Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Review--Carnival Conquest--1.17.2010

Carnival Conquest Review 1.17.2010

Just The Facts:
Carnival Conquest
January 17 - 24, 2010
Captain: Alfonso Verdoliva
Cruise Director: Chris Jefferson
Hotel Director: Marvin Barrantes
Ports: Galveston, Texas - Montego Bay, Jamaica- Georgetown, Grand Cayman - Cozumel, Mexico - Galveston, Texas
Weather: Good all week

This is my 20th Carnival cruise and 10th time on the Carnival Conquest. I sailed this ship in September and October, but on the eastern itinerary. It’s nice to sail the standard western Caribbean route. I am sailing with DW (dear wife) and with the Cruisemates.com Group. I am the host for the group known as: The Snooze Cruise.

Day One--Sunday--Embarkation
We left the ranch at 6:45 a.m. dropped off the dogs at the neighbors and drove with only two stops to Galveston. We arrived at EZ Cruise Parking about 11:30 and rode the shuttle to Terminal 1 to board the Carnival Conquest. I recommend EZ Cruise as your close enough to walk if you choose. We were a little later than normal (for us) and there was a long line for security. Fortunately they now check security inside the terminal so we proceeded on in the building. We were luckier than those at Terminal 2 and the very long lines outdoors to enter the terminal and board the Voyager of the Seas. At least the weather was nice for January. We were on the ship about 12:45 and went to the Cezzane dining room for a nice lunch buffet. The roast beef and salad were very good. Cabins opened at 1:30 so we proceeded to our cabin. We met some of the group who were also on deck 8 and proceeded to unpacked our bags that were delivered quicker than I expected. The double set of VIP luggage tags may have help or it could have been just the luck of the draw. Our group has four of the deck 8 aft balconies so we had our own sail away party on the aft decks after muster drill and sailed close to 4:00 pm. I was originally going to complain about the lack of “Funship Special” cocktails and bar servers, but discovered that there were ‘U.S. Health Inspectors’ doing their annual inspection. They were doing very limited bar service so pre made drinks and embellishments were kept to a minimum until the inspectors left the ship. BTW--the Carnival Conquest received a 99 on the inspection which is an outstanding score. Congratulations. We have the second seating for dinner at 8:15 and we are assigned the Monet dining room. DW was skipping dinner so I went to the Cezzane with her about 6:15 and I had to have a sample. I had a plate of the wonderful shrimp and sweet & sour sauce that I knew would be one of the entrees for dinner. They were fantastic and made for a great appetizer. Our group tables were located aft and not in my favorite area, but that’s basically the norm for group bookings. The company is the highlight. For dinner I had the Tomato Basil Soup, the Flat Iron Steak, and the Cream Brule for dessert. The Welcome Aboard Show was scheduled for 10:30 p.m. It featured the Carnival Conquest Singers & Dancers, CD Chris Jefferson, and comedian JR McCollum. I was very impressed with all the ship venues being full and having a good variety of entertainers during the evening.

Day Two--Monday--Fun day at Sea
I enjoyed a good nights sleep and the seas were calm. 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, milk and grapefruit which were all very good. We walked around the ship and I had some group business to handle in the morning. At noon we had a scheduled group activity. We entered a Cruisemates team in the Super Trivia game. It was great fun and almost everyone participated. We did well but have two more days of competition. We had a spontaneous cocktail party on deck 8 aft cabins in the afternoon. It was great fun and basically forgot about lunch. I later ordered BLT’s and a Ruben sandwich, both very good. A great new change is the appetizer plate delivered to the Platinum guests. This consisted of very nice fresh seafood items and a great improvement. Not sure if it is fleet wide, but new to me since October. It is the first elegant evening and they no longer have a formal 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. He did his introductions of staff officers in the Artist’s Lobby Bar. The main production show Point and Click was the primary entertainment this evening. For the elegant night dinner I had the Pumpkin Soup, White Stuffed Mushrooms and the Seafood entrée consisting of Lobster and Jumbo Shrimp. I had the Apple Tart for desert, it was fair. The platinum guest gift was left in the cabin at turn down and it is again the picture frame and a Carnival Conquest pin. This group has a tradition of a ‘Yawning Table’ on Promenade deck for informal late gatherings and did so tonight. Great for people watching and late drinks.

