Since I intend this to be a rather lengthy cruise review of my 7-night Carnival Conquest cruise from September 25, 2011, to the Bahamas & Key West, Florida, I will also provide a condensed, shorter version for those who don't like to read. So here's that shortened, condensed version, appearing below, highlighting strengths & weaknesses of the cruise:
1.) STRENGTHS of the Carnival Conquest cruise:
-- Elegant Dining Room FOOD in the Renoir & Monet
-- Dining Room SERVICE in the Renoir & Monet Service throughout the ship
-- Glamorous, razzle-dazzle COSTUMES of the dancers during production shows
-- The cruise director's comedy (marriage show) and his personal comedy
-- The 4 dance classes were interesting & fun
-- 3 production shows, one of which incorporated within the Magic show; tons of Carnival costumes on the dancers; they give you all you want; much more than the other cruise lines.
-- Large portions of food served; (philly steak sandwich, lasagna, etc)
-- Large lobster tails still being served, once per cruise
-- Desserts were hit n' miss; sometimes good; sometimes not tasty or weak
-- Is the prettiest of the 3 Carnival ships I've been on, (compared with Triumph, Freedom)
2.) WEAKNESSES of the Carnival Conquest cruise:
-- Activities not described, in the daily caper; incomplete descriptions
-- Too much of the same activity -- karaoke, trivia, bean bag toss
-- Not enough variety game shows;
-- Not enough opportunity for audience participation
-- Nighttime theatre shows NOT offered in the big auditorium EVERY night like on ALL other cruise lines
-- Music selections in the production shows not appealing
-- SEVERE over-crowding and INSUFFICIENT seating space in the Degas Lounge during Punchliner Comedy Club shows
-- Severe over-crowding in the public areas, lobby, Toulouse Lautrec Lounge, during other nighttime shows, and in the pools/hot tubs -- just severe over-crowding everywhere in general
-- Embarkation, (boarding on the first day), took 2 hours!
-- All the BEST entertainment & activities are all unnecessarily crammed in to the evening & nighttime hours, meaning you miss half the stuff, because everything is going on at the same time, and you're trying to eat dinner too!! Spread it out during the daytime, like the Punchliner Comedy Shows to alleviate the overcrowding, Carnival!!
I thought that by coming to the Punchliner Comedy Show at 12 AM, Midnight, I'd be able to catch a break, but Geez, this is the cruise ship that never sleeps!! There was a line even at MIDNIGHT waiting to get in to that Punchliner Comedy Show, which I was a part of that line.
It was a very young crowd on this cruise, even during off-season, in autumn, and all the talk you've read & heard thru the grapevine about Carnival carrying a youthful crowd is all true, and their late-night tendencies show, as well. However, it has been my observation, that the younger crowd (20's & 30's) does not enjoy socializing as much as the middle-aged (50's & 60's) & older crowd does, with the younger crowd keeping mostly to themselves.
Alright, so that's the shortened, condensed version above, giving you the strengths & weaknesses I observed. And now it's time to delve deeper in to the specifics. The lengthy details of just about every aspect you can think of on the cruise I get in to great detail down below, in 13 sectionals appearing below starting with our demographic information.
I. Background Information.
On this September 25, 2011, sailing of Carnival Conquest from Galveston, Texas, it included a 7-day cruise visiting Nassau, Bahamas; Freeport, Bahamas; and Key West, Florida.
There were 5 of us in our group, (in 2 different cabin staterooms), that sailed, ages 37, 38, 39, 43, and baby, age 2.
This marks my 14th cruise, world-wide, in the past 9 years, and my 3rd cruise on Carnival cruise line, so I've been around the block a few times, having travelled on several other cruise lines in addition to Carnival.
II. Travel to Port of Embarkation.
We drove on this go-around from New Orleans to Galveston, taking 6 1/2 hours with 2 stops, dropping South on 146 South / I-45 South to Galveston island. Traffic on Saturday & Sunday was manageable and light. We arrived 1 day early, prior to the cruise setting sail.
III. Motel Information.
I chose the "Inn at the Waterpark" in Galveston, Texas to stay at, 1 day before sail away. This was the RIGHT choice!! They provided a FREE transport shuttle service TO and FROM the cruise ship terminal pier. They provided FREE parking for the entire week. The motel also provided FREE internet in the lobby with a computer provided there, and FREE Wi-Fi internet in each of the rooms. Complimentary breakfast is served and juices are available for FREE 24-hours a day, as is water & coffee in the lobby. Rooms were spacious & Godzilla-sized! I chose the TOP floor as it was said to be the MOST quiet, in an otherwise kid-dominated motel. We did have a restful night's sleep, and everything in the room was in good working order, with a refrigerator, microwave, ironing board & iron, as well as hair dryer all supplied. Shower stall came with the room only; but no bathtub. There were 2 sinks supplied.
This location makes for a GREAT stay in the event a person wishes to book a pre-cruise or post-cruise stay, because the motel's shuttle van will take you to Moody Gardens for FREE, and is located within walking distance of the Schlitterbahn Water Park. I especially enjoyed all the many FREE perks I listed above, in the preceding paragraph. I chose to stay in the tower building as it was newer, but all ground-floor rooms, in the main building, have been renovated after Hurricane Ike in 2008.
IV. Ship Information.
Your Carnival Conquest ship has the following attributes:
- Refurbished in 2009
- 2,974 passenger capacity based on double occupancy
- 110,000 tons
- 953 ft in length
- Total crew size of 1,150
- First entered in to service in the year, 2002
- Has a jumbo-sized seaside theatre movie screen on the pool deck.
- Has a waterslide and several hot tubs
- Has 2 small square pools, and a kiddie's wading pool.
- Has anytime dining, (your time dining), as well as the option for traditional assigned seating dining.
