Conquest - 20-27 Oct 2013
Embarkation day: We drove down to Slidell the afternoon before embarkation, feasted on softshell crab, crawfish, and shrimp, got a goodnight's sleep, had breakfast at the hotel, made a last minute trip to Walmart, and headed for New Orleans and the Erato St. terminal, where the Conquest was docked. We arrived at the terminal just after 10 AM, and got in line with all the other cruisers who also had arrived early. After paying the parking fee, we drove up the ramp to the luggage drop off area. Dominick met us, gave us his name and porter #, and took our bags. (A note of caution here: even though he viewed our boarding passes, and assured us he would put the priority stickers on our bags, he didn't, and our bags weren't delivered until after the safety drill. In fact our room steward delivered the final bag around 5:00 PM!) After dropping our bags, we proceeded to the 4th floor parking area and were very fortunate to find a spot right next to the elevator!
We took the elevator to the ground floor where we were directed to the priority line to security and the carry on screeners who are on the 2nd floor. I'm not sure how long the screener had been on the job, but he spent a few minutes breaking the seal on two of our 3 bottles of wine, shaking them, looking at them in the light, and then took them to another, older screener to look at. He looked at me, the bottles, and told the younger one to give them back to me.
Through security, we were directed to the priority lounge. There, three Carnival reps were processing all priority passengers. There were cookies, pastries, water and juice available in the lounge. Within minutes we were called to a desk, showed the rep our passports, and were issued our S&S cards.
After the angst I experienced after accepting an upsell to a Grand Suite with the understanding that it included the FTTF benefits, and cancelled the FTTF I had previously booked only to find out that the only "benefit" was priority embarkation/debarkation, one can imagine my surprise when the Carnival rep handed us our S&S cards and they had the FTTF sticker on them!!!!
We were then directed to the priority waiting area - to wait for the boarding call. A wedding party was assembling in an adjoining area, and at about 11:15 AM, they were escorted to the ship. Shortly thereafter, the priority area was called to board.....no order - the entire group got up and moved to board the ship.
We boarded the Conquest, and like the rest of the priority cruisers, made our way across the lobby to the elevators. We got off on the Empress deck (7), oriented ourselves to port and starboard, and located our stateroom. It was ready, so we dropped our carry on bags, and took a tour of the suite. Wow! What a way to travel - won't do it again, but it sure is roomy!!
After unpacking our carry on bags, we went up to the Lido to check out the Red Frog Rum Bar and the Blue Iguana Tequila Bar, Guy's burgers, and the Blue Iguana Cantina. While at each of the bars, I bought the collectible Tervis tumblers, as they usually sell out in a couple of days. I'll just say my favorite brand of rum, not available onboard the ship, sure tasted good in those glasses all during the cruise.
On schedule, we departed New Orleans and headed down the Mississippi River enroute to our first port call - Montego Bay, Jamaica.
I had previously sent a reservation request for dinner at the steakhouse, so knowing what was ahead of us, we had not eaten earlier. We prepared for dinner and took the elevator to the 10th deck and the steakhouse.
If you haven't eaten at one of the Carnival steakhouses, you're missing a treat!! This was the third time in two cruises, and it was every bit as good as the first two!!! Service, quality of food - it's all very much worth it. Don't go in a hurry - dinner lasts about two hours!
The Conquest continued her journey down the Mississippi, and sometime around midnight, we passed out of the river into the Gulf of Mexico. The first day at sea begins......
First day at sea - Monday. Room service Steward delivered the requested 2 pots of pre-ordered coffee at 7:30 AM. A beautiful morning to be sitting on the balcony drinking coffee! Tonight is the first "elegant night".
Breakfast on the lido deck. Omelet station wasn't very busy - the cantina was open serving breakfast burritos, taking some away from the main lines. After breakfast, time to check out the Fun Shops. $10 sale at 10 AM. The unknowing were lined up to take advantage of items "on sale" for $10 that they'll find selling for $10 all cruise.
