Sunday, September 23, 2007

Review--The Conquest--September 16, 2007

Conquest Review 9.16.2007

Just The Facts
Carnival Conquest
September 16-September 23, 2007
Captain: Massimo Marino
Cruise Director: Butch Begovich
Ports: Galveston-MoBay, Jamaica-Grand Cayman-Cozumel-Galveston
Weather: Very Good all week.

This is my tenth Carnival cruise and first time as a Platinum status guest. This is also my 5th and DW’s 4th time on the Conquest. We are traveling with our neighbors and also Cruise Critic friends, both of whom we have traveled with before.

Day One--Sunday--Embarkation
We left the ranch at 6:30 a.m. and had an easy drive to Galveston stopping for breakfast at Ama’s in Hearne, Texas. We arrived about 11:35 a.m. so dropped the passengers and luggage at the pier and took the car to EZ Cruise parking. WALKED back to the pier from EZ Cruise which is much easier than waiting for the shuttle. The Conquest was an hour late in arriving this morning so there was more confusion than usual for our noonish arrival. There was a pre security line before even entering the building which was new to me. It also added to the confusion, but once we got into the building we were able to take advantage of the VIP boarding. We only waited a few minutes and a VIP clerk checked in our party of six very quickly. We were able to bypass long lines at check in and proceed to the ship. Very easy considering the long lines and the VIP status paid dividends with embarkation.

We had “Funship Special” cocktails in the Artists Lobby Bar lobby and visited with our friends. A visit to the Maitre'd got our party of six at a banquette table in the Renoir dining room. We then headed to the Cezanne buffets on Lido deck for lunch.

Our cabin was ready at 1:30 so we dropped off our bags and soon our checked bags arrived. Not sure if the VIP tags helped, but it did seem quick considering the confusion at the pier. It’s great to be unpacked and settled early. We sailed at 4:00 p.m. and we had a little party on our balcony until muster drill. Our C-C group met following muster drill and had we had prearranged to wear mardi gras beads so it was easy to see many of our online friends. I wore my Cruise Critic t-shirt as well. It’s nice putting faces to screen names. A very good C-C turn out for the Conquest.

We went to dinner at 8:30 and it was good. Our waiter is Winston from India. I had the shrimp cocktail and NY strip steak which was very good. I had the Black Forrest Gateau and the Cream Brule for dessert, both good. DW had the Chocolate Melting Cake which is available every evening now.

The Welcome Aboard Show was at 10:30 pm for both Tastings. The CD is Butch from Minnesota. My first experience with him. He had a great routine involving a few gentlemen passengers and dancing. It was very funny. I have seen Marc Rubben several times and he did not disappoint. The girl he picked for his ‘honeymoon’ routine was the best I have seen. She was very animated and Marc made it very funny.

Day Two--at Sea
I had breakfast in the dining room, the standard carnival breakfast of Eggs Benedict, which were fine. DW got fruit from the buffet and ate on the balcony. I met DF’s Mo & Jerry for Trivia in the morning. Lunch at Sur Mer. The bouillabaisse and fish&chips are very good. Another round of trivia and ‘name that tune’ in the afternoon. Rest, relaxation, and a nap the rest of the day. Our friends hosted a little sunset cocktail party on their extended balcony which is the mirror image of ours on deck eight. The Captains cocktail reception was before dinner and we were able to get good seats and the servers were very generous with the cocktails. Thank you Captain Massimo. We moved our entire table to an eight-top along the wall and it is better than the banquet table we had the previous night. Our new head waiter is Nicholas from the Philippines. This was the first formal night and Lobster was the entree of choice. The best dish was the stuffed mushrooms served as a starter. The pumpkin soup was also good as was the Cherries Jubilee for desert. The feature production show is Formidable which is a French/Paris theme show with a lot of costume changes and dance numbers. My favorite dance is the cancan of course. This is the 4th time to see the show and it better with more female dancers, much more of a ‘show girl’ production in addition to the dance and vocals. It’s a long show, about an hour. The show fits the theme and decor of the Conquest very well. We turned in as it was a long day for us old timers.

