Sunday, September 7, 2008

Review--Carnival Conquest--8.31.2008

Conquest Review 8.31.2008

Just The Facts:
Carnival Conquest
August 31-September 6, 2008
Captain: Massimo Marino
Cruise Director: Jen Baxter
Hotel Director: Carlos Santos DeMelo
Ports: Galveston-Progreso Yucatan- Cozumel-Grand Cayman-Galveston
Weather: Very Good all week.

This is my twelfth Carnival cruise and third time as a Platinum status guest. This is also my 6th and DW’s 5th time on the Conquest. There has been the threat of hurricane Gustav all this week and has made planning and preparing different and interesting. I’m attending a 'Seminar at Sea' presented by Carnival on this voyage.

Day One--Sunday--Embarkation
We left the ranch at 5:30 a.m. that’s an hour earlier than normal due to possible problems from hurricane Gustav. We made a few brief stops including Waco, but the drive was very smooth and there was little traffic even in Houston. Approaching Galveston the traffic was heavy probably due to Labor Day weekend and beach traffic. The day was actually very nice. Since we arrived early we dropped our checked bags at the pier. We then parked at EZ Cruise Parking and walked over to the terminal. The new outdoor security check has been move indoors which is very nice for the early arrivals. There is a waiting room and then you are checked for ID before starting the check-in process. Once through security we used the VIP check-in and then to the waiting area. We were then informed of the itinerary change due to hurricane Gustav. We boarded about 11:45 and the entire process was very smooth. The VIP status certainly helps in this process.

ON BOARD: We proceed to the rear buffet area in the Cezanne on Lido deck and found a nice table. I was the first person through the buffet and enjoyed viewing the presentation of the food before the mass of guests converge on the buffet. I had roast beef from the carving station and grilled fish. The salads were very good. DW had a vegetarian sandwich from the deli, fruit and a salad. It was French day in the ‘Tastes of Nations’ section. It was all very good. We went to our cabin at the designated time of 1:30 and one bag arrived very soon afterward. We took a very nice hour long nap. Muster drill began about 3:30. Following muster drill we met the Cruise Critic roll-call group on deck 7 aft and enjoyed several “Funship Special” cocktails. It’s nice putting faces to screen names (more below). I attended a cocktail reception for my travel group before dinner and enjoyed some ‘melon balls’ a drink recommended by the cocktail server. They were interesting and tasty. We went to dinner at 8:15 and it was good. Our waiter is Lloyd from India. We have the same assistant waiter as our previous Conquest cruise. I had the shrimp cocktail and NY strip steak, it was good, but not great. I had the Black Forrest Gateau and the Cream Brule for dessert, both very good. DW had the Chocolate Melting Cake which is now available every evening. The assistant maître d' visited with us and made suggestions for vegetarian selections for DW. We told her we would be alternating between the dining room and the Cezanne this cruise. The Welcome Show was scheduled for later than I’ve ever experience at 10:30 p.m. They used to try to do this show between early and late dinner, but it was now following late sitting, at least on this cruise. It featured Marc Rubben who is one of our favorites and the Conquest C.D. with the Carnival Singers & Dancers. Since we have seen the show many times we passed and enjoyed the cabin and some sleep.

Day Two--at Sea
I enjoyed a very refreshing nights sleep. The ship rocked just enough to make it very nice; however, today the ship is rolling a lot, more than normal. It is probably best that they are taking the alternative route. As soon as we cleared Galveston we began sailing south-southwest towards Brownsville trying to get distance between the ship and hurricane Gustav. This morning we changed course and we are now sailing southeast towards the Yucatan. I had breakfast in the dining room, my personal standard 1st morning carnival breakfast of Eggs Benedict, which were very good. DW got fruit from the buffet and ate on the lido deck aft. We took a walk around the decks during the morning. They now sell future cruise booking on board the Conquest. I purchased two this morning. It is a good deal. We had lunch in the Cezzane Restaurant. It was French day in the ‘Tastes of Nations’ section. I did have a crêpe. From the regular buffet I had Virginia Baked ham from the carving station, light fried cod with tartar sauce, and a salad.

