November 19th - Overnight Stay
We arrived in New Orleans Saturday the 19th and stayed overnight at the Holiday Inn Downtown Superdome. The hotel has a cruise deal, and we were able to park for free with a one night stay. They have a shuttle to the port, but no return shuttle, so you need to take a cab back.
November 20th - Embarkation
Embarkation day we woke early, had a light breakfast, and headed downstairs for the shuttle. We arrived at the Erato Street Cruise Terminal before 10:30. There are no automated check-in kiosks, but the lines were short--there are different lines for different decks. We had our Sail and Sign cards before 11, and were told that boarding might start within 20-30 minutes. At 11:30 someone announced that people could begin taking embarkation photos (a backdrop was set up near the center of the terminal.) VIPs and those needing assistance began boarding at about 11:40.
The buffet (Restaurant Cezanne) was crowded when we finally made it to the Lido Deck shortly after noon, so we waded through to the grill at the aft pool area for burgers. Afterwards we wandered for a bit and took pictures. The twin cantilever bridges of the Crescent City Connection are an imposing presence off the bow of the ship in port. Our cabin--7201, a forward-facing obstructed view (see pictures: http://www.cruiselinerooms.com/view_room.php?r_id=1992)
--was available before 1:30 and our luggage was waiting for us at the door. We spent some time putting things away in the four drawers and three ample closets. There was room for everything we brought, including the kitchen sink. We also decorated our door and room with Thanksgiving cutouts from a party store. The room was square with the bathroom off the entry hall. The bed was under the windows. They call it an obstructed view, but you actually had a great view of the deck, the sky, and anything off the bow, unless you wanted to look down. There are doors port and starboard that access the deck in front of the room. The windows are tinted, so you can't see into the cabins unless the lights are on and you get close to the glass. Since you are required, for navigation reasons, to keep your drapes closed after sundown, and the deck doors are locked then, there was no fear of anyone peeping.
Ida, our room steward, introduced herself--we saw her many times during the cruise, and were always warmly greeted by name, and with a vibrant smile. She and her assistants always did a great job.
The Conquest's thrusters began moving us from the pier at about 4:40. The sun was setting, and the lights were coming on along the New Orleans Skyline. The Lido Deck was rocking with Kool Runningz on the deck 10 stage overlooking the main pool area and the small stage where ACD "Squishy," "Princess Jasmine" (Marilyn from Canada) and Ryan were dancing. Off our port side, the beautiful city began to roll by until...
The fog bank must have been waiting for us just downriver. Visibility dropped from miles to mere feet in seconds. We would see NOLA no more until we returned. Adrienne Barbou and Hal Holbrook were spotted by several cruisers.
Our table in the Renoir Dining Room was number 646--a table for two along the upper rail on the port side near the Maitre D's station. Renoir's main lever caters to Your-Time-Dining. We, however, had requested and received early seating, which works out best for the two of us. Our head waiter was Ruel, and the team waiter who assisted our end of Ruel's section was Lazaro. The food was excellent, including Alligator Fritters (Didja Ever?) and prime rib. The service was outstanding. The waiters sang "That's Amore," and we felt we were home.
After dinner we tried to get into the Game Show Mania, but technical difficulties kept us from a near certain Ship-On-A-Stick.
November 21st and 22nd - Sea Days
Breakfast was partaken of in the buffet both days, followed by before wandering the ship and general R&R. The Conquest's Joe Farcus dÃ©cor is actually pleasant and interesting in its French Impressionist and Post Impressionist motif. There are reproductions of famous paintings virtually everywhere. In addition, the ship was decorated for Christmas with trees in various places, green garland strung in the atrium, and wreaths on pillars.
Lunch was Sur Mer fish and chips or the Deli on deck 9. The deck 10 area of the buffet is quieter and less crowded than the lower level, so it makes for a pleasant place to eat. Quite a few people filled their plates on deck 9 and walked up to eat on 10.
Dinners included Alligator Fritters (Didja Ever?), Prime Rib, Studies in Sushi (try the one with the Wasabi paste if you want your eyes wide open,) and Jerk Pork Loin. When the waiters dance a large number of women join them. We didn't see any men do that. I wonder why?
We attended Voila Paris! Yes, it's pretty much the same show we saw on Destiny last October, but it was still good. The dancers were better on Conquest, and the singers were better on Destiny. Degas Lounge on deck 5 was the location for the Punchliner Comedy Club, and we had fun at the show put on by Mark Theobald. Hint: don't sit near the doors starboard side doors. People continuously filing in and out were a distraction.
November 23rd - Montego Bay Jamaica
We had no excursion booked for Mo-Bay, so we spent some time at the nearby shops and the bar in the port. We took the gangway picture and the "Rasta Man" picture on debarking, but as we were returning to the ship my "brotha from another motha," another "Rasta Man" grabbed us for a picture and asked for a few bucks. That's Jamaica; well, that and the ubiquitous Bob Marley... and Rum... and coffee.
After lunch we spent a very pleasant time at the lobby bar talking with Jina, the marvelous bartender from Manila. Seriously, she made our afternoon most pleasant. While we were there "Be a Trivia Master" started up, so we grabbed sheets and a couple golf pencils and joined in. Ryan was the host, and he made sure we didn't cheat by having us pass our completed sheets to strangers for checking. In spite of this he looked at me suspiciously when I announced that I had 19 of 20 correct. Ha! He still had to give up that Ship-On-A-Stick!
After trivia was Giant Tumble. It's a giant Jenga game. Imagine playing Jenga on a listing deck. We almost won another Ship. It was a blast!
If you sail Conquest, don't miss the magic show. Lady Hellevi is a dancer, aerialist and master magician who, along with the dancers, puts on an exciting show.