Day Three--at Sea
I was up early to I went up to the Cezanne for a custom ‘western’ omelet from the omelet station. Did well at TV theme show music trivia, 24 of 25, but someone got 25 so not a winner. Played some other trivia and had lunch in the Cezanne. We played one more game of trivia after lunch and finally had luck go our way and a 16 of 20 won us a ship on a stick and Carnival medal. As platinum guests we took advantage of the private Galley tour this afternoon. It was interesting to see the kitchen and get an idea of how the waiters get the food to all the tables during dinner. I attended the past guest reception which was very full. They had two receptions as there are a lot of past guests. We had another cocktail & canapés balcony ‘sundown’ party which made us a bit late for the Ron Joseph show. The show was before dinner for late seating guests. Dinner was good, but the highlight was having a cake delivered for our anniversary couple which was accompanied by the “Happy Versery song” sung by the waiters.

Day Four--Montego Bay, Jamaica
Went to Cezanne for an omelet early this morning, It was empty at same time yesterday, sea day, but it was packed with people eating breakfast and anxious to get off in early in Jamaica. Arrived, on time at the pier, 8:00 a.m.. We took our time, swimming in the pool, and debarked at about 10:00 am. W e took a taxi ($4.00 pp) to Doctors Cave beach. We met DF’s already there and went snorkeling from a glass bottom boat ($10-15 pp) for a while just off the beach. The place to hang at Doctors Cave is the Groovy Grouper. We really enjoyed the live band, red stripe beers, and lunch. It was a very enjoyable day. We took a water taxi back to the ship for just a bit more than a taxi cab would have cost. We could get a great view of Montego Bay from the water and actually avoided a delay at customs by this route. DW had stayed aboard ship and enjoyed the solarium pool. I also enjoyed the late afternoon in the Solarium and the ‘yellow bird’ cocktail was better than the one I had at the GG. A late thunderstorm caused them to close the roof, but it did cool off the weather and was pleasant from the balcony for balance of day. Enjoyed the sail away with a rainbow over Montego Bay. The show was comedian Ronnie Bullard and the cruise staff (If I Were Not Upon the Sea). Dinner was good, I had the Tomato Soup, grilled Pork Chop. and the Bitter & Blanc.

Day Five--Georgetown, Grand Caymans
We arrived about 7:00 am. and are anchored off shore as usual. The Freedom of the Seas is anchored very close to us. In fact I can pick up their WiFi better than from on our ship. We have no plans for Grand Cayman as we have been here many times and thought we would enjoy the ship today. We did make a quick trip over and back to Georgetown to order some liquor but was back on the ship by 10:30 am. We had lunch in the Cezanne, played golf on the new Putt-Putt course located at the stack, went down the water slide for the first time in five cruises, DW watched a big screen movie in the Degas lounge, and just enjoyed the day on board. We sailed just before 4:00 pm and we had a great view of Grand Cayman from the aft balcony as we sailed away. I tried the Poker Pro table in the casino. It only takes a few hands to learn the system and it is faster than a live dealer. They delivered petite-fours to the cabin as part of the Platinum status. We skipped the feature show, Point & Click as we have seen it several times. Dinner was good, I had the chateaubriand, and DW had the best vegetarian dish of the cruise which was the princess vegetables entree. This was the second formal night.

Day Six--Cozumel, Mexico
I had another omelet from Cezanne which was very good. We arrived and docked on time in Cozumel at Puerto Langosta pier. The Caribbean Princess was docked next to us. Everyone in our group was kind of on their own today. One played golf, two for snorkeling, two for shopping and myself off to town. I first went to Antonio's for a haircut, but they were closed so I spent an hour next door at the internet cafe ($1 for an hour). Barber still not open so I went to the Mayan Pearl where I found DW visiting with our friend Nelly, the owner. I went down the Malecon to the Forum shops, to go to Havana Blue. It was busy as a ships tour was there for the folkloric show. I had a mojito and before I could order another DW & DF show up so we get a table on the patio overlooking the water. Very relaxing and the water is beautiful so we stayed for more mojitos. The girls were going to shop so I was just going to head back towards the ship, but fortunately did check Antonio’s one more time. Bingo, they were open. Martin has been cutting my hair for two years and I really needed a haircut so for me, a big deal. (Note: There is only one barber in my county and a haircut is not easy where I live). He did a great job. I was heading back to the ship, but stopped for a few DosXX on the square. Several more cervezas, margaritas, and mariachis and two hours disappeared. We had prearranged to met our DF’s on deck three above the gangway for sail away. This is one of our favorite Cozumel activities. It was not as rowdy as usual for a Cozumel crowd, but it did begin to rain so that dampened or sobered up the late comers. Dinner was again good. I chose the filet mignon. Very tired after a big day in Cozumel so we skipped the shows and turned in.