Day Three-Tuesday-Fun Day at Sea
It was a nice morning and the seas were again calm overnight. DW again ordered room service and I had breakfast in the dining room, same as previous morning. I enjoy the service in the dining room and DW enjoys a leisurely start to the day especially when we have a balcony cabin. We had an even larger group show for the noon Super Trivia Game. We scored 29 points the same as previous day and we have a firm hold on third place. It was great fun and the highlight was the butt cheek bingo portion of the game. Yes this is a very different Trivia contest. Members of the group have discovered the new Mongolian Wok and Sur Mer, two of the best places for lunch on the ship. I was able to arrange to have our Cruisemates group cocktail party for this afternoon in Vincent's Lounge, one of my favorite public rooms on the Conquest. We had a bartender and two servers for our group so the cocktails were flowing as fast as the great conversation and company. A great mixer for the group. Following the party we all went to the Carnival Past Guest Reception to continue the party for another hour. Of course a bit of rest was needed for many before dinner. The feature production show this evening was singer Ron Joseph who does Motown and soul music. I skipped, but people in the group attended and enjoyed the show. For dinner this evening I had French Onion Soup, Shrimp Cocktail, the Jerk flavored Pork, and the new Fig dessert for dessert. The waiters danced the Jai-ho, an Indian Bollywood dance that was very entertaining. Tonight they had a Mardi Gras deck party in the bars and on Lido deck, but after all the partying today we retired early.

Day Four--Wednesday-Montego Bay, Jamaica
A very nice nights sleep. DW again had room service and I went to the Monet dining room for breakfast. I had Fried Eggs with the usual. This is to be a stay on the ship on port day for DW, but I’m going into MoBay with several of the group to Doctor’s Cave Beach. We met on the pier and took a mini bus ($5 pp) over to the beach for the day. Admission is $5 and extra for other items as needed, i.e. beach chairs, umbrellas, etc. We staked out a large table in the Groovy Grouper as a HQ and people did their own thing. I had a few Red Stripes, a Yellow Bird, and got in the water a few times. The weather and the company was very nice. For lunch I had their signature Snapper and it was very good. The beach was as busy as I have ever seen it and there were a lot of Europeans there from the Costa ship also docked in MoBay for the day. It did make for interesting people watching. We arranged transport back to the ship by a local tour boat operator. We went directly across the bay and had a great time on our brief time on the water, it was much better than a taxi for sure. We watched sail away from the aft cabins with our friends and time for a room service BLT. The production show this evening 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. Having seen it we skipped and people in the group had mixed reviews, some loving it and others not so much. Dinner was very good this evening, I had a Salad, the Neptune Seafood Dish and the Grilled pork chop. One of the menu changes is that they now have two of my favorite desserts on the same night. The answer to that is you have both so I had a Tiramisu and the Bitter & Blanc. They were both excellent. The waiters again danced what seemed to be another Bollywood style dance. After dinner it’s yawning-table time.

Day Five--Thursday--Georgetown, Grand Cayman
Another good night sleep and good weather today. We arrived off of Grand Cayman by 7:00 am and anchored with three other ships. I was in no hurry as I had nothing really planned for this port so I had another good breakfast in the Monet dining room while DW had her room service. After breakfast I took the tender over to Georgetown to buy liquor and since it went to the new tender station it was next to the new liquor store that I wanted to visit. Georgetown is a relatively an expensive place for shopping; however, liquor is a bargain here. I went early as if you do so they will deliver it to the ship for you. I also got to meet Lucy, the female production singer, while on the tender, she was also on the September and October cruises and a great singer. I was back on the ship before 11:00 am and went to the Sky pool to swim where I found a large number of our group having an impromptu ‘Bloody Mary’ party. Swimming and partying before noon while most passengers are off the ship is quite fun. Since most were off the ship this was a perfect day to do the Mongolian Grill. The crew also know this so there was still a short line. I had the Pork with Szechwan (the hot spice choice) and it was very good. I also had a short visit with Marvin Barrantes, the Hotel Manager, he has been on the Conquest for several years now and is IMHO responsible for the improvements I have noticed in that time. That’s why I like him, he makes changes and improvements as needed. BTW-The Conquest is now No.2 in the Carnival fleet in positive guest comments. We sailed from the Caymans about 3:00 pm and we had another sail away party in the aft cabins. A little bit of cabin time with again BLT’s and a nap. Tonight is the second elegant night in the dining room. The main production show was Formidable. I have now seen it ten times, but still enjoy it very much. This show is exclusive to the Conquest so the only way to see it is to sail on her. The Cancan dance is still my favorite part of the show. Of course I enjoyed watching Lucy as well. Dinner was good. I had the Shrimp Seafood entree as well as the Chateaubriand and Baked Alaska for dessert. I tried to stay up for the yawning table, but made it an early evening.

