A full review, complete with lots of photos can be found on my website here:
Our Group (from Olive Branch, Mississippi): Anthony Jones, 27, 3rd Cruise Lexie Jones, 26, 4th Cruise Kevin Medlin, 26, 2nd Cruise Melissa Medlin, 27, 2nd Cruise
Overall Cruise Rating: 4.5 stars
Complete Cruise Photo Album: http://www.anthonyandlexie.com/PhotoGallery/gallery.asp?categoryid=20
I'm not sure whose bright idea it was to take another cruise, but since we had so much fun, I'll be glad to take credit for that decision! After spending seven days onboard the M.S. Carnival Conquest, we were able to enjoy the Western Caribbean in all its glory, as well as soak up another cruise experience. This review will recap the highlights of our voyage and hopefully will be a useful resource for anyone who is considering or planning a trip on this vessel. Let me assure you that you won't be disappointed!
Traveling to New Orleans
After a near disaster with our flight on our last cruise, we opted to drive down the day before for this trip. We loaded up the Tahoe on Saturday morning--loaded it *down* is probably a better description as we really needed a U-Haul. We honestly carried enough luggage to support a small third world country. Anyway, the drive took about 6.5 hours to reach New Orleans. We booked a room at the Quality Inn & Suites downtown through Hotels.com and got a decent rate. The hotel was ok, but nothing spectacular and there are probably better hotels that include a cruise package. Saturday night we hit Pat O'Brien's and strolled up and down Bourbon Street. This less than a week after Mardi Gras ended and I was amazed at how clean the city was (relatively speaking). We enjoyed a short evening and hit the bed early.
Embarkation (getting to and on the ship):
I've read a lot of horror stories about the New Orleans pier. It's true, the port is under some major construction and that does cause some confusion. After eating breakfast, we drove down to get in a long line of traffic which seemed to be going to the pier. After sitting in that line for 30 minutes, we were told by a cop that we were in the wrong line (go figure) and that we needed to park on Annunciation Street. I had previously read that the Fulton Street garage was the best place to park, but we did as he said and it worked out quicker that way. This particular lot was not covered, but was fenced in and secured....cost was $84 for the entire week. A shuttle then took us to the pier to check in.
After getting off the shuttle, everything was a blur. We flew through check in, security and the pre-boarding photo and less than 15 minutes later, we were on the ship. I was amazed at how efficient this process was—granted we arrived fairly early, but we were glad to be onboard by 12:30. Kudos to the Carnival staff and New Orleans port on this process. They really have their stuff together!
On the Ship
After walking onboard the ship, we immediately headed up to our rooms to check them out and drop off our carry on bags. We had rooms 8266 and 8268 on the Veranda deck, both with balconies. Very nice rooms and you can't beat the location on the ship. Soon after, we headed up to the Lido deck for lunch where the ladies were quick to dive into the drinks of the day. The rest of the day was spent exploring the ship, unpacking and relaxing. Most of our bags were delivered to our rooms before we sailed. Our room steward was Joel from the Philippines, and he did a great job taking care of our messy room and leaving the famous towel animals for us each night.
The weather on this cruise was near perfect. It was a bit cool and rained as we sailed out of New Orleans, but when we woke up the next day, it was sunny and warm and remained that way for the next 7 days. Great February weather! The seas were calm and nobody onboard looked seasick all week.
We had a total of 3 days at sea. The first two days, (Monday & Tuesday) were pretty lazy. We enjoyed hanging out on the sun decks and the ladies continued basking in the sun with their drinks of the day. There were quite a few activities taking place throughout the ship, but since we had seen most of them on our last cruise (they were basically the same things) we really spent more time being lazy and constantly grazing on the mass quantities of food. I do recommend participating or at least watching some of these activities if you've never seen them—they can be really entertaining!
We did attend the previous cruisers party on Tuesday where Lexie won a dinner for two at the Point (the reservations only supper club). More on that later. Naturally, we would be the only rednecks dressed in bathing suits and t-shirts at this party while everyone else looked halfway respectable. After several drinks of the day, though, who cares, right?
We really didn't go to a lot of the evening shows. The girls checked out one of the Vegas shows and almost fell asleep, so they left early (I was surprised by that). However, we did see Phat Kat, the R-Rated comedian at midnight and he was very funny. We also saw the juggling act of some Mexican guy who was very talented. The best entertainer, in our opinion, was a ventriloquist named Marc Reuben. This guy was great and had us rolling. He does both family and adult rated shows, and both were hilarious. If you get a chance to see him, treat yourself. You can view his website at www.dummytalk.com to find out when he'll be back onboard.
