Sunday, October 19, 2008

Review--Carnival Conquest--10.12.2008

Carnival Conquest Review 10.12.2008

Just The Facts:
Carnival Conquest
October 12-October 19, 2008
Captain: Massimo Marino
Cruise Director: Ralph Valente
Hotel Director: Marvin Barrantes
Ports: Houston – Montego Bay - Grand Cayman – Cozumel - Houston
Weather: Cloudy first few days, generally very nice the rest of the week.

This is my 13th Carnival cruise and 4th time as a Platinum status guest. This is also my 7th and DW’s 6th time on the Conquest. We are sailing from the new Houston Bayport Cruise Facility due to damage of the pier facilities in Galveston by hurricane Ike, our original scheduled departure port.

Day One--Sunday--Embarkation
We left the ranch at 6:15 a.m.. We made a brief stop in Clifton and headed south on SH 6. The drive was very smooth and there was little traffic until we reached Houston. We went through central Houston as we were headed to the new Bayport Cruise facility. Traffic was busy but tolerable being a Sunday morning, but I would take the loop if were a weekday. We arrived earlier than anticipated at Bayport, but it turned out to be a good arrival time. We were behind the early arrivals and before most arrivals. We dropped our bags with the porters and I parked the car and walked the short distance to the terminal. There was a very nice VIP check in area and a VIP lounge. We saw some new friends we had seen on several previous cruises and visited with them until they called us to board the ship. We were very impressed with the new Bayport Cruise Facility and look forward to a cruise ship sailing form there in the future. ON BOARD: We were escorted from the VIP lounge to boarding just about 11:30 am and proceeded directly to the Cezanne Restaurant on Lido deck. Again as on the Conquest last month, I was the very first person through the buffet line and enjoyed viewing the presentation of the food before the mass of guests converged on the buffet. I had Roast Beef from the carving station and the Grilled Tilapia. The salads were very good. DW had a vegetarian sandwich from the deli and fruit and a salad. All were good. We went to our cabin at the designated time of 1:30 and our bags arrived very soon afterward. Muster drill began about 4:00. Following muster drill we met the Carnival Connections/Cruise Critic/CruiseMates roll-call groups on deck 9 aft and enjoyed a couple of “Funship Special” cocktails. It’s nice putting faces to screen names. The Conquest cast off at 4:30 pm. We relaxed on deck and visited with new friends while sailing through Galveston Bay. I was very curious how much time it would take to reach Galveston Island and into the Gulf of Mexico. I was told it took a couple of hours and was somewhat skeptical, but it does take about an hour and a half to reach Galveston and two hours to reach the Gulf. They had full bar service about 6:45 and the casino opened at 7:30pm. We were assigned the Monet dining room at 8:15 and have a great table location, a ten-top between the Captains table and the center of the room. It’s a very good location in the dining room. Six showed up the first night. I ordered: a shrimp cocktail, soup, and NY strip steak, all very good. DW had mixed veggies and a baked potato. She said they were bland, but she liked the small macaroni & cheese that came with my entrée. I had the Cream Brule for dessert and DW had the Chocolate Melting Cake which is now available every evening. The Welcome Show was again scheduled for 10:30 p.m. They used to try to do this show between early and late dinner, but with the new dining times it seems this is the new established time for the Welcome Aboard Show. It featured the Carnival Singers & Dancers and CD Ralph Valente. I was anxious to see ‘wee Jimmy’ since I heard good things about him. He was very good and a huge improvement from Jen on the Conquest last month. The feature comedian was Kim Harrison and she was fantastic. She is a big woman so there were a lot of buffet jokes, but she was very funny and a very good singer.

Day Two--Monday--Fun day at Sea
Awoke to sunshine and fair seas this morning. I enjoyed a good nights sleep. The ship rocked just enough to make it very nice; however, the vibration is very noticeable and we had to move some items to avoid rattling noises. I could see flying fish from the window this morning, which was nice to see. I had breakfast in the Monet dining room, my personal standard 1st morning carnival breakfast of Eggs Benedict, side of bacon, tomato juice, and grapefruit which were very good. DW slept in and had room service breakfast. It was French day in the ‘Tastes of Nations’ section, but I had a lunch at Sur Mer which was not busy at all. I had the bouillabaisse, ceviche, and fish & chips. The bouillabaisse was best by far. I went to the Promenade deck this afternoon and I bought three Carnival future cruise bookings. I applied the two I purchased last month for the John Heald Bloggers cruise in February and will use these for cruises booked in the fall of 2009. We watched a movie this afternoon and ordered room service: BLT’s, grilled cheese, & veggie plates. It has become cloudier the further southeast we sail and it finally did rain around 5:00 pm. And the seas have become choppy. The Captains cocktail reception was before dinner and this was one of two ‘elegant’ nights. Conforming to the new Carnival dress guidelines I left the suit at home wore slacks with a dress shirt and blue blazer. For dinner I had the pumpkin soup, stuffed mushrooms, the seafood entrée consisting of lobster and jumbo shrimp, and prime rib.. 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 scheduled to be Formidable, but due to rough seas they switched and featured Ron Joseph who is a Vegas club style act. He is a regular on the Conquest and we have seen him several times and passed this cruise and retired to the cabin.