- Has a Fish n' Chips restaurant
- Has a Mongolian stir-fry wok station
- Has a deli-sandwich bar
- Has a 24-hour pizzeria
- Has a Camp Carnival children's babysitting service
- Comes with a disco lounge
- Comes with a sing-along piano bar
- Has a full-service salon & spa with steam room & sauna
- Has a video arcade and kids lounge
- Of course, there's a casino, too, & gift shops
- Has a Sushi Bar
We were upgraded to a Category 4F, Inside cabin on deck 7, after first originally booking in a 4A bottom feeder category on deck 1. After fighting to move heaven & earth, I *finally* was able to get Carnival to honor their so-called "Early Saver price protection guarantee", when I seen the price drop substantially, which I've come to find is quite a deceptive misnomer, due to their crafty underwriting techniques of the "Early Saver" plan that nobody knows about. For this reason, I will be avoiding Carnival cruise lines again--- even though I was able to FINALLY get it honored, and get a substantial on-board credit issued for the price differential drop, I should not have had to go thru this much hassle. I had to really hold their feet to the fire on this one. Also, understand that with Carnival Cruise Lines, once you place that deposit downpayment, you cannot get it back, like the other cruise lines, if you decide to cancel, before final payment date....yet another drawback of Carnival.
Okay, on to the stateroom itself....
The inside cabin stateroom was 185 square feet. Most inside ship cabins are smaller than this, (between 139 to 165 sq. ft.), so Carnival still boasts the larger stateroom cabins in the industry.
We were situated in a very good location, mid-ship, on the 7th deck, not far from the main elevator farm of 10 lifts.
Staterooms are furnished with the use of bathrobes, (if you choose), a mini-fridge, (standard), stocked with both alcohol & non-alcoholic beverages for a fee if you consume. One NEW feature Carnival has recently added was the addition of an amenities bowl on the lavatory sink which includes a bottle of body lotion and razors, as well, for no extra fee -- something complimentary that the other cruise lines don't yet offer. Shampoo & liquid body wash is provided in addition to these amenities, but I'm old school and prefer bar soap, and they do provide bar soap upon request, which is pretty decent soap, too.
In general, I had no problems with space in our stateroom which had 2 people in it, for a 7-day cruise. The bed was as comfortable as any bed I've slept in on a cruise line, and I appreciated its FIRM spring mattress -- most of them are usually sunken hammocks worn-out by 400-pound people, that turn them in to sling shots, that you sink in to, but not this time.
The air conditioning worked fairly well, but had a cap on how cold it would get. The same was true for our travelling partners in their stateroom on Deck 1. Usually I can crank it down to the COLDEST setting, offering ice-cold relief from the heat & humidity after coming back from the hot Caribbean ports of call, in the afternoon, but not this time. The air conditioning had a limit to how cold it would get.
On the final sea day, coming back, the ship was shaking like it had Parkinson's or epilepsy, (not rocking or pitching from waves), but just mechanical, which became annoying from time to time, because it caused the upper trim metal fixtures in our stateroom to rattle noisily, for which I had to push in from time to time to get it to stop. This is only the second time we've had a squeaky cabin that I can recall.
The stateroom cabin came furnished with an in-room safe deposit box, which is standard for all cruise lines to safeguard your valuables. What I didn't like about it was it instructed to use a credit card or driver's license to use it. There's no fee to use, but I'd have preferred to use my stateroom card or rather just punch in a 4-digit code like all the other cruise lines implement, on their in-room safes. So instead, I used a magnetic strip from another card other than the 2 choices asked for & it worked okay & just as well.
Another thing to watch out for is the signage used to communicate with your room steward. Signs that read "Snoozin'" *OR* "Cruisin". "Snoozin'" means don't disturb; privacy. "Cruisin'" means service my stateroom. If you don't watch carefully how you slip-it around your door handle, then the cabin stateroom steward sees the wrong side, or some drunken prankster outside your room flips the sign on you, then you'll be awakened or otherwise disturbed. It could go the other way, too, when you're looking for service, but don't get it. Carnival ought to just print the SAME wording on BOTH sides of the sign -- something simple that could be done to avoid communications problems. I just had a word with my steward, early in the cruise, nipped it in the bud, and we came to an understanding not to come until 1130 AM each morning, and ditched those signs that hang on the door. So that was that.
If there's anything I can REALLY commend Carnival Cruise Lines on for this entire cruise, it would be in this category.....BUT particularly speaking in the MAIN ELEGANT DINING ROOMS, of Renoir & Monet. Service was consistently good, and unlike Norwegian Cruise Lines, Carnival's dining room service was FAST, much improved over a couple of the other cruise lines. I think they were really on the ball here and have some REALLY good management on the ship, cranking that food out in a timely fashion. Plus, I found all meals were acceptable, and some even very decent meals, served fresh & warm. The shrimp was especially fresh.
Portions served were surprisingly enormous, like the lasagna and the philly cheese steak sandwich as I recall. You usually don't get portions as big as these on the other cruise lines, because they know how so much food gets wasted.
The only weakness area was the dessert selections. You get about 3 variably changing choices each night, followed by fixed-choices that don't change like ice cream selections, fruit plate, & cheeses, for instance. The desserts started strong at the start of the cruise, but then kinda went flat & untasty from middle to the end of the cruise. This is typical, as on most cruise lines, where desserts look great on paper and when presented to your table, but then when you bite in to them, they lack in flavor. I would say there were an equal number of good ones as there were untasty ones as well. Sometimes I just skipped dessert because I didn't care for the very limited menu selection. The orange sherbet I had a couple times and had a good, robust flavor.
The tiramisu was drier, with less coffee taste, than what you'll get at Olive Garden. At Olive Garden it's wetter & stronger coffee taste. Here, it's more heavy in to the whipped cream.
