This gets a bit long, but if you have any questions feel free to ask away, I'll do my best to answer.
Haven't been home 24 hours yet, but figured I need to write this while fresh in my head. I normally do these grouped by topic - so don't expect full chronological order. Also, I'm pretty easy going, so things that may be a show stopper for some, I may not care about. In other words, I'm on vacation and it takes a lot to make me have a bad time, so this will not be a super-critical write-up.
This was our 5th cruise, 4th with Carnival, and one with RCI due to who booked that. This is our second time on a Conquest class ship, which seems to be just about the perfect size. This was our 25th anniversary, and we delayed figuring out what to do, so we booked this a little late in the game and there were not many cabins left! We were in stateroom 6348, which is a balcony room (a first for us). We had Your-Time Dining and Faster to the Fun. And this seems to have ended up longer than I thought!
We live just outside of Atlanta. Miami is a LONG drive, and since it was just the two of us, it was cost effective to fly. We flew into Ft Lauderdale. Southwest was the airline of choice because the ticket price is roughly the same, but they don't charge for bags, which would have been an extra $400 round trip. We debated how to get to Miami. We could have done all public transit for about $10 each. But in the south Florida heat, that is a pain going between three trains (TriRail, MetroRail,MetroMover) hauling everything. We looked at Uber/Lyft, but for the XL we'd need it was about $60. We chose to rent a car one-way from FLL to return at MIA. This was cheaper than the Uber and let use do things. While in the Ft Lauderdale area, we stopped by Rock n Roll Ribs, which is owned by the drummer from Iron Maiden (been a fan for 35 years). Good food at a reasonable price. Just a small little place, but loved it. We were able to stop at Publix and get our one bottle of wine per person, find an ATM, etc. It made getting there more convenient for us.
We stayed at the Hyatt Regency Downtown, which I had booked on Hotwire. I put that off too long and could have had a better deal, but the 23rd floor had a nice view. They had a Caribbean Cooking Conference in town, lots of chefs from the island competing. Would like to have seen more of that - but fun talking to people. Anyway, we drove to the hotel, parked long enough to take the luggage up to the room, freshen up, and just miss the free 30-minute parking. We drove the rental to the Miami airport. This was the worst part. Traffic was miserable. I'm used to Atlanta traffic and this was similar, but I was a stranger in a strange land so it seemed more frustrating, especially having to fill the tank on the rental - note: do not use the shell station right by the road to the rental car center -they are a full dollar higher than the next gas station which is a hundred feet away.
We returned the car, took the MetroRail from the Airport to Government Center downtown, which is where you can transfer to the free MetroMover. We took that a few stops which dumped us near a place name Cafe Manolo and Rene Grill. A little Cuban cafe. Finally got my Cuban coffee and some Cuban style food. We may have been the only non-locals to have been in there, but great place, great service, nice people. We then walked up to the Bayfront Park, took in the sights, and walked the RiverWalk back to the hotel (or as close as we could due to construction) and went to bed. We walked to a local CVS the next morning to get a couple things, had breakfast at a place called the Egg Spot, which was pretty good - just a random little cafe with some good breakfast sandwiches, and went back to get ready to head to the port.
Boarding and Setting Sail
Last time out of Miami, we drove to the port. This time, we had to rely on Lyft, which I had never used before. This was 9:30ish. We were in the hotel lobby. I put in the Port as the address and it gave me an estimate of 15 minutes for pickup and a 8 minute drive. Sounded great. It told me my driver was going Delso and showed me his location on the map...basically the next street over, so we headed outside and he was pulling up. Nice guy - made me a Lyft fan. Some small talk during the ride and he dropped us right outside the Terminal C for the Conquest. So we were at the port and in the Faster to the Fun line at 9:45ish. We were the fourth group in line. Because of all the unknowns as for getting to the port, having to check out of the hotel, etc, this was one of the reasons for getting FTTF. That way we could just start out vacation without any hassles. At 10am they opened the door to get use checked in.
