BW, myself, and 2 daughters took the Carnival Conquest to the Western Caribbean from New Orleans on 5/9/04. BW (Beautiful Wife!) and I went to NOLA a couple of days early to let her have her first look at The Big Easy, and we stayed at Le Pavillon:---EXCEPTIONAL!!!! Daughters were each coming from different directions.
BW and I arrived at the Julia Street Terminal #1 early-about 10:15 AM. Don't want to miss the boat! There sat the Conquest--majestic, monstrous, dwarfing everything around her! Simply overwhelming! Passengers were still debarking from the previous cruise, and the "Sea Caps" were busy with off-loading passengers' luggage. So, we wrestled our 4 bags into the waiting area. Though we were quite early (boarding supposedly wasn't to begin until 1:30 PM), there were already a couple of hundred people there. Because of the ongoing debarkation, we were asked to take a seat in the first of several sets of "yellow chairs", just opposite the check-in counters. We were also handed a welcome letter, which said we would be able to board early, but to stay away from the rooms until the crew had a chance to make them up for us new arrivals. The letter also said the Lido buffet would be open for lunch after we boarded.
About 11 AM they began the check-in process, and we made our way to an open Fun Pass check-in position, baggage in tow as instructed. Our ID's and ticket were checked, and we were given our stamped boarding pass. Then, we were told to proceed to another desk to pick up our Sign & Sail card/room keys and take our luggage with us. After picking up the S&S cards, we were told to return to the outside waiting room until boarding, and that the Sea Caps would pick up our luggage there. While waiting, one daughter arrived and found us. Shortly afterward, the Sea Cap came to take our luggage; and, much to our delight, he was willing to take daughter's Conquest-tagged luggage even though she had not yet checked in. Relieved of the luggage burden, we went outside for picture taking and to just marvel at the ship.
Also, another great accommodation by Carnival: the two daughters were booked on the same ticket, though each was to arrive at a different time. First daughter to arrive checked in and asked if she needed to stay outside and wait for the arrival of the second daughter. They said "No, she's now in the system." When second daughter arrived, all she had to do was give her name, show ID, and she was on her way on board.
The three of us came back into the waiting room about 11:30, and passengers were already lined up to pass the ID/boarding pass check and gain entry to the next room, and set of yellow chairs. Carnival personnel directed us to successive rows of chairs as each row would fill up. Just about noon, security people told us to have our drivers' licenses or passports available for inspection; and, Carnival people began directing each row to the door, taking them in the order that they had entered this room. The next room, with the ubiquitous yellow chairs, was where we waited to have our boarding pictures taken. Again, Carnival people directed us in order, row by row, to the photographers' lines. I must say that all of this moving and lining up was handled very well and orderly, with no crowding, pushing, or people jumping line. This is a tribute to Carnival's efficient boarding procedures. After the pictures, we boarded!
Walking up the stairs and across the entry bridge was a total thrill! Each passenger had to put their S&S card in a machine, which checked it's validity, took a picture of the passenger, and registered them as "on board". BW's card was inexplicably "Not Activated"; but, a quick pass by the Purser's counter to our left, and in less than 3 minutes we were officially on board! WOW!!! What a view! You enter the ship on Deck 3, the Lobby Deck, where the first thing that greets your eye is the Atrium. One can look up along the 4 glass elevator shafts, to the 10th deck! That's 7 decks up, folks! And, this is a ship! A classical trio was playing in the lobby as we boarded. I joked and said "Please, not classical! Too much like the Titanic!" Yeah, I know: lousy joke. We grabbed lunch in the Lido Buffet, where second daughter joined us. Then, we were all off to explore the ship.
