My wife and I sailed on the December 13-20, 2009, Carnival Conquest. Destination: the Bahamas and Key West. End Result: Fun cruise, despite the fog that delayed our departure by one day. You can read any of our 28 live posts from the ship on the CC thread under Carnival: Conquest and Voyager are Fogged-In in Galveston!
Here's our cruise story:
1. Our Background: We have cruised 18 times before this trip: 7 on Carnival, 7 on Royal Caribbean, 3 Celebrity, and 1 Princess. All were in the Caribbean, and we have never had a bad cruise. We merely want to take some time off from work, and cruising from Galveston is the closest and easiest way to accomplish this.
2. Driving to Galveston: We drove 300 miles (5 hours) from DFW to Galveston. We left late on Saturday, and did not arrive Galveston until after midnight. One tip as you approach Houston (if you have online access): check Houston real-time traffic online at www.houstontranstar.org/. Sometimes we exit I-45, and take the Hardy Toll Road or Beltway 8 to avoid accidents in Houston, before returning to I-45 south of Houston. On this trip, we drove all the way down I-45, and started seeing the fog once we reached Houston. It only got worse the closer we drove to Galveston.
3. Hotel in Galveston: We tried for the first time the Galveston Hilton. Lucky for us, we were booked into the original hotel which has outside balconies, and not booked into the expansion wing, which does not. We woke up early to look for the two Galveston ships' return to Galveston, but had to return to bed. Why? The fog prevented any viewing farther than 1-2 blocks at 6-7 am. We did like the comforts of the Hilton, which has been kept in very good condition.
4. Bon Voyage Gift/Spirits: We learned from the CC boards that you can order spirits through Carnival's Bon Voyage Department, and we did so. We ordered for $40 plus tax a 1.0 liter of Appleton's rum, which was waiting on the desk when we entered our stateroom.
5. Luggage Drop-Off/Parking: We followed our usual routine for this cruise. We dropped the luggage off at Cruise Terminal One (Carnival) around 1 pm, and then drove to EZ Cruise Parking. Since we had paid the $50 parking fee online, we merely showed our receipt, and parked our car in their lot on Santa Fe Place. We then walked the 3 blocks to the cruise terminal.
6. Large Coolers Are Now Inspected for Size: The McRoberts Security Guard at the entrance to Cruise Terminal One measured our cooler, and said it was too large. We would have to take it back to the car (which we did), or they would confiscate it from us. So we went back the 3 blocks and moved the sodas and ice into a much smaller cooler that we had brought. The new guidelines are 12" x 12" x 12". Be aware that the guard rejected three other coolers while we were there waiting to talk with her supervisor (who rejected our appeal for an exception).
TIP: After the cruise, we purchased at Academy Sports and Outdoors in Dallas an Igloo brand cooler that was exactly 12" x 12" x 12", for $18. One bottle of wine and some cans of soda will fit into this new cooler.
7. Embarkation: After we returned to Terminal One with the smaller cooler, we went through the lines (we are not platinum yet), and ultimately waited 15 minutes before we cleared security and was directed to a ticket counter. Our sign and sail cards were ready, and we signed the credit card slip, and we were off. One cruise photograph and 5 minutes later we boarded Conquest. Given that it was now 1:45 pm, we thought that embarkation was smooth.
8. Cabin: We booked Cabin 8458, an aft balcony, immediately next to the starboard wrap balcony. This is an extended balcony, which allowed a little wider view than just the typical aft balcony cabin. The view was perfect from the balcony as it allowed us to view Voyager OTS, about 600 feet to the west, as well as many sunrises and sunsets at sea. Today, however, the fog at times changed from light to so dense, we could not see Voyager.
Tip: We always take a small but loud (white noise) floor fan with us on cruises. This time we needed it, because our cabin was immediately below the Lido Deck. We could periodically hear the deck chairs moving on the deck over our cabin. But the floor fan rendered the sound into white noise, assuring us of a good night's sleep.