It's been a few years since I've been on Carnival. I will say that their new check-in system amazed me. First person you talk to is a nice Carnival rep who verifies your travel documents. Once those are in order, they use the iPad or iPhone or whatever device it was to take your photo that they used to do at the counter with the webcam. This process took all of 3 minutes for the two of us. Then we go to the security scanner......
So I don't travel lite - we had our bathing suits and a few other things in my wifes bag, and in my backpack I had my kindle, notebook, DSLR, GoPro clone, assortment of chargers, CPAP, two bottles of wine, metal water bottle, and who knows what else. Her bag went through. Mine was scrutinized for a minute or so. Two agents played with the xray for a minute, pointing at this and that, and then they were done. At no point did they look at the wine bottles, the water bottle, or anything. Not that I'm advocating it, but I feel I could have brought almost anything on board in a wine-shaped bottle. Also at no point did we get the questions about have we been sick, etc. We just headed up to the waiting area. At 10:10, we were hanging out in the FTTF waiting area. They actually moved us because they said we'd be loading from the other gangway so we'd be sitting closer to that. At this point, I did have a message from Bank of America - even though I setup a travel advisory for the islands we were going to, they flagged an ATM withdrawl on the drive from Ft Lauderdale. So I called and cleared that up.
At 10:30, they started boarding those needing assistance and Diamond members. Since they were boarding on the west and the 10 of us in the FTTF were boading on the east, they went ahead and started to board us. They didn't have the picture thing setup for the embarkation day photo, with the fake backdrop (hate those anyway). At 10:34, we were onboard the ship heading towards the atrium lobby. We went ahead to our room. They were still turning most of the rooms around, but our door was closed. From what I read online, the room key should be in the mailbox, but nothing was there. We found someone and asked him, who in turn found our room steward who had to pull the envelope out of his stack after looking at our boarding pass...that simple. Honestly, I think they started the boarding without everyone being ready for it. By 10:40am, we were in our room. I know they say that embarkation day is one of your cruise days, but this is the first time we've been able to have that much of it.
We looked out the balcony view, took pictures, changed into bathing suits and went up to Lido. The main pool was closed - netting over it. This seemed weird, but like I said, since we got on so quick, we figured they just weren't ready. We had lunch then. Guy's Burger and Fries! While I didn't have anything from the Lido lunch buffet, it looked a lot better than I remember it...I think they upped their game. I did have dessert though - WOW. German Chocolate Cake was great. They all looked so good, and tasted good too - just couldn't resist - it was vacation and calories are free 🙂
We went back out and the pool was still closed, and they were cleaning the deck area around it still, so we set down for a minute, and then I remembered a feature of the Conquest class ships. We walked all the way through lido to the aft and the adults only pool there. Open and empty. I was able to have my mojito in the pool. We had that pool to ourselves for about an hour. They do need to make the adults only sign bigger, but they had a staff member asking anyone who looked too young their age and not letting them in. I felt bad, especially for those with young kids who were ready to go. I do believe the slide and the smaller pool by the slide base was open. We stayed up there for a while and eventually others started to figure it out, but it never got packed. We'd pretty much had enough sun and pool time before they had the rooms ready for general use. We eventually got out, cleaned up, changed back and walked around the ship for a bit, while everyone was still coming on board. I felt for those hauling luggage and carry-ons with them. I hated doing that before.
Muster was a bit of a cluster. Hurry up and wait in the heat. They scanned one card per room (but would look at the room manifest that came up on their tablet to make sure the whole room was there). Numerous announcements about people needing to get to their station and they can't go on until everyone reports, or they will have to go to the alternate muster briefing in the auditorium. Many people may have had the thought of that being preferable. Once they got that all sorted out and released us, we went back to the room to see if the luggage was there (was not) and chilled for a bit. I happened to look outside and notice the palm trees moving past the ship in the way palm trees typically don't move. We had already pushed off from the dock. For whatever reason, all ships heading out that day were aimed towards the ocean, so the nice turn around in the main turning basin right by downtown did not happen. Was looking forward to that. But since our balcony was on the port side of the ship, we had a nice view of South Beach as we headed out so we just watched from our balcony. But by 4pm, we were clear of the port and in the ocean.
