Carnival LinesCarnival Conquest ReviewWestern Caribbean Scott & Sherry Tilley
Number of Cruises: First Cruise
Cruise Line: Carnival
Ship: Carnival Conquest
Sailing Date: December 31st, 2006
Carnival Cruise Lines
This is confusing if you don’t know what to do, easy if you do. We drove up to the pier, dropped off luggage with the porters, then drove the car down the street to the parking lot, paid in full in advance ($10 per day,) and then took the free shuttle back to the pier. We arrived at 11:00 a.m., which I think was a perfect time. The line was already forming and only getting longer and longer behind us.
I had intended to carry onboard one small suitcase containing toiletries and clothing for the first night's dinner; but when I walked up, a Carnival representative told me it was too big to go through the x-ray scanner. I had measured it, and it was in fact just under the maximum measurements, but I checked it in with the porters anyway. We went through the security line (with metal detector and x-ray,) and then through a second line where we showed our cruise documents and identification. A hold was put on our debit card ($500 for two people for a 7 day cruise) and we were given a Sail & Sign card that would be used for all onboard purchases, our room key, and our boarding pass for every port. Then a photographer offered to take our picture, but I was carrying a shoulder bag, had cruise documents in both hands, and was trying to figure out where I was going. No thanks – we just walked past him and onto the ship. Once there, our Sail & Sign cards were scanned and our pictures were taken for the ship’s computer.
We chose a cabin on the Empress Deck so that we were not over the disco and not under the pool area. Good call – it was very quiet except for the occasional loud partier coming through the hall at 2:00 a.m. or the occasional kid stomping down the hall. We also chose an interior cabin near the center of the ship because I had heard that was the best place to be to avoid getting seasick. We packed motion sickness pills, but never took them and were never seasick at all. The room was quite large and very nice, and we really didn’t mind not having a window or balcony. We saved a good bit of money, and we saw the water ever day at every meal and anytime we were on deck (which was all the time.) Maybe next time we’ll get a view, but the interior cabin was perfectly acceptable to us. In the room, there were three armoire type closets – two with shelves and hanging bars (including six hangers each), one with all shelves. There was one electric outlet, but I recommend bringing an extension cord or a power strip to increase usage. There was a hair dryer in the room (though I heard you have to hold the button down as you use it,) and two nice sized beach towels that you can use on the ship and onshore (fresh ones will be delivered as you use them.) Maria, our cabin steward from Romania, dropped by during the first hour we were in our room, introduced herself, and chatted a bit. Her service all week was amazing – the room was always immaculate. We could hardly leave our room without coming back to a dried shower, fresh towels, clean glasses, mints on the bed, turn down service etc… (and of course, those infamous towel animals every night!) Over the course of the week, as we talked in the hallways, Maria became more of a friend to us than service personnel. She and her assistant were always very friendly and never intrusive at all.
This was ridiculous. Around 4:00 p.m., we were told over the loudspeaker to get our lifejackets from our cabins and meet at our muster station. Having never cruised before, I was interested to hear what I needed to do in case of an emergency. However, passengers were standing around talking so loudly that I could not hear a thing that was being announced during the drill. I just memorized my surroundings and assumed that I would come back to that spot if the ship started to sink.
DINING ROOM SERVICE:
We had requested the very latest dinner seating (so as not to have to rush back from shore excursions,) but were assigned the earliest dinner seating at 5:45 p.m. I had read online that we should go immediately to the maitre d’ to have it changed, but we had been told at check in that Carnival would like us to honor the given time for the first night. We ended up keeping and enjoying the earlier time though because each night as we sat down for dinner we watched the sunset from the dining room windows. We ate in the dining room every night, and the service there was exceptional. The food was good (not outstanding, but not in any way bad.) I can now understand the online forum controversy regarding the food on the ship. One definitely would not go on this Carnival cruise for the culinary experience. If you are accustomed to eating at extravagant five-star restaurants, then Carnival’s food is probably going to seem below par to you. Otherwise, you will be fine. There are plenty of different types of good food (appetizers, salads, beef, seafood, vegetables, desserts galore, etc…) and you can eat as much of it as you want.
