This is intended to be an exhaustive review of mine and my wife's trip to New Orleans and our first cruise on the Carnival Conquest. Hopefully you will find the information helpful. Before our trip I scoured the internet message boards and read many a trip and ship review in order to plan our vacation. This is my chance to give back to the community. This review will be by day of the trip and will conclude with some general comments on New Orleans and the Conquest. Please post or email any questions you have and I will try to answer them as best I can. Let me say that New Orleans is a fantastic city and that we had a blast on the Conquest. I can give an unequivocal recommendation for the Conquest.
04/23/05 Saturday - Departure from Home and Arrival in New Orleans
We live near Little Rock, Arkansas and decided to drive to New Orleans the day before our cruise started. I was able to book the Hyatt Regency in the Central Business District for $60.00 using Priceline. The drive to New Orleans was pleasant and uneventful, taking about 6.5 hours. Our route was Hwy. 65 to Tallulah, LA; I-20 to Jackson, MS; and I-55 to New Orleans, LA.
We arrived in downtown New Orleans around 12:30. My first priority was to find cheap parking for the day near the Hyatt. I was able to find FREE street parking on Loyola in front of the entrance to the mall that is attached to the Hyatt. The meters on the surrounding streets (and I believe in this entire area) are turned off on the weekend so don't pay for parking if you don't have to.
Check-in time was listed for 3:00 but I was able to check-in at 1:15 with no problem. There was no mention of my booking through Priceline and I was able to use my Gold Passport card. I requested a king size bed, but they were out of them. We were given a corner room with two double beds. The hotel was clean and had employees readily available and happy to assist. Our room was clean, of good size, and had no substantive problems. The door did appear a little tattered.
We did not explore or examine any of the amenities of the hotel. Room service included a 20% gratuity and a $3.50 delivery fee. The hotel was running a free shuttle to the French Quarter which we took advantage of. The shuttle ran every 30 minutes and made two stops: Harrah's casino and Jackson Brewery. Benches are available outside the hotel for waiting for the shuttle. We were told by the driver that the last pick-up would be 11:00 p.m. from Jackson Brewery. The shuttle was 20 minutes late for the 10:00 p.m. pickup.
After taking the shuttle to Jackson Brewery, we spent the day and night exploring the French Quarter. The Pat O' Brien's on the river was not open but we did enjoy drinks at the piano bar in the original Pat O's. I did not like how Pat O's charged you for the souvenir glass with each drink. To get your money back you had to turn in the glass to the bartender. This seemed a little tacky to me for a place with so much history and name recognition. We ate dinner at The Gumbo Shop. The bread was terrible and the local beer we ordered on draft came in a small glass. The food came quickly (maybe a little too quick, why was it ready so soon?), was of a fair portion, but was bland. I had a combination platter and my wife had the Jambalaya. The total bill was around $35. This place was not worth the expense.
We spent most of the night bar hopping on Bourbon St. There were live bands at a lot of the bars and I would suggest stopping by at a few until you find one you like. I would also ask for the drink prices before ordering as they vary widely from bar to bar. My wife ordered a Miller Lite at one of the bars and I almost blew my top when the waitress brought the receipt back and it was $6.00!!
04/24/05 Sunday - Embarkation
We awoke Sunday with excitement to board the Conquest. I was a little nervous about parking as I had recently read a post on the internet that parking was no longer available in the Fulton Street Garage. We drove to the Fulton St. Garage (the entrance is located on Convention Center Blvd close to the cruise ship terminal, there is a sign that says "Official Cruise Ship Parking") and the attendant asked us which cruise we were taking. When we told her the Conquest, we were given directions to a different parking spot. Unfortunately, I just drove off without even asking the reason. The parking lot we were directed to is off of Melpomene street. There was a sign that read "Conquest Parking Only".
The price was $12/day and was payable in cash or by credit card. There were porters available to take your luggage and load it on trucks. Shuttle buses ran from the parking lot to the cruise ship terminal. There are no cell phones or photos allowed in the terminal. We were at the terminal by 12:30 and on the ship around 1:30. The liquor I placed in cough medicine bottles in my checked luggage made it and no problems were raised with the two bottles of wine we put into our carry on luggage.
Our room was ready and the Lido deck buffet was open when we boarded. I had booked an Inside Guarantee with Cruise Quick and was assigned room 8402 on the Verandah deck (deck 8). This room was near the stairs and provided easy access to the Sky Pool and buffet areas. We enjoyed walking around the ship and enjoyed the sail away from the New Orleans port. A free liquor tasting was offered the first night at the shops on the Promenade deck (deck five). The liquor was four or five different rums offered in mini-shots. You could ask for as many mini-shots as you wanted. I thought this was a great offer by Carnival. I also enjoyed my steak that night at dinner and was impressed Carnival actually cooked it medium rare.