And thus ends the play by play....
I've seen people talk about the older ships showing their age. You'd expect to be walking through having to avoid rust holes in the deck or something. Since I've not been on a super-new ship, something that is 18 years old seemed nice to me! The decor of the ship is a French theme, with the comedy club, theater and dining rooms all having French names (Degas Lounge, Toulouse Latrec and Renoir respectively). The Renoir dining room had Eifell Towers built into the design between the floors, there was a large art mural above the atrium with what I guess was a collection of French paintings, etc. The Promenade level had a real nice look to it. But otherwise, it wasn't that different than the Glory, and at the stateroom level, the Fantasy or Fascination. They were of course constantly cleaning. While we were at sea, they had the Blue Iguana Tequila Bar closed off. They basically stripped and restained/resealed the wood on the bar and chairs this week - the problem with always being in use, there is no downtime to do this.
Maybe one day I'll be on one of the mega ships and know what I'm missing, but I really like this class of ships.
The Fun Staff
The Cruise Director Leigh was pretty good. He had a very quick wit about him, which made all the audience and guest interactions seem very fluid. I know some people treat the CD's like celebrities, but I really don't care...just another person doing their job to me. But he did seem down to earth, which was very nice. He could have an ego etc, but he seemed like the kinda of guy that could stand in front of all 3000 passengers, but at the same time would get you a napkin from the bar if you needed it. They handed out a LOT of glow bracelets at events. Leigh has an amazing arm with these. He will point to who he's throwing it to and had uncanny accuracy.
I actually recognized one of the Fun Staff members from a prior cruise - Lee, formerly known as Princess Marshmellow. So I took that as a sign that I am now a professional cruiser. He mostly ran the comedy club but also did the other activities. Have always found him funny.
Robbie was another on the team who you would see all over doing lots. He or his girlfriend had some extended family on this cruise, so they did a shore excursion in Puerto Rico and happened to be in our group. Somewhere between getting in line for the excursion and getting on the bus, he quickly changed to out of any recognizable Carnival gear. But another guy that seemed to have a big heart.
Adele - she was pretty involved in a lot of stuff. She's from Liverpool and has the perfect level of snark.
Katie - from Canada, and a huge Harry Potter fan. You'd see her all over the ship leading activities, welcoming you back on board, etc. and never seemed to run out of energy. She knew nothing about Game of Thrones and was hilarious watching her handle that trivia session.
The fact that I can remember that many of their names (and Vanessa was another) means they seemed down to earth, interactive, human, etc...
They had 4 Funtime Productions, one of which I'd seen before
Epic Rock - rock anthems done by the production cast with some cool visuals
Heart of Soul - more of a 70s r&b soul walkthrough, loosely telling the story of a guy and girl trying to connect, etc. While good, it really only had the two leads really singing and the rest just danced and provided some harmony or background
Flick - this was cool. Hard to describe, but basically one persons "journey" via film. So lots of songs from movies combined with some really cool stage effects. During a medley of sci-fi themes, they did some stuff with lasers that make your draw drop. Before it, they had a red carpet event, where they would bring various people onto camera and interview them. Leigh would address you by some celebrity name you may have 4% resembled. But the production itself was amazing to watch
80s Extravaganza - this was a run through a bunch of 80s songs by the cast. Cool visuals with it. Very Michael Jackson heavy, which seemed a little weird after all the recent stuff with his music being pulled.
Clue Gameshow - we went to the kick off for this not knowing what it was. Basically, you have to play Clue - but it's over the course of the week. They have different events in which a clue will be given. It helps to drive participation at the event, but I'm not sitting though 40 minutes of bingo to hear a clue, so we didn't play. But the kickoff was worth seeing. It was the above Fun Crew, dressed as the different characters from the game. They would go around the audience beforehand interacting. It was very funny. Robby as a drunk Col. Mustard was a highlight!
