I am getting swamped with personal email requests for answers to individual cruise questions so I decided to not wait until Tom could post this on Cruise Reviews...here are the answers to all your questions folks
(Apologies to Tom - you can lift it from here or I have a RTF file for you whenever)...Bob
Carnival Conquest Cruise 8-16 OCT 2005
• Reviewed by Bob
• Age 50
• Occupation: Research Scientist
• Family of 4 – 2 Adults & 2 Children 13 & 9 traveling with a family reunion group (total of 15 people)
• First time cruiser (but 2 other family reunion members have cruised on 3 other lines 6+ times and concur with this review)
• Departed from: Galveston, TX
o (Temporary Port – relocated from New Orleans due to Hurricane Katrina)
GIST: Overall score- 9 out of 10. Definitely recommend. Would sail on her again.
• We stayed at the Best Western Beach Front Inn, located right on shoreline highway, 2 blocks east of 61st Street.
• Not a bad place (I did not choose it, this is what the TA had booked for the 10 family members coming from MI & MN, so the rest of us tagged along)
• I travel a lot and usually stay in Marriott/Hilton properties, so this hotel was a couple notches below what I am used to but for one night, it was tolerable. I wasn’t really going to be happy anyway because the fact that I could be staying for free at the Galveston Marriott on my rewards points was constantly nagging me ?. Still, for $80 for a family of 4, including a substantial continental breakfast was not that bad. Overall I rate this place a 7 out of 10 – the fact that the beach is right across the road is a plus!
• Dinner was at Tortugas Mexican Restaurant next door. Good food, great service, nuff said! 9 out of 10.
Luggage Drop Off
• Smooth as could be – we loaded everyone’s luggage (some 25+ pieces!!) into two rental SUVs and drove to pier 21 from the hotel to drop off the luggage at 1130 (the earliest we could drop off).
• When we got there, it was a ZOO! People dropping off luggage and of course post-cruise luggage pickup was happening simultaneously! I just KNEW we were in for a real SNAFU…
• SURPRISE! Very helpful security & police personnel directed us to the drop off point, and Carnival porters in colorful blue Hawaiian shirts came out to get our luggage. These guys were great and extremely efficient we were off-loaded and our luggage on it’s way in less than 3 min!! – do not forget to tip the porters the recommended $2 per bag they earn every penny!
• Our luggage was waiting for us when we got to the stateroom (Upper deck) at 3:30
• NOT so smooth as it could be…however, this is NOT Conquest’s homeport and this terminal is NOT really prepared for a ship the size of the Conquest! Add to this a security problem (see below) and under the circumstances, it went pretty well – all things considered.
• Our group had split up the morning of the cruise with half of us wanting to brunch at the Rainforest café and the other half wanting to lounge around and eat seafood at the Fisherman’s Wharf (directly in view of the Conquest and right on the dock, next door to pier 21—what better place to start the Cruise!! – besides the drinks were cheaper at the Fisherman’s Wharf ?).
• We finished lunch and got in line at the cruise terminal about 1:30PM and were wondering why the line was not moving at all??!! About that time, we got a call from the other half of our group asking where we were. We told them outside and they explained they were inside, up the escalator, and not through security, standing in a unmoving line for almost 2 hours!! It seems that there was an unaccounted person (crew or PAX, we never found out) and Carnival security had frozen embarkation until they sorted the problem out.
• We started moving about 2:00PM and processed through security within 30 min. Then on to the Sail & Sign line…
• Fun Pass? We Don’t Neeeed Noooo Steennkinnng Fun Pass!!
o After harassing everyone to complete their fun passes on line (and taking the 20+ min to do so for MY family) I was both embarrassed AND ****ed that it made absolutely ZIP difference! Everyone got in the same line and it took us about a hour to get through the S&S line.
o Once at the S&S desk however, it took the woman only 3-5 min to get us on our way. Then it was on to the security cameras for our digital photos and then on to the FIRST (of many) money traps: the Embarkation Photo.
o Carnival: The Fun Ship way to fleece folks
• Somebody at Carnival corporate should be able to retire early as a millionaire: the person who thought up Cruise Photos & videos.