We did have two problems the first night. I had requested seating for two but the Maitre' D sat another couple with us. They had requested to sit with their friends who were on the cruise with them, but for some strange reason the Maitre' D insisted they sit with us that first night. We made the best of the situation, but the other couple was obviously upset. They managed to get it straightened out and were able to sit with their friends the remainder of the cruise. The other problem involved room service. My wife requested an additional blanket at 10:40 and was told to expect delivery by 11:00. We waited until 11:15 and called again. The employees apologized and promised prompt delivery. We called again at 11:30 and finally received the blanket at 11:35.
04/25/05 - 04/26/05 Monday - Tuesday - Days at Sea
The days at sea were very relaxing and it was fun both exploring the ship and being lazy. Carnival offers tons of activities for people who want to stay busy, but the ship also offers peace and quiet for those wanting to just relax. At dinner, our head waiter was really pushing wines on us until I politely but firmly let him know we did not want to order wine with dinner for the entire cruise. It was obvious Carnival was trying to introduce people to wine which made it all the more confusing to me that they were charging for the wine tasting at the Point Supper Club. Carnival would end up selling much more wine if they offered a free wine tasting seminar similar to every winery I have ever visited; instead they were charging $8.00 for the chance to try four different wines. That is not a very good way to introduce people to wine.
We enjoyed the "Formidale" Las Vegas style show. I considered it an adult show and it is probably a little risqué for young children. The Captain's Cocktail Party was also great. We went to the Degas Lounge for the party and enjoyed the live band and free drinks. I congratulate Carnival for not watering down the free drinks. I had a glass of red wine, two whisky sours, and two Manhattans. The waitress was actually bringing us free drinks without us having to ask for them. I believe free drinks were also being served at the Blues Bar and Henri's Disco during the party.
We were usually able to snag deck chairs next to the Sky Pool before 10:00 a.m. After 10:00 a.m. the deck chairs went quick at both the Sky Pool and the Main Pool. There was rampant deck chair saving with the usual saving technique being the use of a beach towel. I would also like to note that I found Carnival employees to be friendly and to go out of their way to not bother you. On Tuesday night our room steward went out of his way to snag us two wine glasses and he even opened our bottle of wine for us. I rewarded him for his attention with a cash tip. He also made the towel animals for us.
The pizza at the Sky Pizzeria was very good. The De Chevre (goat cheese and mushroom) was especially good. We also enjoyed hamburgers from the Sky Grill. The cooks always accepted our orders with a smile and did everything they could to please. I enjoyed the prime rib at dinner, but the lobster was not very good. Our waiter remembered how I liked my steak cooked and immediately suggested medium rare for the prime rib.
04/27/05 Wednesday - Montego Bay
Disembarking here was a little bit of a free-for-all with people crowding the stairs and multiple lines forming. It is also hectic at the terminal in Montego Bay. When you step out of the terminal, there are dispatchers and people in uniform asking where you want to go. Shuttles and taxis are everywhere. Please be aware that the dispatchers will try to put you in non-JUTA shuttles. There is another acronym, something like JCATRL (?) on some of the shuttles. The dispatcher tried to convince me this shuttle was OK and was licensed and regulated by the Jamaican government. That may be true, but all the advice I received was to only use a JUTA vehicle. When I asked the driver the fare per person to Sunset Beach he quoted me $5 per person. When I was finally able to secure a JUTA shuttle the fare was $2 per person to Sunset Beach. Be firm and demand a JUTA shuttle.
Sunset Beach was awesome. It was $20 per person for a day pass and the front desk will take your sail and sign card. We were at the beach by 9:30 and there were several beach umbrellas still available. The beach here was beautiful with a nice view of the ocean and a distant ridge. The bar opens at 10:00 a.m. and is right off the beach. There are also two pools in which you can swim up to the bar. Drinks from the bar are very strong and you can order as many as you want. There is also a walk-up grill that offers hamburgers, hot dogs, jerk chicken, and French fries. If you like to drink and you like the beach, go to Sunset Beach. When you are ready to leave, the front desk will page a shuttle for you and the driver will retrieve your sign and sail card from the security stand.
Unfortunately, an incident occurred in Jamaica that delayed the ship and delayed our arrival in Grand Cayman. A storm hit Jamaica in the afternoon and a mud slide delayed a Carnival Dunn's River Falls tour. At 5:00, Todd, the Cruise Director made an announcement that we would be delayed 30 minutes. No other announcement was made and of course rumors were rampant when we were still sitting in Montego Bay at 10:30. There is no excuse for Carnival not providing updates after it became obvious the first announcement was wrong. However, I do commend Carnival for standing behind excursions they sponsor. The entire time we sat in Montego Bay the casino and shops were closed. Carnival kept their word and waited for the passengers to make it back even though they probably lost a significant amount of revenue for the night. It definitely made me think twice about booking excursions on my own that take you a significant distance from the ship. We enjoyed the tribute to Motown show.
