This was our fourth cruise and our second with Carnival. Our other cruises were on Royal Caribbean's Brilliance of the Seas in the Caribbean and the Panama Canal, the Carnival Ecstasy out of Galveston to Mexico, and the Norwegian Pearl in Alaska.
This was a 7-night cruise that stopped in Nassau, Bahamas; Freeport, Grand Bahama Island; and Key West.
We parked at the Galveston Park N Cruise for $60 for the entire week. Even though they do not provide a shuttle, we chose this parking garage because it was the only indoor parking you can get close by. It is sunny and over 100F every day here in Texas, so we wanted our car to be out of the elements while we were gone. My husband dropped us off with our luggage at the terminal and then he walked 2 blocks over to the terminal after he parked the car. Easy peasy! Boarding itself went smoothly. We arrived a little before 1pm and were on the ship in about 30-40 minutes.
The people at the Purser's Desk were wonderful to work with. We had 6 cabins and we had to do a bunch of room swapping with 20 people and Wilma was patient, friendly, and completed the entire process with a smile on her face.
This ship is all about art masterpieces. There is artwork everywhere and every room is named for a great artist. All the artwork can look a little too busy, but we got over that quickly.
As usual, there aren't enough maps around so you feel like you have to carry the deck plans with you at all times. And only certain elevators go up to certain upper decks so if you get on the wrong one, you have to go back to a lower level to walk across to the correct elevators (unless you can walk through some of the areas, like the Fun Shops). This was a pain for me because I can't remember anything for the life of me. My husband had no problem with it because he is really good with directions and stuff like that. So I guess it just depends on your sense of direction.
I didn't visit the library/game room, but when I passed by I noticed that it is pretty tiny. You might want to pack your own books and games.
I didn't spend any time in the pools because they were really tiny and they didn't look appealing to me. I think the pools are mainly for hanging out with a drink in your hand...not for swimming around. My husband took the kids into all 3 pools and the kids enjoyed them. I'm not sure what the rules were for the pools or whirlpools, but I know that I saw kids in every single one of them at all times. The water slide is really slow. My husband went down and felt like the ride was anti-climactic because he waited for a bit and the ride ended up being unfulfilling.
Our cabin was located on the Riviera Deck (deck 1) in the middle of the ship and had an ocean view. We had a connecting room with my parents and both of our rooms were a good size and we never felt cramped with all of my kids. My husband was disappointed that the Conquest still uses CRT TVs in the rooms and all around the ship. There was lots of closet space and the bathroom had tons of shelves. You definitely don't need an over-the-door organizer, but you definitely DO need a power strip.
I was a little worried about our room steward in the beginning because when we first walked into the room, there were still pretzel crumbs from the previous cruise on our cabin floor. But then we met our room steward, Suphot, and all was forgiven. He is one of the nicest employees we've ever met on a cruise. He was accommodating for my kids, timely, and always helpful. If he saw me in the hallway carrying a dirty diaper, he would just take it from my hand and throw it away for me. He never made me feel bad about the stinky diapers! One evening, right after turndown service, my baby peed on the bed and Sup came right in and changed the sheets again with a smile on his face. I felt terrible, but he kept reassuring me that accidents happen. He really made our stay so wonderful.
Breakfast: Most mornings we went to the Monet Dining Room to eat because it was less chaotic. The buffet lines always seemed long and the atmosphere seemed chaotic. I mean, you still had to wait for your food in the Monet (probably just as long as at the buffet), but at least I wasn't standing in line....instead I was quietly sipping my coffee while seated with my kids. Even on excursion days we opted for the Monet. I would just order a little extra to put into Ziploc bags to take ashore. We really enjoyed the service and the food in the Monet.
Lunch: We also went to the Monet for lunch just to avoid the craziness at the buffet, but most of the time we went to the buffet area. Fish 'N Chips has really great fried fish, the pizza place is good, and Paul's Deli is absolutely yummy.
Dinner: We had the Any Time Dining option in the lower level of the Renoir Dining Room. Since we had a big group, we always went earlier in the evening to get tables near one another. The service was really slow and inconsistent. We usually took up 3 tables and we never finished our meals at the same time...not even close. The food itself was very good, especially the pork spare ribs. I did not expect meat to fall off the bone like that on the Carnival Conquest! But even though the food was good, it wasn't worth it for us to spend over 2 hours dining there every night. It's just too long with 3 little kids.
The buffet, for either lunch or dinner, was just ok. I felt like the food options were really lacking....even the fruit choices were always the same, every single day (either melons or bananas or not-so-good citrus). I missed having berries and grapes amongst other things! The food was not impressive and it was a struggle to eat good food because if we didn't go to our dining room and eat for over 2 hours, then our other option was the buffet....unless we wanted to pay to eat at The Point Steakhouse (which we didn't end up going to).
