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Conquest Review - Sept 10-17, 2006, Pt I


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Sorry I'm so late with this review. Between work, post-cruise depression and some minor illness, I'm running late.

 

The cruise was our (DW & myself, both early 50's) second. We went with my parents, this was their 5th or 6th cruise. They flew in on Saturday and were driven to the port by Mom's sister.

 

We flew in from Salt Lake City to Houston Bush on Sunday and used Carnival transfers to the port. I'll pass on a same day flight in the future. No problems, but my own self induced stress over "Will we make it?" Carnival reps at the bottom of the stairs were very visible, and said a bus would be 30-60 minutes. We boarded the bus about 40 minutes later.

 

The drive to Galveston was about an hour and 45 minutes, partially due to very heavy rainstorms. Embarkation was easy, just make sure the luggage is off the bus on a porter's cart then off you go. We were exactly one hour from curb to onboard.

 

Ran into Mom & Dad right away. They had boat drinks in hand, and were about to head upstairs to the cabins. We got drinks and all went up to our balcony cabins on Lido deck. We had no problems. Dad's card did not work in the cabin door, but Mom's did. (More on this later). Rooms were ready, but Dad's was not really clean. A bag of trash was under the desk behind the trash can, and a glass with cigarette buts was on the balcony. We picked that up and left it in the hall.

 

We dropped carry-ons and went for a light snack. The forward buffet area was very crowded, but the aft area was quick and easy. Explored the ship, did the lifeboat drill, watched sailaway from the bow and then went to dinner.

 

It took a while to find the Monet Restaurant. I knew deck 3 & 4 aft, but failed to remember that neither of those decks is a through deck. You have to use deck 5 Promenade or 9 Lido to get from one end of the ship to the other. We arrived at about 6:05 for the 5:45 dining. We were not really taken to our table, rather told "keep going aft on this side". After one or two more "keep going", we found our table. Nice table for 4 on the upper level, overlooking the lower dining. Waiter Joavan from India was excellent, fun and attentive. Assistant Iliana from Bulgaria was good, although at times she tried to hard.

 

Food was always good, well prepared and served hot. We ordered a Coke for DW to drink that first night, and one was offered (unopened) every night thereafter. We ordered a bottle of wine several nights, and again it was offered if we did not request it. Dining staff and food exceeded our expectations.

 

After dinner we went to the pursers desk to fix Dad's room card. Long line, and an angry, almost abusive, couple ahead of us, but we were treated properly. We asked about getting the balcony divider opened and got another card. Went upstairs and the card still did not work. Cabin steward showed up about that time, and he tried the card. Then he told us to go back to the pursers desk. Dad asked for his minibar to be unlocked, and we went back downstairs. We were allowed to "cut the line", and this time the purser asked what else he had in his pocked where he put the key. Cell phones and room cards apparently do not mix. New card, and this time it worked.

 

When we got back to the room the balcony divider was open, but the minibar was not. Our cabins were set up so the cabin doors and the balcony doors were side by side. This meant the divider blocked one door (mine) when it was open. Not a big deal, but a little hassle getting the door open every time. We tried bungee cords, but ended up securing the divider in the open position all the time and puting up with the blocked door.

 

I had brought a box of wine and a collapsable cooler, and left a note for the steward to fill the cooler with ice. That was done, and the cooler was kept full. Dad asked him once or twice more to open his minibar, and it was never done. As you might imagine, Dad did not have a high opinion of this cabin steward. I feel the rooms were well kept with no problems. Cabin crew met expectations.

 

Monday DW & I took in the Newlywed game, and found it great. We also attended the tour and travel talk, and changed our plans for Jamaica. We had a meet with the others from our Cruise Critic rollcall. Great meeting all of you. Next time I'll bring a sign to put on a table. Catball, where were you? We appeared to be an interesting group, although no one talked much.

 

Monday night was the first formal night. We had lots of photos taken, and bought several. Lobster was perhaps a little overdone, but otherwise no complaints. DW's prime rib was very good. The Las Vegas style show was good, but all of us old people felt the sound was turned up more than it needed to be. I had planned to see the midnight comic Phat Kat, but turned in early.

 

Tuesday we lived on the Lido deck. Bloody Mary's, water slide and people watching. I think this night was the Past Guest party (or as Dad calls it, the Previous Offenders party. DW & I missed the Captain's party, so made it a point to attend this. Get there a little early for a good seat. We didn't, and were in the back of the lounge right under a set of speakers. After dinner, we saw the Ron Joseph show. Again, we thought it was good, but the volume could be turned down. Somewhere in here DW went to the jewlery sale, a ritual which became nightly.

 

More to follow.

