My wife and I have been talking about taking our first cruise for the past 5 years. After extensive research, we finally selected Carnival, primarily because of the reviews posted on this forum. Living in a very cold climate during the winter (Northern New Mexico), we wanted to take a vacation in a warm climate. We finally selected the Carnival 7 day Eastern Caribbean cruise aboard the Conquest.
We decided to arrive in Galveston the day before we were scheduled to sail because of the possibility of delayed flights during this time of year. We flew into Houston Hobby airport and took a limo (cheaper than a cab) to Galveston. The driver was very friendly and was more like a tour guide telling us about the history of Galveston. He showed us where the port was from our hotel and explained how to get there the next morning. We spent a relaxing afternoon and evening at a hotel along the Galveston seawall.
The next morning, after a short cab ride, we arrived at the Carnival Conquest. The embarkation process was very efficient and quick. Since we arrived at the port early, we were the first people in line to go through the process of staffing checking our paperwork, IDs and issuing our sign and sail cards. I was amazed at how efficient and friendly the Carnival staff were in getting us through this process.
Once on board, we were told that we could not go to our rooms until after 1400 hours, however, we could eat lunch. Contrary to some of the reviews I have read about Carnival, the food was plentiful, of very high quality and varied depending upon your preference. One thing I learned about our 7 days on this ship, there is no lack of food. I am not going to reiterate what everyone else has already said about dining on this ship except that the food was excellent, fresh, diverse, and well displayed in a professional manner. It is obvious that Carnival has put a lot of effort in ensuring that their customers are well fed and satisfied when it comes to eating.
We spent the next couple of hours exploring the ship. Being new to this environment, we were amazed at the size of the ship. Kudos to Carnival for providing small foldout deck plans (that fit in your wallet or shirt pocket) upon embarkation that show where everything is located. The handout even lists the most frequently asked questions on the back.
As promised, we were allowed to go to our room around 1400 hours and found our luggage inside as promised curbside. We met one of our room stewards who was very friendly, informative and answered every question we had. He explained how the television worked, the daily newsletter called the "FUNTIMES" (which provides the next day's activities, hours of operation for the food outlets, restaurants, pools, special events, etc.) and a quick review of how to get around the ship. Speaking of the FUNTIMES, I especially liked the "Today's Top Ten" column. Passengers are able to plan their next day's activities in advance in the comfort of their stateroom using this guide.
Contrary to some reviews I have read, the staff and crew on the Conquest (at least on our trip) were the most friendly and helpful people you could ever hope to come across. We never (and I repeat, never) met a rude or unfriendly staff member on this cruise. EVERYONE was gracious and professionally represented the cruise line. It is very obvious that Carnival is very selective in who they hire to work for them. First impressions are important and Carnival definitely exceeds in this area.
It is true that drinks and photo opportunities are constantly being offered to you, however, they are not pushy as some reviewers have alluded. They are only offering the drinks and photos to you as a service. You politely say "no" and that is that. We had our photos taken numerous times but only ended up purchasing a couple of photos from one of the formal nights. The photographers are professionals and do a great job. Going back to the beverage servers, they are also a tremendous source of information. I just do not understand how anyone could be annoyed at someone offering you a beverage.
We did not participate in that many activities and really enjoyed just being out on the deck and enjoying the sunshine and views. My favorite activity was to sit up on the Sky Deck (near the bow of the ship) and read my favorite book or just watch us sailing over the ocean. It does not get any better than this. We especially enjoyed the "adults only" hot tubs where we met other couples and had good conversation. The Conquest even has a small 9 hole miniature golf course on the deck above the jogging track. We had a lot of fun with this too. Speaking of the jogging track, I made sure I ran 2 miles every day (to help offset the increased caloric intake on this cruise). Ten (10) laps is roughly one (1) mile. It was interesting running into the wind when the ship was sailing at 21 kts, not to mention whatever the headwind component was. It was a challenge to run into the wind on each lap but very easy on the downwind side!
We went to a couple of the Broadway quality shows and really enjoyed them, however, they were a little too loud almost requiring the use of earplugs. The adult comedy shows were funny but really too "adult" for my tastes. We actually enjoyed more just sitting on our private balcony at night talking to each other and listening to the ship cruising through the ocean. Sounds corny but I highly recommend this. The private balcony is really worth the extra expense (by the way, I believe they cleaned it twice during our week long cruise).
Coffee, tea, hot chocolate, lemonade are available 24/7 at no extra expense. We did not use room service but I hear it was very good when talking to other people who used this service.
We stopped at three (3) ports: Nassau, Freeport and Key West. The only problem with cruising is that your time at each port of call is limited. We took a Carnival sponsored tour at each port and found them to be fairly good. We especially enjoyed the Garden of the Groves and City Tour at Freeport. We had an outstanding tour guide and an equally outstanding tour guide at the Garden of the Groves. I highly recommend this tour. The Andrasta Gardens and City Tour in Nassau was OK. We actually enjoyed more just walking around Nassau after we got back from the tour. At Key West we signed up for the Hemingway House and History Tour. Even though the tour guide was very knowledgeable and friendly, we were disappointed with the tour because it was essentially just a lot of walking to the Hemingway House where we were turned over to a docent who gave us a very brief tour of the house and grounds. During the walk back, we peeled off and went off exploring the town on our own.
Another cleaver thing that Carnival does is showing a movie at night outside at their Seaside Theatre. Arrive early, get some popcorn, get a good seat and enjoy the show!(bring a sweater or jacket in the winter time since it gets cool at night, even in the Caribbean). A+ to Carnival for providing this activity.
I personally enjoyed the live Caribbean music played during the day in the main pool area. A variety of musical groups played throughout the ship and I found all of them to be very good, however, I really liked the Caribbean band (I hope that I am classifying this music correctly).
Our final sign and sail bill was accurate and we did not see any discrepencies. We really liked the the policy of adding the gratuities to the bill and not have to use cash to tip during the cruise. I personally thought that the the daily gratuities Carnival charges is too small and should be increased by 50%. Just my opinion but for the outstanding service we received this would have been more reasonable. Of course, if the customer does not agree that they received good service they can always reduce or completely remove this charge.
Debarkation was not difficult. We utilized the early self-assist option and were off the ship quickly. Carnival is just as efficient at getting you off the ship as they are at getting you on the ship. Unfortunately, we arrived back in a driving rainstorm and cold temperatures. Our trip back to Houston Hobby and the flight back to New Mexico was uneventful. For the next couple of days after our return we still felt like we were on the ship (rolling motion)...has this happened to others as well?
In summary, we had a GREAT vacation!! Carnival exceeded our expectations and we have already placed a deposit on our next Carnival cruise which will be in 2012 (15 day cruise from San Diego to Hawaii and back). I wish I could remember the names of our room stewards and restaurant servers. You could not get any better service then we got from these outstanding individuals. They were exceptional and are the primary reason why we decided to book another cruise with Carnival. I hope that our cruise next year is just as relaxing and fun as this one was.
Overall rating of this cruise: 10 out of 10 A+
Overall rating of Carnival Cruise Lines: 10 out of 10 A+