• The good news: You can have as many of them taken as you want – for free!
• The Better news: Carnival Photographers – even though they are production Photographers – are damn good at what they do! I mean that; I know, I have been professionally trained myself and still consider myself a very advanced photo/videographer
• The Bad, Bad News…Carnival goes for the throat in its price scheme $19.99 for a 8x10 photo and $7.99 for a 6x9 – at the volume Carnival cranks out is highway robbery. They could do the same thing for ½ the price and probably make up the difference in volume purchases (I suspect that they only sell 10% or less – of what they print).
• The Bad Bad Worse news…Like I said, these photographers are GOOD so yeah, our group spent a considerable sum on photos
• OK…back to the review…
o The final act that you perform that signals it is almost sailaway time is the Lifeboat drill…just go with the flow, take your camera and get a few photos. And remember, 10,000 people before you have worn that life vest and a goodly percentage of them could not resist blowing on the emergency whistle…do you really want YOUR lips on that thing? ?
o Oh yeah…one other thing…there is a new activity called Carnival Colors – the ship is split into Red, White, and Blue groups and your group competes for points for the duration of the cruise. The grand finale and winners are announced Saturday night…this is a fun competition throughout the week – we enjoyed it a lot – especially since our team (RED TEAM ROCKS!!) won the competition!
• We were in 6335, Upper deck balcony slightly aft of the lobby elevators on the Starboard side. We chose this room just in case of rough seas because it was almost directly in the middle of the ship and decks. Glad we did this too because on Friday & Saturday we had to outrun tropical storm Wilma and we were ploughing through 12 ft seas! Some of our family members had centerline forward staterooms and got a bit seasick with the high sea states (it did get pretty rough on Saturday afternoon – I watched our balcony railing vary 2-3” above and below the horizon!
• After experiencing a balcony, I can understand what others mean when they say they will NEVER go inboard again. Neither will I! Just the sheer joy of getting up in the middle of the night to use the head and then being able to look out – or GO out and sniff the sea breeze if more than enough reason for us to pay the extra money. For us it is worth it. Not EVEN going to talk about how COOL it is to have morning coffee on the balcony!
• Our cabin steward was Snit and his assistant was Putv. When I met Snit, I informed him that there were a total of 4 cabins in the hall that contained my family & other family members. I also told him that this was our 25th anniversary and I did not want anything to run amiss…and tipped him a $20 ill up front. This was bread on the water! Snit and Putv could not do enough for us – extra candy for the kids – each got their own towel animal, fresh ice in our stateroom twice a day…and one of the two of them always seemed to be around inquiring if we needed anything. In my opinion, Cabin stewards get a 12 out of a scale of 10!! Superior Service!
• We were told by the experienced cruisers in the family that this was one of the nicest ships they had ever been on. Clean (although the carpet is worn in spots here and there in the hallways)
• I agree this was a wonderful ship – always something being cleaned by someone – at all hours of the day it seems! Carnival (actually, probably the Captain’s Influence) is doing a lot to maintain the ship in a high state of cleanliness. Easy 9 out of 10 here.
• It IS a fun ship – really! Really really!! For all ages (and our group spanned the range from 9 years to 88 years!) Everyone had fun, everyone was entertained, everyone enjoyed themselves – if not ALL the time at least 95% of the time – can’t ask more than that!
• In a word, superior. CAPT Massimo Marino runs a smooth ship and it is obvious that his staff thrive under his management – too bad this was his last cruise for a while. A new Captain took over while CAPT Marino went on a well deserved vacation when we returned to port.
• Everyone, from Todd Whittmer, the cruise director (who I suspect gets by on 30 min of sleep a night!), Kevin the pro shopper, Christopher Scaliotis the Hotel Director to Patrick, the golf pro were great. Everyone I mean EVERYONE was smiling and greeted you EVERY time – I mean looked you in the eye with a sincere smile and said Good Morning, can I help you – and meant it! To me this is a sure sign that senior management is doing a great job.
