Sunday, September 27, 2009

Review--Carnival Conquest--September 20, 2009

Carnival Conquest Review 9.20.2009

Just The Facts:
Carnival Conquest
September 20-September 27, 2009
Captain: Massimo Marino
Cruise Director: Kyle Post
Hotel Director: Marvin Barrantes
Ports: Galveston - Key West - Freeport - Nassau - Galveston
Weather: Good all week

This is my 18th Carnival cruise and 8th time on the Conquest. I'm sailing as a part of the Carnival Conquest Crazies, a group originating from Cruise Critic folks who originally enjoyed watching the Conquest sail into and out of port on the Galveston web cameras. I'm sailing as a solo on this cruise.

Day One--Sunday--Embarkation
I left the ranch at 6:15 a.m. and drove straight through to Galveston. I parked at EZ Cruise parking as usual and I highly recommend them if you are driving to the port. I usually walk from EZ Cruise, but since I actually arrived earlier than usual I just waited for their shuttle. A very smooth process, and they help with the bags and drop you at the cruise terminal. Debarkation was going slow due to a crew inspection so there was a short delay in boarding. The VIP check-in and waiting area certainly helps in speeding up boarding. We started boarding about 11:45 am and I was at the Lido buffet just after noon. There were several ahead of me, but I proceeded to the rear buffet line and 'sure enough' I was the first one there. They really don't decorate the buffets as they used to do, but it's still nice to be the first to serve your self from the individual food items. I had a Salad and Roast Beef from the carving station. I tried a selection of other items and had the tres leche Cheese Cake for dessert. I ran into friends that I/we have sailed with many times (all unplanned) including the last time I was on the Conquest so I had lunch with them and then waited until 1:30 p.m. when the cabins were opened to guests. The cabin is very nice with port holes which is rare for a 1A classification. It was now raining so I was glad that I had boarded early. I took a short nap then reviewed the Capers for plans for the rest of the day. My bag was delivered about 3:00 so I was able to unpack before muster drill that was held about 3:45 p.m. We sailed just after the scheduled 4:00 pm time. I watched sail away from deck and saw more people that I knew from previous cruises and also in the Crazies group. I enjoyed a couple of “Funship Special” cocktails as per tradition. It really is the best of the Drink of the Day selections. After visiting with old and new friends I had some cabin time before dinner. Dinner is at 8:15 and I am assigned the Monet dining room. My table and surrounding tables are all members of the group so it will be a fun week. For dinner I had a Green Salad, the Tilapia, the Sweet & Sour Shrimp, and the Cream Brule for dessert. The Welcome Aboard Show was scheduled for 10:30 p.m. It featured the Carnival Singers & Dancers, CD Kyle Post, and comedian Marc Ruben.

Day Two--Monday--Fun day at Sea
Awoke to sunshine and fair seas this morning. I enjoyed a good nights sleep and up early. The ship rocked just enough to make it very nice and I felt no vibrations in the forward cabin at all. I had breakfast in the Monet dining room, my personal standard 1st morning carnival breakfast of Eggs Benedict, side of bacon & hash browns, tomato juice, and grapefruit which were very good. It was French day in the 'Tastes of Nations' section, but I had lunch from the NEW Mongolian Grill located on Lido deck. This was one of the new features installed at the recent dry dock. You pick the noodles and veges's you want then the chef adds the meat choice and sauce and cooks it for you in a wok. I had Pork in a Szechwan and Chicken in Thai sauce. It was very spicy yet very good. After lunch I had a nice walk around deck and then a short nap in the cabin. In the afternoon the Crazies group had a Meet & Greet in the Degas lounge. It's great to put faces to online screen names. I walked around the promenade and there were lots of activities such as: Karaoke, Trivia, Golf instructions, and Music in the lobby area. There is plenty to do for those looking for activities beyond the Lido deck and pool activities. I also purchased an Internet package ($100 for 240+ minutes) so I spent a little time online. Tonight was the first elegant night. They no longer have a Captains cocktail reception with complementary drinks, but offer $1 off cocktails at the promenade deck bars. The Captain was available for photographs for a set time. The production show Point and Click was the primary entertainment this evening. I was really glad I attended as they have revamped the show with all new costumes, pyrotechnics, and new beautiful sets. The feature singers and dancers were great. For dinner I had the Pumpkin Soup, Stuffed Mushrooms and the Seafood entrée consisting of lobster and jumbo shrimp. The lobster was very good and I did have a second one. I had the Cherries Jubilee for desert. Tonight we changed ships time to one hour forward. I suspect they have had problems getting people back on board in Key West if they don't match the local time.