I did enjoy the Cappucino Pie, near the end of the cruise. It's basically coffee flavored ice cream in the shape of a pie slice with hardened whipped cream on top of it. Not a Ben n' Jerry's strong flavor, but more of a smooth, diluted flavor, like generic brand.
There are still lobster tails served on Carnival. I was under the misconception that Carnival stopped serving that, but that was incorrect on my part. In fact, I woofed-down 3 lobster tails, and they didn't sass me when I ordered 4 of them at the start of my ordering process. I later cancelled one of my orders because the huge prime rib & potato, yet one of my other orders had been filling me up. Lobster tails were HUGE, much BIGGER, than on a couple of my other recent cruises. And the nice thing about these were that the tail had already been mostly removed from the shell, unlike Royal Caribbean cruise line, where you have to take a jack hammer & an ice-pick to dislodge the darned thing from the shell!! One drawback about the lobster tails, I sensed they were a bit freezer-burned.
There were a few times when I put in a request telling the dining room servers to quickly serve us at an accelerated pace so's we could get to a show on time. They complied very well and were responsive. I don't think I ever encountered a bad server during our stretch of "Your Time Dining" option, which is open seating during dinnertime in the main elegant dining room.
This is also the first cruise line and first cruise ship of my 14 cruises in which SHORTS were allowed in the main elegant dining room, during DINNER time, on the casual nights. So for those who really enjoy looking elegant & dressed-up, sorry for you, Carnival is NOT the place to be!! I thought NCL was a dress-down cruise line, but NCL will boot you out from the dinner table in the dining room if you come in shorts, during DINNER time. I think we've got a new winner here, in the dress-down dress code -- it's Carnival!! The only time you can't appear in shorts is on the 2 Formal nights. A member in our party didn't realize it was formal night, and he got booted from the dining room and told he had to change his bottom half. Still, even on formal night, you still don't have to go "all-out" in a suit & tie or cocktail dress/evening gown. It does look kind of silly seeing some dressed-up formally & elegantly while others are dressed like casual Friday at the business office, though, I must admit.
As for the Lido deck, here you'll find what I most commonly refer to as the "Mad-House Buffet Line". Gang, if you can manage to do so, I recommend avoiding the "Mad-House Buffet Line" upstairs on the Lido deck. It's crowded, some food sits a long while getting cold, if it's not consumed, and the choices are not good. At least in the elegant dining rooms, you get the food fresh & made to order. In the mad-house buffet line, food sits, gets tired, and needs to be put to bed (discarded).
We only ate there during breakfast, because we needed a quick fix, were in a hurry to get to our tour excursions, and could not wait on the elegant dining room to open or for service there either. Waffles come only upon request, and they give you ONLY waffle pieces, that they reheat, like 1/4 of a waffle piece, that's soft n' spongy. Ya, I know!! Waffle House disciples will be disappointed. They do have an omelet station, but waits can be excessive as lines become long here at the Mad House Buffet Line, (a.k.a. -- Cezanne Dining Room, Deck 9, Aft). Quality of food here is just mediocre, to below-average, when food becomes cold & tired-looking. It's like a bad day at Ryan's or a bad day at Golden Corral, if I can relate to you in that way. Trust me here on this one -- stick with the Monet & Renoir dining rooms instead, PLUS they're MUCH prettier to be in, (I hope you like PINK!!)
As for the Fish n' Chips eatery on Deck 10, aft, I liked it and had 2 baskets of the fried fish, but no one else in my party of 5 cared for it, saying it was too greasy or too oily. Their french fries, (for which the English call "chips" -- hence fish n' chips), were very similar to McDonald's, nicely salted and thin fries, and who doesn't like McDonald's french fries, when they're done right??
They also served Octopuss salad & a few other things.
I didn't get to try the Mongolian stir fry wok as the line was just too long & I didn't want to wait. Paul's Deli and The Pointe Steakhouse I did not audition. The Pointe Steakhouse is an upsell charge of $30 per head; Paul's Deli is free like Mongolian Stir Fry wok and so is Fish n' Chips free as well.
On the Lido deck the common beverages that are FREE include iced tea, lemonade, and water during lunch & dinner. No more fruit punch served for free on Carnival that I'm aware of. HOWEVER..... the LEMONADE is as good a lemonade as I've had ANYWHERE.....ANYWHERE, PERIOD!! Nice, STRONG lemonade flavor, unlike RCCL & NCL, which waters-it-down. Only one time was it weak, probably because the machine needed service. Otherwise the lemonade was MUCH better than even the key lime drink we had at Mallory Square in Key West, Florida, one of our ports of call.
At breakfast, on the Lido deck, (Cezanne), they serve-up apple juice, a passion fruit juice hybrid, and some kind of knock-off they call orange juice. Tasted more like Sunny Delight to me instead of REAL orange juice, as the way I know the definition of orange juice to be. Holland America Line sets the precedence & protocol on orange juice!
Oh! A final word here about dining--->> Weathergirl, (my partner), tells me that the Sushi Bar is also FREE, and that espresso or cappucino is FREE in the elegant main dining rooms of Monet & Renoir, during dining times there. Norwegian now charges for that. They also have a coffee shop on-board to meet all your latte', cappucino, & espresso needs OUTSIDE of dining times as well, for a fee, of course. It's no Starbucks, but it's there at your disposal, for a quick fix if you need it. Room service is also available 24-hours a day.
This -- the activities --, along with the deceptive pricing practices of Carnival, are the 2 BIGGEST contenders to why I'm going to avoid Carnival in the future--->> The Activities were *REALLY* below par and sub-standard to the other cruise lines. I agree with previous posters in their evaluations on this topic as well, if you pour back thru previous reviews on this ship.
