Carnival Conquest 3/24-3/21
I have found these CC boards to be very helpful, so this long review is my attempt to give a little back. I traveled as part of a family of 4 adults, a 12-year-old and a 10-year-old.
We arrived in New Orleans Saturday morning for our Sunday departure, and stayed at the Maison St. Charles Hotel. I highly recommend this hotel. They have a "Bon Voyage" package for cruisers that is a very good deal. The package is $97 per night, plus $12 per night for valet parking. The best part is that they take you to the port on the morning of your cruise in a limo. You can leave your car with them and they only charge $5 per night for parking for the duration of the cruise. The car is in a locked lot with a high fence and very secure.
I loved this hotel. It is by far the best hotel I have ever stayed at for less than $100 per night. The valet/bell guys were all very friendly and very helpful and the hotel has a great, relaxed vibe, with a lounge and game room, a pool and a beautiful New Orleans style courtyard. It is also directly across the street from a St. Charles Streetcar stop, so you don't need a car to get down to the quarter. Highly recommended.
Not too bad. They move you from section to section, so it doesn't seem like you are waiting as long as you are. Either the funpass registration doesn't do anything, or everyone pre-registers, because it looked to me like we were all in the same line. We were eager, so we got to the port about 11:45 and were on the ship by about 12:30. Official boarding was not until 3:00. They handed us a flyer that said our stateroom would not be ready until 2:00, but we went up to check and it was ready to go.
This is a beautiful ship. I was especially impressed with the public areas. There are a ton of bars and lounges everywhere you look. The casino is large and nice. There are two dining rooms, the Monet and the Renoir, but I don't know if there is any real difference between the two. Passengers are assigned a room, a table number and a seating time. This is all listed on the sign and sail card that you pick up when you board. The Monet has 5:45 and 8:00 seatings and the Renoir has 6:15 and 8:30 seatings. If you are travelling with a group, check before you go to make sure you are all seated together. It is not easy to change if you end up assigned to different tables. The food was generally good and several items were better than I expected. This is not 5-star gourmet cuisine, but it is good and there are a lot of choices. The Lido buffet has multiple serving lines, and there is a pizza station, a deli sandwich station and 2 hamburger/hot dog grill stations, but the lines were pretty long at all of them at peak times. We sailed on Spring Break and I heard that the ship was completely full. I believed it when I saw the lines at lunch. The better choice is the open seating in the Monet dining room at lunch. You can get seated right away with no waiting, and you don't have to dress for lunch.
For dinner, there are two formal nights, and the rest are "resort casual." I saw a couple of tuxes on formal nights, but mostly men wore dark suits. Most men wore khakis and sports shirts on the casual nights, but quite a few wore jeans and nice shirts. I did see two guys in the dining room in jeans on one formal night, but at least they didn't wear their baseball caps during dinner that night.
We had a quad balcony cabin on Deck 9 to share between 2 adults and the 2 kids. It worked out better than I expected. The cabin had lots of storage space and we were able to get everything put away and the suitcases under the bed. In addition to the queen bed, there was a daybed/couch that the steward made into a twin at night. Above that was a Murphy bed that pulls down out of the ceiling. The steward put it up out of the way during the day, and pulled it down and made up the bed at night. This worked out great for our kids and they took turns sleeping in the Murphy. The non-quad deck 9 cabins are exactly the same except that there is no Murphy bed and the couch stays a couch at night.
The ship has 2 separate pool areas. The main sun pool has multiple levels of sun decks filled with row after row of lounge chairs. The waterslide was fun and had surprisingly short lines most of the time. The sky pool has a smaller sunning area and has a retractable roof for bad weather.
The kids' activities were very well done. Everything is broken into age groups, and for age 8 and under, it works kind of like a day care. The parents drop them off at Camp Carnival and pick them up whenever they want. They have a list of scheduled activities throughout the day. The older kids are given an age-specific itinerary that lists all of the week's activities. They can pick and choose to attend whatever activities they want. Age 9-11 must sign themselves in and out of the activities, and 12+ don't have to sign in at all.
The entertainment didn't knock me out, but everyone's taste varies. We went to a Vegas production show and I guess it was OK, just not for me. We also went to a show that opened with the cruise director's bird act (yes, you read that correctly) and then a soul/r&b review. The bird act was OK, but a little goofy. My kids liked it. The singers were both good, and I enjoyed the review. We also went to guest talent night. I don't think there were any budding superstars here, but it looked like they were having fun.
