Carnival Conquest Western Caribbean Christie
Number of Cruises: 1
Cruise Line: Carnival
Ship: Carnival Conquest
Sailing Date: October 16th, 2005
We sailed the Conquest on October 16th to October 23rd. (And by we I mean my best friend and myself). We were originally supposed to set out of New Orleans, but thanks to Hurricane Katrina our departure was changed to Galveston, TX. Fortunately Hurricane Rita did very little damage to that port. However I do feel cursed, in that while on our cruise, we were approached by Hurricane Wilma. Where I will be, the hurricanes will go or they will follow. Our original itinerary was changed from Montego Bay, Grand Caymen and Cozumel (Wed-Fri) to Costa Maya, Cozumel and Progresso (Tues-Thurs). After the initial disappointment, we were happy to be safe and have good weather. This was our first cruise, so we don’t have much to compare it to, but have a WONDERFUL time!!!
The Port: For those of us who were anticipating a New Orleans departure, Galveston was slightly disappointing. However, I was impressed with how well the port managed the parking and increase in guests (the Conquest is significantly larger than the Elation which normally sails out of Galveston). The porters snap up your bags very quickly – be sure to remember to tip! They are polite and informative for first timers. Our luggage arrived at our room in plenty of time for dinner – however we did have a late seating. We parked our car in Lot B, which was not really within walking distance to the port, so shuttles are readily available and very convenient.
Embarkation: Before going on the cruise, I had heard horror stories about embarkation, and the dreaded “yellow chairs”. I still have no idea what they were talking about…we never saw, or sat in, yellow chairs. The whole process took about 30 minutes, from the security screening to boarding the ship. But please please fill out the FunPass ahead of time!! It only takes about 10 minutes, and it makes things go very smoothly, for all parties. Embarkation in Galveston, as well as New Orleans, begins at 1:30pm – please don’t expect to be allowed on before that time. Sometimes you can, but don’t bet on it. Understand that the ship arrived in port at 6am, and only has about 6 hours to clean and prepare for the next cruise!
Staff and Crew: Nothing but raves for the staff and crew. Todd Wittmer was the cruise director. He’s ridiculously funny, very personable, always available, and not bad looking either! Poor guy must never sleep, and probably has a hidden IV caffeine drip, cause he is EVERYWHERE and is always happy and energetic! Same goes for the assistant C.D. Jen and the rest of the social staff. Overall we found the staff to be very understanding, pleasant and willing to help. Please be respectful to the staff! Treat them well and they will treat you even better (and I don’t mean by tipping, I mean with good manners). I saw and heard stories about guests being extremely rude to the staff, which, to me, is appalling. Throughout the week, we picked our favorites of the staff. Dining staff was great, our favorite bartender Vesna at Latour, and beautiful Boris on the Lido deck bringing us our “surprise” drinks. The staff, for the most part, are from all over the world, giving an awesome cultural atmosphere to the cruise. I raise my glass to the Captain Querllos for leading us out of the path of Wilma, and sailing us into great new ports and finding the sunny spots in the Gulf of Mexico. We didn’t lose any time or ports of call, and had really nice weather. I have a great tan to prove it!
The around and look at the maps, you’ll be glad you did. You can’t go straight across from forward to aft on all floors, which can get tricky. By the end of the week, you’ll be an old pro, saying high to people in the lobbies that you’ve met throughout the week. I can’t say enough about the cleanliness of the ship. With almost no turnaround time between cruises, the crew does an incredible job. The staterooms are constantly clean. Hallways are vacuumed everyday. Spills are mopped up immediately. Dirty dishes lay unattended for 5 minutes at the most in the Cezanne restaurant. Gym equipment was never broken. I even saw them cleaning the outside of the ship while we were in port one day! The architecture and décor were beautiful – very standard of the impressionistic period. Everything is bright colorful. The hot tubs are fantastic, some are freshwater, some are salt water. The pools are small but never seemed that crowded – why swim in a pool when you can swim in blue water!