We saw comedian Tim Harkleroad do his family show and then went to the Degas Lounge to see the band Blood Power perform (www.bloodpowerband.com). This band has been hailed the best band in the entire Carnival fleet and I can see why. They are a group of brothers from the Philippines that do cover tunes from the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s. A lot of rocking, a lot of dancing, a really, really great time.
The sommelier at The Point Supper Club steakhouse offered a wine tasting at noon for $10 per person. The restaurant was very nice, and the event was really enjoyable even for those who are not all that knowledgeable about choosing and drinking wines. The dress was casual, and two white wines and two reds were served. Then the sommelier discussed grapes, winemaking regions in France, and ways to hold, swirl, smell, taste, and think about wine. It was very educational as well as humorous and entertaining. A great way to experience The Point if you are not planning to pay to have dinner there.
Dinner was wonderful with prime rib and lobster. For dessert, my husband and I mixed my chocolate melting cake with his cherries jubilee. Oh, it was good.
More people than I expected really dressed up for formal night and looked amazing, but clothing onboard is really all over the place. At one late night buffet, you could stand in one place and see people in shorts, sweatpants, khaki pants, mini-dresses, and formal gowns. Almost anything you want to wear is probably going to be acceptable. Of course, the dining room is dressier; but even so, women were in anything from short sundresses to long evening gowns. (And people get more and more casual as the week goes on.)
We went to the very nice Moulin Rouge-like Toulouse Lautrec lounge to see the “Formidable” show. It was mostly Vegas style, part Le Mis, part Cirque du Soleil. I have read people complaining online about the quality of Carnival’s shows, but I didn’t think the show was as bad as apparently some others have thought. It wasn’t on the level of a Vegas show, but it was entertaining. Singers Randi Adlesic and Rudy Lowe were very talented and entertaining.
Tim Harkelroad’s adult midnight comedy show was very funny, though I would skip it if you are easily offended.
We wanted to go dance in Henri’s disco, but it had been overrun with kids for the past two evenings. I thought it was a one time thing for New Year’s on night one; but now on night two, the little kids were gone, but the barely legal ones were still in there dancing to some strange music.
The day was very warm (as if the ship had suddenly run into summer,) so we sat by the pool. A few suggestions here: #1) Get there early if you want a lounge chair near the pool. The pool starts getting crowded around 10:00 or 11:00 a.m., and can be packed by noon. #2) Take a light swimsuit cover or something to cover yourself with in addition to your sunscreen if you burn easily. It was really nice to sit out by the pool, and we spent a lot of hours out there.
Carnival offers quite a good selection of daytime activities – bingo, a ship building challenge, hairy chest competition, etc. We went to the Newlywed/Not So Newlywed game and it was hilarious – the funniest show I saw onboard all week. The Conquest’s cruise director, Mark Price hosted and he was hilarious all week in addition to being very helpful and informative. Later in the evening, we participated in the Mardi Gras party where teams moved from lounge to lounge competing for points by dancing and singing. Who knew that my husband knew every single word to Margaritaville? One can definitely make some new discoveries on a Carnival cruise. After the longest conga line I’ve ever seen, the night ended on the pool deck with Blood Power rocking away and people dancing until way past midnight. Best party of the cruise.
DOCTOR’S CAVE BEACH:
I had read SO many online reviews of people saying SO many bad things about Montego Bay, that we made plans to go straight to the beach and come straight back to the ship. That turned out to be a shame. OK, yes these people are poorer than we, yes we were offered drugs, yes people were standing in the middle of the street trying to sell things (including one guy that looked like Flava Flav and had some sort of bicycle tire looking things around his neck and souvenirs draped all over his arms,) yes a little boy tried to ask for money from us, and yes we were offered taxis over and over and over. But so what? We said no – over and over and over. There were also so many good things about Montego Bay. You can see beautiful landscape before you even get off the ship. As soon as we walked out of the port, a man hooked us up with a taxi driver and we agreed on a price of $8.00 for him to take us to Doctor’s Cave Beach. He kept pressing us to let him take us on a tour, but since we had been warned about this online, we said no. He finally quit asking and drove us to the beach. On the way there, he and my husband got to talking about the island and the history, and it turned out that the taxi driver was really nice and very knowledgeable. As we got out of the taxi, we considered that it probably would’ve been a really good tour. We arrived at the very nice Doctor’s Cave Beach (www.doctorscavebathingclub.com) at about 10:00 a.m. We paid $5 per person to get in, $5 for an umbrella and $5 per chair. We were told to pick a spot and a guy brought the chairs and umbrella to us. We tipped the guy a couple of dollars and gave him a coin that my husband had found on the ground while we were standing there. It turned out to be, the guy said, “like a Jamaican five dollars.” He was happy. The place was really beautiful – mountains, lush greenery, soft cornmeal-like sand, and water a turquoise color that I had never seen before. From the beach, you can watch the commercial airliners coming in to land nearby about every half hour or so. Also from this beach, we could see many groups of people on many different shore excursions. People were on tour/party boats, on glass bottom boats, snorkeling, parasailing, learning to water ski, etc… It seemed like this would be a good place to have some fun water adventures. At Doctor’s Cave beach, there was a water trampoline and two restaurants very nearby and waiters with menus walking the beach taking orders. The prices seemed fair – we got two very large bottles of water for $2.00 each. We taxied back to the ship ($10,) ate lunch on the boat, took a nap on deck, and then watched over the side of the ship as a 20 person Jamaican marching band performed as the ship was ready to leave port. Our experience in Jamaica was very nice.