That night at dinner I attempted to order a steak because nothing on the menu attracted me. Our head waiter told me steak was not available and I had to order off the menu. This was very disappointing as I had read you could order steak any night.
04/28/05 Thursday - Grand Cayman
We arrived in Grand Cayman late, sometime around 10:00 a.m.. Carnival canceled all excursions before 11:00 a.m. and we missed our Sting Ray excursion booked with Soto's Cruises. It was also pouring down raining when we tendered. Needless to say, Grand Cayman started off bad. However, Todd suggested people try Eden Rock snorkeling since it was close to the dock and we were short on time. We walked to Eden Rock after the rain and had a great time snorkeling. It was a little crowded but there were lots of colorful fish. The snorkeling equipment was $12.00 per person. We both thought that the snorkeling made up for a rather bad start to the day. We bought a shirt at Hard Rock Café.
We had a blast that night on the ship. Carnival was offering a happy hour on beer from 5:30 - 8:30. Most beer was $2.50 during this time. I was a little disappointed that Carnival only had Budweiser and Heineken on draft. We went to the karaoke bar and to Henri's Disco and had fun at both. As the night wore on, Henri's Disco got a little crazy with drinking and dancing. We didn't mind this  I think the magic show with Deja was this night; we left from it early as I thought it was boring.
04/29/05 Friday - Cozumel
For Cozumel, I had pre-booked the Mayan Ruins excursion at Tulum through Carnival. The tickets were delivered to our stateroom on Tuesday. There will be a person holding a sign on the pier to let you know where to go. The ferry ride across to the mainland of Mexico was very rough. Several people became sick and my wife said she will not take a ferry like that again. When you arrive in Playa del Carman there will be tour guides who will split the passengers into groups for the tours.
We followed our tour guide to a bus and were each given a complimentary sack lunch that contained a banana, two muffins, and some crackers. On the road to Tulum, we stopped for about thirty minutes at a shop where you could take a free mini-shot of tequila. The prices were fairly high and the merchant would not haggle (we got $3 off of a $48 purchase). The Mayan ruins at Tulum were fascinating. We were handed off to another tour guide for the tour of the ruins and our original tour guide waited for us at the Subway outside of the ruins. Be aware that this tour has a few hidden costs: tip to main tour guide, tip to Mayan ruins' tour guide, and $2/person shuttle from outside of ruins to entrance to ruins. We had about two hours to explore the ruins on our own. It was very hot but I think the ruins are worth seeing one time.
We arrived back at Cozumel at 5:15 so we had no time to shop or explore Cozumel. That night we hung out at the Degas Lounge and listened to the band. I had Rigatoni at dinner which was good and my wife had Red Snapper which she reported was not good.
04/30/05 Saturday - Day at Sea
We had another enjoyable, lazy day at sea on Saturday. We ate lunch at Sur Mers and had fish-n-chips, fried oysters, and a seafood soup. We both thought Sure Mers was pretty good and a nice change-up from the buffet and dining room. That night I ordered wine glasses from room service and they arrived promptly. The server also opened the bottle of wine. We enjoyed the juggling and comedy show that night.
05/01/05 Sunday - Disembarkation
I did not find much trouble with the self disembarkation. We sat at the buffet and relaxed waiting for the customs clearance. There were two lines on the lobby deck (deck 3) and they both moved rapidly. After finding our luggage we proceeded out of the terminal where a crowd of people was forming. There are three "lines": the airport line, the taxi/private pick-up line, and the shuttle-to-parking line. It was really a mess with a lot of people not knowing what to do. Luckily someone with the shuttle company or parking company pointed us out and directed us to a shuttle to the parking. I was at my truck by 10:45.
We stayed the night at the Park Plaza which I had booked on Priceline for $55. The hotel is old but looks as if it has been recently remodeled. The walls are fairly thin and noises easily traveled through them. I did like the location of the hotel and a street car line runs in front of it. There was no mention of Priceline and I was able to check-in at 2:00. I parked at a lot north of the hotel on Canal for $12. We purchased all day tickets for the street cars and enjoyed touring the city on them. We ate in the French Quarter at Café Marespo near the river. They were cheap, had $1 beer and daiquiris, and the food was decent. I would recommend this place if you are looking for a decent meal around $20.
New Orleans is a great city to cruise out of. There is plenty to do for everyone, from people looking for tours, to history, to partying. The Carnival Conquest was also a great time. Carnival staff was friendly and didn't bother us. I did not think there was too much "selling" of products. The buffet food was better than expected, with the dinners and desserts being a slight disappointment. The pizza, hamburgers, and sushi were great. We also enjoyed most of the shows we went to and Carnival provided lots of activities for the sea days. Things I didn't like: drink prices too high, no steak available, and the fixed dinner time. Overall I give New Orleans a 9/10 and the Carnival Conquest an 8/10.