Fun finds presentation: The DW attended, received 4x6 sized bok about 1 1/2 inches thick with coupons for most, if not all the CCL " preferred stores" in all the ports they sail to. A "Free" VIP card goes with it, and the CCL published shopping guides for each port. Package price $25. Hope using the free stuff coupons makes up for the $25 she spent on the booklet!
While DW went to lay out in the sun, FIL and I people watched from comfortable sofas in the lobby most off the afternnon, while I enjoyed my brand of rum and diet Pepsi - neither of which are available onboard
Since we have ATD/YTD, we got ready and went down to the Renior forward area on deck three. I gave the hostess our stateroom number and also the number oof the table we wanted to sit at. (A sidenote here: we always walk through the dining room the first day to select a table we'd like to sit at, and give that number to the hostess. We may have a short wait, but have always been able to get the one we selected.) We have a great wait staff, led by Godfrey.
After dinner we eent to the aft lounge to see the Punchline comedians. Both were extremely funny, and DW said she hasn't laughed so hard in years. We stayed for the adults only show, which was as good as the family shows. After the shows it was off to bed. Amazingly, we didn't pose for any elegant night photos!!
Second sea day - Tuesday. We are seemingly alone on the sea. Whereas there were other ships in sight for the last two days, this morning there are none. We continue on our track to Jamaica.
Breakfast on the lido again. Nothing spectacular to cause any excitement, but it's all good.
Bingo, super duper trivia - the usual games and time occupiers were scheduled in the morning. FIL and I were seated way off to one side of the lobby when the "host" of the trivia said that for HIS purposes of the game, men against women, we had to move to the other side of the lobby. We were not participating, nor were we paying much attention to what was going on. We didn't move, but we noticed he became irritated with some others, was rude and abrasive in his tone; and actually told some people to "move along".
More games in the afternoon, as well as the ice carving. In about 10 minutes, a large block of ice was turned into an angel fish. Beautiful!
A nap! Laid down to relax and stretch out, and suddenly someone had turned the clock forward an hour or so!
DW was sunning herself somewhere on deck, and FIL was snoozing in a chair, so I wasn't alone during my nap...
Supper time! We showered, changed, and made our way down to the Renoir dining room, and in short order were seated at table 157, with Godfrey's serving crew. Another great meal!!
We finished dinner and went forward to the theater for "The Brits" production. I have mixed feelings!!!
The backgrounds and graphics are excellent!! But, come on Carnival....8 performers, no band or orchestra??? A sad state!!! The theater was about two thirds full, applause was less than hearty.
Wandered up to deck 4 to look over the photos, and then retired to our cabin for the night. Tomorrow: Jamaica!!!
Port call: Jamaica - Wednesday. We rose early. Room steward delivered coffee, and we prepared for breakfast, and then our early departure on our excursion to the Appleton Estate.
Leaving the port city, we took an uphill hairpin curve to the right, which was the first of many hair raising and white knuckle turns, hills, and twists. It was a fantastic ride, in my opinion - and most of those aboard the bus agreed. One lady, seated toward the back of the bus, claimed to be very prone to carsickness, so took the seat in the front opposite the driver where the edges of the roads and cliffs, close calls with pedestrians, etc., was all in living color and 3D” …and she had the time of her life! What some folks won’t do for a front row seat! LOL
After what seemed like we should have arrived at Appleton, we arrived at the halfway point for a bathroom and refreshment stop. But when the maximum speed is only about 35 mph (50 km), and you're on a road like that, you have to just sit back and watch Jamaica go by.
I can honestly say that there isn't another tour on the island that will allow you to see the "real" Jamaica, not what one sees at the port, or in National Geographic. I won't go into great detail, but compared to how must cruisers live, a vast majority of Jamaicans live below any poverty level they could imagine.
We arrived at the Appleton estate, and were escorted past a guarded gate into the main building. There we were given glasses of rum punch, soda, or water. The rum punch was made from a blend of several rums, and was tasty. Refills, in a larger glass were freely offered….
From the main building we were then led to a side yard to begin the tour. We passed several antique pieces of equipment used in the early days, and were given a demonstration of a donkey powered sugar cane press. The tour continued to the factory area, where the boiler plant is. The entire operation is electricity self-sufficient, as the by products from the sugar cane to the distillation process are re-used to power the plant.