Steve Cassell was the Cruise Director and we found him to be a little "over the top". Some seemed to enjoy him, but I think he tried too hard to be funny when he really wasn't. Of course, we had John Heald a few years back and that set a very high standard that we're accustomed to. Anyway, nothing we lost sleep over!
Yes, there is a large Tahiti themed casino onboard this ship. I should know b/c I spent a little time here. Actually, I won enough money playing blackjack to pay for the sail and sign account damage that we did while onboard, so that made it all worthwhile. Most of the dealers were very friendly (with the exception of one jerk) and they made it fun. One piece of advice here—if you've never played a certain game, ASK how to play before sitting down. In fact, take some free lessons that they offer before you play. It's for your own good and the good of others at your table. End of soapbox speech.
Speaking of entertainment, the ladies made their own entertainment in Henri's disco. See what I mean by clicking here.
Food is everywhere. It surrounds you and pulls you in and you have no control over it. We ate enough pizza to put Papa John's out of business. That was my favorite, although you can't miss the steak sandwiches from the grill and of course, the ice cream machines every 15 feet on the ship. Hey, you're on vacation. Jump in, give it hell, and go back to the gym next week.
We always enjoy eating dinner at the main dining rooms at night. Our table was at the Renoir dining room at the 8:30 late seating. We like the late seating best because it gives us more time in port and we never miss any sail away's. Plus, if you get hungry before then, there's plenty of 'appetizers' around the ship.
The food in the dining room was great every night. If you see two or three entrees you like, order all of them. We did this several nights and my personal favorites where the filet and lobster. Excellent! If you can't find something you like, you have a problem. If the food is not good, it's your fault for not ordering something else. The waiters are happy to do it!
Our waiters, Janell from the Philippines and Leonardo from Panama were great. We also brought a bottle of wine to dinner almost every night and were never charged the $10 corkage fee. The smart waiters will let that slide, so feel free to bring some wine from home. Of course, they did their sing and dance routines most nights, and Lexie & Melissa enjoyed dancing along with them. All of this greatly contributed to the enjoyment of the cruise.
As for the Point, we did eat there on the second formal night since Lexie won the gift certificate. In a nutshell, we were disappointed. We had heard the food was so much better here than the dining rooms, but we disagreed. It was nice atmosphere and the presentation of the food was amazing, but not great in terms of quality. My suggestion is that if you really enjoy the food in your dining room, don't spend the $50 on the Point. It wasn't horrible, but just not worth the extra $$$.
Montego Bay, Jamaica
Our first port of call was Montego Bay, Jamaica. We had read many negative reviews on this port, but heard that Sunset Beach Resort was the best place to go, so that's what we did. We grabbed a cab from the pier to the resort ($3/person for cab) and for $20 per person per day, you get all your food, drinks and snorkeling covered. You just can't beat this deal. The beach was very pretty there were plenty of chairs and places to lay out on the beach. Kevin and I snorkeled here, which we enjoyed, but there's not a lot of great coral reefs or fish here. It still beats anything back home! We ate some great jerk chicken for lunch, relaxed in a Jacuzzi overlooking the beach and had some drinks. We spent about 4 enjoyable hours here.
We had about 2 hours to burn before heading back to the ship, so we took another cab to Jimmy Buffet's Margaretville. This place was crazy—lots of partying, dancing on tables, a few boobs here and there, and, well, you get the picture. It was a cool experience. Unfortunately, we were nearly out of cash at this point ($20 for ONE drink here will break you *fast*!) so we didn't stay long. Took pictures, bought MORE T-shirts, grabbed another cab and headed back to the ship.
A few notes on Jamaica. I understand why many people hate this stop. If we had gone onto the island not knowing what to do, we would have been aimlessly wandering around bad parts of town. Plan ahead before getting off the ship! Make no mistake--as you drive down the streets, people are standing in the MIDDLE of the road selling drugs and other junk. It's a very poor looking place with trash burning and dope/crack heads walking around lost. The best advice is to go to a resort where these people are kept out and you'll be safe. Leave your valuables on the ship and don't carry a lot of cash!
Also, another very important point in Jamaica: NEVER, NEVER, NEVER get into a cab unless it has a red license plate and the words "Juta" prominently displayed on the window. These are the only cabs regulated by the government and the others are shady and very pushy. We made this mistake on the first cab we got at the pier and he tried to convince us to go to some other public beaches. Also, once we got to Sunset Beach, he told us that he didn't have any change. Yeah, right! We argued and argued and waited around until we finally got change from someone. They're very pushy and stubborn and insist that you take their cabs—but wait around for a red-tag cab and you'll be much better off.
