This is my review of my first cruise, aboard the Conquest for Thanksgiving week. It will be long and detailed, so I will break it up into sections. I was still on that beautiful ship just nine days ago, but it seems like forever! Here goes Day One...
Embarkation was an absolute dream, after the expectations I had from reading the negative experiences of others. We arrived at EZ cruise at around 11:45, after dropping our luggage at the pier and, of course, tipping the porter. We took our time walking back to the pier, and arrived at about 11:55. The Skippers Club benefit of priority check-in was great! With no waiting beforehand, we got our S&S cards while sitting in an office off to the side of the long line of passengers waiting for regular check-in. When we asked if the other members of our party could check in with us, Carnival staff cheerfully cooperated, and the people in the two cabins that were not suites were given the Skippers Club priority boarding as well! All six of us had our S&S cards very quickly. We were given the option of skipping the embarkation photo op, and thereby the long line to board, and we readily agreed. We were then escorted by a uniformed Carnival rep past the lengthy line of folks waiting for their photos to be taken; through the velvet rope barriers that he unhooked to let us pass. Boy, did it make us feel like VIP's! We were aboard the ship by 12:15...it was a breeze!
Following advice I received from fellow CC'ers, I went to the dining room immediately upon boarding to request a change in our dining assignment. (The 16 in our extended group had linked our bookings together and had all requested early dining, since we had a three year old and a six year old amongst us. However, we were assigned 8:30 in the Renoir.) I was told that the Maitre d' would not be available for dining assignment change requests until 4:30, so I rejoined the two sisters of mine who were sharing the cabin with me and we looked around the ship for a few minutes.
The ship was awe-inspiring for us newbies, as I am sure it is for most first-time cruisers. The lobby had the air of a grand hotel; very elegant. There were lovely garlands and wreathes hung for Christmas, and several decorated Christmas trees were located throughout the public areas. Nice backdrops for photos!
We were naughty...it was not even 1:00 and we went straight up to our cabin, #7273 on the Empress Deck/Deck 7, to see if it was ready, though we had been instructed to refrain from doing so until 2:00. Our wonderful room steward, a young man named Dave from Trinidad and Tobago, greeted us warmly and showed us where we could stash our carry-on luggage so that it would be out of his way while he finished preparing the room. We took this opportunity to tell him that we wanted the twin beds configuration rather than one queen, as three adult women would be sharing the cabin. We also asked Dave to keep our soft sided cooler filled with ice. We gave him a nice tip and said that we looked forward to a wonderful cruise.
Then it was up to the Lido deck for a Funship Special with the prerequisite umbrella...our cruise experience was finally beginning! We enjoyed just walking on the deck sipping our drinks, occasionally pinching ourselves just to be sure we weren't dreaming. Then we hungrily hit the grill for lunch. More details on food and dining later. Next we returned to our room, which had been prepared as requested with the twin beds. Our cooler was full of ice, as well. Most of our luggage had arrived at this point, and we had a boat-load of it, pardon the pun. Between the three of us in our cabin we had seventeen pieces. But in our defense, at the end of our trip it was down to nine pieces. More on this later too.
We had agreed to meet the rest of our friends and family, an extended party of 16, as well as fellow CC'ers, at the Skypool Bar at 4:00. I didn't plan this very well; we CC'ers should have agreed to wear something identifiable or found some other way to know who each other were. I resorted to just walking around the area like some silly town crier, inquiring, "Cruise Critic? Cruise Critic?" Met a couple of fellow CC'ers that way, but we didn't really get to know any of them during the cruise, though they seemed very friendly. I am sure that having such a large group of our own family & friends did not lend itself to meeting & getting to know new friends. But there's always next cruise for that...
I left the Skypool area to head back down to the Renoir for my chat with the Maitre d'. He told me that it was unlikely that they could accommodate my request for our party to change to early dining, due to it being Thanksgiving week and having such a large number of children aboard. He said I would be notified the next day as to the result of my request. (Next day, I got a call in my cabin to inform me that it would not be possible to change our assignment. Oh well, I tried. My poor little three year old niece was asleep in her macaroni and cheese by the time the main course arrived, every single night!)
Up to the room to meet up with my sisters and grab our lifejackets, as the muster drill was scheduled for 5:00. Following CC advice we waited until the last minute to report to our station. Fairly painless, lasted only about 15 to 20 minutes, then we were first out because we were last in. Back to our rooms to drop off the life vests. All of our luggage had arrived, save one piece, so we all unpacked. I am pleased to report that my, ahem, creatively filled soda bottles, ahem, arrived just fine!
Let me tell you, Category 11 Suites on the Conquest leave nothing to be desired in the storage department. Three women and seventeen pieces of luggage...and we still had more than adequate room to unpack all of our things and stow all of our luggage out of sight. There are drawers, cupboards, and closets everywhere they can find space to put them. We had a few cupboards that we did not even use, and I am a shoes and purse freak! Plus we had eight of the seventeen pieces of luggage still packed (with donations for a Jamaican orphanage) so they could not be placed inside one another before stowing underneath a bed or in a closet.
The over-the-door shoe holder was a great organizer; I'll never cruise without it. The duct tape came in handy several times, especially for the balcony decorations I put up. I hung a red, white and blue banner across our balcony above the door that had triangular flags with stars and stripes. Also taped a Texas flag to the balcony, but the flapping bothered one of my sisters so that came down. The banner stayed for the whole cruise, though, and it was great, because we could spot our cabin while tendering and in ports. I also brought magnets and ribbons for door decorations for our group's cabins, so I decorated our door and delivered decks to the others' cabins. Sure made it easy to find our group's rooms, since we were scattered on four decks! If any of you who were on our sailing walked past rooms with "Crazy Sister" decorations on them, you know what I mean.
We wanted to be up on deck for sailaway, but if there was an announcement or other sign that we were about to sail we all missed it. Thank goodness we had a balcony, so at least when we felt the ship begin to move we could step right outside and hear the ocean sounds as we sailed out of Galveston Bay.