Room service was fine. We only ordered it once for breakfast on our first port day.
We didn't go to many shows at all because of the kids. By the time the day was through, we were just too tired to venture out most nights. Here are a few things we did see though—
Family Friendly Punchliner Show with Kim Harrison: Unfortunately, she wasn't very funny at all. She's relatively overweight so most of her mediocre jokes were about her weight. Honestly, I can only take so many fat jokes.
Fun Farewell: This was just live music with free drinks. We went mainly to have free drinks. The live music was just ok.
Here are the things my family said about other shows—
Magic with Raj: Raj is very unprofessional. There was a kid in the back of the room who was heckling Raj (saying that magic isn't real) and it really unnerved Raj...to the point where he only performed for 15 minutes! He had a bunch of other props with him that he never used. He literally ran off of the stage after only 15 minutes.
Magic & Illusion with Lady Hellevi: This was pretty good, not great. I say "not great" because for the grand finale, my family could see the curtains moving and could see the magician leaving the stage to "re-appear" at the back of the audience.
Carnival Legends: My family really enjoyed this one because they were impressed with the impersonators. They said that the ones performed by the crew members were better than the guest performers, but there were a few pleasant surprises from the guest performers as well. Overall, they were surprised how much they liked this show.
We thought there were plenty of activities onboard. We participated in some of the corny—but fun—cruise games. We love that part of cruising! The crew members in charge of the games are awesome and hilarious. Our favorite games were the Digital Scavenger Hunt and The Conquest Race. Both involved a lot of running around the ship and they were tons of fun!
On sea days, we would take the older kids (6 and 3) up to Camp Carnival for a few hours so that we could participate in the games onboard the ship. They allowed us to keep our 2 kids together in the same group even though the age groups are 2-5 and 6-8 years old. They seemed to have fun while they were there. There were lots of activities each day and it seemed to be very organized. The kids' favorite thing was the magic show with Raj on the last sea day (which I found ironic since my family did not enjoy his previous performance). Camp Carnival also feeds the kids dinner if you want, but we never took advantage of this because we wanted our kids to eat with us.
The neat thing is that if you have a child 3 or younger at the camp, then they issue a cell phone to the parents in case of an emergency. This cell phone came in handy on the ship because we were also able to call the cabins and receive calls from the cabins.
Another cool thing was that some of the activities they planned involved family involvement. My favorite activity was the fun Family Scavenger Hunt around the ship. We had to do a lot of silly things, but the kids thought it was great. For example, we had to hug 10 random passengers and my daughter had to propose to one of the crew members. The adventure made for some cute pictures!
I can't say anything about this part of the ship because I never made it to either. Some of my family made it to the gym and said it was nice. They especially enjoyed the steam room, sauna, and showers.
Most of the employees on the ship were friendly, especially with my kids. Many always stopped what they were doing to greet my 16 month old. I noticed that in the dining areas, if the waitstaff was not busy, they would always find kids to talk to and entertain. The waitstaff in the buffet was always hit or miss. Sometimes I would meet the most helpful, friendly employees. There were a few who would bring milk (from behind the buffet line at lunch and dinner times) and straws (at the bar right outside of the buffet area) to my table. But then there were a few employees who would just point to the buffet line to tell me where to ask for milk and point to the bar area to tell me where to get the straws. This was frustrating because I never knew what to expect.
The other passengers were pretty friendly on the ship. People always stopped to say hi to my youngest one and many were gracious about letting my older kids press the buttons on the elevators. We DID notice just 1 group of kids who were wildly running up and down our hallway one afternoon, but we told them something and they left to run around on another deck.
What I did notice was that a lot of the other passengers are REALLY LOUD to the point of being inconsiderate. I'm not sure if it's the age group or what, but we had loud neighbors across the hall and so did my cousin who was further down the hall from us. Both of these loud groups had kids that were in high school or college and they were just always being loud. We told the group across the hall from us and they toned it down for the most part. It was just a problem for us because my 16 month old always needed a nap in the middle of the day. I always made sure to put my "Snoozin'" sign on our door so others knew someone was sleeping, but when things got way too loud (door slamming and yelling) we went outside to ask them to quiet down.
We had great excursions on this trip. The only bad thing was that all 3 of our port days were back-to-back so we were extremely tired by the end of our 3rd stop. But I know that since we departed from Galveston, having back-to-back port days is unavoidable.
