This was my 5th cruise with Carnival out of Galveston, we have previously sailed on the Ecstasy and the Celebration once each. This was the third cruise on the Conquest visiting Jamaica, Grand Cayman and Cozumel. My daughter (33) and I (50+) are Vacation Club members so debarking and embarking is no problem at all. Carnival always speeds us thru the process with priority service. We are from the DFW metroplex so is an easy, short drive for us but we drive down the day before our cruise just to be there and be relaxed. This year we stayed at Days Inn on Nasa Rd in Webster. I got a great bargain online on this room for $59. This time of year hotels on Galveston Island are very expensive so we opt for staying a few miles inland. The Days Inn was clean and well maintained. The mall is nearby as well as restaurants. They have an indoor pool and a continental breakfast. For the money, it was a great bargain. We pre-paid our parking at EZ Cruise online for $50. We did try the recommended port parking once on a previous cruise and found it not nearly as easy and convenient for us. EZ Cruise is only a couple of blocks from the port entrance and they do not wait to fill up the bus before they transport passengers and luggage to and from the port. This works best for us because the advantage of having priority check in and check out is lost if you have to wait for all the others to catch up before you can be transported. EZ Cruise understands this and willingly accommodates those early travelers. They also are very willing to unload our luggage and load it back up in the car which is a great perk for us because I pack way too much stuff and it is too heavy for me to handle. We tip them very well for this additional service too. They work hard!
We had a balcony mid-ship on Upper Level 6. This was the best location we have had so far. Last year we had one of the larger balconies on the rear of the ship. It was a fantastic balcony BUT it was a very long walk many times a day to the room and back again to activities on the ship. Having some knee and hip problems that flair up the mid-ship location was much better for me. In addition, on Level 6 we did not feel like we were so high up when we looked over the side of the balcony. We enjoyed that view better too. We were on the odd number side (is that port side?) which meant that our balcony was in shade all but the last 2 days of our cruise when the ship turned around heading for Cozumel and then home. Again, much better for us because we spend quite a bit of time out there. We prefer shade rather than sun. If you prefer the mostly sunny balconies, choose the even numbered rooms. We smoke, so leaving the door open is no problem with the temperature in the room as it would be with the sun beating in. Level 6 was an easy walk down to the promenade on five for me too. The noise from the casino and other venues did not disturb us at all, as we had feared it might since we were practically right above them.
The first night, the dining room had quite a few empty tables at our early seating. We were at a table that accommodates 8 but it was just the three of us the first night. We had steaks and ordered baked potato to go with it for our main course. The food was good but the service was lacking. The wait staff did not serve our tea until the first course arrived. They never refilled them during our meal. They did not offer us bread until our main course was served and then we had to wait on the butter to be served. Our two waiters seemed new and learning so, we decided they would get the hang of it soon and we said nothing. They were really nice, and seemed like they were trying their best for us. The second night, we had table companions and the service again was only mediocre at best but the food was good. When you are past cruisers, as most of the table was, it is easy to feel somewhat cheated with the less than expected service. The waiters still seemed like they were giving it their all, they just were not very skilled yet. We decided to be helpful to them by prompting them nicely with what we needed rather than sitting there silently with an empty glass or no bread. This night I asked for my coffee before I ordered my desert so that I would at least hopefully have it before I finished the desert. I still only got coffee after the desert was half eaten. It was as if the coffee was remembered suddenly, as an afterthought and an apology. The third night was bizarre. When asked for butter for my baked potato our waiter said, "wait, she is bringing it now" and he continued to clean the salad plates, etc. and stack them for cleaning. We waited .. and we waited ... and we waited ... while he ignored us. Did not refill our empty glass, did not offer us bread .. still we waited. My steak and baked potato was getting cold. Two other tablemates had also ordered the steak and baked potatoes so their food was getting cold waiting too. FINALLY, the waiter that went to get the butter was coming. The other waiter said, "See she is running with the