Luggage unpacked, balcony and door decorated...what to do now? We planned three surprise celebrations while onboard and I ordered a total of five cakes for them. The first celebration was a birthday party for our oldest sister, so we went ahead and wrapped her gifts and decorated our suite for the party. The cake I ordered from Carnival for that party was waiting for us when we first arrived in our room, as I had ordered it to be. However, the cake read only "Happy Birthday" rather than the custom message I requested. Strike one on the cakes I ordered.
Party preparations handled, we used the remaining time before dinner to explore the ship, another Funship Special in hand. After preparing for dinner, our large group entered the Renoir and had the pleasure of meeting our wait staff, Claudia and Svetlana. Claudia, from Romania, was a true delight. Warm and caring while still professional and attentive, she was a gem and truly added to the pleasure of our dining experience while on our cruise. Svetlana seemed shy and more reserved, but still did her job of assisting Claudia quite well. I will do a separate review of the food and dining to cover what we ordered etc.
After dinner we went to the casino to make a few donations, then we went lounge-hopping to see what was going on where. Memory gets a little blurry as the night wears on, but I know we were having a fabulous time dancing and, at one point, singing in the piano bar. Fun fun, fun! Finally made it back to the room about 2:00 in the morning. A turkey sandwich and some pretzels from room service, pop the bungee on the door so we can listen to the ocean, and its off to La-La land. Our first day on our cruise...and it was wonderful!
I awoke eagerly at dawn on day two of my first cruise. I can rarely sleep past sun-up, and this was the case even though my sisters and I had been up drinking and dancing until two in the morning the night before. I quietly scooted out to the balcony, necessary ice water in hand for rehydration, to enjoy the beautiful sunrise with the soothing sounds of the water lapping at the sides of the ship. Pure Heaven!
I very kindly waited until about 7:45 or so to make noise in the cabin, so this is when my cabin mates, sisters two and five, began to stir. I ordered room service coffee for three, which arrived in less than ten minutes. We enjoyed sitting out on the balcony sipping our coffee for a bit, then we got ready for the day. Up to the buffet for breakfast. The lines weren't too bad at about 8:30, and we were finished with breakfast shortly after nine, with our first full Sea Day ahead of us!
I must admit that some of what I report for days two and three might have happened either day; it is hard to remember exactly what happened on which day. I am sure libations have nothing to do with the sometimes hazy memories.
I do know that the second and third of the five cakes I ordered had been delivered to my cabin the previous night, as ordered, and were inscribed correctly (yay!), unlike the first cake. These were for sister seven's 30th birthday, so we had another party to prepare for. We decided to get that part out of the way and returned to our room to wrap her presents. We had wisely let the birthday streamers and banner remain in place after the previous day's celebration for sister one, making for a quick prep time for today's party. We stashed the presents, using the ample storage we had, just in case baby sister made an impromptu visit before her party.
Sisters one and four showed up around then, expressing a desire to go up on deck and partake of the "$2.95 'til noon" Bloody Mary's and tequila sunrises before the deadline. They reported both to be very good with a nice kick. I opted for a raspberry daiquiri...also very good, sweet with a little tart bite to it and plenty of rum. We sat with our drinks and Capers in hand and talked about who wanted to do what. Some wanted to go the casino, some to bingo, and a couple of the sisters wanted to go to the art auction.
I went to the casino with sisters two and five, where I donated about $40 to the slots fund. Sister five came out even, after playing a few hands of blackjack, and sister two was up about $75 playing the slots. Sisters one and four did the art auction and thoroughly enjoyed it. Sisters six and seven were off doing there own thing.
After meeting back up, we talked about trying out the hot tubs, so back we went to our rooms to change into our bathing suits. And to dip into our soft-sided cooler stash . It was about 1:00 by then, so we decided to hit the Lido deck for lunch before checking out the hot tubs. Some of us chose the buffet, others the grill. After lunch and a round of frou-frou drinks, we realized we had to skip the hot tubs for now and high-tail it back to our cabin if we were going to beat baby sister there for her party.
We made it back with about ten minutes to spare. Long enough to arrange the gifts, pop my cruisin' cd into the player and refresh everyone's drinks. Birthday girl was genuinely surprised and pleased, since her big day really isn't until February. We took the opportunity to celebrate it on the cruise because we are so scattered around that we rarely are all together at the same time.
It was at baby sister's party that sister one brought out some favors that became the hit of the party, and we had fun with them the whole cruise..."Billy Bob" teeth! Fake teeth that make the wearer look like they've never been to a dentist and wouldn't recognize a toothbrush or toothpaste if you handed it to them. Oh, my, we had so darn much fun with those teeth! Three or four, or more, of us sisters would be in an elevator with a couple of unsuspecting fellow passengers. One look at each other, a surreptitious group nod, and we would quickly slip the teeth in, then smile really big at the others in the elevator, and ask, "Does this ship have a dentist?" Or exclaim, "What?! We ain't made of money! We had to make a choice...get our teeth fixed, or go on a cruise!" We even had a portrait of all seven sisters wearing them on formal night...you should have seen the look on the photographers face! He thought he was through taking our group photo, then we all slipped in the teeth, smiled big, then laughed really hard when we saw his jaw drop. Too much fun!!
By the time baby sister's party was over, it was about 4:30. We were getting hungry but did not want to spoil our appetites for dinner, so the three of us in our cabin ordered a sandwich from room service and split it three ways. Just enough to tide us over. Now, time to get ready for our first formal night! We did our make-up, then one at a time we went down to sister four's cabin so she could do our hair. (She's got the knack and besides, the price was right!) We slipped into our dresses and shoes and went down to meet the others at the Captain's cocktail party. A couple of drinks each and a few hors d'oeuvres later, we went to have Formal Night 1 photos taken, then off to dinner.
Dinner was wonderful, but the early start to my day and the steady sipping of adult beverages took its toll on sister three (me!). So, I opted to leave the dining room before dessert. Went up to the room solo, ordered room service coffee, and had a cup while relaxing on the balcony, enjoying the sounds of the sea again.
I noticed that cakes four and five, which were ordered to be delivered that afternoon to our stateroom, were not there. These cakes were for a surprise baby shower for sister six the following day. Just as I was about to call to check on the cakes, sisters two and five returned from the dining room. They said the cakes had been delivered to the dining room that night, just after I left, ruining the surprise for the expectant mom and dad. Strikes two and three on the five cakes I ordered. I resolved to get the three mistaken orders removed from my bill the next day. More on that later.