Day Six-Friday-Cozumel, Mexico
Another good nights sleep. The seas were fine and the weather is great. I went to the Monet dining room for a good breakfast of Fried eggs, et al. since we didn’t arrive at the Puerto Maya pier until 10:00 am. There are four or five cruise ships on the island so there will be lot’s of tourists. Today was the big event scheduled for the Cruisemates Snooze Cruise group, the Cozumel Bar Hop tour. We met at the bus and were soon off to the ‘far’ side or ‘wild’ side of the island. There is no electricity over there so all the bars are unique cinder block and/or palapa style buildings each decorated in their own unique way. First stop was Punta Moreno and they gave us our first ‘shot’ of the day. I followed up with a few Pacifico beers and we enjoyed the high surf and views of the Caribbean as the waves washed ashore. Second stop was Coconuts the infamous bar located on the highest point on the island. Here we had a Mayan liquor shooter and of course a few more beers. There is a lot to see at Coconuts: the beautiful Caribbean water, the unique signage in the bar, the waiters boob books (beware ladies), and people watch. Next stop was the beach at St. Martin and the El Galeon bar. The water and surf were high, but the water felt great. Most stayed in the bar located just across the road. Here they gave a tequila shooter and they do have my favorite Mexican beer, Bohemia, so I had to have a few. Next stop was a brief visit to a scenic overlook of the natural bridges and blow holes along the Caribbean. Before Hurricane Wilma there were more, but it also brought the beach. Nature takes away and adds as she pleases. Final stop was the Rasta Bar. The Rasta has been in its location for years and years. They also make a great shrimp quesadilla. Here the shooter drink was a called an Iguana. I liked it so I tried one as a cocktail as well. They also do a fair mojito, but I liked the Iguana better. They had a little shop to visit or very nice beach chairs and hammocks. Very nice stop for our group. The tour operator customized some of their shirts to add ‘Snooze Cruise’ and that was a great souvenir of this wonderful tour. They had us back at Puerto Maya about 5:00 so there was some time for shopping if needed. Some cabin time and a BLT for me after the return. A wonderful day and very nice to watch the island disappear from site from the aft balcony as we sailed away. We did attend the Marc Ruben show and it was hilarious as usual. So used to seeing him as the Welcome Show headliner, but it was wonderful. The honeymooner he selected did a good job too. I did make dinner, I had the fried Shrimp appetizer and a Green Salad as well as the entrée, a Petite Filet Mignon on a sliced pot roast. On the menu they call it a Filet Mignon on Short rib, but it was really a very tender pot roast style meat. Enough fun for one day, cabin time for rest of the evening.