Day Seven--at Sea
Tried to sleep in a bit this morning, then another omelet from the Cezanne for breakfast. Casual morning and then met our party for lunch in the Monet Dining Room. 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 watched some College football on TV. I spent a little time on the poker table, but absolutely no luck there all cruise. Dinner was again good, my choices were Escargot, Crab Cake, a two Neptune Platters. We did attend the Carnival Legends Show. I have to admit we had always skipped this show, but we did attend since we knew one person from our roll call performing. This show was GREAT. Very glad we attended and won’t miss it again.

I knew they would have priority debarkation for Platinum guests, but I was surprised that they have a priority for the self-debarkation as well. You have to meet at 6:45 a.m., but you are escorted off the ship. We were the 2nd couple off the ship.

The Conquest might be showing her 5 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 the designer of the Conquest on the ships TV while onboard.

We had cabin 8457 which is an aft with the larger extended balcony. There are public aft stairs/elevators so it‘s not a long walk to the elevator/stairs. Close to the Cezanne restaurant which is very nice. The advantage of this cabin is the larger balcony and we used it this voyage. There is noise from the chairs being moved above us on lido deck, but not too bad. Our cabin steward was great and kept our small cooler full of ice all week.

I can not say enough about our Maitre d' Sudhir Nair. Not only did he give us a tour of the Galley, but he arranged a better table for our group and called us by name on may occasions. By far the best we have ever had on Carnival. All the staff and crew seemed very accommodating.

The best addition to the menu is the Stuffed Mushrooms. They were served on 1st formal night and are excellent. The Cezanne buffet food is good, but not great. The dining room food is better. There are ice creme and yogurt machines in three locations on Lido deck. I had very good luck with the omelet station, all very good and not a long wait for service (I did try to time it right).

Needs Improvement
Although the Capers indicate that the sports bar would be open for Sunday football, it was not. A lot of Cowboy fans decked out in their jerseys were very disappointed. The menu listed on the ship TV is NOT necessarily what will be the actual menu. The menus were updated, but not the TV listing.

Interesting / Unique
This was a unique cruise in that there was a running joke throughout the week concerning “Tuesday” which began at the Welcome Show. The inside joke was a unifier among the passengers. It was a 'you had to be there' deal, but very funny.

Although our 5th cruise on The Conquest it was one of the best as it was great to be cruising with friends. We have done most of the activities, but there are still a few we have not been able to do, so another future Conquest cruise may be in the future.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Cruise Critic Roll Call Group--Conquest

Craig from West (comma) Texas took a great group roll call photo. We didn't get to see everyone again, and some we saw a lot, but it was a fun cruise.

Monday, September 3, 2007

Review--Rhapsody of the Seas--August 26, 2007

Rhapsody of the Seas Review 8.26.2007

Just The Facts
Rhapsody of the Seas
August 26-September 1, 2007
Captain: Olav Gunner Nysetter
Cruise Director: Eric Dowis
Ports: Galveston-Cozumel-Roatan-Playa del Carman-Progreso-Galveston
Weather: Good all week, hot during the day.

This cruise was booked while on board last year and is scheduled as the FINAL round trip sailing from Galveston. This was our forth time on the Rhapsody which is DW’s favorite ship.

Day Zero--Saturday
We have very dear friends (DF’s) Scott & Nancy, who have never sailed before, sailing with us on this cruise. They met us at our place so we actually began with a pre cruise party, test sampling several pitchers of mojitos while preparing for the weeks events.

