Number of Cruises: 2
Cruise Line: Carnival
Ship: Carnival Conquest
Sailing Date: June 25th, 2006
Carnival Cruise Lines
This cruise was the best yet. We arrived
Friday evening in Galveston and stayed at the Hilton (not worth the $250 per
night). The Conquest is a beautiful ship and huge. Leaving at the same time was
the Royal Caribbean Rhapsody of the Seas. A smaller ship, but we hit all the
same areas, except they went to either Ocho Rios or Negril, Jamaica.
We arrived at the terminal at 11 AM, and had a porter handle our checked luggage - as heavy as the bags were, it was worth it! The waiting game went for a while. If you have internet access, make sure you do your Fun Pass online before hand, as our line moved much quicker than the other line for those that hadn't completed that process yet for Homeland Security. We were finally onboard around 12:30 PM, and the boat drinks were flowing - bypass the fancy plastic souvenir cup unless you really want one or want to spend $7.25 (refills are at a reduced price).
We were on Panorama Deck (10) with a balcony room (I will only have a balcony room from now on – it’s worth the price). Our cabin was ready when we got there, and could unpack at our leisure.
Food and live music were on Lido deck, and of course more drinks being peddled. We had our breakfasts and lunches during the cruise at the Cezanne Restaurant (buffet) or from the grill at the rear of the ship (awesome burgers and hot dogs). The food at Cezanne was good – not spectacular, but satisfying.
I’ve read previously that folks had problems with not having any deck chairs available or with people saving them. We didn’t encounter that at all. The only issue I had with the sunning areas around the main pool on Lido deck was the amount of kids running around unsupervised, and not in Camp Carnival. That’s when my girlfriend and I decided to go to the “Adults Only” deck for sunbathing. No crowds, no kids – just the occasional group of older teenagers or older men trying to check out any women that were topless. Whether or not a woman removes her top (it’s optional), it’s the place to go if you want peace and relative quiet while tanning.
The exercise facility was nice and clean. However, there were too many adults bringing their kids there (mornings after 7 AM) and letting them run unsupervised around the gym. There were also several treadmills and life cycles that were tagged out for repair. I understand it could be difficult to get a repairman on board during the Galveston stop, but maybe Carnival could have extra equipment staged at the port and swap broken equipment out during the stop. As a note, the entrance for the fitness center is in the Spa area. The doors for men and women’s locker rooms are not well marked. Men’s locker room is port (left), women’s starboard (right).
I mentioned teenagers/kids earlier – Camp Carnival seems to keep them well occupied during the day, but towards evening and at night, they appear to get very bored, and start riding the elevators or climbing on the stacked deck chairs. In turn, they leave their ice cream bowls, drink glasses, etc in the elevators, and the staff has a bugger of a time keeping up with that.
The casino is well kept and has plenty of different denomination machines for all budgets and during the first half of the cruise, the slots seemed to pay quite well, and then tightened up the last couple of days.
We had late seating for dinner in Renoir at 8:30. The other three couples were delightful, and after a few glasses of wine/beer, everyone opened up well and we had a great time together. Martina, from the Czech Republic, was our server, and she was wonderful – very personable, and always smiling. We didn’t tip the Maitre de, as he didn’t impress me – he never once stopped by our table nor did he greet us at anytime when coming in. I did provide Martina a sizable tip our last night. The food was usually cooked/prepared to our liking and with the number of courses served, was always sufficient in serving size. The desserts were also very tasty and plenty of variety. You must try the ice cream at least once at dinner! Martina wouldn’t tell us who makes it, but it is incredible (especially the butter pecan!). NOTE: If you have a food allergy or sensitivity (my girlfriend has a wheat allergy), make sure you mention that when booking your cruise or at least 2-4 weeks before sailing so they can provide you with alternate menu items. My girlfriend discovered this allergy a couple of weeks prior, but I didn’t think about checking with Carnival in advance.
The first 2 ½ days were at sea. First day was great – plenty of sun and activities – live music on Lido deck. The second full day, we encountered a storm and the ship handled it pretty well, but we did have a bit of roll here and there – but, the stabilizers were doing their job.
