My wife and I took advantage of a group deal and booked a Nov 16th 7-day cruise out of Galveston. We talked to some of our friends and they invited their friends. Soon, our group of ten began discussing early seating, excursions, things to ... Read More
My wife and I took advantage of a group deal and booked a Nov 16th 7-day cruise out of Galveston. We talked to some of our friends and they invited their friends. Soon, our group of ten began discussing early seating, excursions, things to pack for, and all that.
Since my wife and I were the only experienced cruisers, I took it upon myself to keep everyone in our little group informed of the finer details about the Conquest and the 3 ports of call.
By mid Oct., we received a spreadsheet from the organizers of the cruise. Our group had swelled to 130 people! On Saturday, Nov. 1, we attended our first briefing in Houston and received our tickets. Out of the entire group, only a handful of people had cruised before, and none have done it on the Conquest, so it seemed. My emails about the ports of call and various local excursions and operators generated much interest. By the way, much of my information was gleaned from none other than the Cruise Critic.
Cruise day. Four of us drove down to Galveston. Determined not to repeat our bad experience at the EZ Parking lot last year, I decided on the Port of Galveston parking lot. Last Nov., the EZ parking lot kept the cruisers waiting in the cold on wet pavement for an hour while their shuttle vans went around the lot jumping dead batteries. And once they were done, the 2 little shuttles quickly filled up because all those luggage would take up at least half the space leaving only enough space for 5-6 passengers per van leaving a long line of upset cruisers waiting some more.
Well, not any more. After dropping the wives and luggage off at the terminal around 11:00 AM, my friend and I drove to the POG lot where big shuttles were lined up and waiting for us. In no time, we rejoined our dear wives.
The line moved quickly, with everything filled out beforehand, embarkation went effortlessly. We were on board by 12:00 PM. With jaws hanging and eyes bulging, our friends walked slowly to take in the sights. I shepherded our party to the Lido deck for lunch.
I noticed that the variety of the buffet seemed to have shrunk down a bit. Then I noticed that Sur Mer was not even open; it was open on the first day last year. It became evident then that Carnival tried to institute cost-cutting measures in tight economy. On top of that, Carnival did not ease off on the fuel surcharge. But I understand business. Carnival has to make a profit. Cruise fares are low relative to what we are getting. They have to push their drink-of-the days, the endless photo stations and intrusive photographers at the dinner tables, the casino, the Carnival-sponsored excursions in order to bulk up the bottom line.... With this mindset, I was fully at peace about the whole "dog-and-pony," if you will. Besides, Carnival gave our large group a $100/cabin on-board credit!
The most important thing about cruising is to relax, have peace, enjoy company, let your hair down, appreciate the vastness and mysteries of God's creation.
My wife and I had an Ocean View on deck two at the stern. It rocked a bit. And the propeller underneath us generated a muffled noise. We went to the purser's desk to ask for ear plugs for my dear wife on the second day. The officer asked her what the problem was, and she told him. At dinner time, the Maitre'd approached our table and asked for us. Surprised, we raised our hands. He told us that the purser's desk had asked him to offer us a bottle of wine and proceeded to ask for our preference. Stunned, I gave him my preference of white wine. Our head waiter came and uncorked it and poured a little for me. Nodding my approval, I asked him to pour it for everyone at our table of ten. Quietly, I slipped him a tip.
Lo and behold, the next evening, as we sat down to dinner, a leggy, dark and beautiful assistant Maitre'd appeared at our table. Another bottle of wine was offered to us! Our entire table of ten erupted in an astonishing amazement. We could not believe it. A minor incidence of asking for ear plugs has generated a ton of attention from the ship's staff.
Again, I slipped a tip to our waiter for pouring for everyone. Our friends quipped that another bottle, and I'd have to borrow some cash from them....
In addition to the ship-provided activities, our very thoughtful group organizers rented various club rooms for our own group activities, karaoke, folk dance, sing-along, etc. I have nothing but gratefulness for our organizers - what a wonderful bunch of guys and gals to spend a relaxing vacation with!
Food in Monet was good as usual; better if you asked the head waiter for his recommendations each time. There was so much good food that half way through the cruise, we toned down our intake. And as usual we'd spend our breakfast and lunch in the casual Cezanne for the variety of food stations and more relaxed atmosphere and longer hours.
Room stewards are as always attentive and polite. Overall, my impression is that Carnival's service has kicked up a notch. Everyone seemed more eager to please than before. Again, I think the tight economy might have something to do with it. Works for me, that's for sure.
I had advised our group to take the Carnival-sponsored excursions for Jamaica because of some reported unfortunate incidences. Turned out, we made it all the way to Montego Bay but were denied entry because of rough seas. O, well.
The ship turned around for Georgetown, Grand Cayman. No one seemed overly upset. More fun activities were implemented on a dime. Hats off to our wonderful group organizers (Hey, you wanna join our group if we cruised again next time?)
From the reports I heard, all the ones in our big group did some excursions and had great fun in Grand Cayman. Stingray City tour was #1 hands down. We did the Turtle Farm and city tour with some of our friends and had a good time.
Cozumel. O, Coz, you're my favorite. Going to Coz is like visiting old friends. Folks here are laid back and easy-going. Sure they want to sell you stuff. And they don't mind you haggle. They want to have some fun too. For some reason, time always seems to slow down for me here.
We went to Mr. Sancho's Beach Resort for Mexican Cooking Class and relaxation afterwards. It was fun while we cooked and enjoyed the fruit of our labor. Then we piled into a taxi that took us back to downtown San Miguel for some laid-back shopping. I loved strolling down the beach-front boulevard, especially the town square, taking in all the lazy sunshine, gentle surf, fragrant air, sound of seagulls, and Royal Poinciana in full bloom. The bright red Poinciana reminded me of my childhood in Taiwan - so many fond memories.... O, that someone would come up with a way of bottling all these things so I can take them with me!
One thing different at Grand Cayman and Coz: Conquest no longer docked right smack downtown like it used to. In Grand Cayman we used to be able to tender ashore and be in the heart of Georgetown. Not anymore; we tendered in the middle of nowhere, but were picked up by Captain Marvin's, our excursion operator, and taken to town 15 minutes away. Coming back to Conquest was a nightmare. An enormous line meandering and twisting in the lot waiting to board the tenders back to ship. We must have waited for over an hour before boarding our tender for the ship.
In Cozumel, Conquest docked at Carnival's newly constructed pier about 4 miles from downtown San Miguel. The old pier at the heart of downtown seemed to be used by some freight liner. I truly missed getting off the ship/tender and walking right into the heart of town in both ports.
Debarkation was the smoothest ever. The four of us ate early breakfast at Lido and went down to the theater with our luggage for debarkation; we were out in an hour, arriving home by 10:30 AM.
Conquest is going into dry dock in Jan. for a facelift. New paint, new carpet, new flat-screen TVs, and a giant movie screen on Lido for movie-under-the-stars are on order. Conquest will also alternate between Western Caribbean and the Bahamas next year with 10 trips scheduled for Bahamas including Key West, Freeport and Nassau.
Dear wife and I are watching for any news that might come from our group organizers. Hopefully, there will be a reunion cruise for our old and new friends we made in this memorable trip.
Maybe you wanna join our next group cruise too, eh? Read Less