Paul Santley was the cruise director for this cruise. While I really did ENJOY his style of humor, which was a bit skewed, twisted, & sometimes crude, it plays right in to my warped sense of humor as well. I think he was pretty well-taken by most, although, I'll bet women probably would not appreciate his style of humor as much as I did, as men & women have different styles of humor.
I later ran-in to Paul and had a short chat one-on-one, near the Casino. I explained to him his comedy was better than some hired comedians I've seen on previous ships I'd been on. He then disclosed to me that he was appointed a late-night comedian in the past, having served numerous engagements with other European cruise lines. But this is pretty much where the kudos ends in terms of the compliments in my book, for the cruise director.
If I had to sum-up the problems I found in the activities in just several words it'd be--->> Repetition, lack of variety, & miscommunication problems.
Repetition in the sense every day there was bean bag competition -- it never changed -- every day it was there. Repetition in that they had the Jeopardy game show TWICE back-to-back, on 2 different days, when they should have changed-it-out with another game show, (lack of variety). There weren't enough game shows either, (lack of variety). Repetition in that karaoke rolls out every day or night. One night they made a poor attempt at disguising karaoke with a show called "Super Star Live" -- brand new day, same ol' junk--karaoke, over & over again. I got up & left. Then, later that night -- SAME DAY -- they tried passing-off & disguising karaoke yet as another show called "Carnival Legends", yet more karaoke! "Carnival Legends" a show on the last night of the cruise, was basically what I call an over-glorified karaoke show on steroids, that featured your fellow cruise ship passengers in costumes, one at a time. So....Karaoke, karaoke, karaoke, karaoke until you get off the cruise. Can you say the words, OVER KILL, Carnival???
Not to be overshadowed, was also the repetition of Trivia, trivia, trivia -- day-in, day-out. Between the karaoke & the trivia, it just got to be too much repetition of the SAME THING over & over & over again, with LACK OF VARIETY. If the activities were a food buffet, you'd be eating the same meatloaf & mashed potatoes every night, for 7 nights in a row. Now think about that for a moment. It's a pretty good analogy.
I finally found my niche with the few dance classes they had. (Yes, this is still a man writing this; so hard to believe). They had Disco class, Thriller class, Line Dancing class, and Cha-Cha Latin dance classes, and I paticipated in all 4 of 'em. The United Kingdom girl was a good teacher not going too fast, but the Aussie Line Dancer teacher went too fast and left lots of folks in the dust, myself included.
As for the game shows, they did Jeopardy TWICE, (overkill). One of the game shows I attended & participated in, lasted a quick 10 minutes and it was over, was fairly dull & uneventful.
But mostly what bothered me about the game shows was that it went un-announced WHAT game show it was. Other times the daily list of activities might have shown a game show, but not announce that it was a game show. Miscommunication. I explained this to Paul, the cruise director, and he appeared embarrassed about it, fidgeting in my presence, but couldn't even say what was coming up himself, saying they hadn't made it to the Bahamas in 8 weeks, missing the last time because of a storm, and the itineraries are different from the usual Western Caribbean.
Upon a first-look at the daily activities, to the untrained eye, it does look like there's a lot there, but a number of these activities are what are known as "upsell" activities, like wellness seminars designed to suck money out of your wallet getting you to spend more money, by re-directing you to the full-service spa center. But they disguise it as activities, socially engineering it with clever, catchy titles & phrases.
A big bone I have to pick with Carnival is that they do not have nighttime theatre shows EVERY night in the Toulouse Lautrec theatre, like all the other cruise lines which DO host nighttime shows, EVERY night, in the big auditorium. Somewhere around the 3rd night, they put a kids laser tag show in the lounge, and decided that the adults could do without a show and exile 'em over to the Punchliner Comedy Club, for which that lounge is too small to accommodate the crowds that they had.
I noticed a lot of bungling of the cruise director's staff -- constantly starting shows late, ending shows late, not putting shows in gathering rooms large enough, (like the Punchliner Comedy Club Degas Lounge), & not adequately telling folks what the activities are in the published paper. They leave a lot of questions unanswered as to what the activities are & when I try & get clarifications from the guest services, they don't know either. For instance, "The Gender Showdown". What's that?? They could have said, "The Gender Showdown Game Show". "Laser Tag +" What's this?? "Legends Auditions" What's this?? I found out at the end of the cruise, what that was, when there was a show called Carnival Legends; by then it's too late. You catch my drift here. Many times activities were given titles but no explanation as to WHAT it is. And yet other times being told there was a "Game Show", but not saying what game it was?? Family Feud?? Weakest Link?? Majority Rules?? Just a major failure in communications with the cruise director & his cruise director's staff, by leaving the guests, In-The-Dark, as to what's what in the activities. I don't know why everything has to be a secret. For the ballroom dance class, they should've said Cha-Cha dance class. I was wondering WHICH ballroom dance it would be??
They sponsored a Mardi Gras Music & Fun event at 1030 PM at the 2nd sea day, in their attempt to ready the ship for its move to New Orleans. It's probably best to leave Mardi Gras celebrations to the city of New Orleans who're the experts. Nevertheless, I still passed a good time & gave my best attempt to enjoy it, but it just wasn't the elaborate celebration I was expecting.
They had bean bag toss competitions daily, over & over again usually in the mid-afternoon in the Lobby of the ship.
For any of all y'all older cruisers hungry to know about the Library on the ship, weathergirl tells me that it was lacking & not that good. It looked small, to me, as well. Remember that Carnival believes in the younger crowd, so I believe this'll explain why the Conquest library isn't up to snuff.