• Our Servers – Margita, Head Server and Lindo, her assistant were fabulous. Within one day they knew the likes and dislikes of every one of the 15 people in our party. They even knew our names by the end of dinner the first night!
• Speaking of our large party…a quick trip to the Matre ‘de’s desk on embarkation got everyone sitting at two tables (quite an accomplishment since we were scattered between 2 restaurants and 2 seating times!)
• I cannot say enough about the food service or our servers…every meal exceeded expectations (and we took most our meals in the Monet) One night we had filet mignon and when I cut my steak and Margita saw that it was cooked medium well (I had ordered rare) she stopped me and got another…don’t know HOW, but the new entrée was in front of me in less than 3 min!
• Oh yeah, the saw about ordering whatever you want and how ever much you want is true – Margita had no problem getting me two lobster tails – or putting some shrimp & scallops from the seafood platter as a side with my filet mignon
• As with our cabin stewards, I rater our servers an easy 12 out of 10! Triple A+!
• OH… MY… GOD! You WILL gain weight! Even though I went to the gym every day! We ate every night in the Monet and did not have a bad meal the whole trip.
• Lido lunch dining was varied and extremely tasty. On 2 days we ate in the Monet for open seating lunch. Great food served in a more formal atmosphere. My son and I ate in a polo shirt & shorts – on the Lido, you can get away with a t-shirt and swimsuit + shoes (something that I am told is unheard of—and not permitted—on other cruise lines)
• Sushi bar, pizza, fish & chips, one of the best tuna sandwiches I have ever had at the sandwich shoppe, and great Asian food at PK’s Wok – everything is good. Really!
• Thursday’s Grand Midnight Buffet
o Bring your camera AND your appetite!! Even though they do primarily canapés and other heavy hors’dourvs they are quite tasty and the cheese, butter & Ice sculptures are amazing!
• Saturday’s Lunchtime Chocolate Buffet
o If you are a chocoholic (as my wife is) skip lunch and just do it…it is awesome! Chocolate sushi, Chocolate Spaghetti, Chocolate Ducks & Hams – if they can dream it and make it out of Chocolate, they DO!
• The Pointe Supper Club
o What’s the Point? For $50 a couple? I think not. OK it would be worth it if you wanted lobster tail more than one night of the cruise, and I am sure it appeals to some – but it is not really my cup of tea. The idea of booking reservations did not even pop up on our radar.
• My wife treated me to a full body massage the 2nd night of our cruise as an anniversary present. Sadly, the massage was ruined by Camp Carnival, which is 1 deck DIRECTLY above where the massage treatment room was located. Apparently they were having a jumping contest on the night of my massage and I had to endure the thumping on jumping feet all during my treatment – Anekia, my therapist was very apologetic and I asked if something could be adjusted in the bill. She said she would speak to the manager but sadly enough come Sunday morning the sail & sign bill had no adjustments and the purser’s desk could do nothing because the spa was closed.
• The massage was alright. We have a massage school here in Huntsville so we go frequently. To tell the truth, I experienced no difference between Anekia and the students at our local school. The spa is pricy too! $109.00 for a full body massage is about $50 more than what the local school charges…and don’t forget, gratuities are NOT included in the Spa Carnival price.
• I am going to flunk Spa Carnival for a poor experience and what I believe to be extremely inflated prices. 3 out of 10 here folks – definitely F-
Outbound “Fun Days At Sea” and Shows/Entertainment
• 2 days to get into the vacation mode (OK, THAT took all of two minutes once we were on board!) All I can say here is if you can’t find anything to do it is your own damn fault! Activities are great, Todd is great, shows are great, more stuff than you have time to do is the only down side!
• Island music during the day was provided by a Calypso Steel Drummer and Guitarist “Island Men” – very good music and really put you in the island mood ‘mon! So good in fact that I did not even use my iPod at all (except to store the HUNDREDS of photos we took ? )
• The afternoon Murder Mystery is not to be missed – a GREAT break in the afternoon. I also recommend all first timers attend the shopping lecture – it is good information and I would up winning a bunch of stuff!