9. The Fog Delay in Galveston: The fog delayed our scheduled Sunday departure until 2:15 pm on Monday, about 22 hours later. As a result, we had to drop one port (Freeport, Bahamas) and swapped the timing of our remaining 2 ports. We went to Nassau first, arriving at 8 pm Wednesday night, and spending the evening in port. Then we left Nassau around 2:30 pm Thursday, and arrived at Key West around 10:30 am on Friday morning (more later on the ports). We learned Sunday afternoon that we would spend Sunday night in Galveston. The Captain and CD also told us that we would try to leave Monday, weather permitting.
Monday morning came and went, with more fog, less fog, then fog thunder. It was so dense, you could only hear the thunder claps, and not see the lightning. Finally, without advance warning, at 2:15 pm, Conquest started her engines, and we were moving away from the pier. We let out cheers, and I semaphored a barely visible Voyager "bravo yankee, bravo yankee" (by-by). We slowly made our way up the Galveston Ship Channel, sounding the Conquest's horn as we went. Even though the fog was building again as we left the pier, the pilot boat's moves all around our ship added to our confidence that we would safely make it into the Gulf (and we did!).
We have cruised this week in December from Galveston for the 5 previous years, and only once (2006) were we delayed from departing due to fog. That did not deter our excitement for another good cruise.
10. Our Disappointment for our Cruisers on Voyager OTS: I learned on the CC boards later on Monday, the day we left, that Voyager would not be leaving until Tuesday morning at the earliest. How awful! We are one cruising family, regardless of which ship we are sailing on. We just felt so bad for our fellow cruisers, who could not depart like we did on Monday. We posted on their thread that we hoped they, too, would make the most from a shorter vacation, and try to also have a more memorable cruise. We understood 811 people of the 3400 left Voyager Monday night, in exchange for a credit for a future cruise, for the fares they had paid. Meanwhile, Carnival offered to refund us the $20 pp port fee for the lost port (which they credited to our Sign and Sail accounts), but that was the extent of the offer (BTW-we did have one extra party on Friday, with free beverages, thank you Carnival!). We personally resolved to make the most of our foggy start from Galveston by being thankful for how hard the Carnival Crew worked to give us a great vacation. CD Chris Jefferson said he would do so at the Welcome Aboard show, and he and his crew did just that! Thanks, Chris!
11. The Weather. Monday: Once we entered the Gulf, the fog let up some, so we could see the sun as a bright disk in the sky. Tuesday: Brought partly sunny weather, and people were outside and enjoying the pools, but it was maybe in the 70s. Wednesday: We enjoyed upper 70s as we cruised past Key West, and through the Straits of Florida NE toward Nassau. I attached to my CC thread a pretty sunset photo on Wednesday late afternoon, with Majesty OTS cruising west back to Florida. Friday: Was cloudy and foggy, as we made our way towards KW. The Captain told us late that for a normal cruise, with 30 knot winds Friday morning, that he would have had to cancel our call in KW. Given our delayed Galveston departure, he made special efforts for Conquest to proceed into port, with the Pilot Boat clearly guiding us into KW. Once we debarked the ship at 10:30 am, it rained, and then it poured all day. Finally, at our 4 pm time to board the last trolley to the Naval Pier to return to Conquest, it stopped raining. Yes, then we saw some blue skies. Saturday: Was our return to the 60s followed by the 50s, with a mostly overcast trip back to Galveston. Sunday: Conquest arrived late in Galveston (around 10:45 am, instead of 7:45 am as originally scheduled). The temperature was in the 40s, but clear and sunny. In retrospect, we would probably have taken Conquest south and east toward MX, GC, and Jamaica, if we cruise in mid-December again. But the cooler weather was still no problem for us.
12. Nassau (Wednesday night, and Thursday through afternoon): Instead of a full port day in Nassau, we arrived Nassau Wednesday night at 8 pm, and stayed through 2:30 pm the next afternoon. We had never overnighted before in a port (excluding Sunday night in Galveston!), so we taxied over to Atlantis. The $4 pp fare was just right, and the Atlantis was beautiful. The casino starting heating up closer to midnight. We shared the taxi with our new Conquest friends, Shari and Rud, who also enjoyed the several aquarium windows with us, as well as some beverages in the casino. Seeing these large, colorful fish through these floor-to-ceiling windows made the trip worth it.