Staterooms: We went the cheap route, and got the tiny room. I heard that once you go balcony, you never go back – so we didn’t want to spoil ourselves. Our room was very nice. We were on the main deck, forward. Very forward – as in two cabins from the front. Because of our front location, and the hurricane approaching, we definitely felt the rocking of the boat and waves crashing. Go through a travel agent if you get seasick easily (which we don’t) and secure a room in the middle. And because our room was deemed handicap accessible (we had one twin bed and a sofa bed), we had more room than most, much more than I anticipated. We had tons of closet space, storage under the regular bed, and more drawers under the sofa bed. There was also plenty of room for two high-maintenance women to spread their makeup and hair stuff all over. The bathroom was decent. There was a good amount of counter space, and shelves up both sides of the sink for toiletries. The shower was a typical standup shower, always had hot water, however, unless you are careful, you will get water EVERYWHERE, especially if the seas are rough and the ship is rocking. And, as you must know by now, the toilet flushing experience is one you won’t forget. The room we had wasn’t deluxe, but was exceeded expectations, especially for the little time we spent in it.
Steward: We considered our steward and his team to be fantastic, and I heard from others that theirs were even better! He was very polite, got you what you needed (although we didn’t really ever have a need to request anything). And they put up with the mess we called our room! And you will absolutely fall in love with the towel animals!
Gym/Jogging Track: The jogging track is fun, a little small though. You have to go around 10 times to complete a mile. On the days at sea, the one half of the track is nice and easy, but once you ‘round the bend, the wind hits you like a ton of bricks! It gave me an even better workout though. =) And some of the people who use the track lack a little bit of etiquette. But as the week wore on, fewer people chose to use the track. The gym was also smaller than your average gym, however, accommodated quite nicely the number of people who used it (which was not many). I never once had to wait for a machine, the entire gym was very clean, and the staff was very accessible and friendly. One tip: don’t use the treadmills facing the windows on a diagonal unless you have good balance! The treadmill was quite an experience on a moving ship! I do think, however, that they would have more of a turnout for the offered classes if they were held in a separate room, not a sectioned off part of the gym.
I was one of the few people who managed to workout every day of the cruise. I guess most people take a vacation from that too. =) And I have to say it was necessary with the amount of food I ate!
Spa/Salon: We took a spa/salon tour on the day of embarkation. What was offered seemed comparable to most other places – I had assumed that most services would be scaled down, but they weren’t! Pricing, of course, was expensive, but no worse than any mid-to-high end salon. We scheduled facials for one of our last days on the cruise, which I highly recommend, if you have $100+ to spend. It was so relaxing I almost fell asleep! They will give your recommendations on your skin, and offer you products to buy on ship. My recommended skin care regimen COULD have cost me $350, which I opted not to buy, nor did I feel pressure to buy.
Camp Carnival: I don’t have any kids, so I don’t have too much to say about this. However, Todd informed us that there were 500 kids on board the ship. I think Camp Carnival must have been hiding most of them, because it didn’t seem like there were that many! And from what I could overhear, the kids seemed to love it, and make lots of friends. However, if you plan on spending some of your days on the Lido deck by the pool with the slide, be prepared for lots of kids, both big (adults) and small.
Internet Café: Warning, its expensive! Besides, you’re on vacation….stay away from your email! We did need to check it twice, though, to make sure our one excursion not booked through Carnival was cancelled, and to inform our families that the hurricane had not swallowed us up.
Photos: They are EVERYWHERE. Everywhere you turn, someone wants to take your picture. The great part is, you have no obligation to buy! So take as many as you can, and buy a couple. The photographers are all excellent, and really know what they are doing. The quality was amazing. They are expensive though, and you have to buy the 8x10 for $20 in most cases, before you can order additional smaller pictures. But I would definitely say one or two are worth it. Finding your pictures by the end of the week can be a bit dicey, but they are very well marked as to what/where they were taken.
Days At Sea: Our lazy days at sea usually included room service for breakfast, followed by casually wondering up to the gym or the lido deck to lay out. The Lido deck does get crowded, but for the most part, chair saving was not too bad of a problem. The chairs by the pool and slide do go fast, though, as they are prime location, so get there before 11 if you are picky about where you sit. Carnival charges you $22 if you lose your beach towel, so unless you wasted packing room to bring your own, very few people leave their towels out, unattended. I read in one review about a lady who gave a one hour time limit. If the towel was still there (with no person attached to it) she would take the chair - I think that’s fair.