Day Three—Tuesday--Fun day at Sea
It’s a cloudy day today and the seas are choppy. A very pleasant nights sleep although the ship was really rolling, but it rocked you to sleep. I had breakfast in the dining room: Tomato juice, Grapefruit, Eggs Benedict, Bacon, and Pancakes. Excellent. I showed some photos to assistant maître d' Slavica, of herself. She was amazed. We spent the morning on Lido deck aft and they had the roof 80% closed due to weather, but people were enjoying the pool and hot tubs. Our loungers were on the starboard side so when they opened the grill on that side at lunch time the aroma had me craving something from there. Since I had a big breakfast I came back about 1:30 and I had a hamburger while they prepared a minute steak for me. I normally wouldn’t order something that I can get at home, but they were both very good and the minute steak was unique. The weather clouded up more and the seas were rough most of the day. They closed the roof over the aft pool and passengers were doing the staggers & jags down the Promenade deck and passageways. They made several announcements about a revised show for this evening, but in the end they performed the production show Formidable. At least it was a modified version of it. They changed several parts of routines for safety and they ended the show before the actual finale. The ending was awkward, but people who had never seen the show may not have noticed the changes. It is my favorite of the Conquest productions so I was pleased they did the show. Dinner was one of the weaker menus. If one wanted to eat at The Point, this would be a good night. I had French onion soup, Salad, and Jerk flavored pork. Tonight they had a Mardi Gras deck party with food on Lido deck. Also at midnight was a showing of the Rocky Horror Picture Show that was originated, at sea at least, on the Conquest and is now on many Carnival ships.

Day Four--Wednesday—Montego Bay, Jamaica
There was partly cloudy skies and nice weather this morning. I had a very good nights sleep and again went to the dining room for breakfast. I had fried eggs with the usual. The dining room is just one deck above our stateroom and so very convenient. This was a good port to have our 'stay on the ship on a port day' tradition. We spent most of the day on Lido deck aft and with most people off the ship we basically had the pool and area to ourselves until noon. We spent a lot of time in the pool and I discovered later that I got a lot of sun. For lunch I had Chinese food from PC’s Wok. They change the menu daily and it was very good and another alternative from the buffet food. I spent the afternoon between the cabin and the lido deck. It was a very nice day as it didn’t get too hot and there was a nice breeze. It was beautiful watching us sail from Montego Bay at sundown. DW had ordered room service and I had a BLT waiting for me so that made for a great snack to hold me until dinner. The production show was Lady Helevi, Enchantress of the Elememts. It was a Carnival produced show featuring a Magician and the Conquest Dancers. The costumes were really unique and beautiful. This is a very visual show, the type of show with little dialogue that will be the future for cruises with a lot of international guests. Dinner was very good this evening, I had the Tomato soup, a Special salad, and the Grilled pork chop. DW’s favorite entrée of the week was tonight: a Vegetarian bean burrito. They had prepared special holloween desserts. I had a pumpkin cheesecake that was decorated with ghosts, pumpkins, bats, etc. The wonderful surprise after getting underway was that there was no vibration in the cabin. This will make the cabin and cruise much more enjoyable.

Day Five--Thursday--Georgetown, Grand Caymans
Another good night sleep. We arrived by 7:00 am. and anchored off shore as usual. The Mariner of the Seas and The Freedom of the Seas are on either side of us. I again had a very nice breakfast in the dining room. The debarkation went very well quite different than when we were here last. We are going to have another 'stay on the ship on a port day' today since were just here last month. We enjoyed the aft pool this morning and afternoon. I had a Reuben sandwich from the deli for lunch and it was great. It was much better than previous cruises and much like the famous Conquest Reubens of old. I relaxed in the cabin and watched a movie in the late afternoon. Tonight’s production show was Point & Click, but we decided to check out several of the lounges and visited Vincent’s (jazz) and Alfred’s (popular music) before dinner. Dinner was very good, I had the Escargot, Fruit plate, the Grouper, the Chateaubriand, and Baked Alaska for desert.

