I sailed on the Conquest on November 14th with a group of 17 friends and family, the majority of whom were first time cruisers. For a different perspective on the trip, see my cruise mate volive's review. This review is long, but hopefully you can find some useful tips in here!
NEW ORLEANS: Our group decided to arrive in New Orleans on the Friday prior to our sailing, so we could have a little time to look around. I hadn't been to N.O. since I was 7 years old, so I was very excited about this. Some members of our group flew in, but my family and I drove. Be sure and stop at the Louisiana visitor's center when you cross the Louisiana Border - they had free coffee and some great maps to help get us to our destination. One word of warning - if you are driving, plan on arriving in New Orleans in off peak drive times. We got there about 3:00 in the afternoon, and we did the 5 mph crawl from the I-55/I-10 interchange to the French Quarter.
We stayed at The Frenchman Hotel, which is on the edge of the French Quarter, and is an easy walk to EVERYTHING. It's not the Hilton, but if you are looking to get away from modern hotels and experience some old world charm, the Frenchman is a good way to go. Free parking and free breakfast was included, which is worth a lot in New Orleans!
After having dinner at Patout's Cajun Cabin on Bourbon Street (thumbs up - especially the Ponchatrain Punch!), we took the Haunted History tour of N.O. I highly recommend it! It's a walking tour, but the pace is slow and you don't cover a large amount of ground. Ask to get on Randy's tour - he's very entertaining. He is very graphic with his descriptions, though, so I wouldn't recommend the tour for young children or for people who are with uncomfortable tales of vampires, torture, murders, etc.
We all had breakfast at Cafe Du Monde on Saturday, and then my family and I walked down the Riverwalk to the Aquarium of the Americas, and spent close to 4 hours in there! Highly recommend this place - the admission is relatively inexpensive, and there is so much to see and do! We also took the St. Charles streetcar to tour the Garden District. I do NOT recommend this. It is an inexpensive way to see the district ($1.35 per person, or $0.40 with a medicare card), but the trolleys are packed full, and the ride is EXTREMELY long. The streetcar map shows the trolley making a big circle - don't believe it! We thought it would drop us back off at the same point we picked it up, but we had to get off at the end of St. Charles Avenue, wait in line for 30 minutes, and pay another fee to get on the return trolley. The whole trip took nearly 2 hours. My advice? Take a guided walking or bus tour of the Garden District - that way you get a little information on what you are seeing.
A couple in our group had their wedding anniversary on Saturday, and ate at Commander's Palace. They were very impressed with it, but if you would like to go, call and get reservations as soon as you can. My friend called to book almost 6 months in advance, and the place was almost booked up. A 9:00 seating was all they had left, but he took and it was glad to get it. The rest of us took our hotel clerk's recommendation and went to Marisparro on Decatur Street, just past the St. Louis Cathedral. He said to just "follow the smell of good food" and he was right! Excellent food, and everything on the menu was under $10.
GETTING TO THE TERMINAL/PARKING: Sunday morning we checked out of the hotel and headed down to the cruise terminal. While the rest of our group took the trolley to the port, my friend, Victor, and I fought traffic to get the luggage to the drop off point. I've never seen a more chaotic mess! If you plan on driving, don't show up until 2:00 at least. We were there at 10:00 or so, and the single line of traffic to get to the terminal was insane. People who were getting off the cruise were trying to get in to pick up passengers and luggage, people who were about to cruise were trying to drop off passengers and luggage, and we had lots of semi trucks trying to get in to supply the ship. By 2:00, there were hardly any lines at all, so it's a good time to arrive. Be care if you are considering parking in the Fulton Street garage. According to the port website, all I had to do was show my cruise documents and I could park there for the same rate as the Carnival lot. However, when I got to the garage I was turned away, and told that I had to have a voucher from my travel agent, which the port/cruise website neglected to tell me. It would be a great place to park, but call ahead to find out what you need to have before you go. I ended parking at the Hilton Self Park garage on Convention Center Boulevard, which is a very LONG walk from the port (and doesn't supply shuttle service). However, it was covered parking, and I'm assuming secure, as the N.O. Police Department has a substation within the building. Our car was fine there.