Refreshed from my solitary rest on the balcony post-dinner, I joined sisters two and five and off we went to the piano bar to meet with the other sisters. Had fun singing there for a bit, then we went into another, nearly empty lounge, where there was a band playing. Sister five is quite the singer; has even done some professional gigs. Someone mentioned this to the band, and sister five and the band came up with a song they both knew..."Blue Bayou." She got up and took over that stage, belting out the song impressively. By the time that one song was over, several more tables in the lounge had people sitting at them, and there were quite a few passengers that had been walking by the lounge and stopped to listen to my sister sing, standing in the doorway. The band tried to come up with another song they both knew, but no luck. Still, we stayed in there, dancing and listening to the band, for quite a while, having a great time. Then it was off to the casino to make some more donations before heading back to the cabin.
Room service brought us tasty BLT's which we devoured. Day two was ending; now it was time to bungee the door open and drift off to sleep, Mother Nature rocking us ever so gently in our beds. I awoke before dawn on day three. I showered and dressed as quietly as possible, so as not to disturb my cabin mates, sisters two and five. Then I slipped out of the cabin and went to have my chat with the pursers desk regarding the mistakes Carnival made on three of my five cake orders. I explained that one lacked the custom message I requested, and that two had been delivered to the dining room rather than to my stateroom, thereby spoiling the surprise about my sisters baby shower planned for the following day. The purser explained that they would have to first conduct an investigation before deciding whether or not to credit my account, and that they would let me know the results by the next day. Fair enough.
I did receive a phone call in my cabin later that day; After investigating, it has been determined that all five cakes were delivered as ordered, was Carnivals official response. Now, this comment surely ruffled my feathers! Basically, Carnival was claiming that I was not telling the truth! I can assure you that the cakes were certainly not delivered as ordered: one was inscribed incorrectly, and two others were delivered to the dining room where our party already had a dessert menu from which to order, leaving no cakes for the baby shower the next day. It is completely unreasonable for Carnival to refuse to credit the charges for those cakes! I said that I would be contacting Guest Relations upon returning home, which I have now done. If or when I receive a response to my letter, I will share it with you here.
After leaving the pursers desk, I resolved that I was not going to let the cake matter ruin my cruise, and put the whole thing out of my head for the rest of the trip. I headed up to the Lido deck, grabbed three coffees, and returned to the cabin in time to wake my sisters so we could enjoy the sunrise with coffee on the balcony. After showering and dressing, we went up to the buffet for breakfast. Tummies full, we returned to the cabin to wrap the gifts for the baby shower. With that out of the way, we were free until 2:00, when the shower was scheduled to begin.
Sisters two, three, and five, as well as nephew and nephews buddy, decided to try our hands at Bingo. Sister two, generous that she is, bought each of us three cards. Nephews buddy bingod in the $100 game, splitting the jackpot with one other lucky winner. Then I bingod in the $150 game, and was the sole winner! Needless to say, a round of drinks for everyone on me!
After Bingo, we grabbed lunch, then headed over to the casino for a bit. No one won or lost spectacularly this visit. Soon enough, it was time to meet our extended group up on the Lido deck for the baby shower, which was a lot of fun. I bet Ill likely never attend another baby shower at sea again!
Returning to our room around 4:30, we decided to ready the orphanage donations, to get that out of the way and allow for an early departure from the ship the next morning. We transferred all the items to be donated from our suitcases to those new giant Ziploc bags they came out with recently. This would prevent us having to either lug the empty suitcases around the rest of the day in Jamaica, or return to the ship to drop them off before heading to our second destination, Sunset Beach.
That chore done, we had some time to kill before dinner, and we used the time to go check out the photo gallery. Found our formal night photos; the one of all seven sisters plus niece came out beautifully! I dont have a scanner, but Ill try to coerce my DD into using hers so I can post a couple of photos from the cruise here soon.
By now it was time to dress for dinner, so back up to the room we went. As I said in day one, I will provide details about the dining options and menu selections in a separate review when I finish the dailies. After dinner, sisters one through seven met (again!) in the casino.
I decided to take some of my unexpected bingo winnings and give roulette a try for the first time. The dealer and other players were very helpful, patient and friendly as I learned the guidelines of the game. I must have had a bit of beginners luck, because I started out with $20 and ended up with $104; $84 up! Between that and the bingo jackpot I won, this day was definitely my luckiest on the cruise, gambling-wise.
I decided to quit while I was ahead, and walked around a bit until I spotted the other sisters feeding the slots at various machines. Except sister four, whose budget for the cruise was probably the tightest; she was just watching the others. I told her it was time to learn how to play roulette, and slipped her a twenty. I returned to the roulette table, sister four in tow, and we spent the next hour or so there. I ended up another $22 up, but sister four turned that twenty into $88, which absolutely thrilled her! Winning is so much more fun than losing&go figure!
Several of the sisters then decided that enough donations had been given to the casino for the evening, and off we went, seeking music, dancing, and frou-frou drinks.
We found the same band my sister had performed with the night before, and they smiled and waved to us as we filed in one after the other to our chosen table. The song the band was playing ended just as we finished taking our seats. The lead singer stepped back up to the microphone, not missing a beat, and said, I would like to introduce to you a very special guest singer & as the band struck up the opening chords to Blue Bayou and he waved sister five up onstage. Once again she wowed the crowd. People sitting a few rows behind us even started chanting, More, more, more! when she finished the song. Such a great memory, I only wish we had taped it!
Following sister fives performance, we danced and drank until after midnight. Knowing we needed to get an early start on day four if we wanted to have enough time at Sunset Beach, we all headed back to our cabins to call it a night. We ordered what was becoming a nightly tradition of BLTs, then bungeed the door again to drift off to those soothing ocean sounds.
Day four arrived, and we were all excited to be visiting Jamaica for the first time. We enjoyed the sunrise from our balcony, then dressed and headed up to the buffet for breakfast, lugging all our Ziplocs full of donations with us so that we could leave the ship immediately after eating. We sure turned a few heads as we passed through! Seven women and one teenaged boy, hauling brightly colored Teddy bears, baby clothes, medicines, coloring books and crayons, and diapering toiletries through the breakfast buffet of a cruise ship are bound to attract a little attention, I suppose!
