My wife and I arrived in New Orleans a day early on 16 Oct 2004 so we could do some sightseeing and shopping before our day of departure. We stayed at the Mansion St. Charles on St. Charles Ave which has the rustic streetcars running just in front of the hotel. We purchased the Bon Voyage package deal for $99 for 1 night. The hotel then took us to the ship the next day in a limousine and allowed us to park our vehicle for just $5 a day versus $12 a day at the pier. Great deal!!
During our stay in New Orleans we attended the New Orleans School of Cooking for a 3 hour session of learning to cook and then eating like a King. The menu was Gumbo, Jambalaya, Bread Pudding and Pralines. Highly recommended! My wife and I then ventured inside Harrah's casino and got in some practice before the ship the next day. Later in the afternoon we went shopping at the Flea Market off Decatur Street and found some great deals just before they closed at 6:00 pm. I then surprised my wife with a Horse-drawn carriage ride through the French Quarter. It was very romantic and at just $10 per person it was another great deal as the evening sun set. We then went for a long ride on the street cars through the Garden District down and back on St. Charles Ave. The homes are beautiful and a definite must see. We had purchased the all day pass from the driver for only $5 per person so we rode everywhere and did not have to worry about parking the car.
Embarkation day- all the rumors that I had read about from other passengers was not true. After waiting in line for about 15 mins, we received our sign and sail cards and then was lead to the famous yellow chairs. We sat there for only 15-20 mins, then we were lead back into this other room where we stood in line to have our picture taken for a souvenir and then we went thru security and then up the gangway up to the ship. Total time was about 1 hr. Once on the ship we went up to the Lido deck and ate lunch. At 1:30 our room was ready and our luggage arrived about 15 min later. We were lucky to receive an upgrade from 8a to 8d. We were on the Lido deck in room 9264 on the Port side of the ship. I had arranged to surprise my wife again with decorations in our room for her birthday, and our Travel Agent had sent us some wine to help us celebrate our 21st wedding anniversary. The agent worked very hard for us in planning our cruise and even loaned us some videos to see the ports of call ahead of time. This was my wife's and I first cruise so this made it even easier to make the arrangements. We had been in our cabin only a short time when our cabin steward arrived. His name was Alexis, and he turned our to be a great help the whole cruise. We never had to worry about our room as it was always clean and restocked several times a day.
The only negatives that we experienced the whole cruise were these items: The Tahiti casino was a huge disappointment. The machines were the coldest I have ever seen in my life. We lost over $1000 alone playing. It seems as if they are only there to suck up your money and not provide any entertainment value. Not recommended at all. The other disappointment is their fitness gym instructors are only interested in trying to sell you these $272 bottle of vitamins, and if you say no then they get very defensive and treat you like dirt. The Spa personnel on the other hand were very friendly and helpful and did not try to force their products down your throat.
Later that evening we went to the Monet Dining room at the aft of the ship where we met the most incredible pair of dining service staff. Our waiters were Ioan (pronounced John) and Florentina who were both from Romania. They were very professional and always made us feel special. Every evening was perfect with them waiting hand and foot on you at your every whim. One hint to all of you when you hear announced "Showtime" this is not a secret code for you to hurry up and eat to get out so they can prepare for the next group, but it really is a "Showtime" where the waiters get up on table like stands and dance to different tunes every night and everyone joins in on the fun. A truly remarkable sight of entertainment. Fun, Fun, Fun
Monday and Tuesday- both of these days were sea days and there was always something going on. The Carnival Caper newspaper keeps you informed of all the activities for the whole day. The Las Vegas type shows are incredible, and every night there is a different show. Don't worry if you get late dinner seating as there are two shows a night so no one will miss the show.
Wednesday- we arrived in Jamaica early that morning about 7:00 am and the wife and I just happened to be the first ones off the ship. I had already booked a shore excursion with Barrett Adventures owned by Carolyn Barrett. This was the smartest thing I could have done. As it turned out that we were the only customers for this day as Hurricane Ivan had slowed business for a while, so we had a private tour the whole day. Let me make this perfectly clear folks, you cannot go wrong booking your tours though Carolyn. She was very prompt inside the terminal waiting on us when we debarked. We then were driven to Mayfield Falls about 20 miles away in the real Jamaica countryside. This was an amazing experience also, with the sights and sounds of the local people and we were never hassled for anything. At Mayfield Falls we were one of the 1st to arrive so we had the river to ourselves. Our private guide Gary was excellent and very knowledgeable of the river and he knew where every rock was so you could step with confidence when he said "step here". With advance notice Carolyn can also arrange for photos to be taken so you do not have to worry about your camera getting wet. We had taken our movie camera so Gary had a waterproof bag and carried it for us, then he would take it out when we wanted to take home movies. Gary was also an expert at operating the camera so my wife and I had a wonderful and safe time. Highly recommended. One word of advice, get Carolyn to take the pictures as she will do it a lot cheaper. We had a private photographer from the falls follow us and take digital photos of us and then we viewed the pictures on the computer afterwards. This is very expensive and they wanted $100 for only 51 pictures on a CD disk. My wife did an excellent job in haggling the price down to just $60. Carolyn later told me she has a 5 megapixel camera and would have done it for about $20 to $25. A much better deal. But, all things considered we had a excellent time.
