Carnival Lines Carnival Conquest ReviewWestern Caribbean Johnny
Number of Cruises: 2
Cruise Line: Carnival
Ship: Carnival Conquest
Sailing Date: March 26th, 2006
Carnival Cruise Lines
All in all, it was a good
vacation for our family. This review is LONG, but I wanted to give our unique
review of the Carnival experience. Hope it provides good insight. Bon voyage!
Embarkation: Our United flight, scheduled to arrive from Denver to IAH airport around noon, was delayed by 3 hours due to mechanical and weather issues. We nearly missed our embarkation. I, along with numerous other cruisers on the same flight, called Carnival frequently, providing updates and pleading with them to delay embark time. Carnival customer service was a bit disorganized, and provided conflicting information to many of us. It almost felt like Carnival was unprepared for this type of problem. We booked our bus shuttle from the airport with Carnival, with the steep roundtrip price of $66 per person. Coach USA is the company that Carnival contracts their bus shuttle from IAH/HOB airports. I spoke with several others who used private shuttles or limos, and the price was much higher. Houston/Galveston really needs better shuttle options, as this is a big extra cost for cruisers. After much consternation, we found that Carnival had ensured that Coach USA buses were waiting for us. Carnival also delayed embarkation by about 2 hours. The plus side of the delay is that we were able to get through the boarding process in minutes. In hindsight, I would probably have gotten to Houston/Galveston a day early. This would probably have eased some of the stress….after all, it is a vacation. Or, another option would be to cruise out of Fort Lauderdale/Miami where you wouldn’t have to deal with distance/major extra costs of shuttles.
Conquest: The boat is huge. It dwarfed the Carnival Ecstasy that I last cruised on. It took several days to get familiar with the layout. There are maps of the ship and its facilities available in the lobby. Getting from forward (front of ship) to aft (back of ship) isn’t always straightforward. Sometimes you can’t get straight through, or you have to go through smokey lounges, or go up and down stairs/elevators, etc. Get the map! The upper decks are the focal point on Days at Sea. Most people stake out chairs early in the morning. This is a real issue. Carnival has signs advising people not to reserve deck chairs, but no one follows this suggestion. We found ourselves on the starboard or port sides most times in areas with much fewer people and away from the action. This was probably preferable anyway. Carnival had a good mix of Americana: quite a few snowbirds, lots of young teens, and families galore. The amount of children probably doubled due to the spring break timeframe. We were initially in balcony room 6368. The room was spacious, and we had plenty of space for our stuff. We discovered after the first night that we were right above a disco….and we promptly notified the concierge. It took another couple of complaints, and they moved us to balcony room 8248. That resolved our noise issue, though we were sleep-deprived for several days.
Crew: The staff was very accommodating and very friendly. Malcom was the cruise director, and he had ample energy. The “woo-hoo’s” did get a bit old. Our dining room staff worked very hard, and it really made you appreciate their efforts. We tipped everyone a little more than the recommended $10 per day. With the Carnival wait staff, you’ll never find an easier place on this planet to get a drink. They are everywhere.
Port, Jamaica: I read many other reviews, and our family of 3 opted to do Sunset Beach Resort. The cruise terminal in Montego Bay is chaotic, with various strange people asking “where to”. Yet, it appeared that the Jamaican government has secured the area, and only allowed certain taxi companies to pick up tourists (primarily Juta). We herded into a van with a few other guests, and traveled about 5 minutes to the resort. While the food was very average, copious amounts of generic alcohol (and only Red Stripe beer), towels, and ample activities could be had for a $40 day pass. Children under 12 can get a day pass for $20. The resort has a really nice water park with 2 fun slides, lazy river, and swimming pools. There is also beach access with various water activities available. We lounged on the beach chairs by the beach, and then took advantage of the water park. This resort is excellent and safe for families. We were not hassled like I’ve experienced on other public beaches in the Caribbean. Don’t forget your plastic mugs, as they will fill them for you with your drink of choice. Otherwise, you’ll have to make multiple runs with their dixie-sized cups. After Sunset Beach, we went to the Carnival-recommended city center for some shopping before we got back on the ship. The shops are mostly Indian-owned, and the prices are not what I consider discount. The trip to/from city center revealed what most reviews have already pointed out: Jamaica is a poor country. I can understand why most people find this the least desirable port of call.
Port, Grand Cayman: We chose to do the Stingray City/Island Tour with Carnival. We tried to book with Captain Marvins, but it was booked solid weeks before our trip. In GC, you must tender (get on a smaller boat from the cruise ship to get to the island). Since we booked through Carnival, we were guaranteed an early tender. The tour to the Turtle Farm was pretty cool. Hell was a tourist trap, but at least I can say I’ve been there ;-). We managed to get a slow boat out to the sandbar of Stingray City, probably taking 45 minutes. Once there, the waves were very active, and the boat flopped around, and hit another boat before anchoring. The first thing you notice is that there are hundreds of people in the same area. In my mind it doesn’t really matter who you book this trip through, they all go to the same spot, and there will always be a lot of people there. If you’re looking for an excursion away from the masses, this is not the trip for you. We were excited to see the Stingrays, but the constant slamming of waves into us made it a bit harrowing. My wife and son cannot swim very well, so I was not very relaxed keeping an eye on them. We did get our obligatory picture with the stingray that the crew managed to hold. I’m glad I did this excursion, as it was truly unique, but I would probably not do it again. We had enough time to check out Senor Frogs for lunch. One thing that is noted in all the reviews is how expensive it is in GC. Our lunch for 3 with one margarita cost about $70! Nonetheless, GC is beautiful, and I would definitely go back.