EMBARKATION: By the time I got parked and walked back to the terminal, the check in area was completely full. Fortunately, my roommate held a place in line while I parked and we didn't have to wait long to check in. Once again - wait until the afternoon if you don't want to deal with crowds. Be sure to fill out the Fun Pass prior to checking in, it makes your check in go very fast. We were sent to the yellow chairs to wait, but we weren't there that long before we were herded into another line for pictures and security checks. If you don't want your picture taken, just tell one of the people working the line and they will let you go on to the security check.
THE SHIP: The ship was absolutely gorgeous! The ship was decorated for Christmas, which made it even more spectacular. We were able to go straight to our cabin after we got on board. I had an ocean view cabin on the Riviera deck, and was very pleased with it. It was very roomy and I was just as pleased with it as I would have been with a balcony room. We were able to sit in our windowsill and watch the water going by. We dropped our carry on bags and went up to the Lido Deck to meet the rest of our group and eat lunch. The buffet was nice, but I opted to go to the hamburger grill - excellent burgers and fries! I spent a lot of my meals onboard at that grill. I loved that they had sauteed onions and mushrooms as toppings - very nice! All of our luggage had arrived by 3:00 that afternoon, so we spent a little time unpacking. There were 3 closets, lots of drawers in the vanity and under the couch, and all our suitcases fit under the beds. The bathroom was more than adequate. I had cruised before and was expecting a very small bathroom, but this one was actually very roomy! I had brought an over the door hanger for my toiletries, but we had 6 glass shelves with railings on the mirror that held everything we needed, so the hanger went back into my luggage for the rest of the trip. Be sure and bring an extension cord with multiple outlets and an alarm clock, they come in very handy (thanks to all of you reviewers who suggested this - awesome tip!).
After we unpacked, we headed to the ship's spa and gym for a tour. You can get $15 off any spa treatment that you book during the tour, and several of our group members took advantage of this. I booked a pedicure with a friend of mine for the following morning, and took a look around the gym. Their gym is a joke! They had plenty of cardio equipment, but I couldn't stay on any of it for long because of the rocking of the boat. The weight machines are about 20 years old, and I don't think they have ever seen any sort of maintenance. . There was a limited selection of free weights, and a couple of Swiss balls (no weighted medicine balls, though). DO NOT attempt to do abdominal exercises in the floor of the aerobics area - the floor is not padded in any way, and they don't have any mats to put under you. I think I could have done crunches on a slab of marble lined with spikes and it would have been more comfortable.
We were in the Monet Dining Room, late seating. Our wait staff was excellent! We tipped them extra; they were very accommodating about bringing us extra dishes and didn't mind that we played musical chairs among our three tables each night. The food could have been better. We were offered lots of choices, and I was usually able to find something to eat every night, but the quality of the food itself was exceedingly poor. My steaks had lots of fat and gristle. The filet mignon was tender, but was very gamey. Vegetables were often cold or underdone, and desserts were stale, like they had sat in the open air all afternoon. I ordered ice cream for dessert most nights, and it was excellent. My last cruise was on Premier Cruise Lines (The Big Red Boat), which I thought was a lower class cruise than Carnival, but Carnival's food was nothing compared to what I was served on Premier.
I remember reading several reviews that said you wouldn't know there were 3000 people on board. Their sailings must not have been full, because ours was and it was VERY apparent that there were 3000+ people aboard. There were long lines everywhere on board the ship!
'FUN' DAYS AT SEA: Monday Morning we woke to very heavy seas (12' - 14' swells). I spent the whole day seasick, even though I been on double doses of Bonine since we arrived onboard. I ended up missing the Captain's Dinner and Cocktail party. I went to the infirmary early that morning to get a shot to stop my seasickness, and they told me they didn't have them. I spent the entire day miserable and sick, and then went back to the infirmary that night and found out they DID have the shots! NOTE: if you are sick while you are on board and normal motion sickness medication isn't working, go to the infirmary and demand they give you a shot of Phenergen (sp?). Don't let them tell you they don't have it. Or better yet, if you know you are prone to motion sickness get your doctor to give you some Phenergen pills before you go. The shot cost me over $50, but after a day of trying to bring my insides up, I would have paid just about anything to stop throwing up. All the shows were cancelled, since the seas were so rough.