GEORGETOWN/GRAND CAYMAN TENDERING:
We knew that the ship would not be able to dock in Grand Cayman, and that we would have to take a tender from the ship to the shore. But, being our first cruise, we had no idea how that process worked. We had asked the purser the night before, and he had told us that people not going on a Carnival excursion should show up at the Toulouse Lautrec lounge at 7:00 a.m. to get a tender ticket which would determine which boat would take us to the shore. My husband asked, “So should we show up at 6:45?” “7:00 a.m.” he answered. So we showed up at 7:00 a.m., but the lounge was already crowded, and all the tickets for Tender 1 had been handed out. We were given two tickets (stickers to put on our shirts) for Tender 2 and told to wait. They called for those people going on shore excursions booked through Carnival and then for people with Tender 1 tickets, and then more people with Carnival shore excursions. An HOUR later, someone finally started chanting loudly, “TEN-DER TWO! TEN-DER TWO!” at which time they called for people with tickets for Tenders 2 and 3. It appeared that we had been forgotten during the wait. I think that if we had just taken our stickers and walked down to Deck Zero with the first group called, we probably would’ve been on shore an hour earlier. Oh well.
Getting off the boat at Grand Cayman was like running into the paparazzi. In every port, upon exiting the ship, there are photographers (Carnival’s people, I guess) and people (‘characters’) dressed up ready to take a picture with you. In Jamaica, there was a man with dreadlocks wearing a hat of Jamaican flag colors; in Cozumel it was guys dressed up like Mayan warriors and women in colorful Mexican dresses. In Grand Cayman, there were people with parrots and I’m not sure what else because there were four aggressive photographers yelling for us to stop, and I was refusing pictures and trying to make my way through the crowd. Carnival offers some really great places to get your picture taken onboard; and these outdoor photo opportunities are great if you want your picture taken; but we didn’t, so it was a little irritating.
SNORKELING AND STINGRAY CITY:
We booked a snorkel and Stingray City tour with Captain Marvin’s (www.captainmarvins.com) and I highly recommend them as they were extremely professional and very pleasant. Their office is very easy to find and just a short walk from the pier. We made our reservation online before we left home; and when we arrived, everything was ready as planned. A shuttle took us to the boat, at which point we were seated, fitted with snorkel gear, and offered punch and water. Our particular group was honored to have been ushered to the snorkel site by Captain Marvin himself. He took the time to meet and shake hands with everyone on the lower deck of the boat and then we took off.
When we got to the Coral Gardens, Baron, our guide, gave instructions on what to do and we prepared to get into the water. I had never been snorkeling before and had thought it would be pretty easy, but it took me a few minutes to get acclimated. For one thing, I had been looking forward for months to going to Stingray City, but when we pulled up to Coral Gardens and Baron announced that a stingray that they had named Frisbee (because it had no tail) was there swimming at the back of the boat, I got a little apprehensive about jumping in the water with it. So there I was, trying to get my mask adjusted and get off the boat with thirty people behind me who wanted to get off the boat into the choppy waters, and I was trying to remember to breathe though my mouth, and to not touch the coral, and to not kick the coral, and to not jump onto Frisbee! So, feeling rushed (self imposed,) I jumped in and got water up my snorkel and had to take about five minutes getting used to floating in the choppy waters, and used to breathing differently, and used to the idea of a stingray nearby. Finally, I relaxed and got my snorkel cleared, my face down, and my feet up; and it was AMAZING! I’d never seen fish like that - so many colors and shapes and sizes (some even a foot long or bigger.) There are so many and they swim so close that you think you can just reach out and grab one. Our second stop was the Barrier Reef and it was even more amazing. I definitely recommend this excursion. It was moderately physically demanding, but I think the key is to just relax, get used to breathing through your mouth, and take your time.
