May 2017 - Carnival Conquest to Caribbean - Bahamas
Not a fan of staggered embarkation. No one arrives at their assigned times. Everyone comes early filling the staging hall to maximum with many finding no seats. Our local transportation (our son who lives in Fort Lauderdale) had to be at work at 11:30 so, we got dropped off at 10:30. We had a 12:30 assigned slot so, obviously we expected to wait. The hall was filled within an hour. Boarding was delayed (I have no problem with that) until around 1p and went smoothly by groups/zones. People seemed respectful of their zones and that of others giving way when needed. I think Carnival is the only line that does this. My point is why bother. Did not use Faster to the Fun. The advantages are few (can sit in a separate area -nothing special. Board in about the 3rd group - no big advantage for smaller ships as groups move quickly once boarding is underway. Is advantageous for Vista).
Conquest is a very nice ship to the eyes, mine anyway. I like a shippy look. Lots of real woods, teak decks, darker nautical colors. Conquest is like that. The theme of French 18th century artists is carried nicely throughout the entire ship. I also like this size of the Conquest Class ships - not too big (Vista) or too small (Fantasy Class) ...... and the features: Funship 2.0.
All 5 ships in this class can have a confusing layout for newcomers. You can't walk all the way through on decks 3 and 4 making finding your assigned restaurant hard. Once you figure out how to do that, it's easy. Do some planning before you set out for dinner to avoid fumbling around getting there.
One of the things I like about Carnival are the dining choices. Lots of different venues and I don't mind Carnivals very reasonable up charges on a comparative basis for specialty dining (Celebrity has gotten ridiculous). The food quality, variety and presentation is very good. On our 3 most recent Carnival cruises, table service in the MDRs has been excellent. On Conquest, and I don't know if this is a corporate initiative that is fleet wide, there is a team of 3 that will have several tables. Service was timely, not intrusive and fun. Staff work to connect with guests, something that is diminishing on other lines that have cut dinning room staff to the bare minimum.
My experience with Carnival over the last decade reveals a concerted effort on the part of the company to improve that aspect of the customer's cruise experience. It's working! Besides it's size, this is one of the reasons Carnival is the most profitable cruise ship company in the world. It's reflective of the suits listening to what cruisers have to say about their products. Bravo.
The buffet on the Lido deck (9) is the usual cramped and crowded space that does not handle crowds well as is common with this class ship. Vista has another 3000 folks, is a 1/3 again bigger than Conquest and the buffet on that ship remains crowded. No lessons learned here. Still, the food is attractive and tasty with nice variety. Here's the secret: time your visits to the buffet a bit before they close for the breakfast or lunch serving. A plus: there's plenty of seating. Overall, the arrangement of the dining options on the Lido is very good.
BlueIguana Cantina on the pool deck 9: Gets busy, quick, fun and tasty. I get a little iffy about the condiments bar associated with this dining venue: too many dirty fingers touching stuff but that's just me. It's probably fine.
Guy's Burgers: really good. Love the fries. A bit greasy overall. Bring your Tums and enjoy.
Seafood Shack: well conceved; reasonable upcharge of $6 to $12 per plate. Nice option. Fish and chips and fried shrimp at $6 a good bet. The fryer oil is probably not hot enough (dishes tend to be a tad oily) but the whole thing works well. It's a fav of mine. I'm a bit of a fried seafood snob. The seafood is very good. Fresh catch fish deep fried or grilled is excellent.
Steak House: on 6 Carnival cruises we've done this once (Breeze). It was fabulous. 5 star service at $35 per head. Celebrity took the lead with specialty dining in the mid 90s. Since then they've managed to ruin it with cost cutting. Murano, somewhat the equivalent, is now $75 per head. Millennium Class ships used to feature Ocean Liners of the golden age of cruising themed restaurants. They were huge favorites of ours but they've recently been phased out replacing them with the Tuscan grill. Not even close and at a comparable price they are not as good as Carnival's Steak House. Good on Carnival. A thought: you can pay a $20 upcharge in the MDR and get the same cuts of beef if you're hankering for a good steak. We got connected to our servers and table mates (traditional late seating, 4 top) and would not have paid the $70 to go specialty. Just my opinion.
Didn't do the sushi thing. Can't comment and I do like sushi.