We made it off the ship and headed to the customs lines, where our bags of donations and the documentation I had prepared were closely scrutinized by Jamaican customs agents before allowing us entry. Then, following CC advice, we got ourselves a JUTA cab with red plates and asked to be taken to the Blossom Gardens Childrens home. We told our driver that we wanted to donate the goods we had brought for the children, then head off to Sunset Beach.
The driver advised that if we went to the orphanage we would have very little time at Sunset Beach; apparently it was further than I had been told. I knew from my research that the nearby Sandals Resort was a patron of the orphanage, so I asked that we be taken there, where I knew that they could accept the goods for Blossom Gardens. The Sandals public relations manager made quite a fuss over us, taking our pictures with all the bags of items in the foreground and thanking us profusely on behalf of the children.
We loaded back into our JUTA van and headed off to Sunset Beach, which is an all inclusive resort close to the pier that charges $40 per day for all you can eat and drink, including alcohol. Also included is a waterpark, swimming pools, hot tubs, a nude beach, and more. We all thought it was a great deal, and only wished we had more time there.
It was at Sunset Beach that I treated myself to my very first massage. Right out on the beach, sister five and I had side by side massages that were to die for! When I got up from the massage table I actually felt intoxicated for a few minutes, though I had not yet had one drop of alcohol that day. (This is where I learned that the tattoos you can get on the ship are no match for the oils they massage into your body.)
The food was good and the drinks were great, but what I loved most about Sunset Beach was the warmth and friendliness of the people. Those that have heard bad things about Jamaica and avoid leaving the ship really are missing out!
Our driver was there at the entrance to Sunset Beach at 2:00 as requested, and he took us on a brief tour of the countryside, then into town for a quick shopping trip. Then it was back to the pier and another line to get through customs. We were back on the ship about half an hour or so before the deadline, so we made a beeline up to our room, and stood out on the balcony to people-watch as fellow passengers walked, stumbled, staggered, and for the last couple of minutes, ran back to the ship. Quite entertaining! There was also a band of Jamaican school children serenading us from down below; we could see many passengers throwing emptied water bottles containing tips to the children, who gratefully scurried about collecting the bottles. Soon enough, the ship began to move and we were waving goodbye to lovely Jamaica and its wonderful people.
We chilled in the room for a while, then went up on deck to listen to a live band that was playing. While we were there, we met a great couple who was friendly and easy-going. While chatting with them the woman mentioned that she works as a dental hygienist. At that, the sisters and I knowingly exchanged that look, and we all slipped our Billy-Bob teeth in simultaneously, then flashed a big smile. They just cracked up, and we all had a good laugh!
Pretty soon the husband excused himself and left his wife visiting with our sister group. He came back about ten minutes later, apologizing that his wife had left a necessary item in their room and had sent him to retrieve it. With that, he passed her something we could not see. She lowered her head, then raised it to flash a Billy-Bob smile of her own! Purely by coincidence, we found who was probably the only other person on the whole Conquest that had those awful looking teeth like we had. She was immediately declared an honorary sister for this very toothy reason, and we enjoyed visiting with the two of them off and on again for the rest of the cruise. Wouldda thought?!
We enjoyed dinner in the dining room, then we hit the lounges again to drink, dance, and sing the night away. We were booked on a private excursion the next morning and needed to be there by 8 AM, so we made our way back to our rooms sometime around 1:00. Snacking on room service sandwiches, we discussed how much we were all looking forward to doing the stingray and snorkel excursion the next morning. Then it was time to hook up the bungee and crawl into bed. Day five of our cruise, in the Cayman Islands, turned out quite funky and not at all as planned. We really had to overlook a lot of what happened that day so that we could enjoy the rest of the cruise. Part of it was due to the outcome of a private excursion, and part of it involved a Carnival excursion that went sour. Read on:
We awakened and breakfasted early, at the buffet, in order to tender off the ship in time to meet at the Captain Marvins Watersports office by 8:00 for the 8:30 Stingray and Snorkel tour. We were all looking forward to our first encounter with the stingrays, and learning how to snorkel. Our original plan was to walk from the pier to the Captain Marvins office, per their instructions. But due to the weather, we tendered to a different location than expected, which necessitated transportation other than on foot. When we went ashore, we were directed to a Captain Marvins employee called Dreads, who led us to a bus and told us to wait. He said he was going to get a few more passengers and would then drive us to the Captain Marvins office in time to begin the 8:30 tour. He left the bus engine and A/C running. It was about 7:45 AM. According to the Captain Marvins website, we were supposed to arrive at the office by 8:00 for our 8:30 excursion. To make a long story short, at 8:30, all the passengers gave up, and exited the bus, its engine still running. Dreads remained nowhere to be found.
Eventually we located another Captain Marvins driver, who was very apologetic about the disappearance of Dreads and the subsequent time wasted by our party as a result (it was now after 9:30, and the excursion for which we were booked had long since commenced.) He explained that he had to transport the people that were already on his filled bus to the Captain Marvins office, but offered to return to our location to take us anywhere we wanted to go. By this time, however, it was too late to do the stingrays, with Captain Marvins or any other company, due to us being booked on a Carnival excursion that was scheduled to begin at 12:15.
My family and I were so very disappointed. Interacting with the stingrays was an experience we had been eagerly anticipating for months, as well as learning how to snorkel. For some of us, we may never get another opportunity to visit the Cayman Islands, and we spent a good portion of our one day there waiting for an excursion that never happened. I certainly was quite embarrassed to be the one in our party who, based on reviews from fellow CCers and others, assured everyone else that Captain Marvins was a well-respected and trustworthy company and not to worry that the excursion was not sponsored by Carnival.
By now it was after 10:00 and we were to meet for our Carnival excursion at 12:15, so we took the tender back to the ship to have an early lunch. We returned to shore via tender at about 12:00, and waited for the Grand Cayman Highlights Tour operator to arrive so we could begin our tour, which included the town of Hell, the Tortuga Rum factory, and the Turtle Farm. Our tour guide and bus were more than twenty minutes late arriving to begin the tour, and the tour was quite rushed.