butter". Nevertheless, he still never moved from his cleaning station. When the "butter" finally arrived, it was not butter at all but sour cream. Just a big bowl of sour cream, no chives, no bacon bits, no butter. We did not request any of those items; we only wanted butter, just butter. I kid you not! When the lady across from me said, this is sour cream, the waiter that went to get it looked surprised, almost shocked. She was sent for sour cream she says. The other waiter reaches over, takes the butter off another table, and hands it to our table. Now, I wondered why he did not do that in the first place. But no one at our table said anything. We just looked at each other silently. Then someone made a joke of it and we all laughed about it. However, that did not help my butter melt on my cold potato or my cold steak taste anything but cold. I decided to forego desert and head up to the Lido deck to eat. My daughter was ok with that since she wanted to get to the casino and my granddaughter (13) had already made some plans so she was anxious to finish with the dinner ritual as well. We decided that we did not want to suffer the same dinner experiences the rest of the cruise, we had stuck it out three nights, which was enough. The next day I asked the Maitre d if he could seat us elsewhere. When he asked why repeatedly, I told him my daughter did not want to complain we just wanted another table if possible. If not, it was ok, we understood and would eat on the Lido the rest of the cruise. My daughter is a firm believer that you don't complain about food service, ever. Instead, you sit elsewhere or eat elsewhere. He was very accommodating to us and we were given a different table and servers. Our new wait staff was wonderful, fantastic and best of all, EXPERIENCED! Our dinner was a joy again. We love dinner! Our new tablemates were also past cruisers and we had many wonderful dinner conversations too. Dinner was a pleasure again. One other note about dinner and assigned seating. I know that some people don't like assigned seating. However, I am totally for it. Carnival goes out of their way to assign seating trying to match tablemates with something in common. Our first cruise, our tablemates were all mother/daughter pairs. We loved and appreciated that. It was great to meet other mother/daughter cruisers and we still keep in touch with them, five years later. When we take my granddaughter, they seat us with at least one other young person her age. Last year, we were seated with older singles and a couple of younger singles in our respective age groups.
This year, we were seated with past cruising ladies. The seating arrangements are not just random. Someone behind the scenes goes to a lot of trouble to select tablemates just for you. Even when we were moved to a new table, our Maitre d said give me a few minutes to find just the "right" table for you. And he did. Again with another group of cruising ladies. If Carnival did not assign seating, we would not go to a table and request to join a group, even if it looked like we might have something in common with them. We would be as we are on the Lido deck, huddled together in our little group at one table never dining with others. We have met some fantastic people at dinner that we never would have met otherwise. To us, it adds that something extra to our dining experience that is above the bar. I am sure that others must feel the same way because Carnival does do such an exceptional job with what must be a huge task. I think of it as behind the scenes matchmaking that must make the matchmaker smile a lot when she finds a match!
We did not do a lot at the ports of call since we have been to them twice before. We did do some shopping at the port shops in Jamaica stocking up on my favorite Ripe Banana Rum and getting a great buy on Amaretto. We also stopped to have a juicy patty. They sell them right in the port so we didn't have to go downtown to get them. They remind me of a homemade fried piecrust with fluted, sealed edges but they contain either beef or chicken in a jerked and spicy sauce. Wonderful! Just ask the crew from the ship that forms a line to buy them. Grand Cayman we did the Pirate Ship this year since we had not done that yet. All the kids loved it. They let you snorkel and swim off the side of the boat. The water was so clear it looked like you could see for miles. Cozumel we just did shopping. One thing that aggravates me though is that you must go all the way thru the "mall" from the pier to get to anywhere else in Cozumel. Or rather, you are ushered to the mall in this way. It would be different if the prices were great and it did not have a "forced" feel about it. Most people don't know that they can go "downtown" to the square and behind the museum for better buys. We grabbed a horse drawn ride for $20 to take us where we wanted to go and let us shop while he waited for us. It made shopping fun! My daughter calls it the "ambiance of shopping Cozumel". And we got some great bargains on the square.