The Lobby Deck (#3) has the Purser's counter, tour counter, the Lobby bar, the lower level entrance to the Toulouse Lautrec theater, and the Renoir and Monet dining rooms. Deck 4 (Atlantic) houses the photo shop and gallery, and second level entrances to the theater and dining rooms. Also, Alfred's Bar and the Internet Café are on this deck, but more easily reached from Deck 5. Deck 5 (Promenade) has all the shops, the casino, most of the bars (7!), the coffee and sushi bars, and yet another entrance to the theater. The Lido Deck (#9) contains the Cezanne buffet and grills, pools, hot tubs, and 2 outdoor bars. Deck 10 (Panorama) has The Point--the extra cost 5-star restaurant. Deck 11 houses the Spa/Health Club, walking/jogging track, and basketball court. Deck 14 (Sky Deck) contains the entrance to the water slide. Staterooms are found on Decks 1, 2, and 6-11. The glass elevators serve Decks 3-11, and there are three banks of enclosed elevators that serve most all decks. Entry and exit to/from the ship in ports of call is accomplished on Deck 0, which is predominantly crew.
Casual dress was fine at dinner, as most had to wait for luggage. Luggage finally made it to our rooms while at dinner.
BW and I were on the Panorama deck (10), port side, 4 cabins from the front. Size of the cabin was about 185 sq. ft., with bed set up as king size. There was a sofa with cushioned back, which could become a twin bed if needed. We had a balcony, with 3 chairs--size was about 3 ½ ft. by 8 ft. Had 3 closets, plenty of drawer and shelf space in the desk/counter and under the sofa/bed, TV, safe, and luggage could easily be stored under the bed. The FREE (!) safe could be locked and unlocked by using a credit card, but they suggested NOT using your S&S card. It had plenty of room for wallets, passport, jewelry, and perhaps a video or still camera, but not both. Bath had shower (no tub-OK by me), shampoo and liquid soap dispensers with PLENTY of each, basket of goodies such as dental flosser, shower cap, and Rolaids! Plenty of towels. Girls room was almost directly beneath ours, port side, forward, but on Deck 1 (Riviera). It had same basic storage and bath features as ours, except it had twin beds. Had 2 portholes, but girls didn't look out for fear of getting queasy! They complained of pounding noises at night, which they thought was stuff being moved around. I suspect it was from waves hitting the hull, as they were fairly close to the water.
One comment about the balconies: there was a comment in some review about the "privacy" panels that supposedly prevent neighbors from peering around at your balcony, or climbing from theirs to yours. In truth, they are only 5 inch wide panels that run from the railing to the top of the balcony, and they would certainly NOT deter anyone from looking onto your balcony, nor would they stop a determined cat burglar. Matter of fact, the neighbors on either side of us looked around our panel and said good morning a few times. Certainly friendly, but blows the heck out of privacy. Also, we seemed to be right in the middle of a group that was cruising together. Those in the two cabins to our right knew each other and those in 1 cabin to our left. They frequently shouted greetings to each other in the morning. Could have done without that!
For those first timers who might worry about sea sickness: The Conquest is the largest in passenger capacity of the Carnival fleet. Though it is shorter than others in similar classes, it is a good bit wider. As a result, there was no pitch (front to back rocking) at ANY time, even though we had 6 ft. swells at one time (per the Captain). There was just a tiny bit of roll (side to side sway) when the ship turned (only natural, if you've ever been in a smaller boat, or ridden a motorcycle), and a couple of other times going in and out of ports. BUT, that was so gentle, it was hardly noticeable in the inner ear. One had to look out the windows to see it. I didn't notice anyone looking green or frantically running for the head (bathroom to you landlubbers). AND, no one hanging over the railing! After Cozumel, and Senior Frogs and Carlos and Charlies, there were a lot of folk unsteady in their gait, but didn't see any get sick.