Stingray City was also a blast. It was quite freaky at first, pulling up and seeing dozens and dozens of ominous black discs moving about in the water. And a little disconcerting as I slid into the water just as a four-foot stingray decided to come rub up against my leg. How do you prepare for that? But after a half hour in the water, I had “Emily” the stingray in my arms ‘hugging’ me and giving ME a kiss! So that was really fun and an experience I won’t forget. My husband had a blast also, fed a lot of the stingrays, and came back with a ‘hickey’ on his arm from where the stingray missed the food and sucked his forearm.
Rachael, from VIP Productions (www.vipcayman.com) videotaped the excursion both onboard the boat and underwater. She was very kind and very fun and did an incredible job of shooting the video (which she showed to us on the television on the boat at the end of the day on the way back in.) (Tip: We are trained to smile when our picture is being taken, but doing so underwater causes water to get into your snorkel. So just wave at Rachael or show her a dive!) She takes the video back with her to add a soundtrack, but you can order a copy from her onboard for $60 each. The video quality seemed to be excellent; and if we’d had our kids with us (and I hadn’t smiled/choked every time she pointed the camera at me,) I’d definitely have ordered one.
After the excursion, we were shuttled back to the Captain Marvin store/office right at the agreed time. The last tender from the pier back to the ship was scheduled to leave at 3:00 p.m., so we hit a few souvenir shops and then got back on the ship. We ate a late lunch on the ship and then took a nap in a shaded area by the back pool.
CARNIVAL’S SERVICE PERSONNEL:
I cannot even say how impressed I was by Carnival’s service staff. I had heard so many people complaining about them being pushy, but I didn’t feel that way at all. Of course there was wait staff constantly walking the pool and dining areas asking if people wanted drinks; but if you don’t want anything, all you have to say is no. And never did anyone ask me anything if I wasn’t making eye contact. It wasn’t like anyone ever woke me up from my poolside nap to ask me if I wanted something to drink. And their service was certainly required, as there were many people who were ordering drinks poolside or in the dining room. They were all always very pleasant to us. And here’s a tip: Carnival offers free tea, lemonade, fruit punch and apple juice; but the cups they give you to dink it in are small. It would be a benefit to either take a larger drinking container with you on the cruise or buy one of Carnival’s drinks in the larger plastic souvenir glass when you get on the boat and use that for the rest of the trip.
The Carnival dancers performed the musical show “Point and Click.” It was a “You’ve Got Mail” sort of story line about two people who fall in love online, and it was fast paced and very entertaining. Again, Randi Adlesic and Rudy Lowe did a wonderful job.
After the show, we went by Alfred’s Lounge where the Battle of the Sexes was supposed to be getting started. Not much was going on in there yet, so we moved to Henri’s disco which was dead again, like most nights. We then watched some karaoke for a while in the quite busy Degas Lounge, and afterward the crowd moved next door to Vincent’s Lounge to see Blood Power perform again. Sometimes they sang the same songs, sometimes different ones; but whether the lead singer had his shirt hiked up singing Britney Spears, or his tie around his head singing Axel Rose, or his fingers on his nose singing Willie Nelson, they always put on a different show and it was always really, really good. We had planned to go to the late night comedy show to see Marc Rubben, but we were having such a great time dancing and hanging out with some new friends that we’d made, that we missed his show. After Blood Power was spent and their last set was over, we weren’t tired and roamed around and noticed that Henri’s was finally hopping – with adults. So we went in and though it was crowded with adults, no one was dancing. And I finally figured out why. The music was awful. So we hung out for a while and then went to bed.