After the falls we had Carolyn take us the back way home to Montego Bay and we went through the sugar plantations and orange field groves. On the way back we stopped along side of the road and Carolyn bought us some fresh coconuts and we drank the water from them to cool down. We then went to have some real Jerk chicken from Jamaica. She then took us for a drive through the tourist area so we could see where most of our ship passengers were being taken for a ride in the high prices. We then went to a local shopping area to buy some Jamaican rum and coffee. We made a steal for only $8 a bottle for the rum and only $12 a pound for Jamaica Blue coffee which normally sells for at 50-70 dollars a pound in New York. T-shirts and other souvenirs were also haggled down by my wife to a great deal. So get out there and haggle for the best deals around. We were never approached by the locals selling drugs and Carolyn made sure of that being she is a local there for over 20 years seeing that her husband Errol is Jamaican. We then went to a local market and purchased Tortula Rum cakes way below the regular price on the ship. ($19 versus $26). Wonderful day! Thanks Carolyn at Barrett Adventures
Thursday- another sea day because Grand Cayman was closed due to Hurricane Ivan. They expect to be open in November sometime. My wife and I came upon one of the best kept secrets on a cruise. We attended the Art Auction and purchased some investment art at some very good prices, plus it was a lot of fun, and they had free champagne. Everywhere else you pay for the alcohol. I probably drank at least 15-20 glasses WOW! No pain at all this day.
Friday- again we arrived in Cozumel, Mexico, very early in the morning about 6:00 am. Both Jamaica and Cozumel was extended in port due to us missing Grand Cayman. This time my wife and I took our time to get off the ship. We had booked the Royal Swim with the Dolphin tour and it was scheduled at 2:00 pm. We departed the ship and went through the shopping area just off the pier. Lots of places to shop but, be wary as these are the stores where Carnival takes in a profit. We took a taxi down to the park where the Dolphins were at. When we arrived I asked if we could swim early at the 10:00 am show and they took us in with no problems. Remember the park fee is $12 per person and they have a lot to do at their beaches. I highly recommend this event as the Royal Swim with the Dolphins was truly incredible. The Dolphins are very gentle and powerful to get me out of the water as I weigh about 270 lbs. I was floating across the water like Superman, no problem. We spent approximately 1 hour in the water interacting with 2 Dolphins and their trainer who kept busy and learning. They had Video and still picture photos of us and the showed you a personalized video of your group, we only had 7 people in ours. My wife does not swim, but everyone wears a life jacket and it is incredible what these Dolphins can do. Had a wonderful time and cannot wait to go back. The video was $49, but the still pictures were very expensive, so we did not buy them. Recommend you have someone out there take pictures of you with your own camera. Several people were there just watching as we swam with the Dolphins. We then had several hours to go downtown shopping and got my wife to do more haggling and again got some great deals. Make sure you get back to the ship early, when they say departure time is 6:00 pm, they mean it as we did leave a couple in Jamaica and they had just been married. What a way to start your life -- stranded in Jamaica. Not sure if they ever did catch up to the ship in Cozumel? At 6:00 pm the ship started to depart and we saw several people running so they would not be left!! Remember this fact!
Saturday- another sea day and this is when you start to realize that this wonderful vacation is almost over. Everybody starts to get the blues as you are traveling back to New Orleans.
For our 1st cruise this was very enjoyable and would highly recommend sailing on the Carnival Conquest. I was in the Navy for 20 years and traveled all over the world, but nothing can compete with this. My wife and I really enjoyed the balcony cabin, and will probably never get anything less. I am now looking forward to our next cruise, which will probably be Alaska or try the Eastern or Southern part of the Caribbean.
Sunday debarkation- again this was not as bad as a lot of people had described, it went very smoothly as you just wait until they call your color of luggage tags and then you debark and go through customs. We had no problems and were out of the terminal in about 15 mins. Hint: We had made puffballs out of yarn with orange and yellow yarn which made our luggage stand out very well so I had no problem finding our bags mixed with all the others, Plus our complete set of luggage was Red.
Great trip and I highly recommend the Carnival Conquest to anyone and fell free to contact me for any further information by e-mail.