Day Seven--Saturday--at Sea
Another good nights sleep. A cloudy day, but warm and calm seas. I had my final breakfast in the Monet dining room, the Eggs Benedict. The debarkation talk was held at 10:30 but it repeated over the TV continuously during the day. We had our final day of the big Super Trivia contest and was great fun. Our group really enjoyed it and we won the day big time, but was one point off the overall score. Still a FUN event and was perfect for the group since we were split half and half between early and late dinner. it gave us a great day time event to share. After the game most were off to either the Mongolian Wok or the Chocolate Buffet in the Taste of Nations area of the Cezzane dining room. I had the Roast Beef with a salad in the buffet. A lot of our group met in the Sky pool area although the water is now getting cool. We met again at the aft balconies to try and finish off the last champagne that had been delivered to the group, but the official plan for the day was to meet at the Farewell Party at 5:00 pm. This was the most unique group gathering I have ever experienced. We had great service and had to have set a Carnival party record with at least close to 50 drinks setting on the table at one time. How? First we were able to get a good area with several tables in the Degas Lounge. Then the Beverage Manager came by and told the waiters to take care of this table. Then his boss the Hotel Manager (who we know) came by and told the waiters to take care of this table. Also one of the bar servers who worked our cocktail party (he received a nice tip) also started working our table. Everyone had as many cocktails as they wanted and we were allowed to stay longer, but we are not yet finished. We then met in the private Gallery Room on deck 4 for piano music (provided by one of our members) and more cocktails. Wow, a fantastic Farewell Party. Best ever for me. Dinner this evening was again good, my choices were Salad, Chicken Pasta, and Grand Mariner Soufflé for desert. I didn't attend the Carnival Legends Show after dinner but did listen to the excellent band in the Impressions (casino/promenade area) Bar and had the last meeting at the Yawning Table.

They had a 7:00 am meeting time for self-debarkation Platinum members, but the ship was a bit late so we didn’t even go down to deck 3 until 7:30 and it was 8:00 before we allowed off. We were through customs by 8:15 and at the truck by 8:30 am. It could not have gone smoother once off the ship. I filled the truck in Galveston as usual ($2.49 gal.) and was off the island by 8:45 am. We were home at 1:30 p.m. in time to pay the hired hand as promised.

I have always thought that the Conquest is beautiful and I was very pleased to see it again through the eyes of others in the Cruisemates group. The French impressionist and postimpressionist 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 new fabrics and chairs in the public areas continue with the theme of the ship and the ship really looks wonderful.

The Cezanne Restaurant buffet food is good, but not great although the salads, fruit, and desserts are excellent. The cookies available on the buffet and room service are very good. There are ice cream and yogurt machines in several locations on Lido deck. Paul's Deli was good, the Rueben sandwich is my favorite and DW’s favorite is the arugula veggie sandwich with Pesto. The Mongolian Grill is excellent. Sur Mer was good, my favorite item is the bouillabaisse. The Sushi Bar is unique and should be tried by guests. 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, the BLT's are great. Drink prices have again gone up in cost but they have specials each day. The Monet Dining Room food is very good to excellent and much better than the buffet. No entrée changes since October. The waiters do a few dances during the week and it is enjoyable especially the new dances. DW said the Vegetable Lasagna was the best vegetarian dish on the trip. They no longer do the team game announcements in the dining room (yea!) and leave that to the entertainment department as it should be. I have been alternating tables between the two group tables we have for late seating and it is interesting to compare the waiters. One is very good and the other very poor. Interesting.

We had cabin 8457 on Verandah deck (deck 8). It is a very nice aft extended balcony and our third time to have this particular cabin. There is a mini bar, safe (card slide), full couch, and hair dryer. The cabin was clean and was well maintained by our cabin steward who also did a good job with my ice. We did get a towel animal most nights. A very short walk to food & drink as it’s below the Cezanne dining room. You get full WiFi in the cabin if your using a laptop computer.

Changes / Needs Improvement
There are not many changes I would recommend now. They have done such a good job as mentioned previously. If you will read some of my older Conquest reviews you will actually see that they have implemented most of the things that had concerned me. Anything now is minor. I would like to see the Fox News Channel as one of the television choices and not so much of CNN. Not sure if this is a fleet wide issue or not, but the Conquest sails from a red state and most guests are not big fans of CNN. One of the waiters this cruise was sub par, but that is very rare on the Conquest or on Carnival and can be corrected.

Interesting / Unique
The magician visited our table in the dining room twice. He is very interesting and unique. People in the Cruisemates group were very impressed with the entertainment on the ship. They do have a good variety now and there was always a choice of entertainment types and styles. The Seaside Theater is a wonderful addition, the movies at night were very popular as were the NFL football playoffs.

This was a really FUN cruise for me. Perhaps the best of sixty cruises, certainly the most FUN. I really enjoyed helping the Snooze Cruisers from Cruisemates and they made it so much more enjoyable for me. I believe we have taken cruising to a new level.

thanks to TC and Phil&Liz for photos