Carnival LinesCarnival Conquest ReviewWestern Caribbean Andrew
Number of Cruises: 4
Cruise Line: Carnival
Ship: Carnival Conquest
Sailing Date: April 22nd, 2007
Carnival Cruise Lines
My wife and I are fairly experienced cruisers with more than five cruises now in as many years, with this being the second aboard the Conquest. Our idea is to write a comprehensive review to help other cruisers decide whether this particular ship/itinerary would be a good fit.
The Conquest, of course, is based in Galveston, Texas, and sails on a Sunday-Sunday itinerary. The Galveston Cruise Terminal is terribly in need of updating and can be very frustrating but with a little preplanning the misery can be held to a minimum. For those driving in, the City of Galveston operates staffed, gated parking areas with shuttle buses - understand that you will have to drop off your luggage with the porters FIRST, then go to the parking lot and shuttle back. Several private companies have a similar arrangement but allow luggage on the shuttle bus which eliminates a bit of the running around. Either option will cost around $60. The last few cruises we have taken, we have driven into Galveston on Saturday and stayed in a favorite B&B (The Garden Inn). Very relaxing, we dont have to get up insanely early to make the five-hour drive, AND they include cruise parking in the room rate. Several of the major hotels in Galveston offer the same deal and is worth considering. We don't have a lot of guidance for those flying in since we are in Texas, but some of the people we've met aboard have used the commercial airport transfer companies and others have rented vehicles. You'll just have to do some research and see which is a better option. Anyway, we arrived at the terminal at 10:30am which in the past has caused some problems with the police officers directing traffic since there was a LOT of outgoing traffic around the terminal. We powered through, I dropped the wife and the luggage to find a porter, and was parked in the private B&B lot and back at the terminal by 11:00.
*** A note on luggage: pack as little as you can. Ideally, keep the number of bags to the minimum so that your party will not need assistance in the Disembarkation process. More on that later. ***
Your first stop after securing your luggage with a porter is an amusement-park-type roped line that will get you to the Carnival ticketing agent. Take advantage of the online boarding pass option at Carnival.com, it will speed the process once you get to the counter. At the time we got there it was not bad, and only took about 30 minutes to get to our ticket agent. She processed the credit card information and gave us our Sign & Sail cards (the onboard "everything card" that is both your cabin key and purchasing card for anything about the ship). They will put a $500 authorization hold on your credit card, or you can put up a cash deposit (the credit card authorization will be dropped on the last day of the cruise and you will be charged the actual amount due). Once past that, you will go through an airport style metal detector and be ushered into a larger holding area to await boarding. HINT: Sit all the way to the rear and all the way to the left if possible - that area will board first. Another 30 minutes and we started boarding. You will endure the first of many photo-ops on the way onto the ship.
On this particular embarkation, the gangway was either not operating or the ship was berthed too far forward to use the normal gangplank so we ended up walking about 300 yards along a meandering path through the bowels of the terminal and boarded the small gangway onto Deck 0 which enters the crew and port disembarkation area of the ship. Normally, oncoming passengers enter on Deck 3 into the Lobby of the atrium so that newbies get the WOW factor of the nine-deck tall atrium, grand piano, etc. We didn't mind so much, but first-time cruisers really missed that part which is a real hook. The crew will tell you that the cabins are not ready, and to go to the buffet on the Lido deck until 1pm. Since our cabin was on Lido (Deck 9) we went straight to the cabin and found it was in fact ready. The cabin steward tried to protest it wasn't ready, but we stayed put for awhile and then went to the buffet for lunch. All in all, we were in our cabin between 12:00 and 12:30. Not bad.
