This was our 6th cruise on Carnival since 2005 and our 10th cruise overall since we began cruising at age 50 in the year 2000. First and foremost, we always have a marvelous time on our cruises. We enjoy meeting fellow cruisers and talking to the ship's crew members to learn about their work-lives on board and home country. Because our careers in the health-care field can be quite stressful a great deal of the time, we welcome the opportunity to take a break and unwind and we very much appreciate the hard work performed by the ship's crew to provide what we feel is the perfect vacation.
Getting to the ship:
While fully realizing that most readers of "member reviews" want to zero in on the specifics of the cruise itself, getting to the ship is the first order of business and can be problematic at times. Our experience for this segment of the trip was nerve-racking, to say the least.
While we had booked this 2010 cruise very early in 2009, and had initially utilized Carnival-arranged ground transportation from Houston to Galveston, our group (myself, spouse, her sister, sister's husband, their two children --both in their early 20's, and two friends) became "nervous" about hotel availability in Galveston over the New Year's weekend when Carnival still had not released a hotel package by September of 2009. So, our travel agent booked us all into the Hilton on Seawall Blvd. for the night of January 2, 2010, and issued credit for the Carnival ground transportation from Houston to Galveston previously booked (we retained the Carnival ground transportation back to Houston after the cruise). The local travel agency selected Galveston Limousine Services to provide our transportation from Houston to Galveston.
On Friday, January 1, 2010, when my spouse went on-line at the US Air web-site to print our boarding passes and prepay for our checked luggage, (don't we all love that aspect of flying now!), she found out that both segments of our flight for the early morning of January 2nd had been canceled and the web-site advised her to call US Air. US Air re-booked us on flights leaving in mid-afternoon of January 2nd arriving in Houston (Bush Intercontinental) at around 7 PM. All other members of our group had flights into Houston's other airport, Hobby, but ground transportation with Galveston Limousine Services, also.
Then, on the morning of January 2nd, my spouse called Galveston Limousine Services to advise them of the flight changes made the night before by US Air. We were told that their last pickup at the airport was at 6pm and that they could not provide transportation for us. Furthermore, we were told that their written policy is that they require a 7-day notice of flight changes. This is an unacceptable policy since US Air canceled our early morning flight with less than 24 hrs notice. We asked what their alternative suggestion was and they said "take a taxi to Galveston."
Well, by now, we were both quite stressed, as we had no assurance of transportation to Galveston once we arrived in Houston. Three years ago, we were on a group theme-cruise (Smooth Jazz) on the Carnival Conquest and the company that provided our cruise booking (not our local company) sent us a short list of recommended limousine services for participants to use. We dug around for that list from our cruise memorabilia, and found the name of the service we had used then, Hallmark Limousine. We called the number and found out that Hallmark Limousine had been bought by ELITE Limousines of Houston. This company is a 24 hour/ 7 day a week service. (Unlike Galveston Limo which stops their service at 6 pm and requires a 7-day notice for changes in flight information.) Elite found our names in the list of past Hallmark customers and told us they would have a car and driver at the Houston airport when we arrived, even though it was on extremely short notice...literally hours away. They did have a car and driver waiting for us, and we rode in comfort to the Hilton on Seawall Blvd. in Galveston. Our driver related that he had heard horror stories about stranded Galveston Limousine Services customers before, but that their business listing is exclusive to certain Galveston web-sites where other limo services, such as Elite Limousine, can't post...so Galveston Limousine Services tends to attract business from the unknowing public.
When we returned home from this cruise, we called Galveston Limo to try to elicit a refund and were told, again, about their 7-day policy for any flight changes or cancellations and they would not issue a refund directly to us. We are pursuing the matter further through our local travel agency.
We took the Hilton's shuttle service to the Galveston terminal where the Carnival Conquest was berthed. We made sure our luggage was deposited with an eager porter, handed him a tip and off we went into the cruise terminal.
Yes, there were lines and everyone was anxious to board, but this process moved along fairly well and about as "normal" as one could expect. Having your Fun Pass and documents printed ahead of your travel day and with passports in hand makes the embarkation process smooth and efficient. We met some first time cruisers while in the line who were celebrating their 60th birthdays, and others who were repeat Carnival cruisers as we were.
The ship looked good, especially with the fairly recent addition of the giant TV screen which is mounted on the forward end of the walking deck and which faces the tiered lounge chair area near the mid-ship pool. What a fantastic addition it is for movies, sports and other videos.
We met up with the others in our group at the mid-ship pool bar for some "Fun Ship Specials" and awaited the requisite life-boat drill. This has changed somewhat as it is no longer necessary to take your life-preserver from your cabin to your muster station.