There were a few pool-side games that they had, none of which I attended because I burn out in the sun. The hairy chest contest was more of an "ad-lib" dance by men to show-off in front of 3-selected women judges. For those of you coming from RCCL & NCL, this is about as close a show as you'll come to the Quest game show, and the couple of scavenger hunts in other activities makes up the other part of the Quest game show. NCL & RCCL still have Carnival licked, because Carnival doesn't have the Quest game show; too bad for Carnival, because folks were cuttin' up in big laughs when Paul came out on the last night in his Dolly Parton outfit, indicating to me the Quest game show would be just as big a hit on Carnival as it is on the other cruise lines.
I got to spearhead the show as the team's captain on the Gender Showdown game show which basically translates to the Battle of the Sexes game show name on the other cruise lines. They divided the audience in half; girls left; boys right and had a series of 30 questions. It was fairly crowded on both decks of the Toulouse lounge and lasted a goodly amount of time, as I recall. I got that ship on a stick trophy, as I navigated the men to WIN and prevail over the women in this game show! This was OUR night, the men's night, to own the theatre!
VIII. Children's Clubs
Here, it's called Camp Carnival. They'll provide free kids activities & general babysitting, but with interruptions during the day when you have to pick your kids up. I don't own any children but our group we were traveling with has a 2 year old baby. They won't accept your child in the program if he's UNDER 2 years of age. 2 years and older they'll accept and they'll change diapers, too. Also, it's a one-strike & you're out policy. If your kid blows chunk or it comes out the other end as diarrhea, (s)he is assumed to be sick & will be booted out of the program, and won't be admited back in unless you get it cleared with the ship's infirmary, the ship's medical staff, that (s)he is not sick. Also babies that are unmanageable & crying uncontrollably will get booted from the program. You will be given a cell phone for any baby under the age of 3 and contacted whenever there is a problem.
If you require baby-sitting services BEYOND 945 PM, then they will do so, but there is an HOURLY fee for each child. It's somewhere's around $7 per hour, and they'll offer it between 10 PM and 3 AM.
The biggest hitch I found with the Camp Carnival program is the restricted hours of operation, & the interruptions in service during the day. It just does not go far enough. I don't like the fact that they close in the late morning thru early afternoon between 11 AM and 2 PM or 3 PM. One day, I remember they wanted to dump Amy off, but they were closed at the time we came. The next sea day, they said it was family day at Camp Carnival between the hours of 3 PM & 7 PM, and that if you wanted to dump your kid off, then an adult had to be present at Camp Carnival between 3 PM & 7 PM on that designated family day. Doesn't this defeat the whole reason why Camp Carnival exists??? To load-shed your kids without you having to be there??
They need to re-vamp the program and provide UN-interrupted services from morning thru nighttime, with no closures; otherwise Carnival is making their guests conform to Carnival's schedule and not YOUR schedule that you want.
I can say I'm generally satisfied in the area of service here on the ship, all the way around, which is saying a lot!! The stateroom steward followed my instructions I gave, and the dining room wait staff was timely & granted all food requests & timing requests I asked for. There seems to be good management going on in the service department area, here on the ship. The seating hostess intake was a couple times a bit unnerving because we'd tell her that we had 5 in our group, but that 3 of them were coming later and she insisted that all 5 be present before being seated. We told them that they were on their way & we wanted to get seated right away as our other half were always running slower than us.
I really was impressed nicely with the timely service given in the Renoir dining room each & every time. It was consistently efficient & they were really on the ball. I've been so used to the God-awful snail's pace of having to wait excessive wait times of 2 hours on Norwegian Cruise Line, & RCCL, that this was a breath of fresh air to get service in about HALF the time it takes NCL to accomplish the same tasks.
What most folks new to cruising don't realize is that you can have your service gratutities adjusted to your liking, according to how you feel you've been served. However, it won't be automatic. You need to go to the guest services counter desk in the lobby & communicate this with them. Otherwise, if you take no action, then $70 per person will be automatically charged to your stateroom account. So for 2 people in the cabin it'll be $140 service charge for a cruise of 7 days. If you wish to tip with cash & hand envelopes of cash to individual service staff, you may ask for these envelopes, just as they afford on Royal Caribbean cruise lines. So that's how that works, for the newbies tuning-in.
Take care not to over-tip, as well. When you order drinks from the bar, you will already be assessed a gratuity service fee worked-in to the bill already, so take a look at the charges, as you sign away on the receipt. A number of folks over-look this aspect.
If there's any flash in the pan or glimmer of hope that's positive news that some would enjoy reading about, it's that Carnival's dancer's & singers performed more frequently than the other cruise lines I've been on. I believe I counted 3 times in total I seen 'em out there, in the Toulouse Lautrec nighttime auditorium theatre. Usually for a 7-day cruise, you get only 1 production show over a 7-day cruise. So for the many folks I know that like production shows, you'll get to see these dancers out there at least 3 times I can remember. On Carnival Conquest, they give you all you want, with the dancers, in numerous, frequently-changing costumes. The scenery is always changing.
I'd say the strength of the Carnival Conquest dancers & singers lies within their costumes. Beautiful & magnificent costumes drowns-out their competition from other competing cruise lines, and mind-you, I've been on 14 cruises, sitting up in the front rows, so I have something to compare with. So, for all y'all, that enjoy costumed dancers in flashy outfits, you'll enjoy seeing these girls. And boy do they have many of them! There's several men dancers & singers as well, but seems like I recall more girls than guys. They're all so shiny & more attractive than usual on this go-around.
It's too bad the music selections that the dancers danced to, didn't appeal to me that much, as the costuming did. The other cruise lines have better music selections than Carnival, in my taste.