Lights! Camera! Inter-Action! - we had no idea what this was. It's a new (6 months old) game thing only on a few ships. Various activities where audience members get pulled up to participate. One they flashed a character behind the person and their assistant had to find the clothes on the rack to dress them up as that character. Mrs Doubtfire and Jack Sparrow were the ones which was funny to see. They had a memory game, and a few greenscreen things which were very funny. It made for a good 40 minutes on a sea day.
Carnival Quest - the adult game show. While this can be funny, it wasn't as good as the last time I saw it (albeit still better than what RCI does). Basically if you're easily offended, don't go, but it's a series of the CD saying "I need a team to show me this" It may be three fun times, it may be a girl wearing guys shoes, it may be...well, it's fun to watch.
They had a number of bands on board. The always present steel drum player, someone playing Calypso, solo guitarist, piano bar. Didn't catch any of those (other than the steel drum on Lido). But they had 4 other bands
String Trio - can't remember the actual name, but it was a violin, viola and cello. They may play classical music, they may play classic rock, they may play recent chart toppers. These three were amazing to watch. They were probably my favorite.
Latidos - latin music duo. Caught a slight bit of them. They sounded good, but didn't see enough to say.
Horn Stars - yup...gotta be careful saying that one. But a trumpet, trombone and sax. Didn't see a full one of their shows, but they also did a great job. Just not my cup of tea
Whiskey Business - drums, bass, keyboard, guitar and two singers. They played well together, and they had a number of sets with Horn Stars also playing with them. When they stuck to the 70's R&B and that style, they did great. They did the 50s/60s pretty good to. Did not see their country set, we were at dinner, but were curious how they'd pull that off. Their 80s set, wasn't bad, but two issues: They were on Lido and something was wrong with the sound levels which didn't help. And the male singer, who had a great voice, just didn't seem to have the power with it he needed. "Don't you forget about me" the "hey hey hey HEY", Jim Kerr puts a lot of strength and feeling into it. This version felt more like a laid back lounge version of it. Not bad, but just not the right genre for him.
As I mentioned earlier, the food on Lido seemed to have been stepped up in the last few years. I didn't have lunch from the buffet but I saw things I would have liked if I wasn't already stuffed. Breakfast continued to be great. French Toast, Grits, Potato of the day, bacon and maybe a burrito from Blue Iguana. Only thing that didn't make sense is they had sausage gravy, but no biscuits...those two go hand and hand.
We had Your Time Dining. In the past, the set dining time, we found it either too rushed back from shore or interfering with something else we wanted to do, so I prefer the YTD, and we got lucky it was available. We never had a bad experience in the MDR. I will say the first night, I was a little unsure of the headwaiter in our section. I'm sure he was tired, but just seemed to be some sort of attitude. Each night we had a different staff as they kept locating us at various places around the room. On Thursday night, we had a gentleman named Win as our headwaiter. I wish we had found him earlier. He was probably the best waiter I've had in all the cruises. We asked for him Friday as well, and Anne, the sweet hostess said lots of people ask for him.
The food seemed to be the typical fare they rotate through. I think this is the first cruise I didn't have to drop back to the always present pork loin or flat-iron steak. I always found something worth trying. I'm not the kind to make note of everything I had, but there were a few appetizers that didn't have much flavor to them, but everything else was good. The meat lasagna was incredible - and you actually had a huge portion. For the first time, we actually ordered multiple appetizers and one night two entrees because we couldn't decide. Don't normally do that, but figured why not - I knew how much I was paying for this trip! On the Lobster tail night, I ordered that even though I don't eat lobster so my wife could have mine. I was probably full from dinner the night before anyway, so I didn't care.
Again, about Win. We know he has two daughters back home he misses. On the second night (which was the last night), he gave me a hug goodbye. And then on debarkation morning, he must have been walking by in the kitchen cause he saw us in the Lido buffet line, poked his head out and said goodbye to us by name. We'd known him for less than two hours. Amazing person.