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Gee, I take 30 minutes off to rest my typing finger, and MrsMustWork is on already. I did enjoy meeting you, and yes, we should have spent more time with friends. Don't know that it would have affected the S&S bill, though.

 

Anyway....

 

Wednesday, Montego Bay Jamaica.

 

I got up early as always, got a little breakfast and took some tea and pastries to DW in the cabin. We watched jamaica approach, and went up on deck to watch the arrival. The way they can swing that large ship into a small space is amazing.

 

We had initally planned on Sunset Beach for a day of relaxing, but after the tours talk decided to try the Sea Trek helmets. The tour departs early from the terminal building, and we were some of the first there. After what seemed like a long wait, we were off. The bus takes you to Dr's Cave beach, where we got about 45 minutes of instruction. The group was too large to take all at once, so the early group (8 people?) headed to the dock while we waited on the beach / in the water. There was a couple of locals asking if we wanted marijuana. We noticed that beach security talked with them, but did not run them off. Later we saw one dig up a tupperware container from the sand, I guess that's where they hid their stuff from security. Water was warm and clear, with a few fish. When our turn came, the first group all said it was a fantastic experience. They were right.

 

Basically, you climb down a ladder. Just before you get your chin wet, they put a 70 lb helmet on your head. The helmet is attached to an air hose, and air pressure keeps the water out. You climb down the ladder, and two scuba divers take you around some reefs, show you things, take pictures of you with your camera, etc. We were underwater for about an hour, and I could have stayed all day. Water is about 10-15 feet deep, and very clear. They attracted fish with food, and the fish were swarming around. We all agreed that it was a very worthwhile tour. One note of caution, if you have trouble clearing your ears on an airplane, this may not be for you. You do need to clear your ears to equalize the pressure every step down, both on the ladder and once out by the reef.

 

One of the people with us had purchased a "waterproof" case onboard for his cards & cash. This is a plastic case with a cord to hang around your neck., about $5.00 if I remember correctly. It was full of water when he got out of the water.

 

The tour was over a lunchtime, and we went back to the ship to eat. Lido deck buffets were easy to get through, then we headed to Jimmy Buffets Margaritaville. We had printed off coupons from the internet for free Margaritas, but the waiter didn't accept them. Music was very loud, place very crowded and I didn't argue. Drinks were good. My DW got a Pania Colota (sp), and the rum was in a plastic test tube thing. She appreciated that, because she likes her drinks a little weaker than most. I appreciated it for the shot of excess rum. Very smooth. If anyone knows what brand of rum they use, please let me know. I want to get some. After drinks, we enjoyed the view. Great pictures of the cruise ships in the port in addition to watching some folks on the waterslide and party boats. We did some shopping downstairs at the shop, then we ran the gauntlet of cab drivers to shop elsewhere. Advice to future cruisers - skip this. Nothing worth buying and every step you take another driver is asking if you "Need a ride back to the boat, Mon?" We had arrainged for our driver to wait for us at Margaritaville, and were back onboard by 4:00. Shopping at the cruise terminal was better than that in town.

 

We went out on deck to watch the sailaway, and had a great show. There was a band doing a short marching routine, and Rasta off to the side directing. Lots of people tossing coins or bills from their balcony to the performers. No wonder they think all american tourists are rich. Eventually the list of "passenger so & so, call the purser" list was down to three. One comes running from the terminal, then two more in wheelchairs. These last two were expected, because they had to rearainge the ramp to accomidate them. The ramp was too steep for the chairs, so some pushing was required. We sailed perhaps 10 minutes late.

 

Deji did her magic routine in the show lounge. She was good. I think this was the night DW bought the ring, an emerald surrounded by small diamonds. Carnival says in a piece of jewlery fails to appraise for twice what you pay for it, they will buy it back. We spent about $300. After getting home I asked a local jeweler for a quick guess. He spent perhaps 15 minutes looking at the ring and said the stone was about $600, with the ring & diamonds perhaps another $700. I'll buy more from Carnival in the future.

 

Thursday Grand Cayman

 

Tenders are a bit of a hassle. We had an early island tour, and were waiting in the lounge. They called out tours and times, and groups left for the tenders. We were asked to walk down the stairs, and it was crowded and hot. The space on deck 0 where you board tenders from filled up quickly, but the group soon moved forward. We ended up forward on the tender inside a glassed in area with no air and engine fumes. I'm glad we were amoung the last ones on, that would have been a bad place to sit for too long. Once we were moving things were fine. Short tender run to the dock, and we were off. The biggest holdup getting off the tender was the Carnival people taking pictures. You can just move around that, but it's not obvious and many people waited - slowing those still on the tender.