There was a magic show which incorporated the dancers, and while the main theme was centered around magic & disappearing/re-appearing acts, the music there just started eating-me and getting to me. (How so??) Too much techno -- too much boom, boom, boom, boom.... I told weathergirl if this continued another 20 minutes, I'd come down with a headache. No, I'm not 69 or 70 years old either. I'm 38. That lapse in music aside, the magician did a fine job, was multi-talented & well-received by the audience. I've seen all those magic acts before on previous cruise lines, so nothing new there; except that Carnival infuses a bit of FIRE, literally FIRE, on stage with brief scenes of fire-lit stunts.
Carnival had a brief scene of the magician performing as a "Sky Dancer", descending down from the ceiling, a hallmark of Royal Caribbean's style of entertainment which draws a HUGE, thunderous applause. I find that visual entertainment is just as powerful as audible entertainment, but when fused together with the "right" music, really becomes a crowd-pleaser, and that's when you'll get your standing ovations. Also, don't look for any Cirque du Soleil themed variations like NCL cruise line has; it isn't on this ship.
The small, live band is in a pit in front of the stage as it is on Carnival ships. No worries, the band won't block your view in the front rows; as the pit lowers after the show begins, and your view will be unobstructed. That was a worry amongst many in the front row, but it shouldn't be.
The very first production show called "Voila Paris" was very risque, I thought. If I had children, I would not want them to see this show. Carnival says in their daily activities program that it's a PG rated show due to costuming. That's quite a bit subjective!! I'd have it rated an "NC-17" show, no one under the age of 17 permitted. (Why?) There was a lot of tail shown -- bare tail, and needs to be covered-up, if they wish to comply with a PG rating. There were also several scenes that were sexually suggestive, too, as you'd expect a Paris show to be. There were some scenes where it seemed like any moment those girls could've been given a pole to dance with. I know it sounds critical coming from a 38-year-old man, as me, because no man in his right mind would turn down a show like this, but to call it a PG-rated show is just too generous, irresponsible & remiss to give it this kind of rating. The scenes & costumes were always changing, and background scenes were interesting enough though, to keep it visually entertaining. I'd have preferred better music to accompany the dancers. Again, the music selections on the Carnival production shows were really lack-luster. They need to get a new music director.
In other areas....
By far, the best band performing in the entertainment area had to be from a group on the ship called, "Play That". On the Carnival Daily Caper, it's called "Dancing Music With Play That". Joel, who is the male, lead singer is joined by his wife. I know it's his wife because I spoke with him personally for some time in the Casino, and we had a chat. A goodly number of people I think enjoyed his music selections and his wife has a powerful singing voice. Meanwhile my partner thinks he was the better singer. It's all good no matter how you slice it!!
They usually played in the lobby/atrium/centrum of the cruise ship, and after conversing with others on the ship, I was informed their audience grew in size, literally from deck to deck to deck looking down, crowding the atrium. I think they'd be appreciated more on Princess cruise lines, as it's easy-listening music and not the hurdy-gurdy techno junk music I had been hearing all around the Carnival ship. They provided sort of a sanctuary of peace to get away from the hurdy-gurdy junk that appeals to the teens & 20-year-olds. Joel told me they first started performing in The Point Steakhouse but wanted to increase their visibility & exposure & found the opportunity to move-up to the lobby stage. So, if you're one who likes easy-listening music, that is relaxing, you'll certainly want to give this group a try --->> "Dancing Music with Play That"
Another group called "Latin Tunes with Latin Beat" should have been re-named, "Salsa Tunes with Salsa Beat", because that's all they know how to play!
My girl & I had high hopes that we'd get a variety of Latin music to dance to, but these guys only know one type of music--->> Salsa, and only salsa (again, lack of variety Carnival!!) When I went up & approached 1 of the 3 band members, I put in a request for a Cha-Cha, so's we could dance to that. The band member acted as though he couldn't understand me, and couldn't understand my English request. So, he paniced and said, "we take break". These guys took longer breaks more than they played. So, if you love to dance lots of Salsa to a one-dimensional band that only knows Salsa, then this is the place for you to be, and they perform most nights. Don't bother asking for special requests, because they won't be honored.
I also auditioned the Piano Bar with Larry & spent some time chatting with half a dozen people in there while he played away, meeting new folks. He tries to be a crowd-pleaser and if you're liquored-up good, you'll play along and be a good sport! He tried to bounce some attention off of me, and I played ball, even though I don't drink, because I can't afford such an expensive hobby. Carnival charges $10.06 including the 15% gratuity charge for mixed drinks. Beer is a lot less, probably half the price I'd say. With exorbitant prices like these, it's no wonder why people try & smuggle on their own alcohol.
He got folks singing song favorites & I'm pretty sure you can hollar-out song requests, but I just wasn't paying attention to it, as I was chatting more.
** Comedy Shows & Punchliner Comedy Club **
They do have comedy shows about 4 days a week, with as many as 5 daily show times at 7 PM, 8 PM, 10 PM, 11 PM & 12 Midnight. Clearly, the cruise director wants to ensure everyone has a chance to see their Punchliner Comedy Club in the Degas lounge. It's hosted by his sidekick, the assistant cruise director, from the U.K. nicknamed Squishy. What I came to learn is that if you come to the 7 PM, earliest show, it's not as crowded. By the time 10 PM & 11 PM rolls around, they're hanging from the rafters, and it's standing room only, which happened to me several occasions, as there's just too many people and not enough sitting areas to be had.
It's really irrelevant to tell you what comedians I seen, or their substance of jokes, because these won't be the same comedians for your cruise. It's suffice to say that I attended 6 of the 20 shows. They say that each comedian appears with repeat performances the following night, but the UK lad, named "Squishy", told me that Cowboy Bill had a different show each & every time.
