Carnival LinesCarnival Conquest ReviewWestern Caribbean Barb Franke
Number of Cruises: First Cruise
Cruise Line: Carnival
Ship: Carnival Conquest
Sailing Date: December 10th, 2006
Carnival Cruise Lines
This was our first cruise and we did it as a crowd! All the kids and grandkids - 16 of us total. I did a lot of research, read lots and lots of reviews in making the decision to pick this particular cruise. I have to say that there is always such a mixed review from people that either loved the cruise or hated it, that making a decision was not that easy! In the end I decided that you can never please everyone.
Eleven of us started our cruise with a long flight from Washington State. We arrived in Houston airport shortly after 6am. With the time changes we actually only had about 4 hours to snooze and not many of us were able to do that in such cramped quarters, and possibly because we were all just a bit excited too. Our daughter and her family drove from Arkansas so they met us at the ship terminal. We had to wait for a Coach to transport us to the ship from Houston International. We weren’t sure what time this would be since our tickets said the first coach would load around noon. After gathering our mountain of luggage there weren’t many options for eating. We did find that you could hoof it to a motel through a tunnel so we loaded up some carts with mountains of luggage and off we went to their café. We had run into two other people that were also waiting for the coach to the ship and they said they would let any Carnival employee know that we were there. We started eating from the buffet when low and behold here come the other people waiting for the bus and a Carnival worker. She was told us to enjoy our breakfast but to be back by 9am to catch the bus, YEAH!
By this time we had cell phone communication with our other daughter driving and they were actually slightly ahead of us by this time. However with having to park and unload their luggage we again got a head of them in the lines at the terminal. This is probably the least fun part of the cruise when you have so many little children- the grandkids ranged from 8 months to 16 years old, with most of them in the 5-7 age range. Of course you have to remember that we had very little sleep so everyone was on the grumpy side. The lines are like the ones at Disneyland, you wander back and forth for what seems like miles, then you go through the scanners like the airport only to find yourself in another line. This is the line to get your sign and sail card, figure out your paying options etc and make sure that you have your picture ID and proof of ID (in our case a birth certificate- but I understand that Passports are required soon). Once you are through with this line there is yet another line. You get your boarding picture (one they will sell to you later- ours were a bit blurry eyed and not worth paying for), and then to get another picture that is put on your sign and sail card (but not visible to you). We were all thinking, YES, we finally made it, we can go to our rooms and rest. But unfortunately they were still making up the rooms, so we went to the Lido deck for buffet and then to scout out our ship.
I think we were all pleasantly surprised by the size of our rooms. Our kids were all in connecting rooms to each other so their kids could play together. The two oldest boys had a room to themselves connected to a room of adults. Most of the rooms slept 4 with a couch bed and a bunk bed both adequate size for an adult to sleep on. They also provided a cute crib for our grandson that fit just right between the couch and bed. Our room had a couch and table with chair- the beds together to make a king bed and lots of storage and closet space. Suit cases fit under the bed. The bathroom was plenty big- had complimentary lotions, shavers, toothpaste etc. Our shower had shampoo and liquid soap to wash with. Of course these are things we packed and didn’t need to. There is also a hair dryer but you do have to hold the button down the entire time you are using it. We did bring a power strip and this is really a must if you are going to use curling irons, computers etc. We had a room with a port hole- this was good size and on warm days the kids like to grab a blanket and curl up next to the window. One day we saw flying fish from these port holes- lots and lots of flying fish.
