I read A LOT of reviews on Cruise Critic about different ships, and I think a large part of the discrepancies that I see are due to a wide array of expectations, and ages of cruisers. So here is the background on our party and expectations.
I'm 35, my DW is 30, and we traveled with 2 other couples roughly the same ages. We have a mixed set of interests but we love to be around people, we enjoy drinking, and we are all excited for the cruise activities. We did relax, but we are there to play first. If you are concerned about the luxury of the ship, or are easily bothered by kids or things like dining room flip flops, this opinion of the cruise probably won't line up as well with yours. If you book Carnival because it's the "Fun Ship", then you and I are probably like minded. On with the show!
We are cruisers that live in land locked Salt Lake City, so we have been trying different ports with the last few cruises to see what works best for us economically. This cruise out of Galveston marks our first Texas cruise. We flew into Hobby aboard Southwest Airlines. The flights were fast and arrived 30 minutes ahead of schedule. The staff on Southwest is great, they are funny and light hearted, and make the experience of flying fun. They are my preferred airline going anywhere.
Transportation to the pier is a little tricky in Houston because it's so much farther away. We opted to use Transgate Limo service and reserved a town car service with a driver. I felt like royalty seeing a sign with my name on it and my wife and I were assisted to the car. The cost was $90 for the one way trip. Seeing as we were there a day early, and Carnivals transfer cost is $30pp ($60), we wanted to spring a little extra and have a very comfortable ride in. It was fantastic and we highly recommend them.
We stayed at the Harbor House which is next day to the Galveston cruise terminal. The Harbor House is highly recommended on the gulf port boards. The room was spacious; it had hardwood floors, and was generally nice. We spoke to the desk clerk who gave us coupons at local restaurants and also tipped us off to a local wine tasting festival.
We enjoyed walking around the harbor area. We saw jellyfish all over the water and enjoyed the live music of the festival. For dinner we ate at nearby Willy G's. With the coupon we were given for a free appetizer, we had the shrimp cabo. It is giant shrimps, filled with cheese, wrapped in bacon....WOW!
We met many Texans and I have to say, of the ports we have sailed from the locals were certainly the friendliest in Texas. Very warm and personable people!
The following morning prior to embarkation we enjoyed a dolphin tour that we found at the front of the hotel. We did indeed see dolphins in the harbor and took a small tour boat around for 45 min. At $10 per person, this was a steal! We had a great time!
We walked over to the terminal from our hotel and from our past experience, we made sure we had very few necessities and sent all our bags with the porters. This made things MUCH more comfortable while we waited for our room to be ready. Embarkation was smooth and we enjoyed the little signs that Carnival places to get you excited such as "Just think, the next line you will be in will be for the waterslide". They kept us feeling light hearted as we moved toward the ship. The whole process seemed to be around 30 minutes from porter to ship.
The lido deck buffet was busy, but not unbearable. Knowing that there are actually 4 total places to access the buffet from, as well as side places like the grill and pizza, gave us a much shorter wait than people who stood in the first line they saw.
We settled into our room and met our steward, Katarina. We didn't know at the time, but this would be the most interaction we would have with her the whole trip. One of the few downsides.
The muster drill was horrible as always. Long waits, stuffy quarters, and impatient people....you just grin and bear it because the real party begins as soon as the drill ends!
DAY 1 - GALVESTON
We were on deck with fancy drinks in hand for the sail away party. It was windy but pleasant. It felt surreal to finally be on our cruise! We watched the Galveston skyline disappear in the distance and had a strange event where we must have played chicken with a barge. We passed them as we left the harbor and they were coming in and we seemed to only be maybe 100 ft apart! It was very strange.
We changed for dinner and strolled the promenade. The call of "Free liquor tasting" caught our ears and we went down for some samples. We enjoyed some very tasty liquor and bought some to take home.
Dinner was great and our wait staff was great. They sang "Hey Baby" that night to us and it was fantastic! I had the lasagna and it was very meaty and delicious!
