Conquest - May 09, 2004 - New Orleans, Jamaica, Grand Cayman, Cozumel
This was my 10th cruise - 5th on Carnival (5 with Royal Caribbean). Out of all the Carnival vessels (Celebration, Fantasy, Fascination, Elation) I have been on this by far was the best yet. Many people ask what the main differences are between the two lines and I guess the best way to sum it up would be "the people, and ambiance" - In a nut shell Carnival has more of a live your life to the fullest in one week kind of atmosphere while Royal Caribbean is more of a pick and choose if you want to have fun or just want a quiet, elegant, and relaxing week with your near and dear. I hope that makes sense? One thing I live by which I read from another quote on one of the cruise reviews which totally holds true is - "there is no such thing as a bad cruise, it's just that some are better than others"
I traveled this time with my wife, 3 year old daughter and my mother in law. Since this was my first cruise with my daughter I chose Carnival because I felt we would be more welcomed by the staff and fellow cruises as not being a burden bringing a young child onboard and felt certain there would be many more parents on this line who are feeling the same way. It definitely was a toss up and a hard decision to make for me because the last experience I had with Carnival (Elation - Mexican Riviera) was an absolute joke and I swore to myself that I would never sail with Carnival again. My last cruise was with Royal Caribbean's Explorer of the Seas which was an absolute dream ship so as you can imagine I was very reluctant choosing Carnival again - however the cost paying for 4 people with 2 rooms and all the rants and raves I read about Conquest along with the great price we got helped make my decision which I honestly do not regret one bit. We all had a blast.
New Orleans - May 9, 2004 - we flew into New Orleans on the Saturday prior to sailing - which I highly recommend for those that can because it takes off huge amounts of stress on whether your flights/luggage will be delayed. We stayed at the Hilton Riverside which is directly (1/2 mile) down the pier from the embarkation pier. Tip - for those light packers that don't need a mini bus to shuttle your group and all its luggage (like I did - 13 pieces) to the pier right behind the Hilton is a trolley that takes you right to the pier! I think the fare was $1.50 compared to my $25.00 taxi ride down the street. For all you gamblers out there Harrah's absolutely beautiful casino is directly across the street from the Hilton, as is the famous New Orleans aquarium, and Riverside shopping complex which hosts hundreds of stores. And naturally the infamous French Quarter is within walking distance for those who don't think their not going to get enough partying done on the cruise.
Embarkation - May 10th - besides the expensive 1/2 mile taxi ride to the pier this was the smoothest embarkation I ever experienced in all of my cruises. We arrived at the pier around 10:45a.m., were checked in by 11:15 a.m. did not have to wait in any lines received our sign and sail cards and then proceeded to a holding area where we had to wait for the remainder of the passengers from the previous sailing to disembark. We were on the ship by 12:00 noon, had lunch at Cafe Cezanne, then went to our rooms which were ready - I couldn't believe my luggage was already there - a cruise first. We unpacked then headed for the lido deck to relax and sit poolside while listening to some nice Calypso music. Did I mention the weather was wonderful - we left a bit late but who cares - you're on vacation!!!
Cruising down the Mississippi was neat, and a bit weird at times - in some areas of the river the ship would lean fiercely to one side (I guess the river was too shallow or something I don't know) you literally were having to walk uphill/downhill when walking from one side of the ship to the next
- 2 Sea Days - Relaxed enjoyed the pool, the music, watching the games, being lazy...
Jamaica - I have been here many times and as a seasoned traveller don't waste your money on the tours or shopping at the junk mart (main shopping center unless you just have to pick something up Jamaican Note: they have all the same stuff in a better environment right at the pier) I recommend taking a cab $4.00 per person straight to Doctor's Cove beach which is a nice clean beautiful beach area (there is a small entrance fee) for a lazy relaxing day in the sun and sand. Umbrellas, beach chairs and water activities can also be rented. The area has clean well maintained bathrooms as well as places to get a bite to eat or drink.
Grand Cayman - beautifully clean and colorful port with shopping that rivals Beverly Hills - make sure you have serious money if you want to shop here because you won't find any bargains - all brand name jewelry from Rolex, Cartier, Yurman to fine china and crystal. We shopped and had lunch at the new Hard Rock Cafe - as did every other cruise passenger - 5 ships were at port that day and it was a mad house in town. Getting back on the ship via tenders was long and confusing since so many others ships were tendering as well. Give yourself plenty of time to get back onboard - you will need it.
Cozumel - this port/pier has changed since last I was here and man was it nice. An entire little Mexican village in all beautiful pastel colors with fountains, music, food and everything one would expect - very nice, neat and clean. I was very impressed. This was built strictly for cruise ships. If you want to shop you don't even have to go into the dirty old town anymore for anything they have it all right here at the pier and its first class fun either before or after an excursion or to make a day of it.
Last day at Sea - again lazy day in the hot sun by the pool - getting sad that the week went so fast.
Disembarkation - We were 2nd to be called - off the ship by 9:30 a.m. - easy as can be.
Public Rooms - I enjoyed the French influence all over the ship and was delighted to see that Carnival finally has dressed up their public areas and stairwells with fine art - everywhere. Most people will not even pay attention to these types of touches but it was a welcome sight compared to other Carnival ships I have experienced. No longer is the 80's disco scheme found on older Carnival ships but a more refined, mature decor. Don't get me wrong there are still some very whimsical areas found on the ship but not nearly as blinding and cheap as in the past. Overall the ship is beautiful and pleasing to the eye. My main complaint which I always have noticed with Carnival is that they don't mask their support posts/beams throughout the ship -whereas on RCCL they will dress all posts with wood and lighting sconces to give a more formal effect - Carnival just leaves theirs scattered everywhere in plain chrome - even in the main show room which obstructs a lot of views.
My favorite before and after dinner hang out was Alfred's bar - a cigar lounge which played live elegant nightly music which was great for intimate conversations and gatherings. This bar had none of the riffraff crowd - probably too intimidating for most especially the all day drinkers by the pool which we called the "Nascar crowd." The disco on this ship wasn't nearly as lively as past ships I have been on and attracted an extremely diverse mix - which also influenced the mainly top 40 trash I have to endure at the office all day. The casino bar was also one of my favorites - it was huge, a great place to people watch - my only complaint was the hillbilly singers that played nightly - it was popular though.
Camp Carnival - WOW! My wife and I actually got to go out and every evening by ourselves (until 10pm at which time my mother-in-law took over). My daughter loved it they had full activities for her to do in a 4,200 sq/ft. play room, kid meals, movies - what a blessing and she loved it. Parents get a pager to keep the entire week in case the Camp needs to get in touch with you. No charge, tipping is encouraged and deserved for the counselors.
Fitness area - too small what a joke for a ship this size - but most of the people were eating anyway
Cabins - I bought 2 inside Riviera rooms - I have had everything from suites to insides and I have learned that it is an absolute waste to splurge on a balcony room unless you plan on spending a lot of time in your room - guess what? you don't! Plus the more money you save with an inside cabin the more future cruises you can go on and enjoy.
To sum it all up - if you are looking for a nice cruise vacation that's priced right then you can't go wrong with this ship. The food was excellent (far better than that on Royal Caribbean) - we loved the different dining options, especially the sushi bar. Our cabins were spacious and accommodating, the shows were entertaining, the staff was pleasant - my overall experience was enjoyable.