Port, Cozumel: Once again, we were forced to tender to Cozumel. We had to wait in a long line on deck 9 that morning for tender tickets. Due to strong waves, the tendering took longer than expected. Once on the island, we jumped into a taxi with another family to the beach resort of Playa Mia (formerly Playa Sol). The cabbies are inflexible, and charged $5 per person for the 6 to 8 mile ride. The devastation from Hurricane Wilma was immense, and the island is still in disarray. Many buildings lay damaged, and the surrounding mangroves/forests are just devastated. I would not plan a vacation to Cozumel anytime in the near future. Playa Mia offered several entry choices, and we chose the basic package to get into the beach for about $12 per person. There are all-inclusive options that range in the $30 to $40 range. The beach was nice, and we were able to find open beach chairs. You have to rent umbrellas, and there is a constant flow of people coming around to offer massages, drinks, food, etc. We found the food bland at best, but the $3 beers did a little to make up for that. The servers are falling over themselves to get your drinks. They must really need that tip money due to the hurricane-related tourism loss. While this beach was fine for us, the Sunset Beach resort in Jamaica was much better. We went back to town for a little shopping before getting back on the ship. I considered the prices in Cozumel for food and souvenirs to be quite high, and definitely not the inexpensive “ol’ Mexico of yore”.
Ship Activities: We took part in a couple of the bingo sessions ($10 per card, or $20 for 3). I also went to the casino a few times. They have all the standard games, and fairly low minimums. Drinks, of course, are NOT gratis. We saw a couple of the shows, including the comedy shows by Phat Kat and one of the ventriloquist, the magic act, and the juggler. They were fun, but unexceptional. Don’t expect NY or Vegas quality. Don’t know how telling, but the showgirls also double as workers on the ship. We went to a couple of the art auctions. Great place to get free champagne! We also saw the ice carving demonstration, newlywed game, trivia game, and Scene-It game. Went to Alfred’s Bar for some jazz, but the smoke was incessant.
Camp Carnival/Kid’s Activities: Our son is 10, and he participated in some of the Camp Carnival events. For kids 9 through 11, parents have the option of allowing kids to check themselves in/out. At many activities, the ratio of kids/workers is overwhelming. Since our son is shy, he often got lost in the shuffle. He did enjoy the Camp Carnival slumber party event (10pm to 3am). It cost $26, but gave us an evening free. He was escorted back to the room after the event. The game room on the ship is extensive, and our son spent a lot of time (and money) here. We felt safe letting him go to the arcade alone. There is a great slide, and also a kids only pool and hot tub. There are several cartoon channels and also a kid’s movie channel on the cabin TV. The movies tended to be replayed over and over, however.
Disembarkation: We were a couple hours late getting into Galveston, as a cruise ship passenger fell seriously ill and had to be transported off the ship the night before arriving in Galveston. Consequently, many more passengers got off using self-assist. Our deck was not called till about 12:30pm, and it took about an hour to get through Customs. The process of getting onto the Carnival-chartered Coach bus was pure chaos. Tempers were definitely flaring, as passengers tried to figure out which bus went where and which bus to board. I think they could really improve this process.
* While Cruise lines tout cruises as an All-inclusive, they are far from that. There are lots of things that cost. The most obvious is the drinks. Most drinks will run about $5 to $7, and on top of that they automatically include a 15% gratuity. You can easily run up a bill doing this several times a day. Carnival automatically adds $10 gratuity per person/per day on your charge account. However, they also recommend tipping for room service, matre’de’, camp carnival workers, and others who provide good service.
* We carried on a bottle of wine per Carnival allowance at debarkation (don’t forget the cork screw). You can also get free drinks at the Captain’s party, Multi-Carnival Cruisers party, and free champagne at the Art Auctions. Don’t miss out on those! We also brought on an 8 pack of coke, and a 6 pack of bottled water with no problems.
* The food in the dining room (Monet) was probably our best meal each day. Don’t miss the Lobster on formal night. We found the food OK, but far from exceptional. Some meals were better than others. We also tried the Point, which cost $30 per person and had an optional Georges Blanc menu. The food here was a step up from the dining room, but I’ve had much better meals for less on the mainland. The burgers/pizza/buffet were all pretty standard. The coffee on-board is putrid. We ended up paying for espresso and cappuccinos on a few occasions. All to say, don’t cruise Carnival for a gourmet dining experience, but you’ll definitely find enough to satisfy.
* You encounter smoke in many places. I love live music, but it was usually offered in smokey places. The casino is smokey as expected. I put on the comment card that Carnival should offer more lounges and bars that are smoke-free. In light of the recent fire aboard a Carnival-owned ship, maybe they will rethink the smoking policy completely.
* My wife is pregnant. We expected to see a few other pregnant people, but were told there was only one other on board. We carried a doctor’s slip, but it was never required by crew members. All in all, I think a cruise is a great vacation for pregnant women.
* Queen-size beds are actually two twins pushed together. Not home, but not bad.
* While we had a balcony, we didn’t spend a lot of time there. Still, it was nice to step outside occasionally. We didn’t need a bungy cord as our door locked automatically when pushed all the way out.
* Ship movement was not very noticeable on some days, and very noticeable on others. None of us got seasick, however, and none of used medicine or patches.