COZUMEL - RENTING A CAR:
We decided to rent a car and drive around Cozumel, so I had called Carnival the day before we left to find out which of the three ports we would be arriving at. The representative told me Puerta Maya, so I made my car rental reservation at the Hertz office at Puerta Maya. So at dinner the night before docking, the maitre d’ announced that the captain had secured a place at the dock, so we would be able to walk off the boat instead of tendering in. Great – everyone’s happy. And I didn’t think anything of it – I’d never been there before or even cruised before. So I was quite surprised when we walked off the boat and started looking for the Hertz office only to see a big sign that said Punta Langosta. I told my husband, “I think we’re in the wrong place.” So we found a taxi and rode down to the other port ($6.00.) We rented a very small car for $23.00 plus another $23.00 in tax and port charges plus $39.00 for insurance, and we drove around touring the island. It was worth the money. We had thought about renting a moped scooter, but I am SO glad we didn’t. Not only are the streets downtown and near the ports crowded and narrow, but the drivers are quite aggressive. We have traveled to Latin American countries on occasions, and we live in a large city; so it wasn’t a problem for us in the car, but driving a scooter didn’t seem like a good idea. Not only that, but the highway loop around the island takes about an hour and a half to travel by car, and it seemed like it would take quite a bit longer by moped. And the highway on the eastern part of the island was quite bumpy and we saw several groups of people stopping to take a break. It just didn’t seem comfortable or particularly safe in traffic. The price for a small car was only a little more, so I was VERY glad we had rented the car.
We had been planning to head back over to the calmer, white sand, west side of the island and go to either San Francisco Beach Club or Paradise Beach Club; but instead we opted to stay on the rougher, craggy eastern side because there were seven ships in port, and hardly any people on the eastern side. So we stopped at a little spot called Chen Rio, donned our swimsuits, and hit the water. I’d like to say that we played with the waves, but it was more like the waves played with us. The water on this side of the island has strong currents and a very strong undertow. I would not have brought small children here – the yellow and red warning flags were flying just down the way a bit. But we loved it. My husband bodysurfed, starting out in chest deep water and letting the waves spit him out on the sand. Then we just stood in the water and laughed as the waves came by and knocked us on our tails. Then we tried to stand still so the undertow wouldn’t carry us to Cuba. Dangerous? Yes. Stupid? Probably. Fun? Oh yeah!!
LAST DAY ACTIVITIES:
Four words – get a chair early. Pool was crowded by 10:00 a.m., packed by noon. At 11:00 a.m., the cruise director, Mark Price gave a disembarkation talk which was very informative for us since we had never cruised and weren’t sure what we needed to do to get off the ship. Again, Mark was very funny even when delivering some pretty dry information, and his disembarkation talk could’ve doubled as a comedy show.
The show for the evening was the Carnival Legends show. Passengers had been auditioning in the karaoke lounges all week trying to get a spot singing in this show impersonating certain celebrity musicians (Aretha Franklin, Elton John, Garth Brooks, etc…) The quality of this show depends largely upon the quality of the singing talent of the passengers (although there are Carnival dancers and other singers to fill in the gaps.) Our show was worth seeing and many of the singers were very good.
Leaving the theater, and determined to squeeze every bit of fun out of our cruise that we could, we caught one last Blood Power set; dancing slow to Eric Clapton’s “Wonderful Tonight” and then rocking out one last time to “Sweet Child O’ Mine.” Mmmm…a perfect ending.
You can either let Carnival take your bags off the ship, or you can carry them off yourself. Either way, you wait until your floor and luggage tag color are called over the loudspeaker. We woke up at 6:00 a.m., got dressed, finished packing, and filled out our comment/survey card and customs form. We also checked over our Sail & Sign bill, which had been delivered to the little “mailbox” outside our cabin door. (Carnival removes the $500 debit card hold and then charges you for what you actually purchased during the week.) At 7:30 a.m., we took our suitcases, went down the elevator, walked through the lobby and off the ship (showing our Sail & Sign card for the last time on the way out,) walked through the immigration line, showed our U.S. passports, and walked out of the port. We took a shuttle to the parking lot (with our luggage) and were dropped off right by our car. By 8:00 a.m., we were pulling away from the drive-through window of the nearby McDonald’s and were on our way back home! We had an amazing time and can’t wait to cruise again!