The Conquest is made up of mostly balcony cabins, and that is what we had. Plenty of room for two people with ample storage. Bathroom has adequate shelf space for toiletries, and a decent stand-up shower space. Temperature in the cabin was very comfortable throughout the cruise. There is a small safe that operates using any card with a magnetic strip. Do NOT use your Sail & Sign card or any card you use regularly - the strip can be damaged. We take an old players-club card from a casino specifically for this purpose. You will find a news flyer on your bed called the Capers which lines out all of the activities for the day, and you will get one every night throughout your cruise. The TV has several channels dedicated to selling you things like the towels, robes, the bed and other cruises, but you will also get the major networks (satellite feed from Denver), two all-cartoon channels, and a couple of movie channels. The "Guest Movie" channels are very frustrating since they will occasionally just shut off before the movie ends. I would advise against buying any of the pay-per-view movies for that reason.
WHAT IS INCLUDED WITH YOUR CRUISE, AND WHAT IS NOT:
All of the food in the dining room, buffet, pizza, grilles, etc is included and you can absolutely eat until you are sick if you choose. Water, tea, standard coffee and punch/lemonade are included, BUT soft drinks, bottled water, specialty coffees and alcohol is NOT. You can purchase a 'Coke Card' ($38 I think, for an adult) which covers your soft drinks for the duration. That is supposed to be for one person, but we saw families passing the card around and getting their soft drinks one at a time.
Your dinner assignment will be noted on your S&S card. There are two dining rooms (Monet and Renoir) which are both two-level. There is an early and late seating in each, and they are staggered between the two rooms. We had the latest seating (8:30pm) and had no trouble making the shows and activities, but if you would prefer a time other than what is on your card you can see the Maitre'd on the first afternoon and request the seating be changed. The food in the dining room ranges from very-good to excellent, with plenty of variety for any palate. Can't decide between two entrees? Get them both - absolutely no problem.
The alternative dining selection is pretty varied. Many people opt for the Grand Buffet on the Lido Deck which will have some of the same selections from the dining rooms in a less formal setting. Also on the Lido Deck you will find Paul's Deli and PC's Wok which have variable hours you will find listed in the Capers. There are two stairways that lead up from the Cezanne Restaurant (Grand Buffet): one goes to The Point which is the for-fee reservations-required supper club, and the other goes up to a seafood station called Sur Mer. Excellent fish-n-chips. If you go aft on the Lido deck to the aft pool area, you will find The Grille (hamburgers/hot dogs) and the 24-hr Pizzeria. On the Promenade deck you will find a sushi station (free) in the evening, and a Starbucks-type specialty coffee bar ($).
Breakfast and lunch are generally taken in the Cezanne, but you can eat in the dining room on an open-seating basis. You can review the daily menus by using the interactive MENU button on the TV remote in your cabin.
Overall, we've had better entrees but the desserts are fantastic. Don't miss the chocolate melting cake. Best entrees are the lobster, filet mignon, and Chateaubriand.
A WORD ABOUT FORMAL NIGHT:
There are two formal nights and you will see a mix of about 15% tuxedos, 75% business attire, 10% casual. You CAN dress casual on formal nights in the dining room, but don't wear jeans, shorts or T-shirts. If that is a problem, you can always eat at the buffet.
The Toulouse Latrec Lounge - this is the three-level main showroom located forward of the atrium on Decks 3, 4 and 5. Aside from the production shows, this is where the cruise director does his informational talks, the super shopper tries to steer you into the tourist trap shops in port, and where above all the constant bingo games are held. The bingo games are a huge moneymaker for the ship - they are very popular and it is up to you if you want to participate. The cruise director talks are entertaining and informative, but keep in mind they are replayed throughout the cruise on your TV. The Conquest has two signature production shows: "Les Formidable" on the second night of your cruise, and "Point and Click" on Thursday night. Les Formidable is an award-winning show, and rightly so. Don't miss it. "Point and Click" made no sense to us and is perfectly shippable. Wednesday night you will have an illusionist calling herself "Dija: The Diva of Deception." Carnival will claim they flew her in from Las Vegas, but she has been doing that same show each and every week for at least two years. I know she seems to be mildly popular, but I will just say that if I could buy her for what she is worth and then sell her for what she THINKS she's worth, we could cruise every week. Friday night is a variety show with a very talented juggler and a comedian/ventriloquist named Mark Rubbens. Don't miss his early show, it is hilarious; the late-night R-rated show was not that funny in comparison. Monday night was a singer from New Orleans, don't remember his name, but the show was worth going to. Saturday night will be the Carnival Legends show, where guests who have auditioned at the karaoke bar throughout the week take part in a variety show featuring "Elvis," "Elton John," "Madonna," "Frank Sinatra," etc. VERY good show, and you will be surprised how well your fellow cruisemates can sing.
