Out of fairness to the Carnival Conquest, I should preface this review with some information about myself. I am a self-pronounced foodie. I shop at Trader Joe's and enjoy television shows like Nurse Jackie and MadMen when I'm not engrossed in reading some writer's memoir, working, or playing Scrabble online with friends. I work hard and play hard. Life to me is about the little things, the textures, the tastes, the colors, good conversation, seeing new places, and meeting interesting people.
I was drawn to this cruise mostly due the the port: New Orleans. We stayed at Harrah's and wandered the French Quarter prior to embarkation. Since this cruise departed during Mardi Gras season, the partying had already started. My husband took me late Friday night to Bourbon Street. I found myself in disgusting river of drunken idiots misbehaving in more ways than I can describe. The stench of urine and beer made me want to retch. I pleaded with my husband "please get me out of here!" We ducked into a restaurant called Pier 424 to escape the throng of miscreants and were pleasantly surprised to find the restaurant specialized in seafood. We ordered a dozen Charbroiled Oysters- they were done to absolute perfection. Succulent, meaty, just the right amount of seasoning. I slurped the juice and picked each shell clean. What a pleasant surprise!
Embarkation- *WARNING* Do not attempt to walk to the Erato St Terminal- even IF you're staying at a nearby hotel. Pay the $14- take a taxi. Erato St terminal is not pedestrian friendly at ALL. My husband and I walked to the Julia St. terminal which was easy, but about halfway to the Erato St terminal I started having a meltdown. It's too confusing and frustrating- even WITHOUT luggage. Do yourself a favor, save your marriage, hail a cab- it will be worth it.
Embarcation was well organized and easy. We arrived at 1:30 pm and we onboard in less than an hour. The lines were orderly, there were no "free-for-alls." Our room was ready.
Stateroom 1356 was spacious- lots of storage room. Probably 2x as much as on the Celebrity Eclipse. There are 3 cabinets alone for hanging clothes! The decor was pastel passe, the bed - nothing fancy, not firm, nor soft. The bed did squeak incessantly which was probably more annoying to the neighbors than for us. The linens were a poly-cotton blend- not starched. Definitely NOT hotel quality. The tiny bathroom was extremely basic. I despise shower curtains, I was disappointed by this "El Cheapo" touch. All this being said, the room was comfy- well thought out. I thought the light switch in the headboard allowing one to turn out the lights from bed was a nice touch.
We tipped our steward $20 upon arrival. I explained that I was "high maintenance." He smiled, brought me more hangers, ice, and was good at making up the room in mornings during breakfast, then did turndown nightly at suppertime. He made competent towel animals, his best being the "monkey" and the "dog." I thought it was cute how he placed my sunglasses on the "dog's" head. The steward always replaced the beach towels and kindly greeted us the few times we saw him.
The casino is a "hopping" spot with live music, dancing, a full bar, tables, slots, and a nice ambiance. The cigarette smoke is a major bummer though. My allergies could only tolerate one night at the casino, the rest of the nights we attended comedy shows. These were funny and raucous. I thought I'd find the "Family Friendly" shows to be too tame but I surprised myself by enjoying them immensely.
I watched about 5 minutes of a "dancing/singing production" in Toulouse-Lautrec. It seemed quite amateurish- better than high-school quality, but definitely not "professional." I was flabbergasted by the popularity of the "hairy chest contest" and the "bean bag toss." Not my cup of tea.
Speaking of tea- High Tea at 3:30pm in Monet's upper level is a must-do! A casual affair served at community-style tables offering camaraderie and treats! What could be better than a steaming cup of Earl Grey with a cucumber sammy followed by petite fours?!
Dining *WARNING* You could be seated at a community table with boorish, dull, bigoted people. If you have a set dining time, you can look forward to the pleasure of their company for the remainder of your trip. Carnival seems to adore "audience" participation, so prepared to have a singing-dancing-napkin-waving intermission each night. You can order what you like off the menu- I suggest ordering a couple of starters, a soup AND salad until you get used to the menu. This way, you can easily push food not-to-your-liking away without making a fuss. The cream of mushroom soup was the only memorable dish on the Monet menu, it was excellent. Everything else was competent except the scrambled eggs (very bad).
We participated in The Chef's Table on Weds night. Pricey at $150 per couple but totally worth it. We started with a kitchen tour, canapes with champagne, only to be led into a private dining room with the Chef de Cuisine where we were treated to 7 courses of clever culinary creations. The dinners included wine pairing (white and red) and photos. The meal took 3.5 hours, what a feast!