We booked the Cool Waters Party Tour through A-Z Jamaica Planners. ($90 per person) We were met inside the port terminal building by Reyn, holding a sign with my name on it. Our group of 6 joined another group of 15 and got into a bus headed into the mountains. The ride is about an hour and much of it goes up very narrow and very winding roads. We arrived at Mayfield falls and walked down a steep hill into the camp area. Reyn turned us over to a guide, Dennis, and waited for us. If you do this trip, you must have aquasocks or other good water shoes. You are going to spend an hour or two wading in a river. Don't wear tennis shoes or sandals. Strip down to your swimsuit and leave everything else behind in a locker ($1 for individual or $5 for a group). If you have a waterproof camera, take it. If you have a regular camera, your guide will have a waterproof bag to carry it in, and you can get it out whenever you want to take a picture. You do not need sunscreen for the river; it is completely shaded over. But you will walk back in open ground, so you might want to put a tube of sunscreen in your guide's bag as well. The river was a lot of fun. There are no tall, dramatic falls; this is not Dunn's River. Instead, there are a series of small waterfalls and natural pools where you can swim and play. It is not physically challenging, unless you have a significant disability. The guides are very good about helping people over the rough spots. Dennis was remarkably patient, and we tipped him well.
After about 1-1/2 to 2 hours in the river, we hiked back to the bus (uphill most of the way) and drove back into town. We boarded a trimiran, a small flat boat that idled out into the bay. The crew served us a plate lunch and had an open bar. We stopped at a snorkel site on a reef near Margaritaville and snorkeled for about 30 minutes. It was OK, but nothing spectacular. We got back on the boat and cruised over to Margaritaville. Now we were so far behind schedule that the captain told us we only had 10 minutes before we had to get back on the boat. It was just enough time for the kids and I to go down the waterslide once and bounce on the trampoline a couple of times. The boat took us right back to the port and we walked on the ship. In summary, I recommend A-Z and would use them again, but there really isn't enough time to do this trip right. You would be better off just booking the trip to Mayfield Falls and then going to Margaritaville yourself after you got back to town. Skip the trimiran.
We booked a half-day snorkel and stingray sandbar trip with Captain Marvin's. ($39 per person.) Wow, what a difference a couple of years makes. My wife and I took this same trip in August of 2002 and loved it so much we couldn't wait to go back with the family. This time, it was still good, and I still recommend Captain Marvin's, but it was CROWDED. You have to take a tender into Grand Cayman, but this is no big deal. We had plenty of time to walk over to Captain Marvin's storefront and still arrived almost an hour early. They loaded us on a bus and took us over to their dock where we got on the boat. They have 2 or 3 boats, and the one we took held about 25-30 people. Captain Marvin himself drove, and he is 88 years old! The boat stops at 2 sites for snorkeling. The water and sea life are very good, but at both stops there were lots of other boats right next to us. Two years ago, we saw no one else. The third site is the stingray sandbar. This is really something not to miss, but there were dozens of boats with hundreds of people anchored on the sandbar. We had to wait about 20 minutes before we could find a place to anchor. Finally we got off, and we had a ball. Again, we had a very patient and very helpful guide. I hope the crowd was indicative of Spring Break and not reflective of what this is like the rest of the year. Either way, if you haven't done this yet, you need to do it once.
We did not book anything in advance and our group split up after we got off the ship. The Conquest docked at the Puerta Maya port and we walked through a looong duty free store that sells mostly the same things that are sold on the ship. Then we entered a small shopping plaza built just for the cruise terminal. If you want to shop, this is not the place to do it. Instead, get a cab and head into town. My half of our group took a taxi down to Chankanaab Park. The taxi is a flat $10 per cab and takes about 5-10 minutes to get there. Admission at the park is $12 per person. Chankanaab is smaller than I thought. It has a very nice beach and a very nice snorkeling reef, but there really isn't much to the rest of the park. You can bring your own snorkel stuff and just jump in, or you can rent it on the beach. I think the cost is about $5-6. There is also a dolphin show, and a swim with dolphins attraction, but we didn't do that.
I am the only diver in my group, so I went by myself for a dive. For an experienced diver, there is nothing spectacular at Chankanaab Park, but it is worth doing once. There are 4 palapa diving huts right on the beach. I just walked up to one and started asking questions. It couldn't be any simpler. For $40 they gave me a BC, a weight belt, a pair of fins and a full tank. I brought my own mask and snorkel. I strapped everything on right there and walked with the divemaster down to the shore. We walked down the stairs into the water and went right in amidst the snorkelers, just the two of us. From there, he led me over a long coral reef at only 20-25 feet deep. Eventually, we made it to a cave system. This was pretty cool. We swam in and out of the multiple cave entrances and found some huge fish just hanging out in one of the caves. After we left the cave, we swam over the sand flat to the famous statue of Jesus for a couple of photo ops. More pictures at the Mayan statue and then back to the shore. Total bottom time, about 45 min. Max depth: about 25 feet. I had never done a shore dive like this, so it was well worth the $40 to me, but I won't do it again. My guide told me I could get another tank and go out again for only $16 more, but I passed.
In summary, the Conquest is a great ship. We were very happy with the accommodations and the level of service on board. Things were a little crowed at times, but it may not be as bad at other times. I also enjoyed all 3 ports and highly recommend future travelers to do some homework and plan excursions before you get on the ship. It makes for more fun and a lot less worry about what to do in port.
Let me know if you have any questions while the trip is still fresh in my memory.