Tuesday was much better. The seas had calmed considerably, and I was finally able to eat. I spent a good part of the day sunning on the deck. Carnival offers many activities, but I didn't participate in many of them. The Vegas style shows were postponed again, since the ship was still rocking, but they had an excellent comedian after 11:00 that night.
MONTEGO BAY: We had read so many bad reviews that we didn't want to attempt shopping or going into town. We went through the terminal, and caught a JUTA taxi ($2 per person) to Sunset Beach Resort instead. Sunset Beach is an all-inclusive resort, and for $20 day, we got all our food and drinks (alcoholic and sodas), plus snorkeling gear, paddle boats, kayaks, and sunfish to play around with. They have 3 beautiful white sand beaches, and the water is very calm and shallow a long distance out. It's an excellent place for people like me who aren't strong swimmers. They had 3 freshwater pools as well, if you don't like the sand and salt. There is plenty of shade to be had, under beach umbrellas and trees, plus an enormous covered patio. We ate at the grill, which serves jerk chicken, hamburgers, hot dogs, fries, and grilled cheese sandwiches. They also had a restaurant, but I think that you couldn't go in there in your swimsuits, so we didn't try it. The entire facility was clean and the staff courteous. They kept our sign and sail cards at the front desk, so we didn't have to worry about losing them on the beach. Our taxi driver had arranged to meet us at 3:00 to take use back to the boat, and he was there right on time. We had a wonderful day!
Everyone is very serious about security in Jamaica. The boat scans you and your carry-on items when you get off the boat. You will get scanned again in the terminal (not more than 100 paces from the boat), and you go through the same procedure to get back on the boat. Don't wait until the last minute to re-board, because it takes a while to get through security.
GRAND CAYMAN: I know that the people that keep up with these cruise reviews have heard this before, but CAPTAIN MARVIN'S is the only way to go. We booked their Stingray City tour online, and we could not have been happier with the services they provided! We paid $35 per person, and we got more than our money's worth. Since there were 15 of us on the same tour, we got an entire boat to ourselves. They had water and fruit punch on board for us, and fitted each of us with snorkel gear. We were on the 8:30 a.m. tour, and they got us out to the sandbar well ahead of the other operators. I think there were only 12 people there when we got there, so we had plenty of one-on-one time with the stingrays. The water was a little rough - it's only about 2-3 foot deep, but the waves coming in could knock you down if you weren't watching. The stingrays themselves are a little intimidating at first - you look off the back of the boat, and there is a swarm of these 4 - 5 foot wide creatures that are waiting for you to get in the water with them. I think we were all a little scared at first - our boat staff had told us that the rays would rub up against you as their way of making friends, and I know that I for one screamed the first time one brushed up against me. However, they were so incredibly soft and gentle, you just fell in love with them. Captain Marvin's had 2 videographers from VIP productions on the boat, and they videotaped our entire trip for us. We each got to hold and kiss a stingray (7 years of good luck, according to local legend) and the whole thing was caught on film. We pulled out of Stingray City right as the other boats started pulling in, and headed for Coral Gardens to do some snorkeling. It was wonderful, and we were filmed doing this as well. We got to watch the video on the way back to the marina, and several of us bought a copy. It's about $48 for a VHS or $57 for the DVD, but it was well worth it. I just got my DVD last week, and it's my favorite memento from the cruise. The remaining two members of our group went on the Carnival Stingray City tour, and they said that by the time they got there, there were 1,000 people in the water. They barely got to touch the stingrays, and didn't get much time with them before they were herded on the boat and taken back. I think they might have gotten a photo op with the stingray, but that was it. They paid twice as much as we did, and got half the quality.
Some members of our group are certified divers and they spent the rest of the day on a shore diving excursion they had arranged. My family and I opted to add on the island tour through Captain Marvin's. We saw the turtle farm, the Tortuga rum factory, and got to stop at Hell to mail some postcards home. I don't think I would do the island tour again, or recommend it, simply because there really isn't much to see or do at these places. The snorkeling there is so good I wish I had done that instead. However, our driver was courteous and knowledgeable, and he even took us to view some of the devastation that Ivan had left behind. The island is recovering well, but it's still shocking to see how much damage was done. We made sure to tip everyone there well!