The first two days are at sea. The weather was warm but dreary and we did get some rain. I think that the cruise motion just became part of the day, you stop really noticing it after a while. One of our waiters mentioned that it was always a little choppier going out of Galveston and that is would get better. Second night was dress up night but time has a way of getting away from you and we had to really rush to get dressed and ready. We had early seating. The little ones were still catching up on sleep so of course once we got to dinner they fell asleep in their chairs. Our waiters were superb! They earn every penny of their tips and more. We had Irwin and Lamar from the Philippines. They were very attentive to our kids, always brought them color books and crayons and took their food orders first. My understanding is that these guys work 6 months on and have a couple months off and that their salary is from tips alone. They always had a smile; made sure we were apprised of the time changes, and on the nights they entertained us with song and dance they put their heart and soul into it. The food was always presented in style and was tasty. I know others said the food was mediocre at best but I found it to be wonderful. Maybe it is because we are just simple hard working people and appreciate things more easily. Every night there were various choices for starters, 3 soups, 2 salads choices and then choices or beef, pork, fish, and vegetarian foods for entrees. After all that a dessert menu was brought out, and here again, you had three or four new choices each night as well as some standard offerings. The kids menu was the same each night but they could chose from the main menu also if they wanted to. If you go hungry it is your own fault; there is food every hour of the day and night. A couple times I was so full at dinner I could eat very little but later when I did feel hungry I ordered a sandwich from room service- this is free. It does take and hour or so to arrive so you need to plan a head a little.
Our shore Excursions were in Jamaica, Grand Cayman and Cozumel. We did not do any of the ship tours. We felt that with so many kids it would be best to just visit the beaches and shop. I would recommend that you either do a ship tour in Jamaica or just shop in the terminal at the pier. This place is not very safe and you will not get the same story twice from the locals. In the terminal I asked at information, how much it would cost to get a bus to town. She said it was $4 each way per person but that if we wanted a little tour and some shopping we could get a bus for $7 all day per person. We got on the bus but our driver, Bradley changed the ruled, and it became $20 a head. At the first shopping area I went up and told him we needed to get off the bus, as we could not afford that, he said “no problem”, he would do the kids for half price. I informed him we didn’t have that much money either- he basically blocked our way and said we would work it out, to go sit down. So we all traipsed back to our seats. He promised us several shopping stops, picture opportunities and a stop at Margaritaville and the beach. We actually got one photo stop, and three shopping stops. The bus was hot and everyone wanted to go back to the ship at that point. I tried to hand Bradley all the money we had at that point- about $150 for 16 of us (9 kids) and he was not happy. He started arguing with me about getting more. My grandson found another $10 in his wallet and someone else found another $10….and he did let us go but he was mumbling the whole time like he had been cheated. He also told us he would not take us to the market because the prices were inflated there due to the cruise ship getting a rake off from sales. The places he took us over charged my one daughter $10 and tried to keep the change from a $20 bill my grandson gave for a $5 item. I suspect the one that was getting a rake off here was Bradley. We got lots of warnings about this place including ones from Bradley about criminals and illegal things being sold. None of us have an interest in ever going back to this place. The folks in the shops are really pushy, to the point of grabbing you and hauling you over to look at things. They will dicker with you but then they expect you to buy.
Our second stop was the Grand Caymans; this stop was every ones favorite. The day was sunny and warm, the water wonderfully clear and the prettiest blue color. Unfortunately you have to Tender in by boat to this spot so the day gets pretty short. We found a van driver who agreed to take us to the free beach (7-mile beach) for $3 a head each way. We gave him a time to pick us up and he was there 5 minutes early. The water here is wonderful to swim in. With a mask and snorkel you can see the fish underwater and they are all very colorful. The kids had the best time here. The sand is a beautiful white color. There are rest rooms and showers, so clean up is easy and all free. You can rent lounges, and masks and snorkels. We left enough time to do a little shopping- things are priced in CI so you have to know the exchange or use your credit card. Some really beautiful birds and interesting Iguana’s in the Margaritaville shopping area.
Last stop was Cozumel. The day was dreary and rainy but we got a great van driver named Pedro. He showed us the sights and had lots of interesting information to share. He charged us $20 a head for the adults only. We went to the Mayan ruins, did a little shopping, went to the beach and had guacamole dip and chips to die for – soooo goood! The kids swam despite the overcast skies, the weather was warm enough. This would be a place worth coming back to and enjoying more of the local color. Had enough time to do a little shopping before heading back to the ship. The ship was able to dock here so no tenders to catch.