Grand Turk - Power Scooter Snorkeling - not bad. Shuttles between the port and location every 20 or so minutes. The snorkeling was neat - you go to where it drops from 25ft depth to 7000ft. Saw a sea turtle and a nurse shark. Lunch at the site was good, and you had a nice beach area to use. Not packed at all like right off the ship was.
San Juan - San Juan Favorites and Rainforest - slight messup with getting us on this one. I was joking in line that there were so many people for this one we'd have to sit on each others lap. Well, we get to our tour shuttle bus thing, and someone miscounted and there was one seat left for the two of us. The driver took us back inside, told the inside guy what happened. He recounted, but instead of trying to force a fix, he put us in front of the line for the next one, which worked out as it was the last one, and not full. Our guide, Rocky, was a treat to listen to. Not sure why it's called San Juan's favorites - you go to the fort and that's it...in getting there you pass other things, but it's not multiple stops. The old fort was really cool - could have used some more time there, it's huge. The drive to the rain forest again was full of info about the island. The rain forest, you drove up to a tower, got out and climbed that for a good view, drove a tiny bit back down to see the waterfall, again getting out for 20 minutes or so, then head back to the ship. He does stop at a "gift" shop on the way back. Should have tried the beer - they let you bring it on the bus. They had a sign saying credit card machine not working today -cash only. But when we put a few things back due to not enough cash, they decided it was working today after all. Trying to avoid those fees I'm sure!
St Thomas - Magen's Bay and Paradise Point - an open air vehicle across the island, pointing out some facts, stopping at Drake's Seat for an amazing view, a couple hours at the beach, then a trip back across to the lift that goes to Paradise Point, which has an amazing view, some gift shops an a restaurant. You then head down on your own and walk the block back to the ship. The service at the restaurant was a bit slow, but have had much worse. Decent food, and strong drinks!
Amber Cove - we stayed in port - we were going to do the Casa on La Playa, but with all the weirdness, she didn't want to go anymore. Plus we'd already been to the beach twice and were tired at this point, so we just saved our money (cancelled before we set sail). The port was kinda nice. The pool area was packed, but still enjoyable. Wife liked the water slide, I was too heavy for it. She said they had a scale up there. One person was complaining his son had been down 5 times but now he was too short for it. Had a drink at the very overpriced restaurant. If alcohol was the source of the poisoning on the island, I was perfectly safe with how weak this was. Did a little shopping in port and went back on board. Saw someone miss the other ship that was in port. They waited 40 minutes for him after on-board.
We had to go a couple times - once because my Sail and Sign card went on an excursion somewhere without me. They replaced it, told me to call when I'm in my room to have someone come and get into the safe for me, since I had used it to lock it - seems common based on her quick response. One time because the Bank declined a hold they were putting on for on board stuff, even though the money was there. We went to change the backing card and since no passengers were at Customer Service we just went to the regular line, not the FTTF line as the one person at work was at the regular side. Since we were FTTF and had the dedicated line, they asked to make sure we had the sticker on there.
The only thing I'd classify as bad was the first night. We were on the balcony just staring at the ocean and the room lights started to flicker. The steward was trying to get our attention to introduce himself. I'm sure he knocked, etc and this was a last resort since you can't hear on the balcony. But still it seemed odd - was introducing himself really that important to let himself in? We had the option of morning service, evening service or both. We opted for morning since we'd be off the ship most mornings and less interrupting each other. Honestly, give me fresh towels and I'm good to go, so no need to make the bed twice a day, etc.
So, I try not to be negative, and while nothing really was a "I'm contacting John Heald" moment...
- The main Lido pool was only open for about a couple of hours on Saturday - no idea why. They opened it after setting sail, but it was closed again by dinner. The aft pool, slide and other pool were open.
- Drinks - they seemed very weak, other than the martinis.
- Promenade - the casino reeks of cigarette smoke and spills out. I hated going down deck 5 for anything.
- Nightclub - I've always thought it silly (like it's some trendy place, but on a ship), but we found our room was at the edge of the casino near the nightclub. While not overpowering, you could hear the bass at night, but my CPAP tended to drown that out in white noise. I did happen to talk to someone just down the hall who was right under it. He said they stay up late. He wasn't too happy about his room location.