Overall, I'm glad we got off the ship as had a lot of fun, but it was our least favorite stop, and we have no desire to ever visit this island again.
Grand Cayman Island
We were all very excited about this stop as we'd heard many great reviews about the island. In stark contrast to Jamaica, Grand Cayman is a very clean and nice town. You don't have dope heads and pushy street vendors here. Once we got off the tender, we walked in a few shops, and bought MORE T-Shirts and stuff. Beware prices here are much higher than other ports!
Before taking this cruise, we booked an independent excursion through Captain Marvin's Watersports for the Stingray City tour. I've heard nothing but positive reviews from this company and everyone had raved about swimming with the stingrays. Somehow, we were able to convince the ladies that this would be fun, and in the end, they totally agreed!
We arrived at their office at 10:45 and were driven to a boat about 10 minutes away. About 50 of us climbed aboard and started out into the sea. The boat ride took about 20 minutes and we stopped for 20 minutes of snorkeling at a small coral reef. The water was absolutely amazing and although there were not a lot of fish, the ones we saw were awesome. Visibility was well over 100 feet in the water. We spent a short time here and took another 5 minute ride over to see the stingrays.
Swimming with these animals is one of the most awesome things I've ever done and I highly recommend trying it. As I recall, I was the first off the boat and the last back on, and would have liked to stay all day. These massive rays swim right up to you, around you, under your legs and everywhere else. They are as friendly as your cat or dog and nearly as tame. Everyone got a chance to hold, pet, and kiss the stingrays and I spent some time snorkeling around with them. You can't appreciate this unless you do it for yourself. They are not dangerous and are accustomed to people holding them. Give them some squid and they'll be your best friend!
My only compliant with this tour is that it was too short. Although it's a 2 hour tour, nearly half of the time is spent traveling in a boat or shuttle. However, it was worth every penny at $34 per person. If you ever have the chance, book through Captain Marvin's and you'll be glad you did. Carnival offers the same excursion but for a lot more money.
We did get a chance to see a lot of this island and its extensive hurricane damage. It's a beautiful place, and I can't imagine how it looked before the storm hit. They are still moving debris and downed trees, so it will take them a while to rebuild. The water and beaches were still beautiful.
We had to be back onboard the ship by 3:00 pm, so it left very little time for anything else. We really wanted to go Seven Mile Beach, but were too rushed. I'm not sure why the ships have to leave so early, but our ship, along with the other six that were docked there, all left at the same exact time. I'd still like to know why.
Overall, this was an awesome port and I would love to go back and spend more time here.
We got off the ship rather early and took a cab to Chankanaab Beach rather than take an excursion. I wanted to find a place with good snorkeling and hopefully a chance to scuba dive, and this beach had it all. It was a very short cab ride that cost about $10. Cost of admission to the beach was $12/person, but everything else inside cost extra. Still, this wasn't a bad deal considering all the things to see and do. We walked in and saw the dolphin encounter taking place. People were swimming with the dolphins and watching them do a lot of really cool tricks. I would have enjoyed doing this, so we may have to do it next time! It was a lot of fun to watch and cost us nothing.
We walked up the beach and found a hut that offered a *great* deal on scuba diving. I'm a certified diver, but it's been several years since I've been diving so I needed a refresher course. For $55 each, Kevin and I got a brief overview and soon were in the water. This was the highlight of my entire trip. We followed our guide underwater and saw some of the most amazing coral reefs and fish you could ever dream about! It felt great getting back in scuba gear, and Kevin caught on very quickly. I think he's hooked now!
We spent nearly an hour underwater and covered a lot of ground. We swam through some awesome caves and swam with thousands of fish. Truly an unbelievable experience and we were both glad we did it.
After a short break and some lunch on the beach, we all snorkeled in the same general area. Lexie and Melissa enjoyed that, but after scuba diving, snorkeling just didn't quite cut it for me. We hung out here a while, caught some rays, and headed to Lexie's favorite place in the world....Carlos 'N Charlie's!
Carlos 'N Charlie's is an excursion in itself. Take one step inside and you'll see what I mean. This place redefines the meaning of 'wild'. Massive and potent quantities of alcohol are too easily accessible. Also, 165 proof Mexican tequila is NOT the same as what you get here in the states! It didn't take long until Lexie & Melissa were dancing on tables and eventually found the stage where they could showcase their absolute mastery of the fine art known as dancing. We stayed here for an hour or so, and after *literally* dragging the girls off the stage and into a cab, we headed back to the ship. Yet another interesting story to tell our Grandkids!