Table service breakfast, lunch, and dinner were served in the Monet and Renoir Restaurants. Open seating for breakfast and lunch, assigned tables for dinner. Each had two dinner seatings, with the Monet starting at 5:45 PM and 8, and the Renoir starting at 6:15 PM and 8:30. There was NO class distinction between the two--your assignment was simply luck of the draw. Some reviewers felt the Monet was more desirable, as it was at the stern of the ship, and the entire back wall was all windows. However, I found it a bit dark. The Renoir was much brighter, as it was more amidships, and had windows along both sides. Our assignment was early, in the Renoir. We had a rocky start with our waiter "Arpy", ( Arpyana, from Indonesia), as he seemed a bit disinterested, and his service left a bit to be desired. For instance, he would serve perhaps 2 or 3 of a particular course at the table, and the remaining party would have to wait sometimes as much as 5 minutes for their similar course to be served. Though that might have been the fault of the kitchen, a good waiter would wait until all diners' food was ready, and served them together. (We know! Wife and daughters have owned restaurants and served for most of their adult lives.) One time he needed to reach an item that was at the farthest end of the table from him, and he simply pointed to the item, rather than asking for daughter to hand it to him. There was another (normally) head waiter named "Amelia" from Hungary, who was efficient, personable, and VERY professional. We mentioned to her that we would have preferred her to be our main waiter, expressing our dissatisfaction with Arpy; and, she showed her true professionalism, tact, and diplomacy by saying "Well, he has different qualities." I turned in a comment card expressing our dissatisfaction with him, and received a form letter of thanks for the comment. BUT, the following night, Arpy came on like a REAL waiter--a complete 180 turnaround from before. As we got to know him better, we learned what might have been his problem: seems he has to be away from his family for some 6 months, and he has a baby on the way. From that point on, we all warmed to each other; and, via the end-of-cruise comment card, I praised him highly, and voted him "Most Improved Waiter". Though I almost adjusted the automatic tip at first, I wound up leaving it in effect, and gave both him and Amelia a cash additional tip for their service.
As for food, I read a review somewhere in which a reviewer said the food was lousy. I couldn't DISAGREE more! The food was quite good, with a dizzying variety. Each evening's menu contained at least 2 meat entrees, 2 fish entrees, and a vegetarian entrée. Starters included gourmet cold soups such as Cold Cucumber, Zuchini, and Vichyssoise. GENUINE Caesar salads were served on several nights. Every menu had "Spa" selections in all three main courses that were designed for the calorie and fat-conscious. Of course, desserts did not make it on that list! One particular entrée that really pleased me was the "Essence of India"-a variety of Indian entrees, breads, and condiments. Wonderful! Portions of everything were adequate but not excessive. Needless to say, one could order as much or as many of anything that one could want: the girls frequently doubled up on desserts! The steaks were the only disappointment to me; the sirloin (not the best cut anyway) was a bit fat and contained more gristle than it should have. And, they and the prime rib were not as rare as I would have liked. But, face it: most folks don't care for rare beef. The chateaubriand and filets saved the day. We had talked about doing "The Point" on one night. But, they girls said "Hey, we're getting 5 star service every night. Why pay $25 a head for the same thing we get already-included?" So, we skipped that.
The enclosed, air-conditioned area contained 3 double-sided serving lines, and several separate dessert and beverage stations. One of the serving lines was designated the "Nation of the Day" line, and each day had specialties for the selected region: French, Caribbean, American, etc. Paul's Deli served corned beef, pastrami, and other deli fare. P. C.'s Wok served a variety of Oriental dishes. Outside forward was a station called The Broiler, I think, which was a miniature of the indoor lines, and an ice cream (soft) station. Outside aft was the Grill, which served burgers, dogs, and minute steak sandwiches, and The 24 hour Pizzeria, as well as another ice cream station. Though I seldom ate a full meal at the buffet, I did look a bit and sample the more interesting dishes. Carnival posted a menu at each serving line, and labeled the dishes with place cards on the glass in front of each dish. I've got to give it to Carnival: their buffets were NOT in the class of Golden Corral or Ryan's. They had FINE food, with interesting and tantalizing entrees. There was a carving station with roast meat for every lunch and dinner service. The salads were NOT the usual pasta, cole slaw, and potato salad one might expect: one in particular that piqued my taste buds was a Cold Smoked Beef salad. It consisted of julienne strips of smoked beef, with julienne strips of a somewhat crunchy white vegetable (jicama?), and a cream style sauce (mayo, sour cream?) containing a hint of horseradish. Not overbearing, but definitely tasty. I could have made a meal on just that! Even the standard old green salad station offered spinach leaves along with the iceberg lettuce, as well a large variety of other salad toppings.