- Room location - nice thing about our location is it was about 30 steps from the midship elevators, which made going to Lido for anything fast and easy. Slight bit of a walk for the atrium and MDR, but nothing bad at all.
- Pixels and pictures - Normally they take tons of photos getting onboard, bug you at each port, bug you at dinner, etc. They seemed to have scaled this back, or gotten less annoying, taking no for an answer. We only saw them twice at dinner (could be a YTD timing issue). Even though I said no, they still insisted. Cut off half my head. But on the plus side, they don't print all the pictures anymore - it's all digital which is nice. Much less waste, and easier to find the pictures
- The Carnival Hub app - this was something nice to use. I could pull up the dinner menu, find our pictures, and pull up the fun times. It worked 90% of the time. Occasionally, then Fun Times part would display, blink away and say unable to display. While not perfect, it typically made things easier. Too bad you can't access it off the ship. We had AT&T service in Puerto Rico, and it'd have been nice to see what was for dinner on the ship to decide if we wanted to eat there or in San Juan.
- Free water - we each should have had a free bottle of water. When we boarded we just saw the "use and pay" bottles. However, later that evening the free ones did show up.
- Luggage - our luggage showed up around 4-5 maybe. While I know FTTF is no guarantee, you'd think that as early as we were on board an checked in, it would have made it there faster, but I'm sure it gets packed onto something moved onto the ship with lots of other things packed in front of it or something. No big deal.
- Serenity - somehow we ended up finding a free clamshell thing. Stayed in there a little bit...found them hot and uncomfortable. Much prefer the half-shaded loungers or sofas.
- Poor sick girl - some young teen was running for the ladies and didn't quite make it. Hope she was okay...but that was right in front of the shore excursions deck. Not sure if I got splash on me or not, but went up to my room to wash my foot off anyway!
- Cheers - we did not get this. My wife can't drink and we'd have to pay about $700 for the two of us. Our (my) alcohol bill was about $140. Maybe the cost did keep me from buying too much (basically $10-12 per drink) but there is no way I think I'd get the moneys worth out of it.
- Motion - I took my ginger pills for motion sickness and never felt anything except the last night due to some storms, but even that was nothing to speak of. I am sitting at my desk at home and my body is having trouble with the fact that I'm not moving more than anything.
Since we had no rush, we did the relaxed on where we put the luggage out the night before. They called our tag numbers while we were hanging out in the room waiting for 8:30, so we started to head down. The line stretched up to deck 4, then down, through the theater and around the lobby and out. We instead walked across 4, downstairs in the Renoir dining room to our FTTF debarkation point. Soon enough a staff member came and got us and worked us into near the front of the debarkation line. We found our luggage, showed customs our drivers license and were out of there in no time.
We waited for the Enterprise rental shuttle to get to the airport, which took a bit, and we started to wonder. It looked like it could pour at any moment which did help with the temperature. When it finally did start to lightly rain, they moved everyone back under the awnings, and of course that is when the shuttle bus showed up. We got on along with others, including a family of seven, each with two large bags! We got our car, drove back to Ft Lauderdale, found a place to get some coffee, drove over by the ocean (didn't get out since it was raining). Had some Skyline Chili, went out to Sawgrass Mills mall for my wife to go to Vera Bradley, and then to the airport. Our flight back to Atlanta was delayed about 50 minutes, but we only arrived about 15 minutes late, caught our ride home from my aunt, caught up with the kids and crashed hard!!!
So....in the end, that's my story. If you read this far...wow. It grew in the telling. Hope this helps someone. I just really don't get negative about things if I can help it. Sure - there was a group cheating at trivial pursuit, but it's not that big of a deal...we beat them anyway. Sure, people get in line for an omelette, and end up getting one for each of the 5 people at their table. Sure, towels are on the deck chairs at 7am, but still plenty of places to sit. But overall, not really worth worrying about