I cruise because it is a good value. I could not stay at a Hampton Inn, and eat out three times a day for what I usually pay per night on a cruise. I shop for the best price, so I can take multiple trips each year. My friends and family always ask me "when's your next cruise", and I always have an answer. I have sailed four different cruise lines, and I find Carnival usually offers the best options for my small budget. I set my expectations based on what I pay, and I am usually a happy camper.
We booked the cruise on Tuesday, March 13th and sailed on Sunday, March 18th. There are only two ports close enough for me to drive to - and there were not a lot of options for a last minute Spring Break vacation. We settled on the Carnival Conquest out of New Orleans - sailing to Jamaica, Grand Cayman and Cozumel. The Carnival Call Center representatives were very helpful. I worked with two different ladies to book the last three cabins available on the ship. I was allowed to use future cruise vouchers that I purchased on my last Carnival Cruise. If you are on a Carnival cruise - buy the vouchers. They pay for themselves.
New Orleans is a great port. I recommend boarding the ship after the large crowds are on board. Send your luggage to the ship and enjoy New Orleans as long as you can. Drive or grab a cab to the French Quarter - which is very close to the port. If you have a car - use the $12 a day parking across the street from the port. It is monitored and covered.
Our paperwork asked us to be on ship from 12:30 - 2:30. We walked in at 2pm with no line what so ever. We set our things down in our rooms that were all ready for us. Our rooms were 6295 and 6297 - they were adjoining inside cabins. Where they are located - made them square and HUGE. We headed to the lido deck and grabbed one of many open tables for a late lunch.
I really do hate the muster drill - but on the Conquest it was painless.
We had two sea days off the bat. The ship was FULL, so one minor complaint was that if you want to sit by your family on deck you have to get out early and hold a deck chair. (7-8am) If you are going to save chairs - sit in your chair. I saw towels in vacant chairs everywhere - for hours. Frustrating. I think this happens on all ships.
You don't have to look hard for a drink guy - they are everywhere.
Since we booked so late - our party was not seated together for dinner. We talked with Mister V - the Matre D - in the big dining room. He was cool. We had a table together by the second evening. Our waiter Michael was so nice - but the poor guy looked over worked. He had tables everywhere - but even still - service was great. You do have to treat yourself to one night at Steakhouse. If you have kids - they will let the kids split a meal - or have them hang out in the kids club one night while you eat. It is a nice treat - same quality as Ruth Chris.
The casino is very nice - only complaint is the smoking. The casino is open to deck 5 - so the smoke can be smelt outside of the casino. We did not see a single show this time. I have been on so many - the shows look the same to me. I go to the comedy clubs, casino, dance clubs - or a movie outside on deck on the big screen. We watched "Splash" with Tom Hanks -- my girls loved it. It is nice to have options. If you can't find something to do - then you don't like having fun.
We didn't book any excursions with Carnival - we just planned on grabbing a cab to a public beach at each port. We went to Doctor Cave Beach in Montego Bay. It was sooo crowded - but it was spring break so maybe that is why. They charge a hefty price for chairs and umbrellas - but they were all out this time.
We had to tender in Grand Cayman. We paid $4 per person each way to the Royal Palms resort. Again - crowded, no chairs. A bucket of 6 beers - $30. The beach and water are so beautiful here though. If you have not done Sting Ray City - do that when in Grand Cayman. Here is a tip - leave early at Grand Cayman and get back on the ship early. We came back to the port 1 hour before we needed to get back on the ship and waited in line for a tender for an hour on the hot pavement.
Cozumel - if you want a beach away from crowds take cab to Playa Palancar. I think for 5-6 person van the cost is $40 each way total. It is worth it. Nice bar, food, and beach.
On the day you have to leave the ship - eat in the dining room for breakfast. The buffet area is a zoo - the dining room is laid back. I usually do self assist and walk my own luggage off. I guess on this cruise out of New Orleans - everyone must have driven. Everyone was self assist and there was a huge traffic jam and we stood still waiting to get off for over an hour. If the cruise director tells you to not go down to deck three until you are called - don't. You just make matters worse - and I made the mistake of adding to the mess. Once we were off the ship -- customs was easy, and the shuttle to our parking lot across the street was easy as well.
We had a great time. I would recommend this cruise for the right price.