The Captains cocktail reception was before dinner and we met the captain then went directly to Henri’s Disco knowing it was the overflow for the Degas Lounge. We were the only ones in there for a while and enjoyed very personal service. Thank you Captain Massimo. This was one of two ‘elegant’ nights. Conforming to the new guidelines I left the suit at home and wore dress slacks with a dress shirt and blue blazer. We changed tables in dining room in order to consolidate tables within the travel group. We have a nice group at the table. Dinner was very good. DW had the stuffed mushrooms and an assorted fruit plate. I had the pumpkin soup, stuffed mushrooms, shrimp cocktail and the seafood entrée consisting of lobster and jumbo shrimp. The lobster was very good and the shrimp were excellent. I had the Cherries Jubilee for desert. People were really taking advantage of the lobby area this evening to dance. The late live band is a great new option especially for people who don’t really care for the disco type music in Henri’s in the evening. Good addition. The feature show was Ron Joseph who is a Vegas night-club style act. He is a regular on the Conquest and we have seen him several times and passed this cruise. I saw a friend I had cruised with on the Ecstasy on one of my solo cruises. It’s always nice seeing old cruise buddies. We passed on the midnight shows and retired to the cabin.

Day Three—Progreso, Yucatan, Mexico
Another very pleasant nights sleep. We arrived and docked early this morning. People were debarking before the 8:00 scheduled arrival time. I went up to the Cezanne for a custom ‘western’ omelet from the omelet station. Not crowded at 8:30 a.m. as it was after the early crowd and before the late people. We took advantage of the aft pool this morning and had it for ourselves for 30 minutes. People began arriving but we had an hour+ in the water to swim and later visit. It was Caribbean day in the ‘Tastes of Nations’ section featuring jerk chicken.

We took the free shuttle to town about noon. We stopped at the Mayan craft store run by Richard and purchased a few items for friends back home. It’s authentic crafts made by Mayans from Yucatan and Guatemala and a good place to get gifts. We went to Le Saint Bonnet and made that our HQ for the afternoon. We had a very nice table on the restaurant side and enjoyed a very nice breeze coming off of the Gulf of Mexico. We were joined by some new Cruise Critic roll-call friends so that made it very nice. We ordered a few drinks, lunch, and some great guacamole & pico de gallo. We also purchased items from various vendors who passed. The first mariachi to approach recognized us from previous trips so there was as many mariachi’s as we wanted for the afternoon. They had message tables set up on the bar side of the restaurant. The rate was $10 for 40 minutes. It was a very nice message and a great rate. Progreso is probably the pirated DVD capital of Latin America. Charges for a DVD run from $3.00-$4.00 on average per movie. We took the shuttle back to the ship and were onboard by 4:00 p.m. We watched sail away from the balcony and we left at the scheduled departure time of 5:00 p.m. Some very nice canapés were delivered to the cabin about 5:30 a part of the Platinum ‘Concierge Club’ guest program. We also received a stainless steel thermos as a gift.

As a break to the usual routine we had decided to eat in the Cezanne for dinner on the port days so this was our first night to do so. The salads are always good. They had Virginia ham again at the carving station, and a wide variety of desserts. There are a lot of people who eat in the Cezanne, as a confirmed dining room guy and a foodie it was many more than I expected. I really think that any-time dining is the future on Carnival, it just allows more flexibility for the guests. After dinner we strolled the promanade deck and listened to the group, Impromtwo, in Artists lobby. They were very good and there was a nice crowd. The production show this evening was Point & Click featuring the Carnival singers and Dancers. It is a good show and the theater was completely full. Having seen the show several times and no ‘good’ seats to be found we passed on attending and went to the cabin to watch one of the new movies we purchased in Progreso. We had a great day.

Day Four--Cozumel, Mexico
Another good nights sleep. The sea was calm and very nice as we sailed around the Yucatan peninsula and into the Caribbean. I was up early and could see the lights of Cancun as we passed. I had breakfast in the dining room and DW had room service on the balcony. We arrived and docked on time in Cozumel at the International pier. The Enchantment of the Seas came in and docked next to us. We took a swim in the aft pool while most passengers were scrambling to disembark. Since we were at the International pier we had to take a taxi into town, so we went all the way to the Forum Shops the location of one of out favorite spots, Havana Blue. We got a table upstairs overlooking the beautiful blue waters of the Strait of Cozumel and enjoyed mojitos prepared by Jorge our favorite bartender in Cozumel. A few mojito refills and some guacamole made for an enjoyable afternoon. We walked back towards the town square and I stopped at Antonio's for a haircut. It’s always good to see Martin, my barber. DW visited with our friend Nelly at her shop near the square. They have finally finished the reconstruction of the municipal building so all the temporary stalls have been removed. The square or zocalo now looks beautiful. The reconstruction of several of the side streets is also complete and all of central San Migel looks wonderful. We did stop at Mosricoz for some diet coke, margaritas, and mariachi’s. I was spotted by two of my favorite mariachi groups. They know I will always request a tune or two.