• Speaking of winning, our family found the Casino to be fairly loose – Grandma won over $100 playing the nickel machines, my wife won the same on the quarter machine and I (feel like I) cleaned up in Blackjack…managed to walk away $400 to the good! - - It all balanced out though when we got our sail and sign bill on Sunday morning!
• Shows & Entertainment easily rate a B+ - A-
Ports of Call
• First off, I am doubly convinced after seeing how Carnival packs folks on the tours that you are ALWAYS best off booking your own on the ‘net. Carnival tries to scare you (even during the Cruise) about how horrible it can be without the Carnival guarantee…um, well, perhaps but not in our experience. My only real concern was Grand Cayman since we were tendered there (Carnival tours go first and Carnival tells you up front that they can’t help folks who are not booked on Carnival tours if their tour starts before Carnival can tender you off the Conquest)
• I found out the Tender secret though – and it is simple: Tender tickets are handed out (supposedly) at 7:00AM on Thurdsay. Be in the Toulous Lautrec Lounge NO LATER THAN 0645! Sit down in the down in the FRONT on the RIGHT side of the auditorium, and when Jenny (or whomever is the Assistant Cruise Director) starts handing out the Tender numbers, YOU will be first in line. EVERY MEMBER IN YOUR PARTY must have a number…I was able to get 6 tender numbers but Jenny shortly put that to a stop and said that they could only had out 1 sticker to a person…I beat feet outta there and found my family before she saw me ? We were tender ticket #1 and got off the boat at 0730 – we were on shore at 0745 – plenty of time for our tour!
• Montego Bay, Jamaica
o As some of you know we had planned to visit Sunset beach and had been quoted $20 per person for a day entrance. When we got in the cab, our driver warned us that the price was now $40 – we thought he was trying to scam us, so the 8 of us stuck to our plan and went to the resort. ”Lion” our driver agreed to pick us up at 2:00PM so we could shop in the city and he was good at his word and was waiting for us at 2:00PM to pick us up.
o Unfortunately, Lion was NOT scamming us and we were hit up for $40 per adult & $20 per kid. We were outraged and even spoke to one of the managers – no luck though it was either the new rate or nothing. So we ponied up ?
o The water park – which is the supposed reason for the 100% price increase is pretty neat…but still not worth the cost IMHO.
o OK it was not that bad It was indeed all you can eat sit down restaurant, and outside grill. Food was pretty good (not in the class of the Conquest by ALL means) but the Jerk was …WOOOHOOO HOT! And the other items on the buffet I am told was pretty good (I pigged on the Jerk! ? )
o Sodas were free so I and my wife tanked up on cola ? The kids got to have frozen non-alcoholic pina coladas & daiquiris.
o Drinks are free and they will make as much as you want…in fact one of the other folks who got screwed on the entrance fee told me back at the boat that he kept going back and getting silver Tequila shots….and taking the glass and dumping it in a water bottle which he took back to the ship with him! glad to see someone got revenge ?
o What has completely infuriated me however is when I got back to the boat and was talking to other people we had met we found out that they had talked to a manager and gotten the $20.00 per person rate – I wonder if a call to my credit card company can get their fraud unit in action? Any advise to me would be appreciated. Because of these problems – even thought the resort is pretty awesome – I certainly will not recommend you go there. Caveat Emptor!
o If you have not been, consider booking a tour to Ochie Rios Falls – from the comments I heard on ship, this was a awesome tour.
• Grand Cayman Island
o If you are going to Stingray city remember this: CAPTAIN MARVIN’S. http://www.captainmarvins.com/ Write this down, remember it and use NO other guide service. These people are awesome!! We were in a party of 8 (4 of which were my family). There was a crew of 3 and Jody of Cayman Video Productions was our personal Videographer. We dove 1 reef and visited Stingray city and got impromptu tours of the fabulous homes along the island by this wonderful group of guys. I cannot say more good things about them – they took my completely terrified 9 year old daughter and worked personally with her until she was comfortable with the ‘rays (honey, nothing to fear – these are just big sea puppies!) In fact, I have a photo of my daughter riding on Jody’s back while he and another crew member got her de-stressed about the big rays (and some were truly BIG – one had a span of over 6’!