At our first stop, the town of Hell, we were allotted exactly fifteen minutes to take photographs, purchase souvenirs, and mail the requisite postcards. Most of us were not wearing watches, and the tour operator did not make an announcement that it was time for our group to reboard, as I heard and saw other tour guides do. I apparently did not return to the bus quickly enough to please our tour guide. When I exited the souvenir shop he had already moved the bus to the other side of the building out of my view. I was inquiring of another tour operator where our bus was, when our tour guide rounded the corner and began to loudly berate me for not being on the bus already. He continued to yell at me the entire time we walked to the bus. His behavior completely shocked me and greatly embarrassed me. Then, to add insult to injury, he chose to get on the bus PA system and berate me further, for all the passengers to hear!
Needless to say, at our next stop, the Tortuga Rum Factory, I dared not leave sight of the bus. While all the other excursion guests went into the factory to sample the famous rum cakes, I stayed out next to the bus, embarrassed and in tears. (And mad as !#$%& at myself for getting all emotional and crying instead of defending myself!)
Upon returning to the bus from the factory, fellow passengers who were complete strangers approached me to tell me that what had happened was not my fault and that the tour guide was out of line. I asked how long the tour operator waited before moving the bus, and was told Probably about two minutes. I learned later that my party actually had to stand up and threaten to exit the moving bus so that I would not be left stranded. Keep in mind, the tour guide himself was more than twenty minutes late arriving to begin the tour, and two minutes was too long for him to willingly wait for me! Needless to say, Carnival Guest Relations has been notified about this tour operator. If and when I receive a response from Carnival regarding this complaint, I will post it here.
The rest of the excursion was uneventful, except for the rushed feeling we had throughout. We enjoyed the little time we had at the Turtle Farm and got some nice souvenirs. Though The Cayman Islands had already had more than a year to clean up after Hurricane Ivan, the damage was still evident, and quite sad to view. We passed piles and piles of debris, from downed trees to the remains of demolished buildings, scattered on either side of the road. The light rain and grey skies added to the sad look of it all as the tour guide drove us back to the pier. I, for one, was glad that our day in the Caymans was over. I plan to return in the future and have a vastly better visit&nice reason to book another cruise that stops in Cayman!
We waited in line for a good half an hour to forty-five minutes to board the tender to return to the ship. Once back on board, we went up to our cabin to get some refreshments from the soft-sided cooler, full of ice as always&thanks, Dave! Went up on deck to enjoy the music and get back into happy mode following our little fiascoes in the Caymans. A Caribbean breeze, a drink in hand, my sisters all around me & I wasnt complaining!
Nephew (sister twos son) had signed up that morning for the Guest Talent Show, and the rehearsal was scheduled for that afternoon, so nephew and sister two took off for that, while the rest of us just relaxed on deck.
An hour or so and a nice light buzz later, we met up with sister two back in the room to get ready for Formal Night 2. We kept sister four busy again as the official hairstylist. This night I wore a full length satin-lined lace dress, chocolate brown, with short handkerchief sleeves. (It just occurred to me that I didnt mention my dress for Formal Night 1: it was a form fitting, knee length, glittery green strapless from the forties.) When all of us were ready, we headed to the photo ops to pose for formal portraits in all our finery. This is the night we had fun with the photographer, thanks to our Billy-Bob teeth. His reaction was, as they say, priceless.
Our excursions for the following day in Cozumel had been canceled due to damage from Hurricane Wilma, so we had no plans other than getting up at our leisure and shopping near the pier. Knowing that, after dinner we did the lounge circuit again. We visited the piano bar for awhile, then stopped by the Karaoke lounge. After that it was back up to the casino, where neither my new friend the roulette table nor the good old slots were very nice to me. Sister two and I were the last two up, until I finally left her sitting there, feeding coins into the flashing, beeping machines, and dragged myself up to the cabin at about 1:30. I told her I would wait up for her, but after ordering and eating a turkey sandwich from room service, it was after 2:00 and I just could not keep my eyes open any more. I have no idea when she finally turned in; I didnt hear a sound when she came in, I was so beat from the long day. Once again, the ocean gently lulled me into sleep.
Day six, Friday, my cabin mates slept in a bit. I, as usual, was out on the balcony at dawn, watching as the darkened sky slowly gave way to streaks of purples and pinks. Sunrises are so fleeting. Before I knew it the entire sky was a clear brilliant blue. Breathtaking!
Since we had no deadlines to meet for excursions or anything, we all agreed to give the dining room a try for breakfast this morning. We met up just at about quarter to nine, and were seated right away. It turns out that our waitstaff for the evening meal were also our servers for breakfast. Wow, do they work long hours! Following the meal, ten of us tendered into Cozumel to do some shopping.
When we reached shore, there was a group of protesters with signs at the entrance to the shopping strip. Unfortunately, all the signs were in Spanish, so I could only make out a little of what they were marching for. It had to do with cruise ships being sent to Cozumel rather than other Mexican ports, and that this was hurting their businesses and their families. There were armed police to separate the protesters from the tourists, which was a bit unnerving at first. But, after assessing the situation, we decided it was under control and that we were all comfortable continuing on.
After stopping in a couple of shops, we realized that our group of ten was just too big for us all to stay together while we shopped, and we split up into smaller groups. Using a flyer from Carnival to guide us, we decided to meet up at Carlos & Charlies for lunch at 1:30.
Sister two, sister five and I all had some serious souvenir buying to do, so off we went. I know a tiny smidgeon of Spanish, which helped a bit when bargaining. What also helped the bargaining aspect of our shopping was sister five whipping out a little hand held calculator when the shopkeepers were tallying up our purchases. Also, when shopping with others, if it is feasible to do so, have one person present all your purchases together at one time and bargain on the whole lot. Think buying in bulk&it worked for us.
Among other things, we chose brightly colored dresses and bathing suit wraps, ceramics, costume jewelry, carved wooden baskets, you get the idea. Many of the Christmas gifts I give this year will have a Caribbean or Mexican theme. I was sure to pick up some vanilla for myself and DD #1, since both of us bake quite a bit. By the time we had checked off everyone on our souvenir list, we were ready to be done shopping.