Nassau: Even though this was our 2nd time to Atlantis, we opted to buy tickets through Carnival to do the Aquaventure with Lunch excursion. It was quite spendy at $175/adult, but we thought it was totally worth it to know that we would be guaranteed to get into the water park. This excursion sold out before we even got on the ship, so if you plan on going make sure you book this one right away. We figured it wasn't marked up TOO much since walk-in tickets to Aquaventure are $120/adult. We also had shuttles to and from the ship, plus lunch. Lunch options included most of the stands at Aquaventure and the options were pretty standard—burgers, pizza, hot dogs, etc. including a drink and fries. We thought this was a great deal since the burgers alone are about $9 each.
We were there from 10:30am until about 6pm, spending time on the water slides and in the pools. Our fave pool has to be the one at The Cove. It's just quieter, less rowdy, less crowded, and beautiful. We also explored The Dig and the kids loved the sea creatures and aquariums.
When you first get off the ship for this excursion, there is definitely a long line to sign a waiver and to get your bracelets and then to walk over to the shuttle. But the line went quickly and we were always moving so it didn't feel that bad. The line looks intimidating initially, but it's really not that awful. Just go with the flow, breathe, and remember that you're in the Bahamas.
Freeport: We hired a cab driver (Queenie from the CC boards) and she and her daughter drove all 20 of us in 2 vans out to Lucaya National Park to see Ben's Cave, Gold Rock Beach, and then to Port Lucaya for some shopping. Ben's Cave is pretty neat, but definitely just a short visit. For Gold Rock Beach, Queenie dropped us off for about 3 hours. We had a wonderful time walking through the mangroves to this beautiful beach. We were the first people there and it was an amazing place. It's very secluded and there are no amenities out there, but that is why we went. Port Lucaya was ok for us. We just didn't have any energy left to do any real shopping. It was SO hot and we were really hungry, so we didn't enjoy Port Lucaya all that much.
Queenie was a great cab driver. She greeted us with a sign right as we got off of the ship. She gave us all big hugs when we met and when we departed. She always helped us with our bags and she would tell us all about the places we passed. The only downer was that on the way back to the ship, she didn't manage her time properly, so we had to share one of our vans with another group of people who were leaving on a different ship. It was rather unexpected and awkward, but Queenie didn't charge us the whole $25/person because of this, so all was forgiven.
Key West: We did the kayak/snorkel tour with Clearly Unique Charters on our own. They are the only company in Key West that has glass-bottom kayaks and completely clear kayaks. The 3 people who took us out were Captain Matt (owner), Jeff (who took us out on the kayaks), and Erin. Because we had 20 people, we were the only group they took out, which was nice. Unfortunately, we had a bumpy start. First, Clearly Unique is hard to find and about a 10 minute walk from the ship. Then the crew wasn't ready when we got there (even though we were a bit late). After about 10 minutes, we got on the catamaran (the Beach Cat) and it wouldn't start. It took another 15-20 minutes before we actually took off. After that, it was smooth sailing to Archer Key. We divided into 2 groups and rotated kayaking and snorkeling. The snorkeling was ok in this location. The sea life is definitely not as colorful as in other parts of the Caribbean. We saw a few tropical fish, lots of spiny lobsters and different sponges. We were disappointed that Erin only went out with us briefly and she just showed us a few lobsters and stayed on the Beach Cat for the majority of the time.
The kayaking was more interesting. We really liked the fact that all 3 of our kids went kayaking with us. My 6 year old sat with Jeff in one kayak and the other 2 kids sat in kayaks with 2 other adults, on the lap of the person sitting in the front seat. The kids thought the "clear" aspect of the kayaks was awesome because they could just look down and see everything, but, honestly, because the sea life isn't as colorful here, the "clear" aspect of the kayaks is just ok. You mainly just see a lot of sea grass. Because Jeff was standing while he paddled, he was able to see a few sharks that swam right by us all. Unfortunately, the rest of us (who were sitting) couldn't see them! Then we went through a mangrove tunnel, which was the coolest thing of all. There were all these little crabs hanging out on the branches. It was so interesting!
I wished we had more time in Key West though. By the time we got off the Beach Cat and had some yummy Key Lime Pie at Kermit's, it was almost time to go. There were so many neat little shops I wanted to go into, but there just wasn't enough time. That was a real bummer.
We chose the self-assist option and it all went very smoothly. Since we were on Deck 1, we were the first deck to get called off at 7:45am. We had to get off the ship on Deck 3, so we just dragged all of our luggage up the stairs and we were off the ship within 30 minutes. I was surprised how quickly we were back to reality!
This was a fun cruise. I don't think we'll be doing Carnival again though just because of the lack in food quality and the lack of consistency in service. I think the itinerary was great, but I wished the Key West stop was longer