 

Grand Cayman seems to have designed their port to bottleneck cruise passengers. We were directed to a sign for our tour. Our group grew and blocked the exit from the terminal on one side, while the same thing happened with another tour group from the other side. When the time came we were walked about two blocks to a bus lot, and loaded.

 

The Hell, Turtle Farm and Stingray City tour could be shortened by skipping Hell. It's a small rockey area about the size of two yards in the suburbs, a post office and two or three shops. The shops are full of people, and the clerks in no hurry to speed things up. Lots of chickens running around outside. We spent perhaps 20 minutes in Hell, and that was about 15 minutes too long.

 

The Turtle farm starts with a stop at a rum cake store. Good cake, and prices better than in town later. Much better than on board. The turtle farm itself is good, and I could have spent more time there. The gift shop is a great quality shop, worthy of most you see in any American museum. I didn't spend enough money there, as the shop supports the turtle farm efforts.

 

Travel from port to Hell & Turtle farm is slow and congested. I was surprised to see so much traffic considering the population of the island is mostly on the other side. We did pass 7 mile beach, and it looked good. Lots of luxury hotels. some hurricane damage is still noticeable (big one in 2004). This is not an island I'd want to be on in a big storm.

 

Stingray City was the highlight of the trip. After all I had read about big Carnival groups, we were pleased to be loaded on a small boat (25 or so). The ride out to the sandbar was longer than I expected. The experience was wonderful. Holding the rays, getting pictures taken, then feeding them. A word of warning, if the guide asks if you want to see the stingrays teeth, back up. Mom got a little close and the stingray pumped water out through it's mouth about 3 feet and splashed her in the face. Great fun unless you are the person getting spit on.

 

You hear a lot about cameras and security online. Take your camera on the trip. There are places for bags on the boat, and everyone is in the water. Next time (assuming the water is as calm as it was that day) I'll take my good digital onto the sandbar with me. The little underwater disposable was good, but I'll save that for the underwater shots.

 

Good pictures were taken by the tour guides, but they were pricey. $15 for the first, $10 for each additional. They give you a CD to take with you, then you print them out at home.

 

More later...

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Thursday ... continued

 

After stingrays we returned to the port. DW & I did some shopping while parents went back to the ship. Margaritaville is right across the street from the port. Much better selection and much less crowded than the Margaritaville in Montigo Bay. Didn't go upstairs to the bar, but we could tell it was lively. Wed night on board DW picked up a coupon for a free saphire at one of the stores. We found the place and the stone. Not very large or clear, but free non the less. We also picked up a couple of stingray necklaces, one for DW & one for Mom. That store (next to Hard Rock Cafe) had a great selection of shipwreck coins made into jewelery. Good pictures of all 4 ships in port from that area as well.

 

We hit a liquor store for some Appleton Rum (it wasn't the rum from DW's drink). I've found the same rum on board for $2.00 more and at home for $5.00 more. We got into line for a tender about 1:30. Last tender is at 3:00. We waited about 30 minutes and were amoung the first to board. We found seats upstairs with a good breeze. Quick sandwich on Lido & more wine on the balcony for sailaway. We watched an NCL ship leave, then it was our turn. Dad & I both took pictures of the water changing colors as we started to move. His turned out much more realistic than mine, I wonder why? Both of us have good digital cameras with 5 mp resolution.

 

After dinner, DW & I went to the Piano Bar to check out Damian whom everyone has been raving about. He was good, but again these old ears can't take too much volume. I'd have been happier if he had turned things down about 40%.

 

Friday Cozumel, kind of...

 

When I went to early breakfast, I could see Cozumel on the horizon and another cruise ship out in front of us. It was fun watching the approach. We ate on Lido deck and then to the showroom for tender tickets. Tender 1 went to Cozumel, but we had the Tulum tour scheduled. Tender 2 went across to Playa del Carmen, and we went with it. Be sure you get on the proper tender. The tour group (about 100) was organized on one side of the pier, then marched (hurried along) through several shopping areas to two buses on the street. This was the longest walk, and done at a fairly brisk pace. Probably wasn't a half a mile, but was slightly uphill. It was plenty for my parents and DW. Vendors walking along asking you to buy their hats & sunglasses. The hats were actually a good buy, although we skipped getting one.

 

Once on the buses it seemed to take forever to get out of town. Tour guide kept up a running discussion of Mayan culture and language. We stopped at a shop to see "authentic Mayan artifacts" being made, and again had the oppertunity to buy a hat (for about 1/3 more than the street vendors). Free shots of Taquila, lots of junk, just a typical mexican shopping experience. The restrooms were reasonably clean, though. As we got back on the bus, the driver was offering iced beer at $2.00 a bottle. This was the best price for a beer I got the entire cruise.