Day Three-Tuesday-Key West, Florida
It's a nice day today and the seas were again smooth overnight although a little more choppy than previous day. I again had a very pleasant nights sleep. I had breakfast in the dining room: Tomato juice, Grapefruit, Fried Eggs, Bacon, Hash Browns, and Toast. Very Good, I enjoy the service in the dining room. We arrived in Key West on time and debarkation began about 10:00 am. I had charged my GPS and cell phone overnight so I was prepared for a day in town. We docked at Mallory Square the prime spot for cruise ships as you can walk to town. The Carnival Imagination was docked at the Navy pier dock.

I had a special project planned for the day. We knew that my wife's grandfather, Mr. Wm. Bagby, died in Key West in the 30's and we had previously attempted to find his grave at the Old Key West cemetery (an interesting place to visit--it is the cemetery that has the headstone: “I told you I was sick”) but we were usually in Key West on the Rhapsody of the Seas which arrived too late in the day to do proper research. Today I went to the old Key West library and a nice local gentlemen in the research department was able to locate a story on the front page of the Key West newspaper from September 16, 1940 that carried a story about his death. It turns out he was a General Contractor and Home Builder (which we didn't know) and was found dead in his home at the age of 47. (He had actually just turned 45.) That seems curious and unfortunately there was no follow up article to be found. The gentleman who helped me was a local historian and he knew immediately from information in the article the unique homes he was building at the time of his death. These homes were built in the art deco style on E avenue. The article did have the address of his residence so I entered that into my GPS and walked the seven blocks to take a look. It was a bungalow, one in a series of four or five. It wasn't too large which would make since as he was a single man at the time. I took a photo of the house and there was a young man outside who said he lived there all his life and he would get his grandmother. She had lived there for over 40 years and had heard the stories of the man who was found there. I asked her if she ever saw ghosts in the house and she said “yes, all the time”. She suggested that I find Miss Lola, aged 92, who used to own all the property there and lived in the next block. I did go to see if I could find her but the instructions were very unclear. Here some fate helped. A young couple who lived in the block and I by chance spoke with knew Miss Lola and directed me to the correct house. It was a small house but very nice, much nicer than the others in the area. Miss Lola answered the door herself. I showed her the newspaper article (not sure she could read it) and explained about looking for information about the man who had died in the house. She claimed she didn't know that much about it other than hearing the stories, but the longer I spoke with her the more information I got. It turned out that Mr. Bagby not only owned the bungalow that was his residence, but all of them on the street. It was probably his previous project prior to building the six larger art deco ones. She also said 'when that man was killed' not 'was found' something I had already suspected. As it turns out it was her family that later acquired the property, she claimed through a Judge Lopez. Amazing that she would recall that specific fact. Probably all legit as he could have been a probate judge, but the family never knew anything about any of this. I had a very interesting day in Key West playing detective. I would have loved to see the six houses that were under construction on Avenue E at the time of his death as they are now well known in Key West for their art deco design. The problem is that they were not within walking distance. DW and I are both returning next month so we will get a golf cart or some transport in order to see them. After my research project I ended up at the famous Sloppy Joes's on Duvall street for beers. Sloppy Joe's opened in that location in 1937 and Mr. Bagby moved to Key West in 1938 so most assuredly he walked on those same Spanish tiles that are still there today. Very interesting to reflect on life in Key West in the 1930's with Mr. Bagby, Hemmingway, the fisherman, rum runners, and all the colorful characters. So I had a very interesting day, very different from a usual cruise excursion.

The feature shows this evening had singer Marcus Anthony who does Motown and soul music. I have seen the show so took a short nap before dinner. 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, Green Salad, and Jerk flavored pork. I did try the new Fig dessert and it was fair. Tonight they had a Mardi Gras deck party in the bars and on Lido deck, but after all the walking today and the beers at Sloppy Joe's I retired early.