We decided to treat ourselves to a horse drawn carriage ride (actually, the rickety old thing we rode in hardly qualified as a carriage) back to the other end of the shopping strip, where Carlos & Charlies was located, at least according to Carnivals flyer. It was a quick five minute ride, but saved our feet a good twenty minute walk, maybe more. And it was fun! Well worth the $15 for the three of us.
Sadly, only the shell of the building where Carlos & Charlies was located remained. The entire buildings contents had been gutted by the storm surge and flooding during Hurricane Wilma. We had seen evidence of storm damage before we even reached shore that morning. Palm trees everywhere were practically bald. The pier, of course, was washed away. We could see a car that had been deposited by the floodwaters on the second floor of one of the ruined stores. They have a long road ahead of them in Cozumel before recovery is complete. My heart goes out to the hard-working people there.
Since Carlos & Charlies was no longer an option, we decided to eat at the restaurant we had passed just after entering the shopping area. I am sorry that I dont remember the name of it, but it is the one closest to the entrance. I had the nachos, which were just okay, but their homemade salsa and chips were absolutely fabulous! One of the sisters had the soft beef & chicken tacos, which she enjoyed. I stuck with bottled water, but others in my group report that their Margaritas were very good as well.
Following lunch, we were all worn out from our day of shopping in the Mexican sun, so we decided to get in the tender line to head back home. The line was very long, and we were behind a group of twenty-somethings who all sported matching wristbands from the party boat excursion that they were on that day. These folks were very intoxicated, especially one young gentleman (I use the term loosely) who was quite large. Ill call him Big Guy. He was only about 510 but had to have weighed at least three hundred and fifty pounds, maybe more. This man was huge. And drunk.
Our group was chatting while we waited in line, when without warning Big Guy just falls over backward -- BOOM! He missed squashing my little three year old niece by mere inches! Without so much as an apology, Big Guys friends (it took several of them) scooped him back up, laughing and joking as they struggled to keep their large inebriated friend upright long enough to get him on the tender and back to the ship. . Sounds funny now, but he really could have injured my niece, or worse. I would hate to experience the kind of hangover Big Guy got from his party boat fun!
A good hour passed from the time we got in the tender line to when we finally were back aboard the Conquest. I stopped for a frou-frou drink on my way up to the room. My sisters had all done the Margarita thing, but tequila does not like me one bit, so I had some catching up to do! We hung out on our balcony for a while, then joined the other sisters on deck to listen to some live music.
We hadnt checked out the photo gallery for a couple of days, so decided to stop there next. What a zoo! I really dislike Carnivals method of displaying and selling photos. I hope they work on that to make it more guest friendly. Anyway, we saw the portraits from formal night 2, including the Billy Bob teeth photo, which was hilarious! Carnival made a bunch of money from all us sisters selling photos, Ill tell ya!
The Guest Talent Show was scheduled for that evening, and we were excitedly anticipating nephews performance. We met up in the Toulouse-Lautrec Lounge for the show, which had six performers scheduled. Nephew and his buddy were the only act that did not sing. They played a jazz-infused bluesy rock instrumental number (nephews description, not mine!). Nephew, who was not quite sixteen at the time and a self-taught musician, played lead guitar. His buddy played bass. They had people in the audience clapping and swaying to the music, yelling out, Play it, little brothers! by the end of their act. This is one proud Auntie!
After dinner and the Talent Show, most of us wanted to gamble, but I decided to get the dreaded packing out of the way as much as possible, so that my last day would be free for fun. My cabin mates left for the casino, and I got the drudgery over with as soon as I could. Then I went to hunt my sisters down in the casino. Donated a little to the slots; won it back at roulette, so came out even. We all decided we wanted to hit the dance floor, so off to the lounges again. Found the band we had been seeing all week, again they smiled and nodded greetings to us Crazy Sisters as we walked in. And, wouldnt you know it, after finishing the song they were playing, they went right into Blue Bayou as they waved sister five up onstage for a third time during the cruise! Im guessing they liked her performances, ya think? This is one proud Sis!
We stayed up drinking, dancing, and singing again, until the wee hours. Nobody was mentioning that the cruise would be ending soon. We were in happy denial! We stopped off for pizza and ice cream sometime after 2:00 before heading back to our room. After devouring the yummy food, we settled out on the balcony for a bit, just to relax and enjoy the atmosphere. It was three in the morning before we gave in to heavy eyelids. Sisters two and five crawled off to bed. I gathered pillows & blankets and dozed out on the balcony for a while (loved it!) before wanting something softer to lie on. Then I slithered into bed and off to the Land of Nod I went.
Day seven brought the last day of our voyage on the great, lovely Conquest. I left sisters two and five and slipped out of the room before dawn. Made my way up to one of the outer decks, although memory fails now as to which one. I just enjoyed strolling by myself as the first rays of light crept across the horizon and begin to warm the sky. Then I got myself a cup of steaming coffee and settled in at a table near the pool. The gorgeous sunrise competed for my attention with the hard-working crew. I watched as they readied the ship for the day, hosing down the deck, arranging the chairs, and smiling greetings as they passed.
Eventually the aroma of bacon crisping and bread toasting wafted my way, convincing me it was time to rouse my cabin mates for breakfast. After fueling up at the Lido buffet, we went back to the stateroom to discuss plans for the day. We still wanted to check out the hot tubs and pool, and a visit to the photo gallery was in order. Sister two wanted to pick up a copy of the Guest Talent Show video from the gallery, and we all wanted to order photos. So, after donning our swimsuits and cover-ups, off to the photo gallery we went.
As I stated before, the place is an absolute zoo, especially the last day! There is virtually no seating, no areas provided in which to view the photos, and it is quite crowded. Passengers resort to laying out their photos on top of merchandise in order to view them. This is after spending significant time searching the myriad walls of photographs, stooping over when necessary to scan the rows just above the floor, searching for photos of your party. You are not permitted to take the photos to a less crowded area of the ship to view and decide which ones to purchase, I assume to prevent theft.
It seems that it would be fairly simple to implement an alternative plan that would be much more user-friendly. For example, crew members could be stationed in the photo gallery to scan a guests S&S card and record the number of photos they wish to remove from the photo gallery for viewing. This would enable Carnival to easily track the checked out photos and charge the guest if they are not returned. It surely would have been more convenient for our party to send just one or two of us up to gather all the photos for our extended party, then meet up later to view them all together and make our purchasing decisions.