Day One--Sunday--Embarkation
We left the ranch at 6:00 a.m. and had an easy drive to Galveston. We were early, about 10:45 a.m. so we dropped the passengers and luggage at the pier and took the car to EZ Cruise parking. (It was Cathy, the managers, Birthday.) DF’s needed luggage tags so they had that all worked out by the time I walked back to the pier from EZ Cruise. We checked in without problem and proceeded to the waiting area. Our last RH cruise boarded at 11:25, but we didn’t board until noon so there were a lot of people in the waiting area. We boarded with group one and were on the ship in good order.

The Windjammer buffet is again very good, especially the roast beef. Our cabin was ready at 1:15 so we dropped off our bags and took DF’s on a tour of the ship. We had our first cocktail in the Viking Crown Lounge. We returned to the cabin and our checked bags were inside, it’s great to be unpacked and settled before muster drill. Our C-C group had prearranged to wear mardi gras beads so it was easy to see many of our online friends following muster drill. I wore my Cruise Critic T-shirt during the day so many folks introduced themselves which was great, as we will be spending more time with our first time cruising DF’s this time out. We had a visit to the Windjammer as dinner is so late and they had a wonderful Stir-Fry bar set up which is one of the new items featured. The Welcome Aboard Show was at 8:00 pm for both seating. The CD is Eric Dowis and the entertainment for the welcome show was Los Pampas Gauchos. I can see they have gone to fewer comedians and more visual entertainment before the Asia trip. We have late seating in the dining room as requested. We have a nice 6 top table with Lisa and Chris, our new BFFW (best friends for a week) a honeymooning couple (mid 30’s) from Wales. Dinner was good. The Vidalia onion tart and Tuscan soup were best. I had the recommended seafood but should have gone for the steak from the alternative menu. We retired early this evening.

Day Two--Monday--at Sea
We slept in this morning then had room service breakfast on the balcony. Relaxed in the solarium until the Cocktail Seminar in the Shall We Dance Lounge. We had four drinks: Cosmopolitan, Bahama Mama, Yellow Bird, & BBC. Our little group of DF’s & BFFW had great fun. I missed our scheduled C-C Meet & Mingle as it was scheduled at the same time as the Cocktail Seminar. We had a late Windjammer lunch then an afternoon nap. Our DF’s met us for wine, cheese & fruit in our cabin/balcony prior to the Captain’s Reception. We have been on board as long as Captain Olav as he has just joined the ship. Formal dinner was very good. I had shrimp cocktail, escargot, beef, & Grand Mariner soufflé for desert. We had a 30th Anniversary cake delivered for our DF’s and it came with the the waiters singing the RCL standard “Happy Versary to You” We were really the very last to leave the dining room this evening.

Day Three--Tuesday--Cozumel
The weather is again very nice. Calm seas, fair winds. We began with small early room service breakfast on the balcony as they woke us up with a phone call. I later met our DF’s in the dining room for proper breakfast. One of the waiters recognized me from a previous cruise which was very interesting. I had the eggs benedict which were good. We left the ship about 10:00 and rented a jeep for the day. Our goal was to go to Playa Bonita, but were told that the road wasn’t open on the ‘wild side’ due to hurricane Dean last week. We stopped first at Paradise Beach for a round of drinks. It was crowded, but I did hit the water just to cool off. We were off to attempt the circle of the island. We stopped at Punta Sur just to view the waves and the park was closed due to the road into the park being completely washed out. The main road around the island was also washed out in several locations on the ‘wild side’; however, we were able to make it all the way to Playa Bonita. Ricky our favorite waiter was there (12 years) and we got a table on the patio. The girls had a special sangria drink and Dos XX for the guys. The water was fantastic once you got past a bit of hurricane debris (just broken coral, fans, shells, etc.) along the first few feet of surf. After some guacamole and chips we headed for San Migel. We went to Havana Blue for mojitos, which were excellent. The girls went shopping and the guys went to Panchos Backyard for a late lunch. We had a great day in Cozumel and we returned to the ship about 4:30 . On board we relaxed and cooled off in the pool. We attended the production show, Piano Man, in the theater which was before late seating dining. The show was very good. They have four new feature singers from our RH cruise six months ago. They were younger, but IMHO better. Dinner was good. Maryland Crab cake, Salad, Pork Chop, and Baked Alaska were my selections. We enjoyed the balcony for a while before retiring.

