Just returned from a cruise on the Carnival Conquest (2/12-2/19) I was a little reluctant to book this cruise due to complaints made by others on cruise critic (CC) about cold food and the run down appearance of the ship. Neither turned out to be much of a problem.
I was a bit concerned about this aspect due to the comments of others on CC about embarking on a ship in New Orleans. Many said on CC that you could simply walk to the pier from a local hotel. With this in mind, my wife and I arrived on Friday night so we could do a dry run on Saturday morning to the cruise terminal (without luggage of course).
There are two cruise terminals: Julia Street and Erato Street and it seems that Carnival tends to use the Erato terminal. Julia street is walkable from local hotels like the Hilton or Embassy suite. Those staying at the Hilton or Harrah's could walk through the Riverwalk Mall to get to the Julia Street terminal. Erato Street is much farther way from these hotels and I would recommend taking a taxi.
The cruise terminals are somewhat compact so everything seems chaotic. However, I found the embarkation process to be quite organized despite having to stand in long Disneyland type lines but the lines moved quickly. I consider the embarcation process to board the Carnival Splendor in Los Angeles to be far worse than New Orleans.
Our ocean view stateroom was quite spacious with lots of storage room. The ocean view cabin is the same size as the balcony cabin if you include the size of the balcony to the square footage of the cabin. In November 2011, we had an Aqua class cabin on the Celebrity Eclipse which had far less storage space than the Conquest. My wife tipped the Steward $20 on the first day hoping it would result in better service. Overall the cabin was clean and serviceable and the stateroom was always kept tidy and stocked with fresh towels.
This was going to be my 2nd Carnival cruise so I wasn't expecting the superb food such as that served aboard Celebrity Soltice class ships. I'd say that the food was good, hot and competently prepared although I have to admit liking the food more on Norwegian and Cunard. Stay away from the scrambled eggs-they are horrible as is the coffee in the buffet. Carnival needs to dump their recipe for mashed potatoes and use something less gourmet tasting and offer it more frequently at mealtimes.
Although the food is good, I was very disappointed with my meal. It costs $30.00/person to dine at the steakhouse and despite having to pay this to eat there, I was limited to one appetizer, one starter and one entree. In the main dining room you can have whatever you want to eat. I wanted two appetizers and two starters and one entree but I wasn't allowed to have this despite having paid an extra $60.00 to dine at the Steakhouse. This is a lousy way for Carnival to save money because guests go to the Steakhouse expecting a good meal and learn that they can only have 1 starter and 1 appetizer. This left me with a very bad taste in my mouth and I was unable to enjoy the rest of my meal due to the misguided policies of Carnival. I can see limiting the number of entrees one can order but not the entrees or starters. Save your money, the $60.00 spent to dine there isn't a good value when you can have what you want.
12 guests can sign up on two nights of the cruise to receive a tour of the kitchen and have a meal under the direct supervision/preparation of the Chef de Cuisine. My wife is a foodie so she wanted to do this at the cost of $75/person. Carnival made us feel special by having place cards printed with our names and how they served wine with each course. My wife loved it but I left with a greater appreciation for the professionalism of all of the hard working men and women in the kitchen.
Montego Bay, Jamaica:
The least favorable of our stops. The people are resentful and sullen and have their hands out for a tip for even for the slightest service rendered. We took the Irie Mon Beach excursion offered by the ship and was taken to Cornwall Beach, right next to the popular Doctor's Cave Beach. Despite having paid $99.00 for this excursion, we were required to cough up an extra $5.00 for an umbrella and the woman who stuck the umbrella into the sand demanded a tip as well. The jerk chicken served at lunch however was quite tasty. My wife didn't feel comfortable leaving her personal belongings on the beach chairs whenever we'd go or a swim.
We met a 50 something woman on the beach who was incensed about being offered ganja and the services of a young man for $35.00.
The highlight of the trip and now our favorite Caribbean island. Cayman island is the exact opposite of Jamaica. The people are very friendly, the infrastructure well developed, and there isn't anyone trying to hustle you at every street corner or sell you junk at the beach. The downside is that it is a very expensive city. When you leave the cruise terminal, pay attention to your surroundings as there are two terminals to service the 4-6 ships docking out in the bay tendering passengers to shore.
My wife and I took a bus from the bus station to Seven Mile beach for ($5 US)and we got off at the public beach which is also the location of Sea Grape Beach and Calico Jack's.
Here, we paid $10 for an umbrella and we gladly tipped the young man who quietly placed the umbrella into the sand. The beach is beautiful and we didn't feel anxious about leaving our stuff on our beach chairs when going for a swim. We left the beach and took another bus to West Bay and had lunch overlooking the ocean at the Cracked Conch. We ordered a soft drink, soup and a salad topped with mahi mahi and the bill was close to $70.00.
We took another ship excursion to Tulum on the mainland to see the Mayan ruins. It was a seven hour trip which consisted of taking a ferry 45 minutes to the mainland and then taking an hour bus ride to the ruins at Tulum arriving in the early afternoon. It was in the mid 80's with high humidity so it was a bit difficult for us since we aren't accustomed to humidity.
The worst part of this trip is that there isn't a lunch break nor is lunch provided. Upon arrival at Tulum, we were immediately taken into the ruins and given a guided tour and then released to either spend more time at the ruins or go swimming at the lovely beach below the ruins. We opted to go swimming and got back to the parking lot around 2:30PM as the bus was leaving at 3:30PM. We had lunch at Mr. Frosty's directly facing the parking lot. We enjoyed a delicious plate of fish tacos and a guacamole appetizer with soft drink for $26.00. We got back to Playa Del Carmen at 4:30PM and raced across the Yucatan strait by ferry to arrive back at the ship at 5PM. The good part about taking the ship sponsored tour to the mainland is that the ship would wait for us even if we were a little late getting back.
Entertainment: My wife and I only went to see the comedians and there were four comedians performing during the cruise. We were quite surprised at how good the family shows were and we would later attend the R rated shows late at night which were even funnier.
Debarkation was very well organized by the ship. Again, there were long lines but things moved quickly and getting through customs and Immigration was a breeze. The hard part was getting tossed into the chaos outside the cruise ship terminal.
Mardi Gras would be taking place in two days and the shuttle buses and taxi's from the airport were stuck in traffic and trickled into the cruise ship terminal. First we got into the shuttle bus line to the airport ($10/person) and after noticing that no buses were arriving, we moved over to the taxi line. A taxi costs $33.00 to the airport. After standing in the taxi line for 30 minutes we noticed that several buses had showed up at the same time and we raced over to the bus line and got into a bus only 1/2 full and had an enjoyable ride to the airport.
Overall, we had a very enjoyable cruise. The crew on the Conquest are very hard working and friendly and often it is the people whom you meet on vacation are what you remember the most and all of my experiences with the crew were very pleasant.