Final Sea Day
Of course, the last day at sea reminds you that the trip is about over so it makes it tough to enjoy, but we managed. We spent more time on the Lido deck hanging out, packed up, went to dinner and crashed fairly early. A full week of non stop action takes its toll and we had just about reached our limit by this time.
Since we would be driving home, we thought we would take advantage of the "self-assist" method of leaving the ship, whereby you take off all of your luggage on your own and get off before everyone else. Apparently, Carnival has done away with this policy, saying that it caused too many delays in the past. However, this entire process was pretty smooth. We woke up at 7:00 and were already in port, ate breakfast and waited for our deck to be called. We were off the ship by 10:30, took a shuttle back to our vehicle, and were on the road by 11:00. This was a rather painless procedure with just a little waiting.
Random Thoughts & Tips
Just a few miscellaneous items that you may find useful - or maybe not.
• Yes, you can bring alcohol onboard, despite Carnival's policy. I brought a case of beer packed in a suitcase (don't judge me) as well as some wine for dinner in our carry on bags. No problems whatsoever.
• Cruising the MS River is cool. The ship does tend to sway a bit on the river due to all the sharp turns, but not too bad. Don't miss the oil rigs when you get out into the gulf. Pretty cool!
• During the Captain's cocktail party, drinks are supposed to be free. However, after ordering 4 glasses of wine at the Latour bar, they charged us $30....while at the same time waitresses were handing them out for free! We disputed the charge and by the end of the week, this was also removed.
• If you plan on buying any liquor in Grand Cayman (which was quite cheap), make sure to purchase before 2:00 pm. They can't sell it past 2:00 to cruise passengers and there is no sign telling you this. Don't ask me why.
• I've said this before and it's worthy of saying again: Never fly the day of your cruise. Travel the day before if at all possible! See our horror story here.
• If you have a balcony, bring a short bungee cord to keep the door open—it's great to hear the ocean at night. Bring an extra for your friends who forgot theirs and charge them a rental fee! (I'm kidding, I'm not a total jerk)
• Also, don't forget to pack an extension cord and the famous Downy Wrinkle releaser!
• Watch your onboard sail & sign account closely. Kevin was mysteriously charged a $30 beverage fee and after complaining to enough people, this was finally removed. The ladies were also over charged by the spa, but they eventually took off the charges. You just have to keep on them before they will give in.
• The staff works really hard and they pretty much work for peanuts. Don't stiff the good ones on their tips.
• Read up on cruise information on message board sites. During the week, we observed several things that qualify as "Not Cool". Please read carefully to avoid falling into these traps.
Top 10 Things We Saw That Were NOT Cool
1. Wearing aqua socks at formal night (with a suit & tie, mind you)
2. Spitting off the balcony (remember the ship is moving)
3. Latin night in Henri's dance club
4. Missing the deck party with your wife b/c you're playing blackjack in casino (guilty)
5. Speedos on old men. Speedos on men period. Speedos should only be legal to wear during Olympic swim competitions. Please, respect yourself and the people around you. Standing in line to get a burger & fries while wearing a Speedo may cause vomiting among passengers. I nearly lost it myself.
6. Splitting 10's when playing blackjack—NOT COOL. I realize not everyone is a 'seasoned' gambler, but please don't be stupid—Never, never split 10's! I bet I saw 100 people do this & burn the entire table!
7. Steve Cassell
8. Blowing the whistle on your life jacket during the muster drill. You are very naive if you think your lips are the only ones to ever touch this thing!
9. Old men on the topless deck waving women up and offering them deck chairs.
10. Loud, obnoxious rednecks with mullets. Enough said. There's probably one on every cruise, and we certainly had ours.
Overall, this cruise met and even exceeded many of our expectations. The Conquest is an awesome ship and the dEcor, though not my style, is unique and pleasant. If you don't have fun on this cruise, it's *your* fault. Things will go wrong here and there but take them in stride and don't let one bad event ruin your trip. I'd recommend this cruise to anyone, anytime, anywhere. We will cruise again one day, and while we will certainly cruise Carnival again, we'll probably try Royal Caribbean next, just for a change of scenery.
If you're going on this cruise and have other questions, feel free to let us know and we'll be happy to help! Also, if you enjoyed reading this review, please sign our guestbook and say hello!
Click here for a Ton of pictures of our trip on the Conquest! http://www.anthonyandlexie.com/PhotoGallery/gallery.asp?categoryid=20
****************************** Conquest - February 2005 Glory - May 2004 Victory - May 2002 Personal Website: www.anthonyandlexie.com ******************************