Our luggage arrived in good shape, we unpacked, turned off our cell phones and headed to our first meal. We were supposed to be all at the same table, but were not placed that way on the second tier of the Monet Dining Room (early seating). A quick trip and talk with the Maitre d' found us all together on the second night on the first floor of the Monet, but tucked away under the second tier so we somewhat lost the grandeur of the first night's view, but we were all together.
Like others who cruise in a family group, we set only one rule: We eat the evening meal together in the dining room and share the day's experiences. There are Sea Days where we may not see others in our group during the day, or only briefly by happen chance. We choose our own activities and excursions during ports of call...but we always gather together in the evening. This gives everyone breathing space and allows those in our group to form their own unique vacation experience. We adopted this one-rule cruising philosophy from a relative who is a retired executive and who took many family members on a number of Holland America cruises years ago and said that this policy worked out very well. It was especially heartening to him when a very young grandchild told him, "Grandpa, this is the best vacation I have ever been on!"
My spouse and I are avid exercisers so we did utilize the fitness center on numerous occasions and it can be busy at times. Oddly, the Life Fitness weight machine equipment lineup is missing a leg extension station.
For further fitness, and to help keep the weight off from all of the delicious meals on board, we use the stairs on all of our cruises with the only exception occurring on formal nights where we do use the elevators and tolerate the waiting periods for an available elevator.
Our balcony cabin was meticulously maintained by our ever-cheerful cabin steward. We always had ice in the ice bucket, clean towels, a well-made and comfortable bed, and an entertaining towel animal in the evening. We carefully moved these from the bed and placed them on the sofa such that we had quite a menagerie by cruise end. Our room steward work very hard for us and the other family members in the forward end of the ship located nearby and we have only praise for their effort.
Likewise, our dining head waiter, assistant waiter and drink server made all of our evening meals memorable. The food on the Conquest is excellent. Everyone in our group found something to their liking on the evening dining menu in the Monet. Those in our group who were new to cruising in general and Carnival in particular discovered the signature Warm Chocolate Melting Cake and stuck with it every night for the duration of the cruise!
We did not have young children with us on the cruise so we can't comment on the Children's Clubs except to say that children on board were very well behaved in the dining room and seemed to enjoy the activities provided for them on the ship.
We went to one main show lounge show called "Point and Click" that featured the ship's singers and dancers. They are all talented and energetic.
The Conquest band led by Joe Beffert is outstanding and provided live music throughout the week.
I must mention that we probably had the most fun in the main showroom at the Ron Joseph "Motown Sounds" show. Mr. Joseph, from New Orleans, is extremely talented and engaged the audience for participation numerous times. Everyone knows the classic Motown songs and the crowd was most appreciative for his excellent show. Joe Beffert and the Showband provided all of the music for Mr. Joseph's show. A close second for the most fun was the deck party hosted by the Cruise Director's support staff who led the individual Red, Blue and White teams (the color of your team is determined by your cabin deck) into a wild frenzy of dancing, conga line weaving (our white team won for the longest line), team cheering (go white team, go white team go!) and carefully orchestrated mayhem...followed by, what else?...a midnight buffet. One of the support staff leading the dancing charge at this deck party had been on our Carnival Spirit cruise in January of 2009, so we knew we were in for a great time at the deck party and we were not disappointed.
Most of our group decided to pull, carry, or push their luggage off of the ship rather than setting it outside the night before as is usually customary. This worked out well for our group as some had earlier flights than others.
The lines through US Customs moved rapidly and we were out the door of the cruise terminal in no time at all.
We were all pre-booked on Carnival-arranged ground transportation to the Houston airports and we all made it onto the first bus outside of the cruise terminal. Our flight home was uneventful.
It was another wonderful Carnival "Fun Ship" cruise. Believe me, I can be very critical and vocal, if need be, and I am at my workplace. But I wouldn't be a repeat cruiser if I didn't love the cruise experience with Carnival Cruises and the greater Carnival Corporation family of ships (Princess and Holland America, to name a few).
The Conquest's crew staff uniformly greeted me with a smile and asked how I was doing. Well, when I am on a cruise, I am doing great. I am away from work, my room is magically attended to, I have a superlative dining experience every night, I can listen to live music, attend high energy shows, work-out, lounge around and read a book; grab an ice cream cone anytime I want, and enjoy a drink of the day. What is not to like about this? Sure, you can come on the ship ready to be critical of everybody and everything...but I come on board for one week of escape and to recharge and to have fun. That is what a vacation should be.
I would be remiss if I didn't acknowledge the many warm, friendly Texans who made up a majority of the passengers on the Conquest. We also met many nice people from Arkansas and Louisiana, most of whom had driven to Galveston because it was relatively close for them and they could avoid using the airlines. Even our cruise director, Chris Jefferson, who did an excellent job, acknowledged how much the Conquest crew members appreciate the gracious and friendly Texans and southerners who cruise repeatedly on the Conquest.