o We were on the 0830 tour and one of the reason’s my daughter got scared is because the rays were HUNGERY (for the squid treats the crew brought along). They truly are a gentle creature and their vacuum-cleaner mouths feel weird as they suck the treats from your hand. Once the other tours got there and we were not mobbed by the rays, my daughter settled down and really enjoyed herself…she screamed in delight when Jon, a crewmember picket a ray up and it shot a stream of seawater at her! ?
o Just as we were leaving the early morning Carnival boat arrived…all 2 decks worth of jam-packed tour boat – I would guess 100+ folks. No personal service, no holding rays for you to get a picture…no taking YOUR camera and taking shots of YOU kissing the rays (for good luck). We all had a great laugh as we motored away to the reef dive about the cattle car aspect of the Cruise Ship tour.
o Oh yeah, the Carnival Price for Stingray City was $65.00 a head – we paid $35.00!
o Dove at another reef for 45 min with the crew showing us all manner of marine life (crabs, golden Morey eels, and “Frisbee” a tailless stingray) Fruit juice and snacks on the way back, along with a nice impromptu tour of the costal homes rounded out a great morning!
o Oh yeah, $55.00 bought you the personalized DVD ($45 for VHS) of the complete morning’s outing – now THIS was value (contrast it to $29.95 for the Carnival cruise travelog DVD that spans the whole week).
o CAPT Marvin’s is a full service tour guide so we booked a $15.95 additional tour to Hell & the Turtle farm. Our bus driver also took us on different to & from routes so we could see more of the island. We had a great time at Hell (GRIN!) and the Turtle Farm, so I recommend you book this as well – the tour guides/bus drivers are great so make sure you put a little something in their hand when you get off the buss for the last time back at CAPT Marvin’s
o We still had plenty of time to shop in Cayman before our tender left for the boat – this was a great day and HUGE contrast to the time we had in Jamaica.
o Easily another A+ day & Tour!
o Once again, expectations exceeded! We booked a family SCUBA/SNUBA & 2 reef dive in the Chakanaab National Park through http://cozumelcruiseexcursions.com/C...gExcursion.htm and had a GREAT time. As with the Cayman’s, it was the 4 of us and 2 other couples – 8 people total with 4 crew on the 40’ catamaran! What a deal!! We dove 3 reefs, and my wife and daughter did the snuba thing at one of the reefs and LOVED it! Once again, staff was friendly and fun to be around – we did some serious diving and some even more serious partying on the way back (The crew came around to each adult blowing whistles and beating on a drum with a tequila mixture and poured a shot down tour throat then shook your head to mix it up…it is a Cozumel tradition (or so we were told ? They even got the kids in the act by going around to them and doing the same thing with Fruit Juice – the kids really appreciated being included and the care in which the crew took of my wife & daughter (both of which had never done any open water diving) was superior and indeed earned them a tip when we disembarked.
o Again, much better value than the snorkeling trips sponsored by the boat – and a MUCH better crew-client ratio! We saw one of the cruise ship sponsored snorkel trips – 50 folks to 4 or so crew---ewwwwww!
o Once again I will rate this day an A+ day as well
Inbound “Fun Day At Sea”
• It was a fun day at sea if you were a roller coaster junkie ? We were in rough sea states from when we hit blue water from Cozumel, throughout the night and all day Saturday. I suspect that CAPT Massimo was trying to put as much distance between (then) Tropical Depression Wilma and the ship as possible.
• None of my family (except the ones in the forward staterooms) had any problems sleeping or eating or getting around…although you DID develop sea legs!
• Now, here is what was REALLY fun: getting in the swimming pools! With all the “motion in the ocean” the pools became mini wave pool – and I mean it! Some of the waves sloshed so hard they sent up spray. It was an absolute GAS getting in the pools – everyone in our family loved it!