The next day was Thursday morning, where we planned to spend a full dat at the Breezes all-inclusive resort on Cable Beach, about 4 miles west of the port. Given all of the helpful advice from the CC boards, we decided to stick with our plans to go to the resort. We disembarked the ship at 9 am, and walked to the east and north, to Bay and George Streets (NWC) to catch the number 10 jitney bus ($1.25/person). It was a 15-20 minute ride to the Breezes Resort. Admission was $60 pp, for all the food and drinks and beach /pool access we wanted. At the beach we found a palapa to protect us from the sun. The temperature was in the mid 70s, and the wind almost calm, and just a few light sun showers near 1 pm. The resort is older and still under constant maintenance - but the beach was well maintained. The all inclusive aspect made it easy to enjoy as much or as little as we wanted. Then it was time to walk back down to Bay Street, to catch the eastbound #10 jitney back to the ship.
We were back on the ship in 20 minutes, and still enjoying our first day (and night) in the Bahamas). As a fellow cruiser posted, we had to stop at the duty free shop to pick up some Old Nassau Gold rum. Yes, it mixes well with Coke/Diet Coke!
Let me also mention that we felt sale in Nassau. We found uniformed policy (with those neat white helmet styled hats!), throughout the downtown of Nassau. Therefore, we were glad we ventured out into the downtown, as well as with public transportation in Nassau.
13. Key West (Friday): All cruise ships follow a particular approach through the reefs into KW, and Conquest did so, through yes, another dense fog! The winds were gusting enough to cause our Captain almost to cancel this port, but he and the pilot proceeded forward. We made port just after 10 am on Friday morning. By the time we disembarked at 10:30 am, it started raining. We pulled out our ponchos from Walgreens, and endured the rains, which increased through the morning. The open air Conch Train, which shuttled passengers from the naval pier to Mallory Square, also handed out plastic ponchos to Conquest passengers. Those ponchos made the trip bearable.
We had purchased Conch Train tickets online for about $28 each, and presented the printouts at the Conch Train station near Mallory Square. We were told the next train left in 15 minutes so hand around. When the train pulled into the station, the Conch Train assistant, Ms. Evelyn, told us to take the second or third row of seats in the train car (to stay the driest!). And she was right. The front and back rows took more rain, but again, the complimentary ponchos preserved a visit for everyone to KW that day.
Miss Peggy was our train driver and tour guide, and she was excellent. Just the right amount of detail and humor, and timing her remarks just as the train approached each landmark or (for KW) a bar! We would like to travel with Peggy again, because of the fun she creates with her tour.
Following the Conch Train tour, we walked 1 block to the Mel Fisher Museum, something we had missed on 3 earlier cruises to KW on Rhapsody OTS (which arrived late in the afternoon, too close to closing time). Mel Fisher discovered a sunken ship off of Key West and landed $400 million for the 16 year effort. His most famous line: "Today's the Day!" We hung out for almost 2 hours in the museum, while we heard the thunder and downpours from inside. One haunting must see in the museum: Mel Fisher's finding in 1972 of the British flagged slave ship, the Henrietta Marie. The pictures and drawings you will see inside are not something you will soon forget...
Before we returned to the Conch Train Station for our shuttle back to Conquest, we purchased enough KW coffee mugs, so we now have a KW coffee mug service for 12! Why the tourist souvenirs? Every Sunday morning during breakfast, we turn on the various ship webcams (Galveston, KW, and the live-action Conch Train web cam), pour our coffees, and look at the computer screen in the corner of the kitchen. Suddenly, we are members of the Conch Republic again, and enjoying a brief mental journey back to Margaritaville.
