We are a married couple in our late forties, on our fourth cruise, our second with Carnival. We chose the Conquest because it left from Galveston, Texas; a destination we were looking at traveling to with friends, also a married couple in their late forties. We were a little hesitant about booking another Carnival cruise, but decided that we could only make a fair judgment of Carnival after we had sailed at least twice. This cruise was a joy, and we are eagerly counting down the days until our next Carnival cruise at Easter.
The ship was to leave from Galveston on Sunday, November 18, so we flew into IAH on Friday night. We stayed at the Wyndham Greenspoint Hotel complex, and had a spectacular room! I would highly recommend this hotel, and will stay there again if I am ever in the Houston area. We took a cab to the Downtown Aquarium on Saturday morning. It was a pleasant way to spend a few hours while we waited for our friends to arrive on Saturday afternoon. We were lucky enough to be at the aquarium to hold, and have our picture taken with a baby white Siberian tiger! This was my Houston highlight! We returned to the airport to pick up a rental SUV, our friends and then we drove to Johnson Space Center. Traffic on I 45 was very heavy, but we had no problem finding Johnson despite the fact that the NASA road was closed due to construction. We then drove on to Galveston for our stay at the Harbor House Hotel, a few blocks from the cruise ship terminal. We returned the SUV to the closed Hertz office on Avenue L, and took a cab back to the hotel. If we are ever in Galveston for another cruise, we will stay here again. The hotel was good, but the location is great!
We woke up to rain, and the spectacular sight of the Conquest docked at the pier. We had arranged to stand on the pier behind the hotel and wave to all of our family and friends via the Galveston Harbor web cam. Most people saw us! It was a joy to watch all of the dolphins swimming around in the Galveston harbor. One even came close to where we were standing and poked its head out at us! We then walked our luggage over to the terminal, which was only a couple of blocks from the hotel. We arrived at the terminal around 11 am, walked right up to the front of the non-US line, and were given the number "1" embarkation card. Once our friends got through their US line, they got the number "2." We handed our number back so we could all walk onto the Conquest together - likely causing us to board about 2 minutes later than we could have! We sat in the terminal until about noon, when boarding began. We were on the ship by 12:15. Embarkation was very smooth. We had a burger and fries, and a drink of the day in our hands on the Lido deck by 1 pm!
We had previously sailed on Carnival Glory, the same class of ship as the Conquest, so it didn't take us too long to start to remember the layout. We booked an 8E balcony on the Panorama deck (1057), and were very happy with the room. Our room steward, Mon, was friendly, efficient, and a joy to see all week.
We did not use room service this cruise, so have no idea about the menu or service. We do not really do buffets, but we did have breakfast there on our excursion days. The food was nothing special, but edible. For lunch, we enjoyed the burgers from the grill, the pizza was good, but we did not think too much of the calzone. Our friends enjoyed Sur Mer, so DH had to try it before we left, although I took a burger upstairs. We did attend the chocolate buffet, and as a chocoholic, I must say I wasn't particularly thrilled. We attended afternoon tea every sea day and enjoyed it very much. I would like to see more variety in the teas offered. How about some nice mint tea? We had 8 pm dinner seating in the Monet restaurant. The food was fine - nothing special, but we really enjoyed our wait staff, Maya and Julio. We had read so much about the Warm Melting Chocolate Cake that we were forced to try it. Yes, it was very good! Although it may sound like this is a negative food review, the food met our expectations. We do not cruise to eat, so the fact that we were never hungry and ate many things we rarely eat at home meant we were very satisfied.
We do not take part in the games offered on the ship, so we cannot review them. We can usually be found in the hot tub! The aft of the ship is where the adult only hot tub is on the Conquest, and we were there daily. We loved the fact that we could enjoy our time away from other people's kids, and loved the fact that security kept this area kid-free. This wasn't even really a problem with the group of passengers we were traveling with, except on the last sea day. The passengers on this cruise were so different than our previous Carnival cruise, the kids and teens were obviously well entertained, but well behaved when they were around. We also attend the "Picture Show!" We show up and have our picture taken everywhere! We end up buying a lot of them, too. We are extremely happy with the pictures taken of us on the Conquest.
We did not attend all of the shows, but the ones we saw were okay. They were typical cruise ship entertainment. We did enjoy the comedian, Diane Ford, very much. We attended the Past Guest party and had a nice time. We also attended a wine-tasting seminar in the Pointe Restaurant. The wine was good, but I still don't think I know any more about wine than I did before I went! The cheese was scrumptious, though! We registered for the "On Deck for a Cure" walk in support of breast cancer. As a survivor, I really appreciate a cruise line getting behind a cause that is so near and dear to my heart. We did this walk on our HAL cruise, and as much as we love HAL, Carnival had a better walk. Why? We were so impressed by the number of Conquest crew who walked with us, including the captain! One of my favorite photographers, Carlos, was there to take a picture of the group. I met a few other ladies who were also survivors, and I think it would have been really nice for Carnival to take a picture of the survivors as a group - that is another picture I would have bought! I was left with the impression that this activity and this cause are very important to the ship's crew.