The first port was Montego Bay. We didn’t do an excursion there, as I didn’t want to hassle with traversing Jamaica so we started with some shopping at the port. Don’t waste your time with the shops that are just outside the port (to the left as you disembark, outside the terminal building), as they were very pushy, and there were taxi drivers always around wanting to take us somewhere. There were some security guards that took care of that quickly (in that shopping area). There were some sellers that were allowed to come to the ship side of the terminal building, and set up tents with trinkets, shirts, etc – those were very nice folks and they do barter – contrary to what some folks have mentioned previously on this site.
At the terminal, there are three
“preferred/licensed” taxi companies. Outside the front doors of the terminal
building, they have taxi coordinators there to have a taxi arranged for you.
They ask where you’d like to go, and they quote the price to you. The unlicensed
taxis aren’t allowed in to the front of the terminal – only the three
“reputable/licensed” companies are.
We went to Margaritaville – and that was $4 USD per person each way and we arraigned for our driver, Jonah (or Jonas), to pick us up in time to get back to the ship (4PM). At Margaritaville – avoid the “Jamaican Farewell”, as it is 98% alcohol and I had to get additional juice/ice in order to finish it so I could get to a mango daiquiri! I was surprised that “performers” were allowed into Margaritaville and perform for tips, and they aren’t shy about letting you know they expect tips! That is the subject of a separate email to Margaritaville. Do try the Key Lime Pie or the Mango Cheesecake! This is also the Margaritaville with the water slide and private swimming area. There were also a few party catamaran’s (excursions from our ship and RC Rhapsody of the Seas), that docked and let their folks off for a bit. When leaving Margaritaville, prepare to be besieged by cab drivers (we felt like a French fry surrounded by seagulls).
When returning to the ship, you will have to pass through metal detectors that are very sensitive (picked up the foil in my cigarette pack), and anything hand carried has to be x-rayed. A word of warning – DO NOT ATTEMPT TO BRING DRUGS BACK TO THE SHIP! There were four people, two adults, and two 15/16 year old boys that tried that, and they were busted by the Jamaican Police. As best I could tell, none of them returned to the ship, and I can only assume they were arrested and jailed. The boys were handcuffed and in tears – although they did appear quite stoned, the reality of the situation showed on their faces, as well as their parents faces! In the port briefing on the ship, Todd (cruise director), does mention the issue of drugs – and the Jamaican authorities in an effort to clean up their image, has many undercover officers on the streets possibly targeting tourists, offering to sell them drugs – I don’t believe they have entrapment laws there, so you’ll be hosed if you attempt to buy! One of the men, his wife threw what appeared to be a credit card at her husband, and wished him luck getting home. Another suggestion, don’t be the one person that is holding up the ships departure, as those of us on the port side cabins will yell at you in your drunken state (re: man in red hat with bottle of Red Stripe in hand) to hurry up.
It was a fairly quick run to Grand Cayman,
and we tendered the next morning. We had booked the Island Tour and Stingray
excursion through Carnival in advance (I prefer booking through the cruise line,
since if the tour is late getting back, they’ll hold the ship). We tendered in
early and there were several shops already open (around 8-8:30). There is a real
coffee shop a couple of blocks to the right of the dock on the left – it’s
almost a Starbucks! NOTE: The coffee shops on the ship are okay (Alexandra
[Bosnia] is an excellent barista) – just not what I’m accustomed to stateside.
And the coffee machines in the Cezanne Restaurant provide passable coffee at
best, and since Americans love our coffee, they required almost constant
attention by the attendants (refilling grounds and emptying old grounds) but,
sometimes they all ran out at the same time.
When we met back at the dock for our excursion, we had to walk about 2-3 blocks to get to the buses. We started with swimming with the stingrays. Awesome! They are more like spoiled cats than sea creatures. That took the bulk of the time since we spent about 45 minutes with them on the sand bar, and it was 30 minutes each way from another dock to the sand bar. The island is not that large, and you can see on the stingray side of the island damage from previous hurricanes – otherwise, you can’t tell on the leeward side of the island. The next stop was Hell – great place to visit – but we only had 15 minutes there to take pictures, shop a bit and mail post cards from Hell. After that was the green sea turtle farm. Excellent facility where they raise green sea turtles, both for the commercial turtle meat market, and others for eventual release back into the wild – but, once again, we only had about 30 minutes there – at least they do have a snack bar where you can get some turtle soup (yes, real turtle), water and sodas. Buy the Carnival 1.5L water bottle insulated carriers they sell on board. They come in quite handy and with the heat and humidity in Cayman and Cozumel, you need lots of water to stay hydrated.