The ship was scheduled tom leave early from Cozumel. Much too early. We were back at the ship by 3:30 p.m and ordered BLT’s and a cheese sandwiches from room service. It was Mexican day in the ‘Tastes of Nations’ section, good choice. We went back to the dining room for dinner so our experiment with Cezanne for dinner only lasted one night. Dinner was good. I chose the tomato soup and two entrees: the Newburg style seafood and the grilled pork chop. I had two very good deserts: Tiramisù and the Bitter & Blanc. The feature show was Deja, The Diva of Deception. We were very tired after a big day in Cozumel so we skipped the shows and turned in to catch the end of the Sarah Palin speech at the RNC.

Day Five--Georgetown, Grand Caymans
Another good night sleep. We are traveling very slowly on our way to Georgetown. I had a very nice breakfast in the dining room. We arrived about 11:00 am. and anchored off shore as usual. The Freedom of the Seas is anchored very near us. DW enjoyed the aft pool this morning. We had a late lunch in the Cezanne and it was American day in the ‘Tastes of Nations’ section. There were tendering problems here with many passengers not getting ashore until well after 2:00 p.m. This was a good port to have our 'stay on the ship on a port day' tradition. I did make a quick trip over and back to Georgetown just to order some liquor but was back on the ship by 3:30 am. Our balcony was on the shady side of the ship and facing Georgetown so we had a great afternoon enjoying the views from the balcony. We were attacked by the ‘Jolly Roger’ pirate ship, saw a turtle swim to the surface below our balcony, watched several people snorkel near the harbor, and the tenders going back and forth from the Conquest to Georgetown. It was a very enjoyable afternoon. Dinner this evening was very good. I had the escargot, fruit plate, the chateaubriand, and Baked Alaska for desert. After dinner we went to the feature show. It was CD Jen and her Three Bears story. I had heard of her signature routine and it was funny. The comedian was Mark Hopkins, the first time I had ever seen him and he was very good, I enjoyed his show which included a lot of audience participation.

Day Six--at Sea
Another great nights sleep and the sea is very smooth this morning. I went to the Cezanne and had a nice omelet from the omelet station. Not busy at 8:00 a.m. at all. I attended a seminar by Carnival this morning from 9:00 a.m. – noon. DW enjoyed swimming at the aft pool and salad from the Cezanne. I had lunch at Sur Mer and the bouillabaisse and fish & chips were excellent. It was also Indian day in the ‘Tastes of Nations’ section. This afternoon we met friends in Alfredo’s for tea. It was nice with light snacks, sweets, an assortment of tea, and they also had chamber music. After tea we watched another of our ‘Progreso’ movies, SuperAgente86 de Pelicula. They delivered petit fours to the cabin that I assume are a part of the Concierge service for Platinum guests. Tonight was the second ‘Cruise Elegant Evening’ and dinner was very nice. I had Mushroom soup and two entrees: the Red Snapper and the Filet Mignon. The Red Snapper was absolutely fantastic, the best entrée served by far. I was very pleased with it.

The production show was Formidable which was written with the Conquest in mind. It is a series of French/Paris themed dance numbers and songs. My favorite dance is the cancan of course. This is the 6th time to see the show and it better than ever, much more of a ‘show girl’ production in addition to the dance and vocals. It had has a new dance team and the ‘screams’ in the cancan are back! It’s a long show, about an hour, but the best show on the Conquest and not to be missed. The very LAST Gala Buffet was held tonight in the Cezanne. It has been reduced in size over the past few years as fewer people have attended. Also a late ‘R’ show with Mark Hopkins which I heard was very good, so a lot of things this evening for those who are up late.

Day Seven--at Sea
Another great nights sleep perhaps the best of the cruise, but we were also up later the previous night. I went to the Cezanne for breakfast and had perfectly fried eggs from the omelet station. Yes they will do that as well. I had another seminar to attend from 9:00 a.m. – noon. I ate in the Monet dining room for lunch with friends. It was my best lunch of the cruise, but only time I had eaten in the dining room. I had the Neptune Chef Salad and the Pepper Steak.