Of the 6 comedy shows I seen, 2 of them were what I'd consider really good. The other 4 I seen were pretty much flat & not really that comical or entertaining. Mutzie didn't really tell much comedy in his 2 shows I saw, both a family show & an adults-only show; instead he just had a set of questions and held conversations with people rather than telling jokes, so it was pretty dull. Jim's adult show was dull the first night, but he made a strong rebound on his adult show the following night on his last 12 Midnight show I seen. So, the comedy was hit n' miss, and not consistent one way or the other. But if you drink enough liquor before the show, as SO MANY did, I think you'll wind up laughing at anything, so that's how that works out. It seems like it took so little to please these folks. 92% of guest passengers aboard were Texans. They also clear-out the lounge between shows, so don't expect to hog-up the front row for all 5 shows, each night, as it's not going to happen! When you sit in the front row, then you stand a better chance of getting interacted with, as so many comedians have to bounce-off the audience in order to make their shows work for them.
You should get a total of 4 different comedians for a 7-night cruise. They change them out about mid-way thru the cruise. The first crop of 2 comes for the first half of the cruise, and then they get exchanged for another duo of 2 on the last half of the cruise, always coming in pairs.
We also got another show in the Toulouse Lautrec (big theatre) of a physical comedian, whose jokes & acts I think work-out better for kids, teenagers, & young adults, rather than the middle-aged & older crowd.
XI. Tour Excursions, (Bahamas & Key West edition)
Since we had a $220 on-board credit from the price-drop sale in the cruise rate, we used it on ship-sponsored tour excursions.
--- Nassau, Bahamas ---
In Nassau, Bahamas, we chose the Blue Lagoon Private Island with Lunch tour. I can recommend this tour & enjoyed the boat ride over to the island as well as coming back, as we were shown the estates & houses of Tom Cruise, Oprah Winfrey, Chuck Norris, Cristina Aguillera, Nicolas Cage, Michael Jordan, et al, which were all on neighboring Paradise Island.
The beach was pretty & inviting, with brilliant water! The water was shallow from end to end, but I suspect a number of kids over the years threw rocks from a reservoir pile of rocks seen from the other side in to the water, because every now and again, you'd step on a large rock, but the water was usually clear, no crashing waves in a protected cove, and they had large, oversized hammocks & provided a lunch, too, if you selected that option. The boat ride to the island took a good 30 to 45 minutes to get there. I sat out on the front open deck of the bow & had pictures taken of us seated on the open deck of the bow.
Amenities included--->> There were inflatables for the kids to play on in the water. Even parasailing was offered for an extra charge and there was a gift shop there on the island, with lockers, a place to change, restrooms, & showers that had weak water pressure to rinse off. You could purchase additional food besides the meal voucher that came with your ticket.
Understand that this is NOT the cruise ship, so you cannot eat them out of the house! It's a one plate, one visit lunch, with no refills, and THEY serve you the portion of food; you do not get to serve yourself, so you can't eat them to the nub, as we can on the cruise ship. Men are served 2 legs of chicken; women one leg of chicken. One cheeseburger, a salad, rice and ONE small cup of lemonade or fruit punch. It's quite overpriced if you dare to buy food on your own. One member in our party found a small order of potato wedge french fries cost $4, for a small fry. Locker rentals are $5 for the day.
They do provide a lifeguard on duty at the beach, and the beach is well-appointed with long beach chairs & several umbrellas sprinkled about.
Of the 3 tour excursions we did, on this cruise, this one rates as the top-most one we did. When coming back from the boat ride, they afford you excellent photo opportunities to take of the ship, from all angles, too, so you don't need to worry about that!
--- Freeport, Bahamas ---
Here, I thought I'd try something new & broaden my horizons. This time we chose the Dolphin Encounter Experience. This was the tour whereby you enter the water with 2 Atlantic bottle-nosed dolphins with a group of about 30 other people. You take turns, 2 at a time, one person per dolphin to come up close to it, pet & feel the skin of the dolphin, see all around it, up close while in the water with it, and if you're lucky, he'll do a show for you, splash you, or wiggle his fins at you if you tickle him well enough on the belly! Then, you pose with the dolphin as he gives you a kiss & a picture is taken. A T-shirt is provided for free to document your visit, but the picture will cost $14.95, for one picture, if you choose to purchase, or $20 for 2 pictures.
They will also allow you to bring your own camera and take pictures and video of the dolphins as they perform various tricks & acts for which I took pictures & video of. It was an interesting show & you also have the option to take pictures with a couple parrots on your shoulder, on the return back to the boat, which takes you back to the ship. I can recommend this tour as well, as it was an interesting tour, and not too overpriced either by the way these dolphin encounter tours are priced. Notice--->> This is NOT the dolphin tour that takes you on a boogie board or where you ride the dolphin by clinging your hand to its dorsal fin. That's another tour & is quite overpriced.
The only thing I wasn't really satisfied with, is I thought we should have been provided a complimentary, non-alcoholic drink as so many tours in the Caribbean offer, during our boat ride over & back from the tour operator staging area at Port Lucaya.
For all y'all worried about the currency in the Bahamas, don't fret over it. They gladly accept the United States dollar, but you may get the change back from the sale, in Bahamian currency. The fix for that is use your credit card, but for very large purchases, most credit card companies may assess a currency conversion fee or what's called a foreign transaction fee since you're not in the United States, so be mindful of that as well.
