1. General Comments. A pleasant cruise, despite cool temperatures and windy conditions. Some decks had to be closed at times due to the winds. We were over 3,000 passengers on this cruise. Passengers were of all ages; there were only a few college Spring Breakers. While my wife and I are "frequent floaters," this was only our second cruise with Carnival.
2. Embarking: We arrived at the cruise terminal around 11:30 on Sunday. You drop off your family and baggage at the terminal and drive to the designated parking lot. If you use one of the Port of Galveston lots, it is $70 (cash, VISA , or MasterCard) up front for an uncovered slot. The cost is $65 if you pay on-line at the Port of Galveston website. A shuttle takes you right back to the entrance of the cruise terminal. (Remember that RCCL has the other terminal.)
Check-in was a breeze, especially after having completed the Fun Pass registration on-line at the Carnival site. Also, having a suite qualified us for "VIP check-in" which avoided most of the lines. We were in our cabin by around 1:30PM after lunch on the Lido deck, and our luggage arrived at 2PM.
3. The Carnival Conquest: A large ship, and it takes some time to figure it out. You especially have to learn how to navigate to your correct dining room; there are two (two decks each), and they are divided by the kitchen. We booked a suite on the seventh deck, and it was very nice and spacious. It would have been more than adequate for a longer cruise. Plenty of shelf and closet space, two sinks in the bathroom, a separate vanity, plus a small safe, TV with the usual news and movie offerings, and even a locked mini-bar. If you want to use it and pay those prices, then ask the cabin steward to unlock it. If you don't want to use it, let it remain locked, and you avoid any potential hassles. The verandah is rather small. You get a daily planner in your cabin the night prior. You need to read it carefully as there are few announcements on the PA system. There are childrens/teens areas and programs for them. I defer to others with children to comment on this part of the ship. The ship's library is very small, and there is no newspaper on board.
The theme of the ship is French art. You are nearly overwhelmed with all the art around, especially on the walls of the 3rd deck Artist's Lobby. There are plenty of music venues, but there is no such thing as a quiet spot. We tended to have our drinks at the Artist's Lobby as the sound level seemed to be lower than elsewhere.
Temperatures on board are an item. If you enjoy cooler temps, then you will enjoy the ship. If not, make sure you have some long sleeve shirts, and maybe a sweater or two, along. Temps in the public areas appeared to be especially cool/cold in the evenings.
4. Meals: Food on the Lido deck - which almost everyone uses for breakfast and lunch - is good. There are plenty of choices at both meals, and you can eat as much or as little as you want. It is rather hurried, though, and not a place for a slow meal. On sea days the lines get quite long. Besides the main buffet, there are separate stations for noodles, pizzas, sandwiches, and burgers. All equally popular. We never got to the seafood station on the Lido's "upstairs," but heard that it, too, was popular.
The dining room's food was good and well-prepared. We only used it for dinner, although it is available with open seating at breakfast and lunch. Food portions are of respectable size, and if you don't try to eat all the courses every day, you should not do bad weight-wise. The wine list is respectable, and wine is available by the bottle or glass. We used the "Your Time Dining" program, and it worked. Our area was the second deck of the Renoir Dining Room. We would walk in around 7PM and were always seated immediately. We never got the same table twice, but some of the staff was the same over the week. Kudos to Carnival for being one of the few lines that has a simple and workable dining program.
We had a reservation at The Point specialty restaurant. Service and wines were great; food was better than good but not great. Was the evening worth the $30 per person surcharge? I'm not sure.
5. Dressing for meals: Dress was casual for five nights and "elegant" for two. Most men defined "elegant" as a jacket and tie, although some were less dressed up, and a few did wear tuxes. Ladies, of course, were dressed up on all nights.
6. Shore Excursions: We did not use any of the ship's shore excursions. At Key West we wandered around on our own. Freeport, Bahamas is a nothing place and is hardly worth taking the taxi to see it (ship docks in an industrial port). For Nassau we had downloaded from the Internet a do-it-yourself walking tour which was interesting. When you go ashore on your own, and not through Carnival, you do run the risk of being left behind. This was the first cruise we have been on where some passengers were left behind - in Nassau. The ship waited 30 minutes after the last boarding call, then blew its horn several times. Fifteen minutes later we sailed off; some passengers said they saw people running on the pier toward the ship as we sailed away.
7. Shipboard entertainment: Carnival "fun" means constant activity, preferably loud and noisy, and also preferably alcohol-lubricated. Carnival "fun" also included the dining room wait staff having to interrupt their duties and dance around the dining room on two nights. What was that about?
The ship has a daily schedule full of activities for everyone. Do not expect to find a good seat in the theater shortly before the night show. The ship runs its bingo games before the show, and those folks keep their seats. The casino was of good size and included a bandstand and dance floor. Duty-free liquor on board was reasonable; you order your liquor and it is delivered to your cabin the day before disembarking. Not only do the ship's photographers go around snapping you, they also set up "stations" around the ship where you can go to them.
8. Tipping: Not a problem if you sign up for the recommended amounts (for cabin and wait staff). The amounts are charged to your shipboard account. If you are on the "Your Time Dining" program, your account is charged the full amount right after your first dinner. You only need to tip separately (cash) the person who brings your room service. Your bar bill automatically adds 15 percent. An interesting wrinkle is that on the last full day you are informed that the maitre d' is not part of the tip pool. You are to be given an envelope that is specifically for him. For some reason our cabin steward did not supply us such an envelope.
9. Settling of Accounts: During your cruise, anything you purchase on board (drinks, souvenirs, tours, duty free items, photos, etc) is punched into a computer; you sign one copy of the ticket and you receive a copy. You can track your account on your cabin's TV. On departure morning you receive a statement of your account; if you have a problem (which we did not), you do not have much time to settle the matter at the guest services office.
10. Debarking: The only really painful part of the cruise. Your bags have to be out by midnight, and breakfast is early. You do not have to leave your cabin to wait to debark, but the hints are heavy to get out. We did not. Bags are placed in numbered "zones." The "self-assisted" passengers started getting off at 7:45. These are the people who can carry all their bags and did not place anything out the night before. Those who had baggage on the pier started debarking at 9:10, when we got off. We were through immigration and customs, I retrieved our car, and we were on our way by 9:40
11. Conclusion: While not an outstanding cruise, it was OK. We chose this cruise because it had different stops than the usual itineraries out of Galveston. I would take Carnival again if the itinerary was something I wanted to do. I would not take the line if I wanted a relaxing time. If anyone has questions, e-mail me at LTC519@satx.rr.com.
Fred Groth San Antonio, TX