From the boiler area we went to the distillery building, which required climbing a long flight of stairs so that we were above the distilling pots and condensing towers. The process was fully explained, and then we made our way down the stairs and to the ageing room. No photos were allowed, but they have 6 stations comprised of 3 copper distillation pots each, and a tall condensing tower, also of copper. The rum is distilled 3 times, each time raising the alcohol content, until it finally goes through the condensing tower and then to the aging barrels. From the distillery, we moved to the ageing room.
The ageing room is a misnomer - it's actually a large, dark warehouse with almost 5000 barrels of ageing rum stacked up. Some will be there for up to 30 years.
From the ageing room we returned to the main building where Appleton employees has prepared a delicious lunch for us. After lunch we were free to taste any and all of Appleton's rums and liquors....which just about everyone did!!! The store opened, and we were all invited to shop to our hearts content...some did.
Soon it was time to board the bus for the two plus hour ride back to the port.
All was well, we were on our way back to the ship.. and then it happened.....a FLAT TIRE!! ..and we weren't even to the halfway point! As luck would have it, we coasted to a stop in front of a tire shop... it wasn't long before two young Jamaicans and some tools appeared. In short order, they had the tire changed and we were on our way again. Time was passing, and it appeared we may be late in arriving at the port, but luck continued with us, and although we were about the last ones to board the ship, we made it!
The Conquest set sail and we were soon on our way to Grand Cayman.
Dinner in the Renoir at table 157 with Godfrey, Ivan, and Jadranka (pronounced YA-dranka) and then we retired to our stateroom.
Port call - Grand Cayman. Thursday.
We arrived to bright blue skies - it was a beautiful day in Grand Caymans!
We had an 11:30 AM island tour scheduled, but DW was afraid we may not have enough time to shop when we returned, so we joined the long lines for the tender. Reaching shore DW headed off with her Fun Finds coupon book to see what treasures she could score.
I, on the other hand, headed for the duty free liquor store! Found a liter of Gosling's Black Seal rum for $14. Sold! Cayman's law requires they deliver it to the ship, so it joined cases and cases and more cases of purchases that were tendered to the ship in company of several ship's security officers.
Our island tour left at 11:30 AM and lasted until just before the last few tenders. I won't give it all away, but it's a fun and relaxing tour - and after viewing the Governor’s home, but before you visit the turtle farm, you just go to Hell!! Really…and you have to send a postcard to your boss, mother in law, etc. It’s only 25 cents U.S. postage, and they have a mailbox on the porch.
We got in line, boarded the tender, and returned to the ship. After showers, we dressed for the second elegant night, and proceeded to the Renoir dining room, and another great meal. After dinner we looked for photos on the boards on deck 4, checked out the Latin show (don't bother) and retired to our cabin to watch the second baseball World Series game.
Port call: Cozumel, Mexico. Friday. Expected arrival 10 AM. Woke in the middle of the night to heavy rolls of the ship. We were in a crossing sea, and it didn't feel as though the stabilizers were deployed. At 7:00 AM, the steward delivered our 2 pots of coffee.
Thunderstorms all around the ship as we continue toward Cozumel. Hoping the storms move east so that our day in Cozumel isn't rained out!!
Arriving in Cozumel, the rain continues. Carnival Magic across the pier from us. They arrived earlier and most of their passengers are already ashore. Allure of the Seas is also in port, so there are significant numbers of cruisers ashore.
After breakfast on the lido, we make our way to deck 0 to go ashore. Amazingly, there was hardly any line, and in no time we were walking down the pier under our new blue Carnival ponchos ($3 each).
We met our tour guide "Martin" (pronounced Marrrrrteen") (he said it had 5 R's in it - you have to roll your R's) who escorted us to the vans that carried us to the Jose Cuervo experience.