The activity director Mark Price made sure we had lots of fun during our cruise. The shows were pretty good; we had a wild and crazy Madi Gras party. The ship is split up into to teams early in the cruise so it was red team against, white team, against blue team. Lots of yelling, dancing and fun. I didn’t see tons of drinking but I wasn’t looking for it and we aren’t big drinkers. This was actually just good clean fun. We learned to do several line dances together and old and young alike participated. The kids had their own party up at Camp Carnival, as they did several nights. Up until 10pm is free but later activities weren’t too bad at $6 an hour- the kids had a blast! On the last day they had a Christmas program that included some of the kids singing and all the kids joining the entertainment crew on stage. Mark read them Frosty the snowman and they had a bit of snow in the end of the show before Santa showed up to give each of the kids a toy and listen to their wish list. The captain even made an appearance for the show as well as many of the crew. The crew came down the aisles with candles and we all sang Silent Night. The captain reminded all that the crew were all away from their families for the holidays and that they enjoyed being included in these family activities. There is entertainment, dancing, and music for all ages at various parts of the ship. One should never be bored.
We all tried our hand at gambling. Some of us came out a head and other broke even. I agree with what others have said about the machines being a little looser early on and tighten up toward the end of the cruise. You can do some shopping while out at sea- something’s did become cheaper toward the end of the cruise. Pictures are taken frequently and are for you to buy on deck 4- finding your self can be a trick. The ship itself is beautiful- lots to see. The kids enjoyed the big water slide, as did some of our bigger kids! The pools are salt water but fairly warm if you are in the sun. The hot tubs felt wonderful. I think the boys made it to the gym but I never did so I can’t comment on it. None of us used the spa though the prices do get cheaper and the temptation for a full body massage is really hard to pass up.
Obviously we went to enjoy being a family together so didn’t participate in many of the ship board activities but there is something for everyone going on much of the time- you should never find yourself board. The TV’s in the rooms bring in many of the network stations and there is shipboard information going also as well as movies to rent etc. Our room steward and crew were great; we got different towel animals every evening. Our rooms were cleaned twice a day – I was always greeted by name by Steve our steward. He stopped and took time to show the kids how to make some of the towel animals and he made sure they each had a cookie every night.
Our last day we got fogged out of Galveston so had to wait until the port was opened to make the final leg of our trip. We all woke up early thinking we needed to get off the ship early. Sleeping in might have been a better option as we had another long day ahead of us. When we finally did get into port those that had to catch early flights were let off first and then we went by decks – it was obvious that our deck was going to be last. So at some point we decided to go up to the Lido deck and sure enough they were serving lunch buffet. The process of getting off the ship isn’t too bad you have to find your luggage and get in line to go through customs but if your forms are filled out it isn't too horrible. The worst is the amount of luggage we all brought and trying to shove it along. Then we had to say good bye to our Arkansas family and head for our coach back to the airport. Luckily I had made a late flight so we had plenty of time. Actually we ended up with an hour wait when it was all said and done, which gave us time to eat.
There are lots of things to spend money on during the cruise but one doesn’t have to spend money to have a good time. However if you want pictures, drinks, babysitting, gambling, souvenirs, movie rentals, shore excursions, videos, etc you will be forking out some extra $’s. It is easy to put things on your sign and sail card and it will add up. Still we did this trip on a shoe string after paying for the cruise and airfare so we kept our expenses to a minimum and left our extra in tips for the wonderful staff. I left my room steward his tips by adding dollars to all the towel animals he made us on the cruise and then lined them up on our couch.
The cruise was all we had hoped for and
more and we are all thinking about meeting up again in a couple years to do it
again. The kids will be older then and it should be more fun. I don’t think we
will do the same cruise, some would like to try Alaska next. All agreed this was
a trip of a life time and not one soon forgotten by any of us.