November 24th - Grand Cayman
We left the ship shortly after breakfast. Grand Cayman is a nice place to walk around, although we stayed fairly close to port because we had an excursion at 11:30. We had enough time for browsing and for pictures before we had to get back to meet our excursion.
The bus ride north (on the wrong side of the road!) took us past stores, hotels and golf courses on our way to one of the many quays on Governors Creek. It also reminded me why I hate roundabouts.
The snorkeling was wonderful! The water was crystal clear and the barrier reef teemed with life. The rays part of the excursion was at what they call deep stingray city. Rather than the wading-on-the-sandbar experience, this is another snorkel in about 10' of water. The tour operators toss calamari into the water to coax the rays up. This was fine, except that they wanted everybody bunched together, making a scrum of fins, elbows and bottoms.
This was also Thanksgiving! Turkey and stuffing were on the menu in the dining room. The shrimp appetizer wasn't exactly traditional, but who cares.
November 25th - Cozumel
Another excursion day: Mayan Ruins and Beach, a four hour tour... a four hour tour. We looked around the shops of Puerta Maya, taking note of some places we wanted to stop in when we got back. It turns out that this wasn't such a great idea.
We were 45 minutes late starting out because our guide, Jorge, had to wait for a couple people. The bus ride took us past houses with bars on the windows and graffiti on the walls until we reached the jungle. The San Gervasio Mayan ruins are about 9mi northeast of the cruise port, as the crow flies. There are no big step pyramids to climb, but the tour was interesting and we got some good pictures of ruins and iguanas.
After San Gervasio, and a short primer on buying coral jewelry by our guide, it was off to Playa Azul, a private beach, restaurant and hotel about six miles north of the cruise port. First, let me say that it is a beautiful setting for the restaurant, which is located in a very large open cabana. Now, that I've said that, I must say it wasn't exactly what we expected. For some reason we thought we were going to be on a smooth bow of white sand and wading beach. This is not the case. There are two short piers, and a small sandy area filled with lounge chairs. The shallows are rocky and somewhat treacherous for wading, but also ideal for snorkeling: it's a good thing I brought mine.
We had sandwiches and cervezas at the restaurant, snorkeled and generally lazed around until the bus was supposed to pick us up. "Supposed" is the right word, by the way. We were informed by Jorge as our pickup time neared that the bus would be a few minutes late. Fine, it was a nice place to be, as long as the bus wasn't too late. It was 45 minutes late, which meant that we were an hour and a half behind because we started out 45 minutes late and nothing had been rushed to catch up. When our bus finally arrived it was filled with passengers from the HAL ship docked next to Conquest. Apparently they were late as well because several passengers decided to skip the beach and ride back with us. In spite of everything, we still expected to have a little time for shipping. That's when got stuck in traffic in San Miguel!
We'd been going along fine until we reached downtown, and then we slowed to a crawl past the shops and downtown cruise port. Traffic didn't ease up. In fact, we came to a dead stop in front of a bar where a group of people were standing around and laughing. A taxi was stalled in front of our bus. The cars that preceded us had been able to get around the taxi, but our bus could not. Our driver and the tour guide fairly leaped off the bus to find out what was going on. Apparently, the taxi had been in an accidente, and the taxi driver refused to move until her supervisor came to the scene to assess the damage. Jorge and the driver both got on their cell phones, alternating between their phone conversations and yelling something about "tarde" at the taxi driver and others hanging around. As it neared 4:30, the time we were supposed to be back on the ship, we knew we wouldn't be shopping. We were just glad we'd booked a Carnival excursion, because the ship wasn't going to leave without us. We didn't get back on board until just before 5.
Didja ever have escargot bourguignon? Kinda apropos after moving through San Miguel at a snail's pace. After dinner was the Battle of the Sexes in the main lounge. Men on one side of the theater and women on the other, it was a close contest until a gaffe by the captain of the male team. I was teased about that for the remainder of the cruise.
Mark Hawkins was hilarious in the Punchliner Comedy Club that night. He did an impression of Captain Alfonso Verdoliva on the intercom that had everyone roaring with laughter, "Big ship wins!" We spent some time afterwards listening to Davis in Vincent's Bar. Davis does a great job--just him with his guitar and backing tracks. He also encourages some passengers perform on his stage, either with him playing or on their own.
November 26th - Sea Day
Last day of the cruise. The Gulf was choppy as we yawed, pitched and rolled our way north. It was cloudy and occasionally rainy, as well. It was a day of on board shopping for last-minute souvenirs, of packing, and of just absorbing everything around us one last time.
You know, I just realized that I haven't mentioned Paul Santley, the cruise director. He's funny, often in a corny and self-deprecating way, personable, and a good singer. His morning shows with Squishy are very like watching Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant.
Frog Legs in a Provencale herb and butter sauce started off our last meal in the Renoir dining room, followed by prime rib again. During desert the waiters sang about our leaving the Fun Ship, and we thought about stowing away.
November 27th - New Orleans
It had been warm in New Orleans when we left. It was now cold.
Debarkation went smoothly. We were zone 15, and the estimate of when we would be called was 9:15: they pretty much nailed it. The line to baggage took awhile, but our luggage was easy to spot once we got there. We cleared Customs without a hitch and got a cab to the hotel at the front of the cab stand just 100' or so outside the door. The cab cost $14 to the Holiday Inn Superdome, but the cab driver said he'd had to wait over two hours to get into line for his first fare, so we tipped well.
It was a wonderful cruise, and the Conquest is a great ship. We'd sail her again in a heartbeat, although we're thinking of the smaller Elation for our next cruise, for right now, "Big ship wins!"