--- Key West, Florida ---
Here, we chose the White Knuckle Speed Boat Thrill ride. After about a 20 minute drive over to their dock, we boarded a vessel that seats about 10 people. It's a family-owned operation. The water was as smooth as glass, but the boat just didn't seem as fast as I thought it was going to be. The driver spun-out doing 180° turns & even 270° turn-abouts, mainly cornering & going around channel markers. It was the son of the owner of the company who piloted the speed boat. He was quite young; tried to tell jokes, but it just didn't stick on the small group of 10. No one got sick when he did the many spin-outs of the 180° & 270° turns or while he was hot-doggin' it. There weren't really any photo opportunities offered either leaving the pier or coming back. I felt the tour operator could have done more to engage us in some photo opportunities. You can tell this tour operator was quite amateurish. At least they offered some complimentary water, sodas, and even beers, on the return back to the dock. Also, they should invest in another transport van where everyone can SEE OUT the windows, instead of looking at speckled, obscuring black dots. After all, this should be a tourist van for sight-seeing; not a prison transfer! It should be designed to allow folks to SIGHT-SEE & look OUT the windows to see the island during that 20 minute transport, so I wasn't thrilled with the fact we couldn't see out the whole time on the transport to and from. Might as well put a brown bag over our face during the 20 minute transfer! This tour didn't really deliver the chills n' thrills I was hoping it to, so for that reason, I cannot recommend this tour, as it was just a bit dull for me. Maybe the boat could have been faster & more zipping if they didn't stuff 10 people in it.
Think about the Conch Tour Train, which has been around for decades, or the other trolley which makes stops as a hop-on/hop-off. The Conch Tour Train does NOT allow hop-on/hop-off and is instead a tour.
Be sure to visit the historic Mallory Square in Key West. It is in close walking distance to the cruise ship's pier. We walked the whole distance from end to end on Key West's Duval street, to get to the Southern-Most point landmark in the Continental United States & grabbed a picture shot. I estimate we walked about 3 - 4 miles that day.
Of the 3 ports of call, both my girl & I enjoyed Key West, Florida the best. A couple friends we met on the cruise liked Freeport, Bahamas better, but to me it's kind of depressing seeing the poverty huts & run-down look of the streets near the ship. I'd recommend hitting the Tortuga Rum Cake factory there in Nassau, near the ship's pier which is within walking distance. They give FREE samples and I grabbed more than one. The woman who works there was eating more samples than the guests were!
I had the BEST Starbucks Frappucino I'd ever had there in Nassau!! I think they must use condensed milk, because it was really, really rich & sweet -- like a dessert drink!
Although the cruise ship arrived 30 to 45 minutes late, on our return, the disembarkation went MUCH, MUCH better than embarkation. We elected to get off the ship later in the morning around 11 AM, and caught our free transport back to the motel.
When arriving on the day of embarkation, at the start of the cruise, embarkation took way too long. We arrived at 1230 PM and did not get on until 230 PM -- took 2 hours. For a cruise line that's been in business for 30 years, they sure don't act like it. This ship has come in late the past several weeks in a row. On the day of our departure, due to irresponsible guests, the ship arrived late. A 39-year-old man jumped ship and went over-board on the previous sailing delaying the ship from coming in on time. This set everything back, but our time in port was not cut short. A couple weeks before our cruise, the ship was delayed in leaving because the bow thrusters were inoperable. For our sailing we left about 1 1/2 to 2 hours late and also arrived late. Nearly all the shows started late & finished late. So we can call the ship anything, ...BUT... on-time!
When boarding the ship, I handed our luggage over to the porters who were eager to help & assist in Galveston. We saw tons of people bringing their own bottled water, sodas, & ice chests. It looked like people were going on a camping trip rather than a cruise ship, and looked hideous & unsightly, like they were moving in. Also, we were both surprised by how many folks were actually wheeling their own LARGE, oversized suitcases thru the embarkation line. After spending some time in line and observing the fellow guest passengers I was boarding with, though, it was understandable why, as there were a number of suspicious, shady characters going on the cruise. Because of this, I decided when I de-boarded (disembarked) from the ship on the last day of the cruise, to take ALL of my OWN luggage with me in hand, rather than putting it out of my room the night before as I have traditionally done in the past.
Here, Carnival takes your picture after you get on the ship for your shipboard account. Everywhere else you get your picture taken when you check-in at the counter. There are luggage tags handed out at the pier curbside, so no worries if your printer doesn't work to print-out luggage tags, or if you want to save on expensive printer ink, there are luggage tags available at the pier, as always.
I'll be avoiding Carnival Cruise Lines in the future for these following outlined reasons:
#1.) Deceptive Pricing Policies, with crafty underwriting techniques, not originally honoring their Price Protection Guarantee, until I moved heaven & earth.
#2.) Activities Too Repetitive, (same things over & over again; karaoke, trivia, bean bag toss)
#3.) Activities NOT explained or defined at all in the daily caper
#4.) Lack of Variety; not enough game shows; very little audience participation offered
#5.) Music selections not good, esp. in nighttime theatre shows; (too rough & geared toward teens), except where noted above.
#6.) Nighttime Auditorium theatre shows NOT offered every night...(what's up with that Carnival??? Other cruise lines offer a big show *EVERY* night!)
#7.) WAY TOO CROWDED on this ship!
This was an off-season, autumn cruise, but somehow....somehow Carnival still managed to get a sell-out crowd on this ship, and boy did it feel like it!! The Degas lounge was packed to the hilt during comedy shows, the Toulouse Lautrec lounge was packed to the hilt in the front rows, during nighttime theatrical shows. It was really becoming difficult to get a good seat in either of these locations. I'm surprised we were able to get a table in the buffet on Lido deck during breakfast when we had to grab a quick bite to eat, because historically & statistically this is also a problematic overcrowding area. The 2 Swimming pools were tiny, in a square-shaped form, with severe overcrowding in both the swimming pools & hot tubs alike. Good thing for me, I didn't use either one of them, as I'd feel my personal space would have been invaded!
Carnival Conquest excelled in the elegant main dining rooms, of Renoir & Monet, both in food & service, and in general service areas throughout the ship, with a courteous staff that kept the ship clean, considering a sell-out crowd.