A quick 5 minute ride and we arrived at the facility. As it was raining, we were escorted to the tasting area first rather than walking through Discover Mexico, a miniature assemblage of famous Mexican buildings. The educational value of this excursion is beyond compare, especially if Martin is your guide. I believe we all came away with a new appreciation for Tequila, its history, the varieties, etc., and highly recommend it. Following the tasting, we crossed into another area where fresh mango margaritas were prepared for all. Seconds were available, and their recipe was shared with those who wanted it.
We then proceeded to the Discover Mexico gallery, which contains some beautiful examples of haandicrafts and artwork from around Mexico. Following the tour of the art gallery Martin led us to a covered outdoor area for a great lunch. After lunch and a visit to the gift shop, we boarded the vans for the short ride back to the port.
DW and some of the other ladies on the excursion decided to poke through the shops and see what they could collect with their coupons. Having no interest in that, I went directly to the Tequila store in search of a good blue agave tequila not sold in the states. Not finding anything that really caught my eye, and as it was still raining (and DW had my poncho!) and I had no idea where she was within the jumble of shops, I showed my S&S card to security and strolled back to the ship. An hour or so later, DW showed up, excited that I was aboard and that she wouldn't have to go looking for me. I was just as excited that I didn't have to go looking for her!
We spent the rest of the afternoon hollering at folks on the Magic as we all watched the stragglers return to the ships. PEOPLE! What part of "all passengers must be aboard by 3:30 PM" don't you understand?? The MAGIC was supposed to leave before we did, but they were still waiting for stragglers when CONQUEST backed away from the pier, turned and headed towards New Orleans.
It was smooth sailing until we cleared the northern tip of Cozumel.... then the fun began! Heavy rolls - we were proceeding north into heavy seas from the east. For those who have sailed through rough seas and in rolling ships, it wasn't bad; however, my DW noticed that various seasick remedies were on sale in several of the ship's stores, and a container with "barf bags" was taped to a wall between elevators on each deck.
Sea day. Enroute to New Orleans and home! Saturday
Nothing much to do today - just enjoy the day. The pools are closed - with all the tossing and rolling, the water was being sloshed out, so the pools will be closed until the sea calms down.
Multiple games on the screens in the EA Sports Bar; however, when the bartenders are Eastern European, and they control which game of the several being shown you hear the sound of, and don't understand why the patrons want the sound from a certain game....FIL & I returned to our cabin to watch the one game being televised on TV.
Slot tournament going on right outside the door of the sports bar...and a loud group occupying a booth talking about who's who in the NBA, etc. without any consideration for those watching football.. "Huge" t-shirt, watch, glass figurine, jewelry sale going on in all the shops.
Secret shopper tip: there are no special sales, end of cruise markdowns, etc. T-shirts are $10 during the cruise, 2 for $20 on the last couple of days -- do the math!! Same with everything else...
We've moved into the shipping lanes as we're now seeing other ships on northerly or southerly routes.
Note to pool/hot tub lovers: for kid free, over 18 only, use the very aft area. Deck 9, and deck 10. Kid free....
Football games, then game 3 of the World Series. Dinner in the Renoir, with pictures and email exchanges with our wait staff and then back to our cabin to pack. Our steward delivered our liquor purchases, and we completed our packing, affixed our debarkation tags on our checked bags, and set them in the passageway.
Bags were picked up right at 11 PM. We are already in the Mississippi River, just south of Venice. Time is 11:35 PM.
Alarm is set for 6:15 AM. We are in Zone 1, and are to be in the Renoir by 8:15.
Debarkation Day: New Orleans. Sunday.
Up at 6:00 AM. Ship was just approaching the pier. Tied up by 6:30. Breakfast on the lido, last minute check of all drawers, cupboards and closets and then to the Renoir dining room to wait with other Zone 1. Signs at the entrance to the Renoir read: FTTF (arrow left) Diamond/Platinum (arrow right). The "carry your own stuff” crowd finally completed their debarkation, and all of us in the Renoir were called at one time. I guess the divided seating was for appearances, because we were all mixed together by the time we reached the gangway. Off the ship before 8:30. Through luggage pickup and customs, up to the 4th floor of the garage to load the car, out of the garage, and onto I-10 East....all before 9:00 AM!
A quick stop in Slidell to pick up sandwiches for later, and we're on our way home.