• Only bummer was they shut the water slide down at 1:30 due to high winds (30KTS across the bow) – I am not sure what the logic is for this though; the water slide is nestled in the open area of the Lido deck – seems like a pretty sheltered place to me. Anyhow, going down the slide with the ship rocking was almost as much fun as getting in the pools!
• I think my brother in law said it best when he declared Sunday morning at breakfast “There has been so much to do on this cruise that all I have had time for is an occasional nap!” He was right, the fun never stops! Here are a few of the more memorable evening stops:
o The piano bar is hosted by Michael, an Englishman from Nottingham (you know—like Robin Hood?) Piano bar music is not typically my style, but this guy is a great comedian as well. My wife and I would up going back on another night he was so funny… My wife and I laughed so hard it hurt. Make sure to catch his act at least one of the nights.
o I am a fan of smooth jazz as well and enjoyed the Christain Cowsill Trio
o Bring earplugs for the disco…lots of fun if you like to dance but woo-hoo it is loud! But MAN is it ever fun!!!
o Do you like Karaoke? Even if you do NOT, catch Mouna in the Degas Lounge. She is very funny and it can be hilarious watching folks make a fool….errrr sing their hearts out on stage ? It gets best right around 10:00PM when folks have had a couple to work up their courage if you know what I mean ;-)
o If you are a night owl but the disco is too loud, 11:30 on the Lido deck hey crank up “Music Forever” – this is the place where the 500 foot long conga line forms and EVERYONE does the Electric Slide ?
o Phat Kat is a scream his shows were on Sun & Mon and he does a R Rated show as well (unless you are a total prude, tuck the kids in and DO NOT miss this show!)
o The Carnival Dancers are not that bad – not as good as Vegas but worth a look. Their “Formidable” and “Point & Click” productions were very glitzy.
o Guest talent show was just that…what do you expect I will say this though, there was a female vocalist I caught passing through Toulouse Lautrec that was very good!
o The Ventriloquist, Marc Rubben (his web site is http://www.dummytalk.com) was a tie with Phat Kat as the best show on the cruise. He is a great performer and a hysterical comedian – do NOT miss his show!
o The Juggeler Manuel Zuniga is pretty funny as well as talented not only a good juggler but cracks some pretty good jokes as well!
o “Deja” the Magician was good too (although a David Copperfield she is not ? ) We sat in the front row and we still could not figure out how she did some of the illusions.
o Asad Mecci is a very talented hypnotist and I really feel sorry for the folks he got on stage – some of them will never live their experience down
• Other entertainment
o You really need to attend the formal afternoon tea at least once – if for no reason than to say you did. Just get dressed for a casual dinner early and go (the teas are held at 3:30 in the afternoon). If you like classical music, The Rainbow Trio is very good – they entertain not only at the Tea but will be playing when you Embark and in the later afternoons in the Lobby.
o The Sports bar is a great place to hang out if you want to follow the Sat or Sun game…being a BIG Alabama fan, I was in the bar with my ‘bama shirt & hat on for the game on Saturday. When ‘bama pulled it off with a win with 3 sec on the clock the 8 or so of us ‘Bama fans had a GREAT time of it with the Ol Miss & Tennessee crowd! ?
• Went smoother than I thought possible. They are getting their act together and getting to know the port I suspect. We were off the boat and in our rental car all too quickly
• We had breakfast on the Lido deck, my son and I debarked to get the rental car and my wife and daughter got the other stuff through customs. All in all very smooth and the whole process took less than 3 hours.
• Debarkation lesson learned: Snag a porter when you see him NOT when you need him!
o We were told that Porters would be available so I told my wife to just tip one $10 and no problem with the luggage…Problem is, all the savvy travelers grab a porter when they see him and hold on to him through customs and baggage loading. By the time my wife realized this, all the porters were gone!! She and my daughter had to schlep the majority of our bags through customs without my son’s or my help…we will know better next time.
• In fact, if at all possible, debark self-assisted with ALL your luggage (do not set them out the night before). I think we will do this on our next Cruise….yes our NEXT Cruise…we are eyeing the Celebration out of Jacksonville for a 5-day cruise over Spring Break (How DUMB is this I wonder…? ? )