After dinner, we took in the "Welcome Aboard Show" and saw cruise director Paul up to his crowd involved stage antics. He serenaded a wonderful lady named Betty who played along great. It was a fun time and a nice end to our first day.
DAY 2 - SEA DAY
Today I took in my usual round of activities like trivia, and guess that song competitions. I also made the first of a few Carnival Casino donations. For the first time I took in the "Super Duper Trivia" which is a multi day trivia team competition. That gets a little competitive and heated so be warned!
My wife spent much of the day relaxing and laying out. Allow me to offer this fantastic tip for those who are a little sensitive to the sun. Deck 9/10/11 is where everyone lays out. It's on the top of the ship and its right in the direct path of the sun. You get fried, it's noisy, and everyone is up there. However, if you access the deck on deck 3 out the sides, there is a small section of deck with a few lounge chairs that hardly anyone uses. If you pick the side opposite the sun you have a great shady secluded chair with nothing but rushing ocean to lull you to sleep. It's my favorite spot to go!
We received our Bon Voyage bottle of alcohol today and enjoyed.
We met up with some friends and went down to the "Guess the 80s song" and "Bean Bag Competitions" and had a great time. However, I must digress on one small point...
The point of a bean bag competition is to have fun. It should be a level playing field for everyone. If you take this seriously enough that you have developed a "technique" to throwing the beanbag, and you clutch your head when you miss, or intensely high five your "bro" as he lands a red piece of cloth full of beans on a wooden board to help him get "psyched"...you already have missed the point. The same people lunged to the front of the lines on each competition and were taking this WAY too seriously. Its bean bags guys...c'mon. Don't be "Bean-Bag Guy"...just be "Likes to Have Fun Guy" like the rest of us.
Anyways...back on point. Dinner was great as usual. This was the first formal night and we stopped for several photo ops. The staff sang "That's Amore" and the whole dining room sang along. We did late dining and it worked out perfect for us.
After dinner, we went to the Punchliner and grabbed a booth for the comedy show. The first comic was Lewis Nixon, he was pretty funny, but not spectacular. Scotty K was also decent, but not great. The show was enjoyable but hardly memorable.
DAY 3 - SEA DAY
More of the same today. Laying out, trivia contests, casino, etc. The night before we came to our room and found some invitations to the past guest celebration. We attended and found a cool video on how far Carnival has come and how they are proud of their cruising for the everyday man culture. We enjoyed LOTS of free drinks and finger foods! It was a great time!
I saw my room steward for the 2nd time of the cruise and she was on the cell phone in the hall having a heated argument with someone in Russian. My wife still had never seen her once.
By now, a bar waiter had learned my name and was always hitting me up to buy drinks. It was sort of funny..I've never had a bar waiter grab my name or favorite drinks before. I'm not sure if this is a reflection of his level of service, or my sponsorship of the Carnival alcohol program.
Dinner was again fantastic, and we took an evening stroll along the deck before the deck party. We made a small pact with our friends that we were going to all enjoy a lot of alcohol prior to the party...and we did. I don't have a very large comfort zone when it comes to dancing, but I clearly was the most awkward looking white guy flailing around at that party. Hey! I tried! It made my wife happy and that's what counts right? Plus..what happens on the ship...
DAY 4 - MONTEGO BAY, JAMAICA
I went to bed anxious to get back on land for a little while. I woke up after my "brilliant" drinking plan, to realize how much I really just wanted to sleep away this hangover. But we had zip-lining to do so I troopered up and started rehydrating.
We enjoyed the dining room breakfast and it was perfect for this morning. We continued this tradition through most of the cruise.
Now, I have read A LOT about Jamaica and the culture and the crime problems. I was on Defcon 4 from the second we got off the ship. We booked a tour through Jamaica Zip Line Adventure Tours and met our driver Dalton. We piled in a tight bus and had to fold down extra seats to get everyone in.