The pizza was good--had some almost every night at midnight. Though I never had a burger or hot dog, I did have a minute steak sandwich one day. Same problem there as with the sirloin steak in the dining room: too much fat and gristle for my taste. I did have a combo deli sandwich, and it was great.
Each night there was a mini midnight buffet aft, around the Grill and Pizzeria. A dessert station was set up between the Grill and Pizzeria, but no other additional food was available. Of course, that was plenty! The Grand Midnight Buffet was held on Thursday night in the indoor area. Very fancy pate's, sandwiches, ice sculptures, and sculptures made from large blocks of cheese. AND, the most luscious desserts of the cruise! Had to partake of those. Oh, and on the last "Sea Day" (Saturday), the Nation line served a Chocolate Extravaganza!!!! That's the ONLY time I've ever gotten my fill of the food of the gods! Every kind of chocolate cake imaginable, hard ice cream, shakes, cookies, chocolate covered strawberries, truffles (YUM!)-and, I only gained 5 pounds!
A couple of reviewers somewhere posted negative comments about breakfast in the buffet, saying that there was only one omelet station. I didn't find that to be true. Each serving line that was open had two cooks preparing custom omelets: there were seldom more than one or two people waiting. Also, each cook could have 2 omelets in progress at the same time. In addition, the Broiler (outside, forward) had an omelet station.
The only negative I can offer is DEFINITELY NOT Carnival's fault. On the day that the "Nation" line featured Caribbean fare, I watched in horror as one lady, who had no idea what Pepper Stew tasted like, took the serving spoon from the serving pan, tasted it, and offered a taste to her friend, then put the spoon back in the pan!!!! I turned and walked away. No wonder there are epidemics of sickness on some cruises!!! That woman was a totally selfish, inconsiderate, thoughtless BOOB!! Certainly, Carnival (or any other cruise operator) can't prevent such idiotic behavior, short of stationing attendants to monitor all serving areas. May that wretch writhe in pain with ptomaine!!!
Spent a lot of evenings in Alfred's Bar. They had a jazz trio most nights, and it's the only place INSIDE that one could smoke cigars. They even sold cigars: Fuente's, Partiga's, Macanudo's, and other top lines, at $4 and up. Sorry, no Swisher Sweets! Waitress, Sylviyah from Bulgaria, remembered me and my drink order after only one visit. Very impressive! In the afternoon, they had a tea, with coffee, tea, and fine, small pastries, with the classical trio entertaining. NO SMOKING at the tea. The easiest way to reach Alfred's is to go aft on Deck 5, past the casino, past the coffee bar, and watch for signs pointing down to Alfred's and the Internet Café. The Internet Café was oddly named--never saw anyone eating in there. I did see a few souls willing to pay the high bucks to check their E-mail, but not this geek! Henri's was the disco. NOISY late at night. But, on a couple of evenings, they had 70's, then 80's music. Vincent's was the karaoke bar. A lot of fun, but awfully noisy. Rowdy young folks mostly. Only open about 3 hours each night. Blues was a fortunate find. It is a piano bar, with pianist "Joe", who is really a versatile and talented entertainer. Sing along with everything from country to Billy Joel. You gotta hear his rendition of Charlie Daniel's "The Devil Went Down To Texas". Degas Lounge was a large venue, the largest lounge on the ship. It had a good, live rock and R&B band every night, with dancing. Gaugin's Bar was just off the casino, and quiet except for the noise of the slots just outside. No entertainment, but TV screens showing news and other network fare all over. There was also a bar with a one-man band entertainer at the end of the casino. He seemed fairly good, though I didn't stay very long to listen at any one time. The Lobby Bar had a piano opposite that was used by classical pianist "Odeta", from Lithuania. She played each night for 3 hours, with hour breaks between each set. And, one afternoon, she played a special classical concert. She takes requests, too. Quite talented and personable. An island band (steel drum, guitar, etc.) played on the Lido Deck at the Sky Pool and Bar (forward) in the afternoons. They also played occasional evenings at the aft pool/bar. Latour was a wine bar on Deck 5. Never stopped there, so I can't comment about it. The Coffee Bar was disappointing, and all items are extra cost. Espresso was good, but skip the other specialty drinks.