When we travel alone, we always book our excursions through the cruise line, so not doing so this time was a new experience for us, although not a problem. In Jamaica we had planned on going to Doctor's Cave Beach and soaking up the Caribbean sun. Unfortunately, my friend slipped on the wet deck by the hot tub (yes, coming to see us!) the day before, and hurt her knee. She wanted to be healthy for the other two excursions we were going to do, so we improvised. The four of us took a cab to Margaritaville. Our cab driver, Harold, a nice quiet, older man offered to pick us up when we were ready to go back. We agreed he would return to pick us up at 11:30. Once out of the cab, we were inundated with offers from every other driver to take us somewhere. We went into Margaritaville, bought a few souvenirs and wandered around. The guys went down the slide into the ocean. We walked down the street to the Jamaican Bobsled Cafe. Before we got there, we were inundated with offers from Jamaicans to braid our hair, go on a tour, come see their store, etc. I have never been called "Pretty Lady" so much in my life! I did not feel unsafe, but I certainly felt uncomfortable, and did not buy anything from these people. This was a new experience for us, and we did not realize when the nice man was tying a bracelet onto our wrists that it was not a "Welcome to Jamaica" gesture. We did give him the $5 he requested, but we felt like idiots afterward. I think these bracelets are also beacons for other vendors - "Easy Targets Here!" We will never let that happen to us again! The Bobsled Cafe was fun. We are from Calgary where the 1988 Winter Olympics were held and the Jamaican team first became famous (Cool Running), so this place felt familiar. Pictures of Calgary, Canada Olympic Park, and a "Calgary Wrap" on the menu. We had a Red Stripe beer, and one of the members of the bobsled team autographed the t-shirt we bought. We walked back to Margaritaville on the other side of the street, so we wouldn't have to walk past the vendors again! We were a little early, so we stood and waited for our Harold, fending off all of his "relatives" who wanted to give us a ride anywhere. DH's watch beeped 11:30, and Harold pulled up! We did the rest of our Jamaica shopping in the terminal where there was no pressure. Despite the vendors, Jamaica is a very beautiful island.
As a birthday gift from our friends, they booked a Stingray City and Snorkel excursion from Native Way tours in Grand Cayman for the four of us. I was a little nervous, as I don't swim. Stingray City was awesome! What an experience! It was a cruise highlight! We held them, we fed them, and we kissed them for seven years of good luck! The water was not deep, but because of the waves I held DH or my friend's hand and I was fine. We then went to a spot to snorkel where there are a lot of starfish. I went into the water, but the waves were too strong for me. I did not let go of the boat, and once my pool noodle (that I brought from home) was ripped from me by a wave, I climbed back into the boat! We then proceeded to Coral Gardens. I did not go in, but the others all talked about the beautiful fish they saw. If we ever go to Grand Cayman again, I would not hesitate to go to Stingray City again, but next time I would partner it up with a beach stop! Grand Cayman is the complete opposite of Jamaica. I don't even think anyone looked up and acknowledged that we were even in their store! I actually felt like I was at home!!! Our friends went back to the ship on a tender shortly after our excursion ended, and there was virtually no line. We did some shopping and got into a very long line about an hour later. We stood in line for almost an hour, but it went by quickly. We talked to others in line, and told ourselves we'd rather stand in line in the hot sun on Grand Cayman than be at home in freezing temperatures and snow!
Our Cozumel excursion had to be bought once we were onboard the ship through Carnival. We registered for the Race Fantastique. A race through Cozumel, much like the Amazing Race. I will not go into details and ruin it for anyone who may go on this excursion, but what fun! We saw places and things in Cozumel we had never seen before! The people of Cozumel were so friendly and helpful when they saw our race identification. Michelle and Florian, who organized the race in Cozumel, were wonderful! The race ended at a cafe where we were each given two free drinks (this included beer) as part of our registration fee. We also got a deal on our lunch. It cost the four of us $22 to have lunch. Our friends came in first, we came in a close second (we were on the other side of the street when they found the cafe), and the other couple came in third. First place got Race Fantastique t-shirts with the words "Winner" on it, second place was Race Fantastique t-shirts, and third place was shot glasses. Carnival should do more to promote this excursion because we had a blast! After that, our friends rented a scooter to explore the island while we went shopping.
At the end of our 7 days, we were supposed to dock in Galveston at 6 am on Sunday morning. You can imagine my surprise when I looked out the balcony at 7:15 to see we were still moving with no land in sight! About 7:30 the announcements started. Due to bad weather in Galveston, the port had been closed and we could not dock. You can imagine our complete and utter horror at the thought of possibly having to stay on the Conquest for another week! About 8 am, we were given the go ahead to dock - DARN! We were to be some of the last people off the ship, as our plane did not leave IAH until 6 pm. We went into the Monet dining room to enjoy a leisurely breakfast with our friends, knowing we would be eating instant porridge then next day at home in the cold! Once off the ship, we stood in line for customs for two hours. There were no non-US lines like we have always seen as we have gotten off other cruise ships, but even if there were, we would have had to wait for our US friends to go through. We got our SUV rental paperwork done, the shuttle took us to their office, and we were off to Houston. We stopped at a place just off of I 45, called San Leon, Texas. We do not have Jack-in-the-Box in Calgary, so we had lunch there. The drive from Houston to Galveston, and then back again was easy. We had no problems finding our way around. I am surprised at how quiet IAH seems to be. Houston is the fourth largest city in the US! The airport in Calgary is always full of people! Our direct Air Canada flight left an hour and a half late, and unknown to us, left most of the luggage in Houston! Back in Calgary, we had to stand in line with almost everyone from that flight to fill out "Delayed Luggage" forms. The small plane would have been too heavy to make it home, so given the options, I preferred to have my luggage delivered to my home the next day rather than crash! Our luggage was delivered as promised.
In summary - this cruise was great! We still love HAL, but Carnival is once again right up there! We have another Carnival cruise booked for spring break, and are eagerly looking forward to it.