Day Six—Friday—Cozumel, Mexico
Another good nights sleep. The sky is cloudy but seas are smooth. I again went to the Monet dining room for breakfast. We arrived and docked at 10:00am at the Puerta Maya pier that just reopened yesterday, having been closed for two years due to hurricane damage. Many of the shops locate at the pier have reopened including a Los Cino Soles and a Pancho’s Backyard. Since we were at the Puerta Maya pier we had to take a taxi into San Migel ($6) and we were dropped off downtown. We went to see our friend Nelly who owns Mayan Pearl located just east of the square on Juarez Avenue and I stopped at Antonio's for a haircut. It’s always good to see Martin, my barber, who has been cutting my hair for almost four years. Nelly introduced us to her neighbor across the street that wanted to meet me. She has a shop called Atesanias Nallely and they have a baby monkey named Pancha that was found in the jungle. I played with Pancha for a while waiting for Nelly to make a necklace as a gift for DD. Very cute little monkey and she liked to have her belly rubbed. I believe they allow customers to photograph her. We then went down to the Forum Shops to get a mojito from Havana Blue. Unfortunately we discovered that Havana Blue has closed. We were told that Jorge, the bartender, was working at Kiss my Cactus. Since Havana Blue was closed we went to to very nice restaurant we had been going by since it opened about a year ago called la Candela. We were very glad we went there as it was very nice. The building and courtyard is very clean and smartly decorated. We had guacamole, pico de gallo, chips, etc. They did make a very nice margarita and mojito. It was a great place to stay and watch the rain that began pouring in the afternoon. (la Candela-two mojitos, one beer, two margaritas, guacamole, chips, pico, & queso - $30.) After drinks we went to the main square and found Kiss my Cactus, it was a premium tequila bar, but no Jorge. We went to Plaza Leza and had enjoyed some drinks and several mariachi’s who played for us. As mentioned in my previous Cozumel review, they have finished the reconstruction of the municipal building so all the temporary stalls have been removed. The square or Zocalo now looks beautiful, even more so than last month. The flowers are very nice and the trees have recovered from the hurricanes and look very full again. The ship was scheduled to leave Cozumel at 6:00 pm. We were back at the ship by 4:30 p.m and DW made a fruit and cheese plate from the Cezanne for us to eat in the cabin. It was Mexican day in the ‘Tastes of Nations’ section, good choice. The feature show was Manuel Zuniga a juggler and Marc Rubben a great comedian that we have enjoyed several times on previous Conquest cruises. I went to dinner solo as DW was resting from the big day in Cozumel. Dinner was excellent, best of the cruise. I had the Fried Shrimp appetizer, Salad, the Red Snapper, and the Filet Mignon. The filet was very tender and perhaps the best steak I have ever had on Carnival. I retired after dinner and was sorry to find that the vibration has returned, not as bad as first nights, but noticeable.

Day Seven--Saturday--at Sea
Another good nights sleep. I had my final breakfast in the Monet dining room, I have enjoyed it all week. I walked around the ship and visited with friends this morning. I finally played some Texas hold‘em poker. The Poker Pro table has been very busy as there is a gambling group sponsored by a casino on the ship. We ate 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. DW had the Hay & Straw, a pasta dish that she said was very good. The Oklahoma-Kansas football game was on TV and I had a great cabin afternoon watching the game. It’s also great to have snacks delivered by room service during the game. The past guest party was this evening at in the Toulouse-Lautrec Lounge, but the football game went for four hours so we passed. OU won, they are 2-0 in the two games I’ve watched while on board the Conquest this year. Dinner was again good, my choices were Crab Cake, Shrimp, Prime Rib, and the Grand Marnier Soufflé for desert. We did not attend the Carnival Legends Show after dinner as we returned to the cabin to pack.

They had a priority meeting time for self-debarkation Platinum members. We met before 8:00 am and we left the ship about 8:15 am. We were the first through customs at 8:17 and at the truck by 8:25 am. It could not have gone smoother. We stopped at Ama's in Hearne, Texas for migas. Gasoline was $2.79 in Houston, but only $2.55 in Bosque county. We picked up the dogs in Waco and were home before 1:00 p.m.