14. The Food: For most of the cruise, we had a late lunch in the Cezanne restaurant, usually an omelette or made-to-order eggs, complete with fruit, bacon, sausage, etc. We always went to the food station at the rear starboard side of the restaurant. Never once did we find cold food that should have been warm. We usually were there between 10 and 11 am. The servers were busy, and there was always a fairly fast moving line of cruisers coming through with trays. That was our experience, which was so good, we only once ordered room service (and that was for lunch on Fog Monday-which sandwiches were good and cool).
For dinner, we were assigned originally to a first floor booth for four. As soon as we boarded, we asked to change this assignment to a table for 2. The reason: we could quickly enjoy dinner, not take dessert, and catch the 7 pm "late dinner" show in the Toulouse-Lautrec Lounge. Taking the early dinner, followed by the early show, opened up our later evening for dancing in any of the venues (3rd floor atrium, Henri's disco, and Alfred's Lounge).
We found the dinner food and service so delicious and prompt, that we cancelled our Friday night reservations for dinner in The Point Steakhouse. We used the $100 savings instead to purchase a $100 Future Cruise Certificate (which will also earn us a $100 OBC for the next balcony cabin we book). If we never use the Certificate, in 5 years Carnival will refund the $100 purchase price to our credit card. What a deal that Certificate is.
15. Karaoke: I am the karaoke person in the family, and no cruise line offers the hours of karaoke like Carnival! Comparing Conquest with our Voyager OTS cruise last March, Conquest seemed to have almost twice as much karaoke time, and in bigger venues, than Voyager (though we enjoying competing in the Voyager Karaoke Contest last March!). Megan, who joined Carnival 4 weeks ago, made everyone feel welcome for karaoke. Most of the shows were in the Degas Lounge, or for the day time, in the Casino bar area. She seemed to fairly call people up as they presented their slips, and defended one younger singer who wanted to sing hard rock songs (much to the chagrin of some cruisers). A few people though she sang a little too often. I felt that for all of the hours she was working the music discs to allow everyone else a chance to sing, let Megan also periodically "flex the golden pipes!" And flex she did. Be sure to arrive early to review the song books, and take down the song numbers. There was a lot of competition to peruse these karaoke books.
Megan also held karaoke tryouts for the "Legends of Carnival" show which presentation was held on the last night of the cruise. Each night of the cruise before then, 2 or 3 singer positions were open for audition, such as for Madonna, James Brown, Sir Elton John, Ricky Martin, Frank Sinatra, Garth Brooks, Brittany Spears, and Gloria Estefan. While the contestants generally were few, those that did win their audition (by a round of applause) really provided a us a fun musical occasion on Saturday night (more on that later). Megan hinted that the ship would sometime soon leave behind the karaoke CDs and receive a new MP3 karaoke machine. One can only hope!
I'll come clean and say that I sang karaoke every day on the ship. The most fun I had was singing with Ms. Roberta from Houston, who provided a resounding rendition of Gladys Knight's Number 1 hit, Midnight Train to Georgia. I sold her and some of the gentlemen cruisers that I could sing the Pips part. And so we all did. Roberta and her Pips received a standing ovation, and it wasn't because I added some vanilla to the Pips! Thank you Ms. Roberta and fellow Pips.
16. Internet Access: We used my laptop's Sprint Aircard in Galveston and Key West (and briefly while transiting the Straits of Florida), to post updates on our cruise. However, most of my updates were while using the ship's internet connection. I see that we purchased 6 hours of time for about $155, which although seemed expensive, was necessary to also connect to email for any office updates. And, to post updates to the Galveston Fog thread for you, our wonderful cruisers! Be aware of the delay in downloading and uploading files, and of being knocked off at times. It takes a lot of patience to use the internet if rough seas are breaking your connection. I found we had good connections to the ship's hot spots right in our aft cabin and balcony.
17. Cabin Steward: Our cabin steward, Mr. Naomen, and his helper, provided fresh ice, prompt room refreshing, and service every day, usually without asking. I accidently grabbed and broke off the shower wall the plastic (I thought it was metal?) bar that holds the shower head. Mr. Naomen said don't worry about it, he'll put in a work order that day. And the next day, it was fixed, and no charge for the damage. He also had our shirts cleaned as we had requested, and made the towel menagerie that we find a lot of fun with. You will be lucky to have as good a steward as Mr. Naomen and his helper).