 

Near Tulum, the guide started talking about a silver deal with your name on it in Mayan in either gold or silver. "Ideal for a necklace or charm." DW & Mom both ordered one - "The people will meet us in the parking lot, take the order forms back to their village, create your nameplate and have it back to you when you board the bus." We turned in the order forms and followed the guide around a small shopping area (think flea market) to the "shuttle bus stop". It was very hot and humid. We were offered the shuttle bus for only $2.00 each (I think) or take a "short 1/4 mile walk up the hill." The guide strongly recommended the shuttle, and so do I. It's more of a trailer with benches behind a farm tractor type of thing, but it was sitting.

 

Once at the ruins themselves, it was more long walking. The guide offered several more cultural tidbits and lots of language lessons. I could have used less of that and more about the actual buildings we were about to see. I am a sign reader, and read every sign I saw, but I feel I saw lots of ruins but don't really know what I looked at. The ocean views and beach were fantastic. Parents and DW spent more time on benches in the shade looking at the iguanas, they were wild and all over.

 

Shuttle back down the hill to the flea market, and one of the first shops we saw was stamping out the nameplates. The prices were higher than those offered on the bus. DW's name has 5 letters. $68 on the bus, $84 (I think) at the shop (or should I call it a village?). Finished product does look nice though. We got some cold drinks and sat in the shade, then boarded the bus. We were given a "box lunch" as we got on, and I bought another cheap beer. The lunch wasn't much, a cheese sandwich and bag of chips. Also a water or coke. Long ride back into town, quick rush past all the shops and back on the last tender for the ship.

 

It seems to me that the area could do much better by bringing the buses closer, saving some time and walking, and allowing tourists 30 minutes or so in their shops. I could have stopped a Senior Frogs and picked up some of the "Original Souvenirs and other cool stuff." There was literally no time at all for shopping, other than the store on the way out and at Tulum itself.

 

Dining room was less and less full every night. I don't understand that. The food was great, and to me is a part of the cruise experience. It's the oppertunity to try new things (India sampler) or one of those great meals you have heard of but never fix at home (Beef Wellington). Dad & I both tried the India sampler, to the great delight of Joavan. He said it was "a little spicy" and it was. Not for the faint of stomach.

 

 

Saturday

 

Ate breakfast in the dining room for the second time this cruise. I should have done that more. More Lido deck time. Bloody Mary's in the morning, beer and boatdrinks in the afternoon. Chocolate Buffet in the afternoon along with the Battle of the Sexes on deck and Newlywed Game in the lounge. We paced another cruise ship for much of the day. We passed on the Legends show, and enjoyed the balcony. It became obvious that I either spent too much time on boatdrinks or brought too much wine. I ended up leaving about 1/3 of it. Hope the cabin steward enjoyed it.

 

Late that night we passed close to several oil platforms. They are really lit up at night. Luggage went out that night.

 

Sunday

 

Watched docking in Galveston from the balcony. Ate a final Lido breakfast. Parents got off early with their carry-ons. I need to learn to travel that light. We waited for the deck above us to be called, then went to deck 4. We were some of the first to deck 3 for disembark when our deck was called. Standard hassles finding luggage, with one new twist. The luggage for the upper decks was past the lower deck luggage then past the customs line-up. Lots of people stopping at the customs line thinking they had passed their luggage. Someone needs to think this one through a little better.

 

Long wait once we reached the bus, mostly to shuffle luggage to accomidate a motorized wheelchair. Stop at Hobby, then Bush terminal C, then terminal A. A long wait for a flight, then home.

 

Cruise Vacations are great, but they are what you make of them. I'd go again in a minute no matter what problems I've talked about.

 

 

Things to skip

Same day flight in.

Margaritaville & shopping in Montego Bay

Tulum - been there, done that, don't need to do it again.

Piano Bar (just too damn loud)

Sunburn

4+ hours in Bush Airport waiting for a 3 hour flight

Pack damp water shoes in a plastic bag, then wait a week to open at home.

 

Things to do again or at least once:

More beach time

midnight comic

Stingray City (the highlight of the trip)

The Jungle zip line (one I wanted to do,but didn't)

find that good rum from Margaritaville, Mo Bay

Margaritaville Grand Cayman

Cozumel (I'd like to go there)

Newlywed game

Blood Power (never found the time)

CC log book ( I saw it, but never wrote in it)

Spend more time with CC buddies on board

Take more cruises with DW & parents

 

I hope I have told it like it was. If I can answer any questions, please ask. Thank you for reading. Thank you also to all of you whose previous reviews helped me make so much of this trip. I'll see you on the seas soon, I'm already starting to plan the next cruise.

 

I'll be cruising again when the snow melts,

Dave

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