First time cruiser here, but I've already made a second reservation on Carnival Conquest. I'm hoping that things go as swimmingly as my first cruise with only a couple of exceptions.
I did not plan this trip, but was guest of a family who have travelled Carnival several times before, so I was not privy to the planning process. However it seemed pretty easy to get around the web site to book my second trip.
I took Amtrak from Chicago area to southern Mississippi to stay with my hosts for a couple days prior to the trip. I always enjoy the Amtrak ride down south and this was no exception. Family members shuttled us to the Port of N.O. the morning of our departure. We were armed with info that the Conquest was being repositioned and to not be in a hurry to get to port. Still, not wanting to be at the end of the line we arrived mid afternoon to a complete fiasco. The ship was late getting in and all the passengers were piled on top of one another at the port. A tall gentleman shouting at the top of his lungs tried to maintain some order while everyone took numbers to be processed and another group number for their boarding call. This took literally hours. There should be a PA system in that Port waiting room for announcements, not being shouted at. The employees in charge of setting up a photo backdrop were nearly rude to a paraplegic man in wheelchair 'needing the space' he was in so they could herd passengers through their booth. Computers were down so it took quite a long time. But we got through it and all the other employees were as nice as could be.
Arriving on ship, our luggage was going to be a while, so it was difficult to 'tidy' up but we managed to get presentable for the buffet meal. I'm not sure if we would have received a better first night experience (dining room served meal) had we been able to board on time. Still, they managed pretty well, we got a very nice buffet meal in short order. Rooms were always kept immaculate, it was like they checked every time you left the room and replaced towels many times a day (could have saved some labor and water, but hey) Bed comfortable and bathroom plenty serviceable although our shower drained slowly the entire trip.
Luggage arrived through the evening and I got a bit of scare when my main bag did not arrive at our cabin by late night. I'd secured the zipper with zip-tie and security had detected liquids that they wished to examine. We opened it up and they found the allowable amount of Diet Coke. So don't lock your bags! A bit inconvenience but we recognize the need for security.
I'll try to pick up pace on the bulk of the trip. Our wait staff was beyond my wildest expectations, memorizing everyone's names the first night, joking with the 10 year old in our group, helping with menu selections. Just fantastic in every way possible. If you couldn't decide between two appetizers, they brought both. Dessert and coffee always ready. Every course of every meal served with precision and grace. I was a wedding photographer and have eaten plenty of fine meals and this blew my mind. I think there was maybe one main course that I didn't care for, everything else was served hot, in a timely manner, was a treat to the eye (yes I photographed every food item that came to our table!) and was delicious. There was always something on the menu that caught my eye, and the combinations were marvelous. What's more, it seemed to be made of good quality ingredients. Wira was the man who was our head waiter and he was a really fun guy. We had a big crowd and it was cool to be seating in a 10 top in the middle of the main floor of the dining room. Very impressive. The 'entertainment' by wait staff seemed a bit contrived at first but we warmed up to it. Never quite figured out what the Matre'd guy did though, but he presented an envelope for a tip at week's end. Wira got a double extra tip he was well worth it. We cried when we left the ship because we felt as though we were leaving old friends by the end of the week.
Other meals were also quite good. Lines never terribly long. To save money on shore, we ate a good hearty breakfast on those days, and had pizza or deli sandwiches in the afternoon since we were the late dinner crowd. It was nice that the comedy shows and other entertainment also had dual shifts, so we didnt' miss a thing. Carnival entertained us thoroughly from sunup to midnight almost every night! If you can dial room service 100 times, they'll even bring free room service so you can have cheesecake and cookies brought right to you. Need more people on the phones when guest get back on board.
i'm in the entertainment industry now, a music and theater lover, and enjoyed every show we attended from the comedians (who we swapped with another ship mid-cruise so we had fresh material), the magic/tumbling show, and the Legends show the final night. The theaters were incredible and from a technical standpoint outstanding. The effort and talent that went into the performers and show obvious. We even attended the art auction which was interesting. The little show band in the casino was fun, I spent a bit of time in the Blues bar, but my main complaint of this trip was the Sun Deck bands. The calypso-style band was good musically (felt like same 12 songs all week) but it was TOO LOUD. I know Carnival is the 'party boat' and I've done my share of partying, but this was to the point that you could not relax in the sun chairs nor talk to companions comfortably. I asked the players, deck managers, the concierge staff about this several times and nothing changed until I finally chatted with the Head Sound Engineer on nearly the last day. At every club it was deafeningly loud. I'm a sound engineer, I keep track of the audience and what's appropriate for the venue. I even quizzed many other guests and a few employees and they all said it was TOO LOUD everywhere. 70.000 watts (the new main Sun Deck line array sound system) is a fine sounding system but why SO LOUD!!! (Yes Im' typing caps so you can hear over all the noise) In the morning at 6:30 am, CNN news was blasting over that same PA system at what seemed like the volume left over from the night before. I talked to concierge desk about this every day. It's a cruise, we're on vacation, we dont' want to hear about the world - not that early - not THAT LOUD! Please get this under control. Music is there to enhance the experience and provide mood sometimes, entertainment other times. If I'd wanted music blasting me all the time I'd book one of those Legends of Rock cruises. Please just be aware of how loud it really is. 90-95 dbA measured at most times on the Sun Deck, this is enough for permanent hearing damage in just a few hours. There seemed no escaping the noise anywhere on ship.
At the ports of call we managed our own trips, as there were many of us with limited funds. Belize was interesting, being ferried in by smaller boats which was a neat experience. It seems a little tourist-trappy, and we weren't brave enough to go to the Mayan ruins, which I'd do next time. Roatan was our real gem, arriving early in the morning, we looked over the side of the Conquest to see a majestic green island world before us. We were ready, found a independent taxi/guide service who was awesome. For not a lot of money we went to the beach, rented a boat/pilot and snorkeled until we were water logged in the most magnificent waters I've ever seen. I've snorkeled in Key West and it paled in comparison to this. Three of us also zip-lined through the jungle on a path that had 16 different lines. They had a guide for each of us so we felt safe and I still can't believe I conquered my fear of heights that day in a most beautiful way. Careening down a mountain side over stream-covered ravines looking at that crystal clear water was beyond my dreams. Cozumel the next day was a bit busier, still enjoyable and we went to a nature preserve and relaxed at the beach, snorkeled again, and photographed the botanical gardens.
The days at sea were fun, there was lots to do although at times it was windy on deck and some of the balconies were closed off. Tanning, water slide, chatting, hitting the hot tubs, late walks and movies on the Sun Deck were all enjoyable. However the lack of some quietude to really relax was something I found pretty disturbing. Maybe it's me because as a sound engineer I'm sensitive to sound, but it would have been a perfect 10 of a trip if the volume had been managed a bit better.
All that being said, I'm taking the same ship to other ports in a month. Will join the Cruise Critic club there and place further reports. I've got literally hundreds of great photos and memories from this trip. Can't wait to head down south for a nice thaw out at the end of this winter. When you live up north, you really appreciate 80 degrees and turquoise water in the middle of winter.