18. Wait Staff in Monet: Mr. "Woot" and his assistant waiter, Ms. Suporn, both from Thailand, offered us excellent service, warm (or cool as appropriate) food, and a good feeling every time they came to our table. I did not know that our table for 2 would be right next to the port side staircase going up to the next deck, but the staircase actually gave us the feeling of a smaller, private restaurant, with our table and the 3 other tables our wait staff was serving. So the private dining room feeling worked well. We stepped over to the main dining room to watch the wait staff dancing on the wait staff serving tables, and singing their end-of-dinner songs. We really enjoyed the food, the service and the warm feelings from some exceptional dinners in the Monet Dining Room.
19. GPS for Progress: This was the first time that I regularly used the GPS (that attaches to my laptop) to watch our Conquest's progress. As one CC person posted to my Fog Thread, it works well on the balcony especially with a UBS extension cord. This UBS computer device was certainly desirable given our late departure on Monday from Galveston, and due to the dropped port that was necessitated by bad weather. The GPS also allowed me to provide real-time progress reports to the CC boards, while we were cruising on a different itinerary due to the fog. The program I used was Microsoft Streets and Trips, which included a small GPS receiver. It allowed me to find our heading, speed and location quite easily. With our aft balcony I easily was able to grab the minimum 3 satellites, for the system to work. You will have a blast, too, knowing just where you are on the cruise itinerary.
20. Debarkation: We found debarkation to be easy and smooth, but because of the delay, later than we expected. We also missed the CD's usual updates and the calls for the various tag numbers to start down to the 3rd deck (for access to the bridge back to the cruise ship terminal). We wished the CD had given us the progress reports of which group can go next, but we didn't mind. We stayed in our cabin to almost 12 noon when we finally made our way downstairs, and off of the ship at 12:30 pm. So debarkation was later and longer than we expected, but we still enjoyed staying in our cabin (without an hassle) for such a long time after we returned to Galveston. Voyager, BTW, had long since debarked, and the next cruisers were eagerly working their way to cruise ship terminal number 2 for VOTS.
21. Entertainment: We made it to two of the major production shows, and found the dancers and singers to be a lot of fun, and well executing their parts. Ron Joseph, the NOLA singer and entertainer, made it fun for all of us when he invited couples, and then some men, up to the stage to dance and perform. It created that right amount of uncertainty when he passed the mike to each man to start singing from the Temptations! Wow!
I'll also say that we enjoyed the voice of the comely Lucy Campbell, the female lead singer on Conquest. One thing we remember of her was Lucy alone singing with the band during the repeat cruisers party in the Toulouse-Lautrec Lounge. She stood to the right of the band and sang two romantic songs: Bonnie Raitt's "I Can't Make You Love Me," followed by the Rev. Al Green's "Let's Stay Together." She only sang these two numbers, before the CD and Captain provided their welcome and announcements. Let me tell you all: if you can listen to this wonderful lady and her voice - do so! You will not be disappointed by Lucy.
22. Future Cruise Plans: The foggy start of our cruise in Galveston does not dissuade us from cruising in December from Galveston. That is the easiest time for us to cruise, and so we will probably continue this tradition. Secondly, we have now sailed Conquest 4X (all in December), and will continue to cruise on her. There is always something new to find each time we board this beautiful ship. And we will enjoy Carnival, RCCL, and others, as the years come and go. But there is a big benefit not having to fly to a FL cruise in December (so thank you, Galveston, despite the fog!). We certainly want to get some use out of that future cruise certificate we purchased on this cruise.
CONCLUSION: The Carnival Conquest provided us a very relaxing, if not also exciting vacation - certainly one we will never forget! We hope you include this well run ship in your future vacation plans. You will not be disappointed. We find this ship and crew compare favorably with the Voyager OTS for service, food, entertainment, and value for money.
Bob and Donna from Dallas / Ft. Worth (and missing Carnival Conquest!)