly there to spend more time at the Sunset Beach Resort. Nobody wanted to leave. There is lots of info about this Montego Bay hotspot elsewhere, so I won't go into the details about Sunset beach but everyone had a REALLY great time here.
For excursions in Grand Cayman, we couldn't decide on what to do and by the time we did on the 2nd sea day, most excursions were sold out. My parents did get a Grand Cayman Island tour which took them around the island with stops at the Turtle Farm, rum factory, and Hell. The rest of us took a tender around 9:30 am along with a plan to find a tour being offered by "independents" from the pier. We settled on a Stingray and Snorkel tour after negotiating a $10 pp discount from their usual $40 pp and were quickly on our way to the sand bar. We had all done a stingray tour via cruiseline before so knew what to expect. This tour was so much better! There were only 18 of us on a boat that could carry about 50 so we got much more attention from the guides than in past. We were also carrying David Evans along for the tour that day. He is a pro Surfer who travels the world but he's also a photographer. He took pics of each person interacting with the stingrays with the help of the tour guide and then had them available on a laptop on the ride back that we could purchase on a CD. Having as much time with the guide and the stingrays that we wanted and great professional photos too was awesome! After about 45 minutes with the rays, we motored about 5 minutes away for some snorkeling. On the trip to the sandbar, one of the guides had fished off the back of the boat and caught a small (~18-24") Barracuda. He let one of the younger kids reel it in which was a real delight to watch! While we snorkeled, he cut the barracuda into small pieces and used them to attract fish. The snorkeling would have been good without this, but was even better after this. I know there is much discussion about the wisdom of taking an excursion outside of what's offered by the cruiselines, but in our case it sure worked out great!
In Cozumel my parents weren't really interested in a water activity or climbing thousands of steps at the ruins, so we booked them a Mexican Folklore dancing show and shopping tour. The rest of us did a power snorkel with radio excursion. The Conquest began docking at the new terminal 6 weeks ago, so it's only a few minute walk down the pier to the gathering area for tours. Our power snorkeling was at 10:00 am and my parents was at 11:00 am so we all got off the ship about 9:30 am since they wanted to look around the area a little before their tour. Power snorkelers use a small machine (looks like a short stubby torpedo) that you hold onto while it pulls you through the water at speeds up to a whopping 3 mph! The "radio" portion of this tour is music and messages you hear through the snorkel mouthpiece. My son and I could not hear anything through ours at the beginning so the guide messed with them and gave them back to us twice but we still couldn't hear anything. As we were getting left behind by the rest of the group we decided to just go on without the music and messages so I can't really address that aspect of the tour other than to say others said it was cool :-( After the big hurricane that damaged Cozumel so badly, snorkeling off the shore isn't what it used to be. Still, we did get to see a group of large starfish and other small fish, just no coral to speak of. But any day of snorkeling in Cozumel is better than any day of work in the office! The plan was to return to the ship afterwards to meet my parents for lunch and then do some shopping, but we found a note on our door from them that their excursion had been cancelled (supposedly the night before although we hadn't been told) so they had already done some shopping and had decided to spend a quiet afternoon on the ship. Although the cost for the excursion was refunded on my card we still don't know why it was cancelled or why we weren't told beforehand as they said we should have been.