Dalton entertained us with funny things that Jamaicans have renamed, (speed bump = sleeping policeman) and told us about Jamaica. He was charming and a genuinely good guy. Unfortunately, a fellow passenger named Chuck helped personify the stereotype of ignorant American.
Chuck asked Dalton all manner of questions such as "How poor is your country" and illuminating observations such as "You are very well spoken for a Jamaican!". His ignorance peaked after his poverty talk that Dalton patiently entertained by pointing to a very brown and muddy river and turning to the rest of the bus to say "Look! They at least have running water! Haha!" It was embarrassing to be on the bus with that guy.
As we hit the zip line course, we were split into smaller groups and it was much better. Our safety briefing guide named "Diablo" was hilarious and personable. All of the Jamaican men were very flirtatious with the women and quick to ask the guys not to punch them for making comments about them being beautiful. It was funny! The course was spectacular with great views of the Jamaican jungle. Signs were posted everywhere with the English translations to Patois sayings. One particular stuck with me "Lubba Lubba", a woman who talks too much. My wife got a fair share of teasing for that!
The ride to the lines and down was on a Pinzgauer which is a military troop transport vehicle. It was a harrowing and bumpy ride that I enjoyed everyone second of. Not everyone felt the same way as we made the white knuckle ride, but I thought it was great!
We returned and had a few hours to kill so we took a taxi to Margaritaville. We enjoyed some nachos and great drinks, and then took a trip down the waterslide. It was a very fun place to hang out and pretty reasonably priced.
Our cab ride back was hosted by "Mr. Cool". He told us a lot about Jamaica and the people and the politics. It was very interesting! We got out, he warmly said goodbye and we headed for the boat. Along the way we met the "Jamaican Farewell Ambassador" who told my wife over and over how pretty she is. It was cheesy and obvious, but we tipped him anyway. He escorted us to the ship with his arms around us as we watched the marching band play.
All in all, for all my worry, the Jamaicans were some of the friendliest and warmest people I've ever met! I was very endeared and hope to visit the island again one day.
We returned to the ship and took in the Lady Hellevi magic show. We sat on the balcony which gave away a lot of the tricks, but still, there was a ton of great tricks and her acrobatics and showmanship were great! It was an entertaining show for sure!
Dinner was again fantastic and we took in the piano bar. The piano bar was a fantastic venue! James was awesome on the piano and played well to the crowd. The bar regularly sang along (loudly) and raised their drinks. A group of Norwegians spent a great deal of time there and were great! One of the Norwegians would take over when James needed a break and he was excellent on the piano as well.
DAY 5 - GRAND CAYMAN
This was an early to rise port, and we caught our tender as fast as we could to make our excursion. We booked a catamaran tour to Stingray City with stingraysailing.com as recommended on the boards. They were outstanding! We met Chip and he took us to the Far Tortuga where we made a small nest on the trampoline up front and had the most relaxing trip out to the sandbar.
Once there, we jumped in to swim with the stingrays and it was an experience to say the least! Stingrays as big as my bed would swim around our legs, and flutter up onto your chest, and were very friendly. My wife got a small stingray "kiss" (hickey) on her hand from feeding them. The waves were rough and at one point my wife was knocked off her feet and landed squarely on a stingray. Much to our surprise, he just fluttered away and returned gently.
The stingrays were very docile and Chip said they get stepped on daily and don't really react. It was an amazing adventure! The snorkeling was somewhat lackluster but the ocean felt wonderful to swim in. They offered fruit and water for the journey back and a shuttle ride into town.
I didn't get as attached to Grand Cayman as our other stops because it was so commercialized. I like the little arts and crafts and the culture. The pier area, while clean and nice, felt like one big outdoor mall to me.
That night was our second formal night and afterward we returned to the Punchliner to see the new comedians they brought on board for the 2nd half of the cruise.