Day Four--Wednesday-Freeport, Bahamas
There was partly cloudy skies and nice weather following a brief shower this morning. I had another good nights sleep with even more roll than the previous night. We were docked very early and I believe people began going ashore early as well. I caught up on some work on the laptop this morning and became confused with the time. The laptop is still on Texas time so I thought I quit in time to make the dining room, but alas it was closed, I was an hour off ships time. It worked out well though as so many guests were already off the ship and it wasn't busy at the buffet. So I had a nice omelet from the omelet station in the Cezzane on Lido deck. I decide to go to Port Lucaya for the day. Taxi's vans take ten people at a time and the fare is $5 per person. I started off at the Port Lucaya Marketplace and then to the Raddison Hotel. It's very nice with several swimming pools and a nice beach. I had a Bahama Mama and a special cocktail at the Hammerhead, the beach bar. I also ordered a fruit plate of local fruit that was different and very good. I enjoyed a very nice day with a beautiful view of the beach. I returned to the ship about 4:00 pm and refreshed. I ordered sandwiches from room service and they came straightaway. The past guest parties were held this afternoon. I didn't attend, but I believe they had complementary drinks as I saw guests with some of the the small cocktail glasses. Since I have friends staying on the Panorama Deck next month I watched the sail away from Freeport from the Panorama Deck viewing area that is located forward above the bridge. A good place to view a sail away and from that level you could see the Carnival Ecstacy that has just gone into dry dock. It was very interesting to see the entire ship out of the water. The production show was Lady Helevi, Enchantress of the Elements. It is 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. Although very colorful it is not one of my favorites. I spent some time watching the various acts around the ship. They have more single and duet musicians playing around the ship. Dinner was very good this evening, I had a shrimp cocktail, a Neptune seafood dish and the Grilled pork chop. One of the menu changes is they now have two of my favorite desserts on the same night. The answer to that is you have both so I had a Tirimisu and the Bitter & Blanc. After dinner friends and I watched Timmy Pierce, one of the solo musicians, play in the Atrium lobby. He was very good and we actually stayed for several sets. I actually met him over beers in Key West. He is a very nice young man and talented musician.

Day Five--Thursday-Nassau, Bahamas
Another good night sleep. We arrived by 7:00 am. and are docked at the Nassau piers. I slept a little later this morning so I had the omelet from the Cezzane omelet station again. This is to be my stay on the ship on a port day for this cruise. I actually did go ashore for just an hour to the Internet cafe near the pier, but was back aboard by 11:00 am just as the Carnival Pride finished docking next to the Conquest. There were few people on board and I enjoyed the aft pool in the morning and afternoon. There was no line at the Mongolian Grill and I had a wonderful Beef with Szechwan dish. I later had a nice salad and dessert from the buffet. I even went down the big slide at the forward pool. I then relaxed in the cabin and had a short nap in the late afternoon. I went to deck 3 over the gangway to watch the late arrivals about 5:00 and sure enough one very late arriving lady really had the staggers & jags. She not only flashed, but really put on a topless show. There was still one person missing so we didn't sail away for another half hour. The Carnival Pride and Carnival Conquest did a nice ship's horn exchange as the Conquest pulled away from the pier. Cool. I always enjoy the sail aways. Tonight's production show was scheduled to be a comedian, but I guess he didn't didn't make the ship so the production singers had a show. The ship had a mojito special at the Casino Bar and since it's one of my favorite drinks I had to sample. Just two years ago you could not even get a mojito on a Carnival ship and now they have drink specials--amazing. Dinner was very good, I had the Delice of the Sea, Escargot, the Chateaubriand, and Baked Alaska for desert. The waiter follows details very well as he brought extra Béarnaise sauce and a bit of horseradish. The meat was cooked perfectly and this was really the best meal of the cruise. I decided to check out several of the lounges and visited Vincent's (Timmy) and Casino Bar (Music Manilla) after dinner.