The new cruise director on the Conquest, Mark Price, is really good. We attended the newlywed not-so-newlywed game hosted by him on the second day and my parents ended up being the not-so-newlywed couple on stage. My mother sometimes has difficulty hearing, especially amplified sound with lots of background noise, but he did good job of helping her while keeping the crowd roaring with laughter during the whole show. For the remainder of the cruise people frequently told my parents, who were now celebrities, they loved the show and everyone thought they were the best. For participating, the CD gave each couple a bottle of champagne and since the show was "sponsored" by the art gallery, they each received a coupon for a free (not including a $35 shipping fee) $650 piece of art. Now that sounds good, but the rest of the story isn't. According to the coupon, they were to present themselves in the art gallery on Wed between 7:00-9:00 pm to choose between 5 pieces of art. But on Wed, they were told by a gallery person they had other business to attend to that evening so they needed to come back on Friday between 7:00-9:00 pm. On Friday, a little after 7:00pm they were in the gallery along with the young newlywed couple to receive their artwork prize. One gallery person told them "Natalie takes care of this promotion" and she will be with them shortly (she was busy with a client). 30 minutes later my parents were shown a card with 3 pieces of art and asked which they liked. The newlywed couple said they thought there were 5 to choose from, not 3, but were told "the others are already gone". We asked how that could be since we just got here, but she didn't answer and went back to her desk. The other gallery person said "actually, the coupon is wrong. We used to have 5 to choose from but the company only allows us to offer these 3 now. Sorry about the confusion but there is nothing we can do since the company hasn't sent us updated coupons". What a crock! Give me 30 seconds and I'll make them a new coupon... The young newlywed couple was clearly upset and at the suggestion by the gallery person that the 3 pictures were all very nice told him he wouldn't let someone pay him $35 to put any of them in his house and they left. My parents pretty much felt the same way and also left with nothing. Did they pass up a free $650 piece of art? Maybe, but probably not as all looked worth less than the $35 shipping charge. In any case, the way this "promotion" is handled is terrible. My parents would have been really happy with the cheap plastic gold "ship on a stick" that other contestants in ship activities receive during the week. Instead, for their help to Carnival that was inarguably the best and most popular show during the week, all they got was the shaft. On my comment card at the end of the cruise, I requested Carnival contact me to discuss this, but I doubt they will.
Getting around the ship is piece of cake for us after 3 cruises on the Conquest, but I understand it is confusing for newbies since you can't go from one end of the ship to the other on a few important decks. The Lido deck (9) and the Promenade (5) will get you to most places. The buffet (a very important place) and restaurants are on deck 9 (Lido). Deck 5 (Promenade) has the casino, several lounges and the upper balcony of the main theater, Toulouse La Trec, which is actually on decks 3, 4, and 5 at stern (front). The two dining rooms are on decks 3 and 4 (Monet DR is aft and the Renoir DR is in the center). Both have a main and late sitting. We were in the Monet for main sitting at 5:45pm. A little rushed to dinner on the 2nd formal night (Thur) after departing Grand Cayman at 4:00 pm but not really a problem.
All food was excellent. Yes, sometimes the entrees weren't steaming hot but still warm and still delicious. They do a great job feeding great food to 3,000 or so people within a few hours. Our waiters, Raymond and Ranier, were great and dinner was always an enjoyable time. We were seated with a retired teacher from NJ and her TX grandson celebrating his graduation from 8th grade and we really enjoyed talking with them each evening. We were usually done with dinner by 7:15-7:30 pm which was ample time to make the evening show at 8:30 or somedays at 10:30 pm.
The evening entertainment was also very good. The blues singer, ventriloquist, juggler, and carnival singers/dancers were outstanding. Although we've seen the Vegas/Broadway shows, Formidable (Mon) and Point & Click (Thur), performed by the Carnival Dancers for the last 2 years, they've changed them enough that we were still entertained. However, this was also our 3rd time to see the magician, Deja, and have decided she is tired or we're tired of her. Especially her plea at the beginning of her every show for more applause just because she is a female magician. She seems more like a worn out magician, but that might be harsh. Her magic tricks aren't bad, but after 3 years of the same show on the Conquest we're probably just ready for someone different.
Debarkation was ok. No matter what process is used it's just tough to get off that ship after a week of fun in the sun and round the clock pampering! Although the new self-assist option where you take your bags off the ship yourself seemed fairly popular, we elected the old fashioned method of letting Carnival handle the bags for us while we enjoyed a leisurely breakfast on the Lido one more time while waiting for our deck to be called for debarking after all the self-assist passengers had left. The ship docked a little early (6:40 am) with the debarkation process starting shortly after 7:00 am. About 10:15 our deck was called and we had to leave. We gathered our bags in the terminal, got a porter, cleared customs, rode the shuttle bus to Lighthouse Parking and were on the road home by 11:00 am.
We will certainly cruise Carnival again, but unless they bring another ship to Galveston or change the itinerary for the Conquest to visit some different ports, we may try the RCCL Rhapsody of the Seas out of Galveston next time. Not because of anything that is wrong with the Conquest or Carnival (except the Art Gallery :-) but just because we've been to the same western Caribbean 4 times now, and 3 of cruises were on the Conquest so we're ready for something different. Conquest is a beautiful ship with great crew and has something for everyone. Happy to answer questions about the Conquest as we lots about her after 3 cruises (except why the balcony dividers can only be opened on port days :-)