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Dr. Desiree Byrne

Age: 38


Number of Cruises: 2

Cruise Line: Carnival

Ship: Carnival Conquest

Sailing Date: August 26, 2007

Itinerary: Eastern Caribbean

Having sailed with Carnival in 2002 (aboard the Paradise), my husband and I were eagerly anticipating sailing with the company again on one of their newer ships--the Conquest. Unfortunately, the experience on the Conquest was not at all like what we'd anticipated.

First, a preview: We're a family of 4--three of us have asthma/allergies. The ship does permit smoking; but we were assured by the booking agent that ventilation was more than adequate and we'd "never notice the smoke." We were traveling with our children (age 2 and 8) and we'd booked a nice, large, ocean view cabin on the main deck. Our booking agent indicated we'd have a double bed, a day-bed/couch, and a fold down bunk. This was a 7-day cruise from Galveston TX to Montego Bay, Grand Cayman and Cozumel. We'd even prepaid tips/gratuities. All the bases were covered.

General condition of the ship: Never let anyone tell you that you won't be bothered by smokers on board one of the vessels permitting cigarette/cigar smoking. We now know that's a little like telling someone not to worry about a little pee in a swimming pool. The ship's ventilation was horrible. Every nook and cranny on board reeked of cigarette/cigar smoke. Even in areas marked "no smoking," you couldn't escape the stench. Even our bed linens were impacted (cigarette burns in the decorative spread). We were also horribly inundated with sewage odors, garbage/sour food odors, and the musty smell of mold.

Our "large" cabin measured about 10 x 12 or so. There was a lot of storage available; however, cabinets/drawers were difficult to open (no knobs--just these little leather loops that children can't manage at all and even we adults had difficult dealing with). The ship's not all that old, but most of the cabinet doors and counter tops had deep gouges and chips. We had loose tile in the bathroom. When we took a shower, water passed easily over the small ledge (no door--just a curtain) and generally soaked the floor. Light switches for the bath were outside the bathroom itself where little fingers could turn lights on and off very easily--while we were otherwise occupied in the facility. Frankly, you'd find nicer facilities in a Motel 6.

In other areas of the ship, we found loose hand rails in elevators (including the handicapped elevator); uncapped metal handrails (sharp edges) in the halls; emergency equipment (hoses) stored in unsecured bench seating along passenger walkways; and hallway lighting in need of repair.

Cleanliness: Everywhere we went on the ship we found trash/debris (even immediately after boarding when the ship should have been "clean"). The carpets in public areas were stained. Vacuums hadn't reached the two inches of carpet next to the walls. Tiled areas were sticky, etc. Cleaning (light and heavy) appeared to take place on a rather haphazard schedule, mostly during hours when passengers were extremely active in public areas (after 9:00 a.m.). Staff/crew milled around talking, generally ignoring obvious spills/messes until one or more passengers would say something. Then they'd find someone else to come clean the mess.

Service: Having sailed with Carnival before we'd truly expected a very high level of service. On board the Paradise, we had someone looking after our every need/want. Our cabin steward, waiter, maitre d', etc. were constantly checking to see if we needed anything, if our cruise was enjoyable, if they could do something for us. Unfortunately, the service on board the Conquest did not in anyway compare to our prior experience.

We saw our cabin steward once or twice the entire week. Rooms were touched up only once a day; and they had signs up indicating you should reuse your towels. We placed a call for assistance once and it took more than 10 minutes for the steward to respond (with a phone call--it was an additional 10 minutes before he showed up).

Whatever you do, don't expect any sort of service/assistance in the "alternative dining areas." It's 100 percent self-service. You'd have much better service (and better food) if you ate at Luby's or Wyatt's Cafeteria (and the staff there would actually ask whether you needed drinks/napkins/silverware and clean up after patrons when they left the table--you won't find that in the Cezanne... you'll be lucky to simply find a clean table).

In the Monet dining room, we had to deal with a Maitre d' constantly trying to seat someone else at our table. We'd booked this cruise back in February and had a table for four at the main seating with a gorgeous view of the ocean and weren't about to move--no matter how much the other passengers were willing to tip the Maitre d' or how often he insisted we'd been "mistakenly assigned" that table. We had to file a formal complaint to make him stop trying to get us to move.

I will say our waiter in the Monet (Ilnyoma) was superb, though. He was friendly, outgoing, patient and absolutely wonderful with the children.

Shop staff were unfriendly. Customers were not their top priority. You were lucky, if there were 4 staff in the main gift shop, to find 1 who was willing to ring up your purchase. Passengers at the jewelry counters faired better--larger purchases.

Spa staff were friendly--only if you appeared willing to book a treatment. If you were just asking questions, they pointed to a table and advised you to take one of their handouts.

If ever you need medical treatment on board, Carnival medical staff is good--and that holds true even on the Conquest. I came down ill on day 1, was able to access immediate medical care (tests, exam, and medication) without any waiting whatsoever. They took a thorough history, made recommendations and even provided documentation for follow up with my GP back on the mainland. Kudos to the medical staff!

Food: People always tell you to expect to gain weight on your cruise. We did on the Paradise. But, we lost weight on the Conquest. As mentioned previously, you really will receive better service AND better food at a Luby's or Wyatt's Cafeteria. Even in the Monet, food choices were a little odd (menus rarely followed a theme completely from starter to desert) and most rather devoid of taste and flavor (think steamed, no salt). Portion sizes were off. They'd serve a huge 10 oz. New York strip steak (no seasoning at all) with an itty-bitty potato and less than half a cup of steamed veggies. Fresh only appeared on plates during the first couple of days of the trip. By the end of the trip, the chefs were repeating side dishes and opting for frozen veggies.

In the Cezanne (the "alternative dining" area), we found hot foods served cold or barely warm (including chicken and fish); and cold foods served room temp or even somewhat warm (including eggs, sushi, milk, dairy). Its a terrific breeding ground for intestinal upset.

Did we like anything about the cruise? Yes--the wide variety of trips/excursions available.

Is there room for improvement? God, yes! All of these "problems" are easily fixable--but it takes trained and concerned staff to make things work. We left comment cards on a daily basis with information on the problems and tips for remediating the problems. We sincerely hope they follow up on these suggestions (and the suggestions of our fellow passengers).

Do we have suggestions for future guests? Yes. Think twice before sailing on Carnival. If you're okay with self-service, not so great amenities, and a less-than-Motel 6 quality experience, go right on! Otherwise, you might want to think about another line. Unfortunately, CCL owns several of the main lines...

Best of luck!

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