The Casino - located on Deck 5, amidships. Keep in mind that this casino is NOT regulated by any gaming commission and it has no competition. Don't expect loose slots. There are a few table games including Three-Card Poker, traditional craps, traditional blackjack and some bizarre games like "Fun 21" and their version of face-up blackjack which have been modified to allow for a pretty huge house advantage and should be avoided like the plague. There is a Texas Hold'Em poker table with an electronic dealer. The first night is $2/$4, then $3/$6 for the duration. The table does have a house rake which is not advertised on the table but it appears to be a max $5/hand rake. Also bear in mind that your casino points will not transfer beyond this cruise, so don't expect to cash any rewards unless you gamble around $1000 (for your $10 reward).
The Degas Lounge - Deck 5, aft. This is where the karaoke will be held in the evenings. Fun, but bring earplugs.
The Blues Lounge - Deck 5, aft. This is the sing-along piano bar. On our first cruise on the Conquest, the piano was manned by 'Damian' and this was a happening' place. VERY entertaining. This time around, we had 'Tyrone' who not only did not know the words to any songs, he apparently could not read them either. Very miserable and this bar was basically deserted all cruise.
Henri's Disco - Deck 5, aft. Adult dance club, mainly for the younger crowd.
Alfred's Bar - Deck 4, aft. British themed
pub and the only place on the ship that allows cigars. The internet cafe is
located in a small room off of this bar.
There are other public rooms, but they are rarely used. All in all, 3 out of 5 stars.
Avoid Deck 4 around the atrium in the evenings. For some reason, they set up the 'Photo Gallery' in the walkways here and it can be hard to work your way through the crowd. Stay on Deck 5 and walk past the shops. You can enter the lounge on Deck 5 or take the forward elevators down to Deck 3 or Deck 4.
You can book excursions through Carnival before your cruise from the website or you can book on the ship. Many people book excursions on their own and find it much cheaper, but you take the risk of missing the ship if the tour comes back late. Happened to people in both Jamaica and Cozumel on this trip. We didn't book any excursions this trip which allowed up to sleep later on port days and go into the ports at our leisure. Then again, we've been to each of them before, so look through the excursions and see if anything catches your eye.
If you brought too much luggage to carry off yourself, you will have to put your checked baggage outside your cabin Saturday evening where it will be collected and put off into the terminal baggage areas early Sunday morning. You will have to remain on the ship until your particular deck and luggage tag color are called. They disembark from the top decks down, so if you are on the lower decks it will be close to 11:00 Sunday morning before you get off. Then you will have to find your luggage which will be sorted into general areas based on your cabin location, then clear through customs. Long, frustrating process. If you were smart enough to only pack what you can carry off, you will be allowed to 'self-assist' and you will be getting off first. We were not only off the ship, but in our truck on the highway out of Galveston by 8:30am. I'll let you decide which is best for you.
All things considered, a cruise vacation is still a very good value for your dollar. Carnival is a mainstream cruise line, and the Conquest is one of their flagships. Ideal for first time or casual cruisers, just be thoughtful about when you book. Summertime and spring break sees LOTS of unsupervised kids on the ship, but if you can go in late April both the temperatures and the kid-population will be much more tolerable.