COZUMEL: Cozumel was probably my least favorite of the stops. We didn't have any excursions planned for the day, and ended up being at loose ends. We spent the morning shopping in Puerta Maya (the dock where the boat is), and got all of our souvenir trinkets to take home. This is the place to shop - Jamaica and Grand Cayman were pretty pricey. That afternoon, we caught a very scary cab downtown to meet the rest of our group at Pancho's Backyard for a late lunch. We arrived a little before the others and walked down the street to Carlos and Charlie's, and I wish we hadn't. The shop keepers were constantly yelling at you, grabbing your arm and trying to pull you into their shops. Most of the time, a polite "no, thank you" was enough to stop them, but a few were more persistent. Kind of like what we had heard Jamaica was like. I didn't think the shop prices were any cheaper than at Puerta Maya, so I wouldn't recommend going down there just to shop. Pancho's Backyard was excellent, but they have a location at Puerta Maya as well.
This was our second formal night (the first for me since I spent Monday night seasick). The wait staff put on a good show, and since the seas had finally calmed we finally got to see the first of the vegas shows for the week, "Formidable." I was not impressed. The dancers were good, but the material they were given to work with was terrible. Half the crowd left 15 minutes into the show, and the rest of us were snoring before the show was 30 minutes in. It must have been a "formidable" task to find a plot, because I just couldn't find one no matter how hard I tried. The other Vegas style show, "Point and Click" was done on Saturday night. It was better in that it had a plot, but if you have seen the movie "You've got Mail," then you have seen this show. I thought Carnival could have done a better job in providing original entertainment. However, Deja's magic show and the comedians, ventriloquists, and the like were very good.
DEBARKATION: Our debarkation was just as chaotic as embarkation was. All 3000 people were on the Lido Deck trying to get breakfast, and nobody left their tables afterward, so by 8:00 it was hard to find anywhere to sit down. Next time I'll know to go eat breakfast early and then camp out on the deck chairs until my luggage tag is called. They tell you to have your customs form, your sign and sail card, and your id (passport/birth certificate) in your hand as you exit the ship. You will need your sign and sail card - they scan that as you exit the boat - but I never had need of my passport. There was a lady at the cruise terminal that took our customs forms, so keep those available. It took almost an hour for us to get the car and get back to the luggage area to load up. Not much you can do to avoid the lines here. People were being told that they would have to wait an hour for a taxi, and we heard there was a riot that broke out shortly after we left. If you are flying and need a taxi, do what some of our friends did. Take your luggage and hop on the trolley (or walk a couple of blocks) down Convention Center Boulevard, and catch a taxi there. They said there were plenty of taxis available and they had no problems getting one.
HINTS AND TIPS: Arrive in the afternoon (2:00 p.m. and on) at the cruise terminal to avoid the lines.
Fill out your Funpass before you go.
Take an extension cord with multiple outlets and an alarm clock with you.
You can take a small amount of soda or bottled water onboard. I had a 6 pack of bottled Cokes and (4) 16 oz Dasani bottles in my duffel bag, and they made it through just fine. You have to either pack it in a suitcase or carry it on yourself, the baggage handlers won't let you tag it and send it through with your luggage. Make sure it's plastic bottles, and if you pack them in your luggage, put them in gallon Ziplock baggies just in case they get punctured.
Lock your baggage with plastic ties (the kind that pulls through a loop and won't come off without being cut off). That way, if security has to get in your bags they won't have to cut your lock.
Pack collapsible duffel bags in your suitcase - you WILL need them for all your souvenirs! Even better, take a backpack - it's much easier to keep up with and leaves your hands free for your passports, customs forms, etc.
Eat early or late at the Lido deck to avoid lines, and check all the buffet lines before hopping into one. Sometimes the ones near the pool only have a few people in them.
Book your shore excursions yourself before you go and save yourself some money, but read the reviews and book with reputable companies (like Captain Marvin's) that you know other cruisers have not had problems with. Carnival usually doubles the price of the excursions that they offer, so check out what's available from local operators before you go.
Take lots of $1 bills - you will constantly be tipping someone.
If you are prone to motion sickness, start taking medication before you even get on the boat. Be sure and book a cabin in the lowest part of the ship, and as close to the center as you can get.
if you have questions about this review or the Conquest, you can email me at email@example.com. Please put "Carnival Conquest" in the Subject line. I hope this review is helpful to you!