Costa Maya: Since we only had a day to consider what excursion to do in Costa Maya, we opted to wing it, upon the advice of the bar staff. Since our port of call days were pushed up by a day, the Captain anticipated arriving in Costa Maya at 2pm, and leaving at 7pm, which was slightly disappointing. Much to our surprise, however, we docked around 11am and were off the ship no long thereafter! Costa Maya is absolutely breathtaking. We were told by Todd that Costa Maya today is what Cozumel was about 15 years ago. While the port itself is very “tourist-y”, the rest of the city is very rustic. At the port, there are the typical souvenir shops with somewhat pushy salesmen, and amphitheater with typical cultural entertainment, and fantastic swimup bar, and two restaurants with traditional Mexican food. There is also a “beach” with lounge chairs, however the coast is too rocky for swimming. So we took a cab ($5 round trip per person) to a small beach called Mahahual. After getting off the highway (a 10 minute trip) we took dirt roads to this sleepy little fishing village. Here there are some small bars, restaurants and shops. We picked lounge chairs on the beach ($3 for the day), and relaxed. The water was warm but refreshing and crystal clear, and the sun was shining, even with the hurricane coming! After a few hours and a few beers, we were ready to head back to the ship. Finding a cab back was easy as can be. I’m glad we were able to visit Costa Maya before it becomes too “tourist-y” – there was a good deal of development occurring near Mahahual.
Cozumel: This would have to be one complaint I had about the ports of call. You have to get up so early!!! No worries though – if you’re on a lower deck, you will definitely be awakened by the docking process. =) We had intended on taking the Fiesta Boat Party excursion offered through Carnival. However, the boat was cancelled on account of choppy waters due to the hurricane. So we instead switched out excursion to the Playa Mia Beach Break (the original planned stop on the Fiesta Boat). All drinks were included. And for the trouble, we were reimbursed immediately for the Fiesta Boat, and not charged for the Beach Break, however it was $14 for a cab each way. Playa Mia was very nice. If you were on the Carnival Beach Break excursion, however, you had to go to a specific bar for your free drinks. Not a big deal – just pick a chair near it! The cups were small, but you could take two at a time, and there was staff constantly picking up empty cups. This was a little more structured than Costa Maya, since it was a beach resort, so you could also get rafts and kayaks for the water, or rent wave runners. There was a rock climbing wall, and some bungee cord thing, and some entertainment for the kids. Food at the bar was good too, and not overly expensive. The water was definitely a little rough because of the storm coming, but still warm and nearly turquoise in color! We took the cab back a little early, so we could spend some time at Fat Tuesdays. What a crazy place! We even made friends with some other people who were sailing on Carnival Miracle, who happened to be diverted to Cozumel that day as well.
Progresso: I have to say, Progresso was a disappointment. While you do not have to tender in, the pier is about 2-3 miles long, and you are required to take a shuttle in. From what I heard, early in the morning (8-9am) there were about 5 or 6 free shuttles running, and the process was very smooth. We did not get off the boat until 10, and were supposed to be going on a kayaking tour, that met at “the end of the pier”. Our tickets did not clearly state the end of which pier it was (there were two connecting piers from the boat to Progresso – hence the length of the pier). We assumed it was the end of the second pier, and waited in line for the free shuttle. We waited for about 45 minutes (at this time there was only one or two shuttles running) only to find out that we were wrong about where to meet – our guide was to meet us right off the boat. That was our fault, we should not have assumed that we were right. I’m not sure whose fault the lack of shuttles were – Carnival’s or the port’s. However, there are cabs you can take, which are not too expensive. So if you go to Progresso, see a line for the shuttles, head all the way to the front of the line and take a cab! As it turns out, our kayak adventure was cancelled because of very strong tides. We found that out at the very second it started to rain (thank you Wilma!) so we just headed back to the boat, and found a bar. =) It cleared up not long after, so we spent the day on the Lido Deck.
Formal Dining: We only went to the Monet Restaurant once for breakfast. It was very nice, same atmosphere as the Renoir, where we ate dinner every night at the late (8:30pm) seating. I can’t say enough about the food and the service! The courses were beautifully prepared and delicious every time! You would never have expected that the kitchen prepared 2-4 courses per person for 700-1200 guests per seating. There was a nice variety of choices every night, rarely, if ever, repeating. And if you wanted an appetizer and two salads, it was yours! Our head waiter, Sinisa, was very nice and charming (and easy on the eyes), and his assistant Valentina, was extremely attentive with water, bread etc. Almost every night the dining staff prepared some sort of entertainment, included singing and dancing on tables. It was a wonderful break before desert to let everything settle. Our table had so much fun at dinner, that all eight of us came back every night. For the most part, I did not notice any decrease in attendance at dinner throughout the week from anyone in our dining room. The formal nights were very fun – people wore anything from short dresses or button down shirts, to evening gowns and tuxes, so no one ever felt out of place.