Dean Gaines went on first and was absolutely fantastic. I didn't think he could be topped since he had my stomach hurting already. Oh how I was wrong....Mutzie, the second comedian, just killed it!
He was very interactive with the audience and his material was absolutely hysterical. Don't miss his show if you go!
DAY 6 - COZUMEL
Ahh Cozumel...the day I've been looking forward to all cruise! I woke up early and watched the ship come in to port.
We got off the ship and headed for the meeting point for our excursion. We booked the Cozumel Bar Hop at www.cozumelbarhop.com which was the absolute highlight of the trip. The tour takes you to the east side of the island where it is primitive. No electricity, running water, or anything. There are several small bars that are leased by the Mexican government to set up and they bring everything in daily. Folks, this is as close to heaven as you can get!
Greg our guide, was sensational! We hit numerous bars and had great drinks and saw some of the most pristine beaches with beautiful white sand I've ever laid eyes on. It was like traveling from one Corona commercial to another. It was quiet, it wasn't crowded, and it was beautiful! At a couple of the stops, they offer massages. This sounds perfect...but speaking from experience here...you aren't getting a licensed massage therapist in the remote Mexican shore. She put the pain down on my back and it's still sore nearly a week later. Leave the massages to the spa on the ship. Three more tips if you do this trip...1.) Trust me...try the "Coco-Loco" 2.) Ask to see the "other menu" at Coconuts, and 3.) Try the Coconut Shrimp at Rastas!
Meanwhile, back on the Conquest...
I returned with a pleasant buzz and pleasantly buzzed away my money at the Casino. The dealers were very personable and fun to talk to. I also went back to the piano bar...James is too good to miss!
DAY 7 - SEA DAY
No! The trip is almost over! Back to the trivia routine where we finished off Super Duper Trivia with a win! We got a nice bottle of champagne for it! We visited the Future Cruise Desk numerous times trying to get another cruise lined up on the horizon!
I visited with a lady who told me this is her 128th cruise! Holy cow! She said she had been on Conquest a number of times and to do myself a favor and not miss the Legends show. She was right.
After our final dinner where our waiters sang us off with a cheerful departure song, we gave them handshakes and hugs as we set off for the show. The Legends show takes regular passengers who auditioned earlier in the week and made them up into popular entertainers such as James Brown, Elvis, Elton John, etc. All of the performers were fantastic, but the gal who dressed up as Aretha Franklin was absolutely amazing! She brought the house down! It was a ton of fun!
We packed our bags and opted for "Relaxed Disembarkation" and set them out for pickup.
We woke the last morning and the ship was heading into Galveston. We went to breakfast in the main dining room and it was cloudy and raining. A far cry from our sunny 80 degree weather. As the land entered our rainy window, the server came by and asked how we were. I told him that we were sad. He gave me a hug and said "Don't worry buddy, we'll be here when you come back!". So cool. I love Carnival staff!
We were called to get off the ship and walked into a madhouse. Bags everywhere, lines that were miles long. We were concerned we would miss our transfer! We finally found our stuff and went to the back of the line. There had to be around 1000 people already in front of us waiting.
A lady walked along the line asking for US Citizens WITH passports. I showed her ours, and bam...right to a different line with maybe 30 people ahead of me. It was the best news! If you have passports, have them for disembarkation! It will save you a ton of time!
We made our way to our Carnival transfer to the airport. A comfortable bus with a funny driver and we were off to Hobby.
This was an outstanding cruise! Carnival really knows how to make you feel like the king of the ship, show you a great time, and make your vacation special! I'm really glad we booked our excursions through 3rd parties as we seem to have had a better experience than others we cruised with. Towel animals are wonderful and fun. All of the staff (except our steward) was genuinely great to be with. For anyone reading this that is about to head out for their Conquest cruise, take a deep breath and let the fun happen! It was one of the best weeks of my life! We can't wait for our next cruise!!!
If you have any questions, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org