Our family embarked on the "Vacation movie" Griswold Family vacation aboard Carnival Conquest. Anytime we get together it's sure to be madness and mayhem. Poor Carnival folks! (smile) We had two grandparents, three siblings and their spouses, and three grandchildren in our group and it was a lovely cruise.
Parking Sunday morning we arrived at the parking lot where we had booked advanced reservations online. We were a bit irritated (okay A LOT irritated) at the lack of organized bus service to and from the ship. Whenever a bus arrived it was mobbed like a Twinkie at a Weight Watchers convention. No thought to who had arrived at the lot first, but merely who was closest to where the bus came to rest. After about 45 minutes baking in the sun our number finally came up and we pressed on.
Embarkation Embarkation was relatively easy. After reading a number of reviews about embarking at Galveston we were prepared for the worst. But smooth sailing for the Griswolds and we were on the ship in no time. However, the cabins weren't ready so all that time we saved was spent milling about the extra 30 minutes waiting for the nuclear-bunker blockade doors to open and access to the staterooms made available.
Stateroom The cabins were clean and well organized. Storage space was plentiful, unlike so many ships I've been on. Kudos to the Carnival designers! Our cabin steward Tina was wonderful and so attentive to every need. Two of the four staterooms had terrible air conditioning (apparently the 3rd and 4th got our allotment because they froze!) and after a fruitless visit by maintenance Tina delivered two LARGE box fans with hurricane-force winds that more than compensated. Bring your own hair dryer for the ones provided are awful. We all thought they were broken (because you had to hold the button down) until we compared notes. There was also occasionally a strong sewage smell in the hallway that gagged you if you were unfortunate enough to be forced to walk any length of the ship. We sprayed air freshener around our door because I surely didn't want my neighbors to think someone had died in our cabin.
Shore Excursions Overall the shore excursions were fantastic. In Grand Cayman we did a parasailing excursion and the SeaTrek helmet dive. The helmet dive was the highlight of the trip for the entire family. An amazing experience 35 feet below the sea. Don't miss it! In Jamaica we hired a private guide to drive us to Dunn's River Falls, shopping, and lunch at a seaside jerk chicken stand. Yummy! No shoes, no credit cards, no health department—no problem, mon! And nobody got sick or died. Finally, in Cozumel the boys had a deep sea fishing trip while the girls went ziplining, snorkeling, and rock climbing. The deep sea fishing trip was a disaster, owing to the lack of professional fishing gear (no depth finder?) and the absence of a bounty of promised refreshments (a small bag of peanuts and 6-pack of beer for 4 good sized men and 2 boys). The girls fared better, although I wouldn't call that a "zipline" it was more a of "clothesline" but the rock climbing, snorkeling and rappelling made up for it.
Camp Carnival and kid activities The water slide on board is a super idea. Our whole family channeled their inner kid and barreled down the slide great cheers. The kids also enjoyed some mini golf. My 9 and 10 year old niece and nephew loved the different activities Camp Carnival entertained them with, particularly the all night pool party, and a dance in the disco (complete with "Saturday Night Fever" lighted floor). However, I have nothing but love for the counselors forced to deal with my 3 year old nephew. He cried. He screamed. He pouted. And nothing they did entertained him in the slightest. In fact, my brother resorted to keeping him in line with threats of "going to camp." Whether they failed him, or simply encountered a little Damien-Omen child that couldn't be tamed, I make no judgments!
Dining The dining on board was hit-or-miss. Service in the dining room was excellent, as it was pretty much everywhere on board Conquest. The food was great beyond belief on some days, and others I thought we'd starve to death before descending upon the buffet like a plague of locusts. I was even bold enough to order a pizza in the dining room from the child's menu one night when no other entrée appealed to me. However, it was crispy brown to black around the edges so I gave up and left the dining room mid-meal. My ancestors were probably spinning in the graves from the lack of manners, but a girl's gotta eat!
Disembarkation I hesitate to share the secret that we carried off our own luggage at 7am in the morning because it went so smoothly. Two of our cabins chose this route and the other two rued the moment they decided to sleep in. Whereas we were off the ship with our luggage, through customs and in the car headed to Whataburger in about 45 minutes—the other group suffered through the number calling, lines down the ramp, lines through customs, and more lines to gather their luggage. The whole process took them 3½ hours. BIG DIFFERENCE!
Summary Carnival Conquest is a beautiful ship, with great public rooms and activities. I'm a diehard RCCL fan and even I was pleasantly surprised by the service on Carnival. Shopping could be improved, as could the consistency of the food offered. The Griswolds all enjoyed our trip and since no relatives died on this trip we felt it was a success.