Day Six-Friday-at Sea
Another good nights sleep. The sky is party cloudy but seas are smooth. I went to the Monet dining room for breakfast and had the Eggs Benedict, et al and it was better than the first morning. I almost expected to be in Cozumel this morning just out of habit. Of all the cruises I have taken departing from Galveston this will be the first that does NOT make a port call in Cozumel. I had some computer time in the morning. For lunch I went to the Mongolian Grill and had pork with Szechwan and a nice Salad from the buffet. After lunch I took a nice walk around the decks and later watched a movie in the cabin. The production show was Formidable. I have seen it eight times, but still enjoy it. The Can-can is my favorite part of the show. There were some new sets and minor changes from the previous time I saw the show. Dinner was good. I had the Fried Shrimp appetizer, Green Salad, the Red Snapper, and the Filet Mignon. The filet was a petit fillet, but not a filet mignon. Not as good as the one I had on my previous Conquest cruise. After dinner I went to Vincents, one of the prettiest lounges on the ship to see Timmy do a set. There were a lot of guests enjoying the music in all the public rooms and all were very busy. I tend to agree with the new trend to fewer large musical groups and more individual performers.

Day Seven--Saturday--at Sea
Another good nights sleep. We gained our hour back in time as the ship is now back on central standard time. I had my final breakfast in the Monet dining room with several from the Crazies group. I had fried eggs and they missed the pancakes I also ordered, but I was enjoying my company too much to complain. I walked around the ship and visited with friends this morning. The debarkation talk was held at 11:00 but it repeated over the TV continuously during the day. I had a hamburger from the grill for lunch and tried the hot dog. The burger and fries were good. The dessert station was a taco area today since it's Chocolate buffet day at the Taste of Nations area. I usually don't do the chocolate buffet. But I did get some banana fritters and added vanilla sauce. They were great. In the afternoon I had a good cabin day with NCAA football, some computer work, filing in debarkation documents, and a nap. Dinner this evening was again good, my choices were Crab Cake, Shrimp, Prime Rib, and the Grand Marnier Soufflé for desert. The Prime Rib was excellent. I didn't attend the Carnival Legends Show after dinner as I returned to the cabin to pack.

They had a 7:00 am. priority meeting time for self-debarkation Platinum members. I was off the ship about 7:05 am. And one of the first through customs at 7:10 and at the truck by 7:20 am. It could not have gone smoother. I filled the truck in Galveston as usual ($2.16 gal.) and was off the island by 7:45 am. I stopped at the new Ama's in Hearne, Texas for migas and was home at 12:15 p.m.

Galveston is looking very good and seems to be adjusting very well since the havoc of hurricane Ike last year. Having just sailed from New Oleans last month I would say that Galveston has done a much better job in reconstruction and restoration.
Ship / Crew
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 is very friendly and will greet you. The cabin steward and waiter will call you by name.

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 as well as the Turkey Wrap. PC's Wok has been replaced by the Mongolian Grill and is excellent. Sur Mer was good, my favorite item is 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 they have added several new sandwiches. My favorites were the Reuben and BLT's. Yes, you can now get a Reuben from room service. The Monet Dining Room food is very good to excellent and much better than the buffet. They have introduced a new menu this week. No major entrée changes, but a few small ones. 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. Drink prices have again gone up in cost but they have specials each day.

I had cabin 2217 on Main deck (deck 2). It is located forward on starboard side and is a 1A with two portholes. There is only one bed on the floor so there is a lot of floor space. Perfect cabin for a solo cruiser. There is a mini bar, safe (card slide), large sofa (probably will make a second bed), no chair, and lots of storage. The cabin was clean and was maintained by cabin steward Garry who did a good job during the week and did a fair job with my ice. I did get a towel animal each night. A long walk to the dining room, but that's good for you.

Interesting / Unique
Cruising with Crazie group was fun. I DO enjoy my 'personal' time yet there was always someone around to visit with when wanted. A great addition is a magician that will entertain you in the dining room at your table. The magician was wonderful and a good addition. The new Seaside Theater is wonderful. It look like it was always a part of the ship and not an add-on. They did a wonderful job during the last dry dock installing it. The movies at night were very popular. My contrarian tip is to use the pool before dinner when most are away, I noticed very few guests there around 6:00 pm.

Changes / Needs Improvement
My complements to Marvin Barrantes who seems to have ironed out the small concerns I had about the Conquest from my previous cruise. There's never a perfect cruise, but this one was almost a perfect cruise. I know that the Conquest has been the highest rated ship in the Carival fleet for 21 consecutive weeks for customer satisfaction.

Another great and enjoyable cruise. You really can not go wrong with the Carnival Conquest. You will have FUN on this Fun Ship.