It was such a madhouse at the photo gallery when we were there that sister two finally resorted to just scooping up the whole lot of our groups photos and purchasing them all, for a pretty penny, I might add! We agreed to meet later in the day to decide which ones the rest of us wanted to order copies of. Okay. That dog and pony show finally over, sisters two and five realized that they had yet to pack, so up to the room they went.
I made my way up to the pool area to get my faux tattoo replaced (the one that came off because of the massage oil (see day four). When you get a tattoo earlier in the week, you get a card for a discounted one on the last day, and I decided to take advantage of that. Alas, it did not dawn on me that I had to keep the thing dry for a couple of hours afterward. We were still planning on hitting the hot tubs, but that would have to wait a bit, at least for me.
Stopped off for a frou-frou drink on my way back to the cabin, and walked through the buffet area to check out what the lunch offerings were for the day. Everything looked and smelled delicious, which I reported to the sisters when I got back to the cabin. They were finishing up their packing, and getting hungry for lunch. We all enjoyed our last lunch on the Conquest at the buffet, relishing the ocean breeze and the views of the water and open sky.
By the time we finished lunch, it was nearly time to meet up with our extended group to look at the photos. Sister two had purchased a couple of rum cakes at the Tortuga Rum Factory in the Caymans and was anxious to sample and share them with everyone. I had been wanting to sample the banana splits I heard were available from the coffee bar. There is a seating area with a large coffee table that would accommodate everyone near the coffee bar, so that is the meeting place we chose. We had a good laugh at the Billy Bob teeth photos, I must say! Several of the sister portraits turned out great, and I really liked some of the candids as well. Carnival made oodles of money on photo sales to the Crazy Sisters, I can assure you!
On a side note, I was glad I purchased the banana split, but my little niece was even happier. It is hard to explain to a three year old that she cannot have any cake (her parents declared the rum cakes off limits to her). But once I brought that great big banana split to the table, she didnt give those cakes another glance, and this Auntie became her best friend, at least for the time being!
After finishing our desserts and choosing our photographs, we went back up to the cabin to put the photos away. We dipped into the soft sided cooler that magically never ran out of ice (Dave, youre great!), plugged in the cruisin cd, and chilled on the balcony for a while. We knew it would all be ending soon, but we were determined to enjoy every possible remaining moment of our seven sister cruise. Dreams really do come true!
The other sisters joined us, and we had a little party right there in our suite, singing, dancing, and drinking, alternating between balcony and cabin. I got out the collection of thank you cards I brought along, and we selected one for Claudia and one for Svetlana, who had so faithfully served us dinner every evening in the Renoir. Everybody passed the waitstaff cards, writing a personal message to each woman and slipping in however much cash they felt was appropriate. We did not count the money when we were through, just sealed the envelopes and put them aside until dinner, but they felt much thicker than they had before they were passed around!
Each set of cabin mates also chose a card for their room steward. Some added cash to the thank you messages they wrote to their steward, others did not. I will say that our steward, Dave, received a card that was indeed thickened.
The day was slipping by fast. It was already time to prepare for our last dinner in the gorgeous Renoir dining room, and we never did swim or make the hot tubs, not once the whole week! (Theres another reason to cruise again&like I needed one!) Well, at least my new faux tattoo wouldnt fade as quickly!
After we dressed and readied ourselves, we gathered the thank you cards and headed down to dine together on the cruise one last time. As always, Claudia was her smiling, gracious self, and Svetlana was quietly assisting her. We presented them with their cards and thanked them profusely for their service and how much they contributed to our enjoyment of the cruise. There were hugs and tears all around as we said our goodbyes. I wish the two of them well and hope the time speeds by until they can be with their families again.
Following dessert, we couldnt decide between singing & dancing and the casino, so first we went dancing, singing along to the songs and just enjoying all the sisters being together. Then we made some donations in the casino one last time before taking advantage of our final opportunity to enjoy the 24 hour pizza and ice cream. I opted for a BLT from room service, and didnt regret it. Mmm-mmm. Im sure gonna miss picking up the phone in the wee hours when I am hungry, then having a yummy sandwich and chips magically appear at my door moments later!
I enjoyed my BLT out on the balcony, sisters two and five happily eating pizza beside me. By now it was after 2 AM, and we knew that we had a long day ahead tomorrow, starting with disembarkation. We could stay up longer if we wanted to, but that would not stop the clock from ticking or the sun from coming up. So we bungeed the door, slid into our beds, and for one final time, drifted off to sleep to the calming, relaxing sounds of the ocean just outside the door.
As promised, before ending this review I will share my opinions regarding dining options, food quality, and a few other subjects as well:
Room Service: We had pre-breakfast and late night coffee several times from room service. Only once was it really piping hot, the other times it was hot enough as long as you drank it right away, but they could have bumped the temperature up a bit. Remember to order any sugar, cream, etc specifically when you get coffee from room service, it is not included otherwise.
I sampled the BLTs and the turkey sandwiches and found both to be very good. Again, if you want condiments such as mustard or mayonnaise, you have to ask. Sister one reports that the open-faced shrimp sandwich and the tuna were both really yummy, and sister five enjoyed the roast beef on baguette. The room service fruit portions are small, so keep that in mind when deciding how many to order. Sister two wanted toast with peanut butter one morning, and seeing PB&Js on the menu, decided to order it from room service. What she got was toast with a cup of peanut butter & jelly mixed together on the side. Apparently, peanut butter solo is not available.
In our cabin, the wait for room service was never more than about twenty minutes and often less, with only one exception. It was late at night, and we were told when we ordered that it would be a forty-five minute wait, but the food still arrived in about thirty minutes. Sisters one and four report, however, that they waited forty-five minutes to an hour for room service more than once when they ordered at breakfast time.