Our cruise director was Stuart "Little". Very personable, and funny. I've always thought that Aussie's were the most fun-loving folks on the planet, anyway. Too bad he got saddled with having to do so much selling. But, his debarkation presentation was GREAT! Don't miss that on Saturday morning. I read a review wherein someone thought the shows weren't particularly good. He didn't think there was anything worth seeing. (Same guy that didn't like the food! Why the heck did that guy even go on a cruise?) Now, I lived in Phoenix for 30 years, and in 26 of those years I was a 4-times-a-year (or more!) visitor to Vegas. I caught (among others) Elvis, The Righteous Brothers, Tom Jones, Duke Ellington, and a lot of dancing reviews. I've got to tell you, the shows in the theater were every bit as good as the shows I saw in Vegas--on a smaller scale, mind you, as the theater and stage are smaller. But, the dancers are just as precise and professional, they have moving and rising stage sets--everything one would expect of production shows. And, variety--a great R&B singer, a magician, comedians, dancers. The stage band was great as well! Not the usual (for these days) 3 guitars, a drummer, and a tambourine. But, a full 17-piece band with brass, reeds, piano! They played 40's music (Glenn Miller, Tommy Dorsey, etc.) a couple of nights for dancing, in the theater; and, they played behind other entertainers most nights. Really professional and polished. A pleasure to listen to.
Had no interest in these--I'm on a CRUISE, people! BW and daughters got off the ship, but did independently planned activities. Daughters dove in Grand Cayman, but did not book with Carnival. No problems with timing.
We were told to put our luggage outside our rooms by midnight Saturday night. Those with early flights were given special VIP luggage tags, and met at 7:45 on Sunday morning in the theater. From there, they were the first to leave the ship. (Daughters did this, and made their 11'ish flights without a hitch.) The rest of us were told that we would be called to leave the ship by luggage tag color (based, of course, on your residence deck), starting at 8:30 AM. We were NOT told that we couldn't take our luggage off ourselves, and I saw some that did just that. However, they did say that if anyone tried to board out of their order, they would be sent back. They preferred that we wait on Deck 3 or 5, or in the theater--they needed to get us out of the rooms so that the crew could make them up for the next sailing. The tag colors/decks were called in a random order: not top deck down, or any kind of priority scheme. The Panorama deck was not called until about 10 AM--no problem for us, as we were staying another night in NOLA anyway. Debarkation was a breeze-just had to show our ID once. Customs took our declaration forms, didn't even look at them, and hurried us on our way--no questions about what we were bringing back, or how much booze. Luggage was arranged in a huge hall by deck. It didn't take us very long to find ours. I enlisted the aid of a Sea Cap to wrangle our 4 bags and bunches of carry-off (the booze, you know!). He took us right to the taxi line, and we were away, MUCH TOO SOON.
I traveled all over the world for some 23 years, to Asia , Europe, Australia, and visited some 20 + countries--even flew around the world once. I particularly enjoyed the diversity of nationalities among the crew on the Conquest. I was able to meet people from countries I've never visited, and learn about their country. A great deal of my travel was in Business or First Class air; and, I've stayed in some pretty good hotels as well. I have to tell you that I have seldom been treated any better than by the employees of Carnival. Sure, there were some who didn't smile, who maybe had a bad day, or weren't as effervescent as others. But, most were very cordial and concerned. Even the people maintaining the ship were courteous and friendly for the most part. When you would meet a crew member in the elevator or a hall, most would smile and speak. Each question or request was met with a smile and a sincere attempt to answer or help. Yes, I would cruise with Carnival again, and I will as soon as I can afford it!