Day Four--Wednesday--Roatan
I had a Windjammer breakfast and DW had room service on the balcony. We have been to Roatan several times, but this was the first time we have been able to see the mainland of Honduras. Very impressive with the large mountain ranges. Usually they are covered in clouds, but it was a very clear morning (you couldn’t see them after noon). Since we have been here many times we had nothing major planned. Our DF’s took an all-day island tour and we took a bicycle taxi to Coxen Hole and walked down hill back to the ship looking at a few shops on the way. Lunch in Windjammer which I have found consistently has very good lunch selections. My choices were: corned beef, pork cutlets, sweet & sour chicken. When not eating today we enjoyed the ship, especially the Solarium. We had drinks with fruit & cheese on the balcony for sail away. The show was before dinner and featured comedian/singer Roger Behr who had a great act. Dinner was very good, I had the Steak from the alternative menu, Jalapeño potato soup and the BBB for desert. The service was excellent and again we were last to leave the dining room as the company was so good.

Day Five--Thursday--Playa del Carmen
We were originally scheduled to stop at Costa Maya on this day, but it was hit by Hurricane Dean last week and the pier was destroyed. PDC is a good replacement port. I had a dining room breakfast this morning. Good, but the room service and Windjammer breakfasts are equally as good. We stayed on the ship and swam while most pax were concerning themselves with tender tickets and going ashore. After a Windjammer lunch we took the tender to Playa del Carmen. I found a Cuban Bar right away and hung there while the others shopped. Very good mojitos @ 50 pesos each. Didn’t do much else as it was very hot and we returned to the ship by 4:00. This would be an excellent place to take a tour to Tulum, go to Xcaret, or take excursions, but we were in Playa twice last year so we just took it easy this year. Did not want to fight crowds in the heat. DW headed back to the solarium for a swim. We hosted our own party on the balcony rather than attend the Crown & Anchor get together. We again ordered fruit and cheese plates to snack on and enjoyed cocktails with DF’s and BFFW. Tonight is the second formal night. Lobster was the choice for most at dinner and yes a second lobster was available to those who wished. I thought the dinner was good, but not great. The production show was Pure Country and it was very good. Also later was the Gala Buffet at midnight. Didn’t make it after the lobster, but heard it was great.

Day Six--Friday--Progreso
We arrived at Progreso about 10:00 a.m. in fact a bit early. I was able to get down to deck 1 just as they cleared the ship and was actually the 1st person off the ship. I wanted to get off early to assure that we could get a rental car. They do not have that many at the pier. We got a nice 4-door sedan and began our day by driving to Dzibilchaltun Mayan ruins and Museum. We had been before but our DF’s had not. It was interesting, but very hot. I did enjoy a swim in the Cenote. From there we drove to Xcambo to see those Mayan ruins. These were smaller but again very interesting and located near the coast and the Laguna Rosada which is the home to large groups of Flamingos. There were many more Flamingos than we had seen in previous trips, but we had not gone all the way to Laguna Rosada either. We then headed back to Progreso and our favorite restaurant/bar, Le Saint Bonnet. We always set on the bar side as we linger to enjoy drinks as well as the food. My old friend Carlos remembered me AND the number of times I had visited. DW bought some very nice embroidery pieces from roaming Mayan vendors and we enjoyed a few mariachis while relaxing in the bar. DW believes this port has the best shopping values of any of the ports. We returned the rental car about 6:30 and enjoyed the large mariachis band playing in the pier area from the aft balcony which faces the pier since the Rhapsody backs into the dock area. Dinner was scheduled for 8:45 tonight due to late port departure. I had shrimp cocktail and the NY strip steak. The DF’s & BFFW visited the Viking Lounge, but too much port fun for the old timers.