Ship / Crew
The vibration is a concern to me especially as I have two aft cabins booked next year. It was very bad from Houston to Jamaica, then none between Jamaica and Grand Cayman, then bad again the rest of the way. Not sure if it has to do with speed, the use of the stabilizers, calibration of the propellers, or what exactly, but I hope it is addressed during the January dry dock. 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 and post-impressionist themes are wonderful. Try to see the video featuring Joe Farcus, the designer of the Conquest, on the ships TV while on board.

The crew was great. We didn’t participate in a lot of usual cruise activities, but Ralph and his team really seem to be on the ball. DW attended the Q&A with the entertainment staff and found that very informative. Slavica an assistant maître d' is excellent, she should be maître d', I bet she would enforce the dress code.

The Cezanne Restaurant buffet food is good, but not great although the salads, fruit, and desserts are excellent. Paul’s Deli was good, the Reuben sandwich is my favorite and the vegetarian sandwich with arugula, mozzarella cheese, red peppers, and pesto is DW’s favorite of all food on the ship. PC’s Wok was very good. Sur Mer was good, my favorite item was the bouillabaisse. The Pizza Station was very good as was the Sky Grill both located on Lido deck aft. Room Service was very good and my favorites were the BLT’s and Veggie plate. The Monet Dining Room food is very good to excellent and much better than the buffet. I was very impressed with the entrees especially the meat dishes on this cruise. They were all excellent. We were assigned one of the large round tables in the center of the dining room and I was very pleased with the location. I enjoyed breakfast in the Monet every morning and they were all very good. I didn’t try the Sushi Bar this trip, but it has been very good in the past. There are ice cream and yogurt machines in several locations on Lido deck.

We had cabin 2465 supposedly one of the ‘secret’ cabins. It is located aft and wraps around a crew staircase so it has an unusual floor plan. It was classified as a 1A interior, but is actually a large O/V with two windows. The cabin has extra storage with oversized closets and extra floor space. The bedding has been recently updated and is very comfortable. The downside is that there was a lot of vibration in this cabin especially on the first three days. We knew there would be more noise, but not as much vibration as there was. The final days were not near as bad. You certainly know that you are on a moving cruise ship. Now that Carnival has reclassified all the cabins on the Conquest this cabin is now classified as a 6B. It was a secret for a good while, but with the new classification certainly not as good as a value. We didn’t meet our cabin steward, Jose, until the 2nd day as he is new to the Conquest and just assigned our cabin. He was good and he kept our small cooler full of ice all week. We did get a towel animal each night.

Changes / Needs Improvement
One of the ‘cool’ things about Carnival was the Fruit Punch that was available in the Cezanne drink stations. It was something tropical to drink without having to order a cocktail. Very disappointed to see that it is gone. I only mention this as it has been discussed in online message boards, but the toilet paper does seem to have been upgraded since we were on board last month. The TV menus also seem to have been brought up to date. There was a big improvement in the Carnival Capers from last month.

Interesting / Unique
The online roll-call group was very interesting as it was a combination of Carnival Connections, Cruise Critic, and CruiseMates online groups. First one that the majority of people were from an online group other than Cruise Critic. One never knows how the online groups will go once on board and this went fine. It’s also nice to see the familiar faces from the meet up on board throughout the week. It was also great to see friends we have actually sailed with four previous times on this cruise.

Bayport Cruise Terminal
We were very impressed with the facility. As mentioned they have VIP facilities and the parking is adjacent to the terminal. We arrived about 11:00 a.m. but by noon it got very busy. Another ideal time to arrive would be 2:00-2:30 after the crowd. It was about a half an hour closer in travel time than driving to Galveston. Debarkation was a breeze. We are looking forward to a cruise line to begin sailing from Bayport. We will sail on whatever it may be. Maybe MSC?

Of course we are sailing from Bayport because of damage caused by hurricane Ike. Just a few miles from the cruise facility a hurricane staging area was set up along the highway. We could see probably a thousand appliances and hundreds of automobiles that were moved there from hurricane damaged homes around the area. One has to feel for the people that lost their posessions and perhap homes due to the high water. It does look like good progress has been made in recovery.

Overall another good cruise; however, there were more concerns than usual on this cruise. We have three cruises on Conquest scheduled next year and we will be canceling one for sure and perhaps more as we are concerned with the aft cabins and several other issues. By coincidence the last person I saw at the gangway while leaving was Marvin Barrantes, the hotel manager. I told him that I had just left a letter for him at the Pursers desk expressing some of my concerns.

For the first time or beginning cruiser the Carnival Conquest is a fantastic ship to experience.