Lido Buffet: My cabin mates and I had breakfast at the buffet six out of the seven days. Most of the food ranged from just okay to extremely good. I thought the omelets were delicious, especially after the first day when I knew to ask the omelet chef to use as little oil as possible. They were made to order and perfectly cooked. The bacon was hit or miss, though more often a hit. Several mornings it was wonderfully crisp and not greasy; a couple of times it appeared more greasy and had a rubbery been sitting there too long texture. I was underwhelmed by the croissant, Danish and muffin selections; they appeared to be frozen products thawed before serving, rather than freshly baked. Same with the hash browns. Adequate but nothing to write home about. Carnival has their grits down, though, creamy and smooth with no lumps, every time. They offered two types of ham, one looked and tasted like processed ham and the other appeared freshly sliced off the bone (much better!). I did not try the French toast or the pancakes, but sister two said they were Okay.
We only had lunch at the buffet once or twice. I loved the sliced roast beef with gravy, and the tomato soup. Sister one sampled the buffet the day they offered Indian cuisine, but she did not enjoy it. We ate dinner every night in the Renoir, therefore I cannot comment about dinner offerings on the buffet line. We did not make it to either the chocolate buffet or the midnight buffet, so again, no opinions there.
Dining Room: We had breakfast only once in the dining room. I did not find the food quality to be any better than the buffet; the pastries and hash browns offered were the same, for example. Only a very few items, such as Eggs Benedict and corned beef hash, were available in the dining room for breakfast and not on the buffet.
We did not eat lunch in the dining room at all.
Dinner: I am not very adventurous when it comes to salads, so on the first night I told the lovely Claudia how I like my salad, and every evening afterward she brought me my salad without being asked. Claudia, you are a doll!
The menu selections at dinner were for the most part delicious. Among my personal favorites were the filet mignon, which was cooked to perfection, the rock cornish game hen, the chateaubriand (sooo tender!), and the French onion soup with the puff pastry crust. My very favorite item turned out to be a soup they called Vine Ripened Cream of Tomato with a Touch of Gin. It was fresh, creamy, and perfectly seasoned and textured. (I want that recipe! Unfortunately, it was not in either of the cookbooks Carnival had for sale on my sailing.)
A big disappointment for me, however, was the turkey entree offered on Thanksgiving. It was processed, like a turkey roll you would get in a cafeteria. Very substandard compared with the other entrees I had enjoyed, especially for a holiday meal. In my opinion, if logistics prevent roasting and freshly carving turkeys for the Thanksgiving meal, Carnival shouldnt serve turkey at all.
Since I dont have a big sweet tooth, I skipped dessert most nights. I had heard that Carnivals diet chocolate cake was to die for, though, so I did stay and order that the night it appeared on the menu. Very disappointing. It was moist, but completely devoid of chocolate flavor. It was just plain-tasting.
The staff singing and dancing in the dining room neither annoyed nor particularly entertained me. My little niece and her six year old cousin thought it was a blast, though!
The Grill: Food quality at the grill was inconsistent. On embarkation day I tried a burger that turned out to be served on a cold bun. The meat was dry and barely warm. I did not finish it, even though I was quite hungry. A couple of days later, I sampled another burger, this time requesting that the bun be grilled. The grilled bun helped, and the meat was fresher tasting and moister this time, making for an adequate but not memorable burger. Their hot dogs were large, juicy, and satisfying. The grilled chicken breast, which I ordered sans bun, was tasty and a good choice for a low fat, high protein snack. French fries were always yummy.
Su Mer: I did not eat at Su Mer, though I really wanted to sample their fish & chips. I just never got around to it. A couple of sisters did make it to Su Mer and reported the bouillabaisse to be very good, as other CCers have mentioned.
Pizzeria: Several in our group raved about the pizza; I thought it was all right. I am not a big pizza fan to begin with, so the fact that it didnt impress me as being better than average should be taken only for what it is worth. Others in our group also enjoyed the Caesar salad and the calzones from the pizzeria.
Pauls Deli: I never made it to the deli, though some in our group did. Their Reubens got raves, and their roast beef sandwiches were reported to be quite tasty as well.
Miscellaneous: If you really like salsa and/or jalapenos with your food, bring your own jars aboard. These items were not available on the Conquest, at least not on our sailing. The same with plain peanut butter (as opposed to mixed with jelly).
Overall, I found the food preparation and selection ranging from good to very good the majority of the time. A few items stood out as memorably delicious (oh, give me that tomato soup recipe!) and one or two items were very disappointing. Ill give Carnival a B+ in the dining department.
Service throughout the ship: Never once did I experience negative or unpleasant treatment from a crew member. The staff was unfailingly polite and professional, and some were exceptional in their service and friendliness. Carnival gets an A+ in the service department!
Entertainment: We never did make it to any of the shows other than the Guest Talent Show, which was entertaining. The staff did the old standard If I Were Not Upon The Sea skit at the end, which was cute.
The live bands were great. We especially have a fondness for the one that accompanied sister five to Blue Bayou not once, but three times during the week! I am embarrassed to say that I cannot recall their name.
Disembarkation: Sunday morning, we waited in our room as long as we were permitted. From our balcony, we saw four people, each at different times, being led away in handcuffs, flanked by police officers. I knew that this would cause a delay on deboarding, so we all opened up our jars of patience and each took out a big helping. Dave finally arrived to shoo us out of the cabin at around 9:45, at which time we gave him his thank you card and expressed our gratitude for the fine service he provided throughout the week.
After saying our goodbyes, we headed up to the Lido, where we were pleasantly surprised to see a hot breakfast still available. Of course we took advantage of that! I was delighted that the omelet station was still open, and got to enjoy one last delicious ham and cheddar omelet with a side of those yummy grits and some crisp bacon.
Our color was finally called at about 10:45, and we made our way down and exited the ship into the Galveston terminal. Our luggage was easily spotted, and we gathered it in little time before being directed to one of the Customs lines. (Note: my luggage had obviously been searched, but there was no notification of this, though I thought this was required.) We waited a few minutes in the Customs line, and were outside the terminal ready to walk over to EZ Cruise by 11:15.
Overall Summary and Opinion: My seven days aboard the Conquest turned out to be one of the most enjoyable vacations I have ever had. Yes, there were a few negatives, but the food was good, the service exceptional, the atmosphere terrific. Couple all that with having all my sisters aboard, and I was one happy camper&er, cruiser!
The diagnosis is in. It is official. I am addicted to cruising, and I will be booking my next fix soon! Read Less