Informal Dining: It’s no wonder that all you do is eat on a cruise….there is food everywhere, all of the time! The breakfast buffet did not vary from morning to morning, but there is no surprise there. They offered pretty much anything you could want – French toast, pancakes, eggs, grits, meat, cereal, fresh fruit (the melon was superior every day), made to order omelet’s, etc. We didn’t eat often at the lunch buffet, because we were usually at port, or otherwise occupied. But when we did, we enjoyed it. Salad bar was very nice and fresh, the deli was excellent. And then there is room service – 24 hours a day. There is a list of what you can get, which is limited, but from what I understand, they will pretty much get you what you want within reason. You can even place a card on your door handle with a breakfast order, and they will deliver it at whatever time you request the next morning. Definitely be sure to visit the pizzeria at least once (we went almost once a day). It is delicious! Its open 24 hours a day, and is conveniently right next to the only bar (aside from the casino) that is open till 4am.
Entertainment – Shows, etc.: I was satisfied with the first Vegas show (I heard the other one, which we missed, was better). I commend the dancers for not falling on a rocking ship! There were two comedy shows, both of which were great, Phat Cat was awesome! The guest talent show exceeded my expectations – but that probably changes depending on who the ‘talent’ is. The crew skit following the talent show is fantastic – not to be missed!!!! And the crew’s version of Whose Line is it Anyway had us in stitches! If you’re traveling with kids, be sure to note the time of the show. If it is a later show, it may not be appropriate for kids, especially the comedy shows. They are usually pretty good about warning if there will be some crude humor.
Entertainment – Carnival Colors: Throughout the week, there is a competition among the guests. Every dining table is given a color (red, white or blue), and throughout the week, at certain events, games, etc. there is an opportunity for guests to win points for their team. At the end of the week, whoever has the most amount of point wins. What do you win? Nothing but bragging rights. But it’s a great way to meet people and is really entertaining. Mardi Gras night was probably my favorite. Your team goes around to three different bars, participates in karaoke, dance-offs, etc. and everyone ends up on the Lido deck for dancing and music. Todd, if your lucky, will even get up and sign with the band. He’s not half bad!! It’s a very festive atmosphere, and probably has even more significance if you’re traveling out of New Orleans.
Entertainment – Bars: There are sooooo many, I don’t think we even hit them all. Some of our favorites were the Degas lounge, the Latour Wine and Martini Bar, the bar by the pizzeria. Henri’s the disco, could probably have been cool, but was overrun by bad dancers. =) The piano bar was great, especially if you like that type of entertainment. Alfreds really does smell like cigars. Tolousse was beautifully decorated and was very comfortable – and you could get bar service in your seat! We didn’t spend too much time at the lobby bar, except on the first day, to marvel at the 9 story lobby. I have to say, we didn’t spend too much time at the bars, we preferred to be somewhere where someone would serve us our drinks! Also, we were shocked at the price of the drinks. They were much cheaper than we anticipated! I had heard they were outrageous, but they were not at all. They were comparable to any regular bar, and sometimes even cheaper if you are used to bars in big cities. (This will only encourage you to drink more, though)
Entertainment – Casino: I’m not a gambler, so we didn’t spend any time in the casino. It seemed very nice, not overly crowded, and those I talked to all seemed to have decent luck! It reminded me of an Atlantic City casino, but on a smaller scale.
Debarkation: This was an absolute nightmare, which was odd, because I had not heard bad things about getting off the boat. We had an early flight, so we were put in the first group to debark. It seemed, however, that half of the ship had an early flight, and were all in this group, as well has half of the promenade deck. I want to say about a quarter of this ship was trying to get off at 8:15. I also overheard several people saying that they snuck into this first group to get off early, which I found completely inconsiderate. Needless to say, once we were off the boat, we had to find our luggage in this warehouse type building, get in another line, and go through customs. Galveston is not equipped to handle a ship the size of the Conquest, and it showed during the customs check. There were only 5 or 6 lines for US residents, non-US residents and crew. Two hours later, we were on the road, heading home.
All in all, we had a FANTASTIC time, and are already planning our next cruise! (Probably the same exact cruise – not during hurricane season though!)
One final thing to mention that I noticed no other reviews had mentioned – what I call “anti-motion sickness”. I didn’t get sick at all on the boat, however, for the next 2-3 days, I felt like the solid ground at home was moving!