Day Seven--Saturday--Sept. 1st--at Sea
It rained during the night, but the weather is clear and the seas are very smooth. Room service breakfast again this morning. Relaxing in the solarium pool area is the agenda of the day. Another good location for relaxation and sun is on deck five (muster/lifeboat) deck. I had my first lunch in the dining room just to check it and it was good, I had the Buffalo chicken sandwich. The guys played the Ultimate Trivia, but didn’t even get close. Who know how many ridges are on the edge of a dime? (118) I also had to check tea in the Windjammer just because I hadn’t all week. The scones were very good and they had a great selection of sandwiches, tacos, finger foods, etc.

Flourescence was the show preceding the final farewell production show. Tonight is unique as it’s the farewell show for both the RH Galveston sailing's and the entire group of singers and dancers. The troupe were able to perform their own selections and interpretive dances. It was very good. Some acts better than others. The Friendship Celebration Parade between dinners was both sad and interesting as they did play up the fact that they were sorry to be leaving Galveston, the Rhapsody's home port for five years. The final dinner was as usual very good. I had the Chicken Marsala. The melting chocolate cake was a great desert. A final farewell to the waiters and new friends. We skipped the late shows in order to pack and be up early the next morning.

No room service on debarkation morning. We had some milk and snacks we had saved. This was Captain Olav's first docking in Galveston and he did take his time in the turning basin. It did allow us time to see the dolphins in the harbor, we didn't see any at sail away. We also had a good view of the aft balcony cabin on the Conquest we will have in a few weeks. We did the self assist debarkation and it went fairly well. I picked up the car and drove back to pick up the others. It went fairly slow but we were still off the island by 8:45 am. Brunch at Ana’s in Hearne, Texas, famous for great miga's. Home by 1:45 p.m.

I do think that the Rhapsody has gone through a transition and we’ll see if it keeps its reputation as the Friendliest Ship on the Seas. Yes there was vibration, and more than on our previous RH cruises. I really like the changes in the Windjammer, but DW said she liked the previous layout. There are more individual smaller stations for food, salad, breads, and one station that alternates from a Stir Fry Bar, Deli Bar, Pasta Bar, etc. that is excellent. The passageways are narrow on Rhapsody so be careful. Again, yes the vibration is much more noticeable, but we are on a moving ship.

The staff and crew are very good. Our waiter Cleo from India and his assistant from China were very good. The head waiter, Chris from England, was unique and reminded DW of a Harry Potter house elf. Our cabin steward, from China, was very good. He went above and beyond usual tasks and cleaning. The staff is very Asian oriented now. Most from China, but also Indonesia, India, and the Philippines. Less from Eastern Europe, Caribbean, and Americas. The Asian crew are very good. Sometimes there would be a language barrier, but they are so willing to help in any way. Eric, the cruise director is very good, not too much, if you know what I mean. He’s taking a vacation following this cruise coming back when the Voyager arrives in Galveston. I look forward to seeing him on the Voyager.

We had cabin 7652 which is an aft with the large extended wrap balcony. We had booked this last year on The RH in order to get this cabin. When we arrived the bathroom had a sour smell. We notified our Steward and he said he would really clean well that evening. He did and it was fine. There are no public aft stairs so it is a long walk to the elevator/stairs mid ship. The advantage of this cabin is the large balcony and we used it this voyage.

If you have read this far you probably have figuired out that I like food. The new room service breakfast menu has fewer selections than previously, but still more than most cruise lines, so it is a great option. Our two favorite room service items are the fruit plate and the cheese plate. They did not disappoint. The cheese plate consists of five different cheeses and garnished with a few strawberries, walnuts, and dried apricots. It is served with water biscuits or saltines. The fruit plate has grapes. pineapple, kiwi, melon, strawberry, and orange slice. It is garnished with mint. Both are great. Lunch is the same menu each day with one special item that does change daily. All the bread selections are very good on board. The Windjammer buffet is also very good and better than many other lines. I actually prefer the Windjammer luncheon by far over the dining room. Many more selections and variety of food. There are ice creme and yogurt machines.

Needs Improvement
The water jets on the entry steps of the Solarium pool never worked. Loyalty Ambassador.

We really enjoyed the cruise and met some very nice people including many C-C members and we had an excellent dinner table group. The weather was fantastic all week although hot during the day. Another great cruise!

Flamingos at Laguna Rosada