I had cabin time after lunch and fortunately was able to watch my alma mater play college football on TV. There were quite a few passengers wearing Oklahoma Sooners colors on board and in the sports bar. A Funship Special and your favorite football team on TV while watching the beautiful Gulf of Mexico pass by outside. It doesn’t get much better for a Saturday afternoon. The past guest party was this evening at 5:00-6:00 p.m. in the Toulouse-Lautrec Lounge. This is much later into the cruise than any other I have attended. Jen did a fun Carnival trivia game and they showed the same ‘history’ film just updated with the new Carnival CEO Gary Cahill. I sat upstairs and I did well with the tip your server strategy. We both attended the cocktail reception for my travel group held in Vincent’s Lounge from 7:00-8:00 p.m. Dinner was again good, my choices were Crab Cake, the Prime Rib, and the Grand Marnier Soufflé for desert. We did attend the Carnival Legends Show after dinner. It was very entertaining. We returned to the cabin to pack following the show.

Debarkation--Sunday
We knew they would have priority debarkation for Platinum, but you have to meet at 6:45 a.m.. It’s the smoothest and fastest way though as you are escorted off the ship first. Well we were almost first. We were in customs just after 7:00 a.m. and we walked to EZ Cruise and were in the car by 7:30. Gasoline was $3.34 at my favorite Galveston service station, not bad considering. We were home just after 12:30 p.m.

Ship / Crew
The Conquest might be showing her 6 years, but the crew is always repairing and updating. The ship was very clean and you would always see staff cleaning during the day and night. I have always thought that the Conquest is beautiful. The French impressionist theme is wonderful. Try to see the video featuring Joe Farcus, the designer of the Conquest, on the ships TV while onboard. The Conquest will be going into dry dock in January. The Crew is top notch. Always willing to help, we were always greeted by name many times.

Cabin
We had cabin 6441 which is a standard balcony on the starboard side. It is near to the aft stairs/elevators so easy to get around. It was our first time on Upper deck and is fine, just above the Promenade deck. Our cabin steward, Marco was good and he kept our small cooler full of ice all week.

Food
Paul’s Deli was great. DW’s favorite of all food on the ship was the vegetarian sandwich with arugula, mozzarella cheese, peppers, and pesto. The Reuben sandwich is also very good. The Cezanne buffet food is good, but not great although the salads and fruit are excellent. The dining room food is good to very good and much better than the buffet. There are ice cream and yogurt machines in three locations on Lido deck. I had very good luck with the omelet station and not a long wait for service (I did try to time it right). Sur Mer was very good. I do love the big round tables in the center of the dining room and try for an assignment there if possible.

Needs Improvement
The Carnival Capers were frequently wrong. It was more than the change in ports as it was consistently wrong. The TV menus still don’t match the actual menus in the dining room. Jen, bless her heart, is not among my favorite Cruise Directors, she seemed as though she would be more comfortable as the CD of the Black Pearl or as a serving wench in a nineteenth century port side Jamaican pub. Bless her heart.

Interesting / Unique
The Cruise Critic roll-call group was one of the most active groups I have been a part of before the cruise. It was very entertaining and I guess the challenge of the hurricane added to many more posts than usual. The meet up was well attended. Most wore beads, which made it easy to find the group. One never knows how the online groups will go once on board and this went well. It’s also nice to see the familiar faces from the meet up on board throughout the week. Great Group.

Final
A newbie cruiser may not notice, but to me this cruise seemed to be a ‘half bubble off plum’ all week. The production shows were done in reverse order, the repeat guests party was on the last day, the second elegant night was off a day, and several other things. Not necessarily a bad thing, but I do think it somewhat effected the performance of crew and staff. That could be the reason for so many errors in the Capers and tendering problems. We’re on the Conquest again next month. Hopefully things will be a bit smoother. Overall, another great cruise. I have additional comments on the CruiseMates forums.

4 comments:

David said...

Great review...we're 'scheduled' on this ship in two weeks if the storms go away. :) A couple of questions...what is the new dress requirement you spoke of...no tie required? Also, what do you mean to "order some liquor"? Can you have it shipped directly from Georgetown (or Cozumel)? Any limits on this? I am a fellow Texan. Thanks!

Snoozeman said...

David,

Great questions. I've just posted this review online at CruiseMates and if you don't mind please repeat them there. We can answer to a wider group of future cruisers there. Here is the link:

http://www.cruisemates.com/forum/viewtopic.php?t=600005

Thanks

Dave said...

I noticed the capers were not just wrong on times but also very poor grammer and spelling. When I notice grammer and spelling mistakes, you have bad spelling and grammer!!!.

Our stewart was not very good at all, this is the second time on the conquest and the first stewart was so great she will be the level of measure for all future cruises. The room stewart was not poor enough that i made a bad comment or subtracted from the autograts but just bad enough to make me regret my extra tip when i make my request in advance on the first day. Great review snooze, hope dry dock helps with the few ship issues i did see.

SoonerAggieMom said...

Loved your review.

Boomer Sooner!