On the ship, drinks are expensive and your bar bill can add up. What we do is to buy drink coupon "gifts" for each other before our cruise. The coupons are for 4 drink for $19.50 and no extra gratuity. The "gift" is delivered to your stateroom the first night you are onboard. You can buy as many drink coupon gifts as you want. We also hit all the free drink parties, the Captain's Gala, the Past Guest Party, and the VIP Party. Two drink coupons (8 drinks) and the 3 free drink parties is usually enough drinking for us. Or we don't have to buy too many extras that way. I have taken the same bottle of rum on each past cruise and never needed to open it until this cruise when we were invited to a private BYOB party onboard. Was pretty funny how many people onboard actually did have their own bottles!
Another highlight for me on each cruise is Tea Time. I enjoy the experience. This year it was even more enjoyable because my GD(13)wanted to go with me. We had done "tea" many times when she was younger with a tea set, like most little girls do. But this was the real thing and a first for her. She was quite proper and ladylike, pouring our tea and serving our scones with the classical orchestra playing behind us. However, the highlight was when she leaned over and whispered, "This is just like the Titanic, JUST like it". She was right, it was!
My DD and I always use the spa and take advantage of the discounts we get on port days. We love the massages, facials, etc. This year, my granddaughter was given an invitation for girls between 12 and 17 to have a spa treatment too. It was $50, but for what she received, it was a great bargain. This was one of the highlights for her as she is growing up and beginning to want a more gown up experience. Some of the activities for her age group were for younger kids she thought so she skipped those. She is at an awkward age with one foot in childhood and one trying to pull herself into the adult world as quickly as she can. (Too quickly!!) One example was the swim party. Now she was all for a swim party "under the stars" but she was not happy that right after the swim party they were to quickly change and go to the Disco Dance Party. After swimming, it takes much time to "get ready" for a dance party. Shower, hair, make up (not that she wears a lot) but it takes time to fret over just the right thing to wear even. So, she would spend the swim party time getting ready for the dance party instead of going swimming. Had it been swimming after dancing she would have been "all in that!" It was very easy to spot the kids who had had experience with a dance party too. Boys and girls both. It really was a great opportunity for those who had no experience to learn from those that did. And those that did were willing to teach the social skills involved in attending a dance to others. After the dance, they usually moved to the conversational sofa area in front of the teen disco because it was "their" kind of music and a good place to just "hang out". We thought of it as the girls holding court there! I sprang for the first "round" (20) of strawberries dipped in chocolate (5 for $3) and I noticed that it became sort of a tradition each night after that with someone else buying the next night. We supplied them with a deck of uno cards too that we noticed they took advantage of.
We also made good use of the ships phone system. At all the elevator banks and locations throughout the ship, there are phones that you can use to call the staterooms. Kids can leave a message in the room. If they are going somewhere other than their agreed upon destination, they can leave a message as to their new location. And we could do the same thing and leave a message that she could recover about our new location if we decided to move from the casino to a lounge or elsewhere. On the last night, the friends she had made exchanged email addresses, phone numbers, addresses, etc so that they could stay in touch.
One other note about kids on a cruise. It seemed like the ones who have no social skills at all and don't know how to act appropriately in public, outweigh the ones that do. I know that they were probably only a small number of them but their unruly and obnoxious behavior screamed moronic. They are truly going to hurt someone by knocking them down running the way they do thru the corridors and the knocking on peoples doors and throwing food at passersby, taking alcohol drinks when adults are not holding them right off the table where someone is sitting drinking them, and similar antics says a lot about the parents of those kids doesn't it? I saw a gang of maybe 12 or 13 year olds filling up ice cream cones to use as ammunitions to throw at people as they pass by and then running off to hide. Those kids are not there for anything but to make others around them suffer miserably that they crossed that kid’s path. Ship security was constantly having to coral them but the next day it seemed like they were at it again. The parents are held responsible for what their kids do but they actually have to break someone's leg (or worse perhaps) for the parents to be held accountable evidently strong warnings have no affect. I really don't blame the kids when parents don't parent but it sure does aggravate me to be around them.
We are not negative cruisers. We love cruising. This was the best cruise yet. We will do it again next year and see if we can top this one. Hope to seeya all there!