The dock at Cozumel is still out of commission so we had to tender. We did the Mayan Ruins at Tulum excursion. For that we caught a large tender ferry to Playa Del Carmen and a bus from there to Tulum. The tendering and bus ride to/from took three plus hours out of excursion time of the estimated 7 hours. There was no time for shopping in Playa Del Carmen – no great loss except any chance for t-shirts from Senior Frog’s or Carlos & Charley’s. En route to Tulum, the guide (Angel), gave a very informative and educational history of the Mayans from their earliest history to present day. We were impressed enough that we asked for his email address, so we could travel there again for a land based vacation, and get an all day tour of the area. We did get to stop and shop at a local shop that had free shots of locally made tequila (excellent!), and hand crafted obsidian art. Not inexpensive, but very nice – pay with your plastic and get an excellent exchange rate (~11.50 peso = $1USD). Once we arrived at the ruins, there were some small craft shops, and they weren’t too pushy trying to get you to buy something as I had experienced in 2003 in Cozumel. We spent quite some time at the ruins with Angel providing a lot of detail and additional history. Afterwards, there was time allotted to wonder the grounds at our leisure or go to the beach down below and swim.
If you want to shoot video, there is a $3USD fee payable at the gate to get a “license” from the Mexican government to do so. I would also recommend paying the $2USD per person to ride the shuttle to/from the gate/ruins – one reason, it’s hot and humid – two, it saves about 15 minutes time each way. They did serve a complimentary light lunch and water or soda on the bus going back – and if you’re so inclined, Dos XX for $2USD each.
Once back at Playa Del Carmen, there was no time for shopping, a brisk walk back to the dock and aboard the last ferry back to the ship.
The last day at sea was rainy and dreary, so that killed any sunbathing. So it was the casino, gym and my girlfriend off to the spa for some type of detoxifying seaweed wrap. The last day, the spa has some nice discounts ~50% off.
Debarkation at Galveston was uneventful. We didn’t do the self assist as we didn’t want to be rushed in getting off the ship and didn’t want to handle our heavy luggage. They finished getting the self assist folks off around 9 AM, and they started calling the rest of us around 9:30, and we were off the ship, had our bags and through customs by 10!
Another note – for Texas residents, you are limited by Texas law to only 1 bottle/1 liter of alcohol brought into the state. Residents of other states can do the max of 4 bottles/liters. If you are a resident of another state, and you bring more than 4 duty free bottles into the states, you may have to pay duty on those additional bottles. In my experience, I’ve brought more than 4 back into the country before, declared them and didn’t get charged. It’s more costly for the government to collect the duty than what the duty is. I’m sure that if you try to bring a case back, they’ll want some $$$.
Our cabin steward (he called himself Richard, but I believe he was Thai or Indonesian, so his actual name was something else), was always Johnny on the spot when needed, and his towel animal creations were great.
We only went to a couple of shows, and those were quite good. Usually we went to Alfred’s Bar for cigars or the Jazz Bar as we didn’t prefer the disco scene.
There are two formal nights – Monday and I think Thursday (could have been Friday – I’ve slept since then). On Monday night, they have the Captain’s reception. It was okay – very crowded, and the drinks tasted watered down, and the hors d’oeuvres very dry. And no one appeared to be enforcing the formal/semi-formal dress requirement. Monday night dinner is also for lobster lovers as it is one of the entrées.
For those cruisers that have sailed Carnival before, there is also an afternoon reception (Tuesday – invitation only) for past Carnival customers. I went expecting a sales pitch for something, but there was none. The Captain along with Freddy Funship (mascot) greeted you coming in too. There was a live band, the cocktails weren’t watered down and the hors d’oeuvres were excellent! I thought that a nice touch for past customers.
Overall, the cruise was fantastic! The crew was very friendly and always helpful. Even though we hit rain twice on at sea days (2d day out to Montego Bay and last day from Cozumel), the ship rode the swells very well. I didn’t notice anyone appearing green - although, many wore the patch. The biggest thing I could think that could be improved would be more time in each port. I know there is a schedule to keep, but an extra ½ hour to one hour wouldn’t impact the schedule greatly.
I will sail Carnival again, and again, and again…..