The Point Steakhouse messed up our Valentine's day reservations, so we went a couple of days later. I started with escargot- OK. It was followed with the lobster bisque, too watery and fishy tasting for my liking. Then I had filet mignon which was good, but not spectacular. I had an interesting chocolate sampler for dessert that was far-out; a neat row of little glass cups filled with peculiar gooey treats. Unfortunately, the I found the service to be stiff and unfriendly, it was the first time I felt any "attitude" from any of the crew members. Overall impression- Meh. It was not worth the $60 spent.
Port#1 Montego Bay, Jamaica. Hot, unfriendly, dirty, and poor. Think of the ghettos from the movie District 9. We did the Erie Mon Beach Party excursion. The beach is lovely, the white sand struck me as being a little contrived with the perfectly lined up lounge chairs and same-color umbrellas. We were shocked to learn we had to pay extra for an umbrella! I was also discomfited by the asking for tips BEFORE a service was to be performed. The locals have a sort of "unspoken aggression" about them which made me wary and nervous. The water's entry is sharp with shells and rocks, I highly recommend swim shoes to protect your feet. There is a certain dichotomy on this island that is hard to explain; a sort of sweet (pristine white sand beaches, turquoise oceans) and sour (sullen resentful inhabitants) which left a bad taste in my mouth.
Port #2 Grand Cayman. Open, clean, sunny, friendly, good infrastructure. We took a bus (go to Fort street- go right- head to library) to Seagrape beach. Total cost $5. We rented 2 chairs and an umbrella for the day for $20. We plopped down at the waterline and had a great time playing in the cornmeal like sand and swimming like children in the warm calm waters. It is a public beach so nothing fancy, however there are restrooms, trash cans, and a place to get drinks and grub. From there we took the bus to the Cracked Conch, a charming little restaurant on an exposed reef. We sat outdoors near the water (spectacular view) and watched the sandpipers chasing crabs and bugs in the rocks aside the tables. Conch tastes like a cross between calamari and shrimp, mild and meaty. Lunch was $60, the service was slow, the restrooms clean, but we knew we were paying for the view not the food.
We took the bus by Hell (yes, it's really called that) then back to the pier. Mostly uneventful except the bus driver was cramming us into the bus (minivan) like sardines. Back in town, my husband changed $20 USD for $1 bills free of charge at Scotia bank, we bought a T-shirt and hat at a nearby gift shop, then tendered back to the ship without incident. All-in-all, a very fine day.
Port #3 Cozumel. We didn't spend much time (or any really) in Cozumel due to our Tulum excursion. We walked directly to the clipper which took us to mainland (Playa del Carmen) then boarded a tour bus to the Tulum ruins. Once at Tulum, we took a tractor-ride to the site. It took almost 2.5 hours in travel time to arrive, so we had to rush a little to see the ruins, hit the beach (which was pristine but an aerobic stair climb for those out-of-shape). Tulum was nearly as impressive as the beach. The flora and fauna were captivating, however the "vendors" are really aggressive upon entering and exiting the site. Be polite and say "Gracias" even though you really want to say "go away." It actually works. We had fish tacos at Frosty's. They were "muy bueno!" The guacamole was plentiful with not too many tomatoes or onions. Lunch cost $26, expensive for Mexico but convenient and delicious.
The whirlwind Tulum trip totally exhausted me. I felt it was too much "travel" to cram into one day. I wouldn't recommend it except for the uber-easy-going personality types (like my husband)- or the die hard "bucket list" types.
Disembarcation was easy breezy. We put our luggage out at 10pm, our "relaxed debark" group was 32. I didn't like that we were kicked out of the room at 8:30am- this left us 1.5 hours to kill in a "public area" before we could leave the ship. It turned out to be OK in the end; I finished my novel then had a latte, my husband "hung out" doing a little wandering and leafing thru magazines. It took about 1 hour to get off the ship, the lines were long but orderly, there was no "guessing" what to do. Mardi Gras traffic and parades screwed up taxis and buses. We were made to wait about 45 minutes for a bus which took us to the airport at $10/head. It was not necessary to pre-purchase this onboard.
Summary: A good cruise. It would have been better had it been my first cruise instead of following a more upscale Celebrity Cruise on a far newer ship (Eclipse). Words of advice- Take the taxi to Erato St terminal, bring hangers if you have a lot of "hanging up" clothes. Men- don't worry about a tie on elegant night (a jacket will suffice), take swim shoes to Jamaica, always rent an umbrella on the beach and get as close to the water as you can. Even if you have olive skin; SPF 15 won't cut it! You will be a crispy critter. Don't do the Mexico ruin excursions (Coba/Tulum) unless you are very fit and laid back.