Over our nearly 20 years of cruising, I've gotten adept at fleshing out little differences in cabins within a class. First, we book OV cabins most of the time (special occasions may prompt a splurge) to extend our annual cruise budget. You can find jewels within this cabin class by ship. The Conquest Class ship's aft cabins on deck 2 and 3 are spacious if you don't mind engine noise when docking or departing. I don't but that is me. It might bother some and the bigger space may not be worth the aggravation (cabin 2474 - there are 4 of these on Conquest Class ships). Another option are the OVs adjacent to the two Captain's suites. Huge picture windows - very nice.
We are not pool people. Carnival to their detriment, has the smallest pools and most crowded pool decks of all the lines we've cruised on (6). The nice thing about the mid-sized Carnival fleet is that there are plenty of pool and water slide options. Depending on your desires, you should check this out before you book a ship.
Shows and entertainment: our love is production shows. The two shows on this 4n cruise were excellent. Vocals and production quality was equal to anything in Vegas. We aren't Comedy club enthusiasts so can't comment. Our table mates: two married ladies in there 50s on a girls cruise, loved it. I've heard that from others. Something worth commenting on: the theaters on Conquest are well laid out with excellent site lines. Vista, supposedly bringing a more intimate show experience was just awful. Whoever thought out the theater design bombed completely. If you like big shows, stick with the Conquest Class ships or do some research on other classes. VIsta, In this regard, was disappointing.
OK, so one of favorite aspects of Celebrity lines is the Martini Bar and the Flair Bartenders. Carnival offers the Alchemy Bar. I liked it but I'm a classic martini guy. Don't care for sweet drinks or cucumber infused vodka. Celebrity tried to keep up with drinks like this in a specialty bar that failed stupendously. Anyway, the Bartenders at the Alchemy Bar were fun. Knowledgeable mixologists and the gal from Belarus knew exactly how to make classic martinis but regretted she didn't have some good Russian vodka. I drank Belvedere. Polish.
Fitness: we cruise to not only have some quality time together but to exercise together. Gyms on Conquest ships are more than 2x bigger than on Vista. We won't cruise that ship again because of that. We did every free class and I spin and did that 3X. The pay classes are $12 each. My wife refuses to pay that. The fitness instructor, from South Africa was excellent. Probably one of the best Steiner employees (the contractor providing this service on the majority of cruise lines) we've come across.
Carnival culture or what the crowd your cruising with is like: familes, kids and fun. Carnival does a very good job with the fun thing. It's all over; it's a corporate goal and it permeates every Carnival cruise we've been on. I like it. Not every one will. That is because there are folks who cruise that over do the Fun with excessive alcohol consumption. I've seen these types on every line I've been on except maybe Oceania. Celebrity, our go to line, has some of that too. A little bit more high brow, and less kids and family oriented, Celebrty has a differnt feel for us - each to his own (we are in our early 70s and retired. Our kids are our grand kids and we have cruised with them and Carnival over Disney, based on Price alone, was our pick).
On drink packages: calculate your daily consumption and see if this works for you. Unlike Carnival, Celebrity havily markets and discounts it's drink packages and prices them in to their incentive programs. For us it works sometimes, not always. The drink packages on Carnival are similarly priced but don't work for us priced separately. At around $53 per day, I can't drink that much. Plan carefully. Mixed drinks start at around $7 bucks and go up from there. Beer is horribly over priced costing 7 bucks a pop. Whoa. If you like wine with dinner, call the Fun Shops pre cruise and get a wine package. Not only is it reasonably priced per bottle but you don't pay the 15% gratuity. Martinis are $10.50 and after all the charges will cost you $13 each.
Overall, we enjoyed Conquest. Not commenting on ports? That's because this is not a port cruise. It's a true cruise cruise. Nassau is a bad city for tourists. We've been in and around it several times. Noting to see here. Half moon Cay is fun, nice beach, Pirates Bar is a cool place, literally, to hang out. It was over 100 degrees the day we were there. Beach is really nice ...... for those that like beaches. Water is beautiful and clear. If you don't have your Global Entry cards, get them. You can apply online. In both fort Lauderdale and Miami, there are separate through lines for card holders. Quick customs processing is assured. I think we might have been the only passemgers using that line. Also, walk off with your luggage. Don't check it. For short cruises like this is, one medium sized bag should do it. Way quicker to walk off. You go first. Checked bag folks dont start off until after 9am. We had a relaxed breakfast at around 6:30 am, went back to our cabin to get our bags adound 7:15 and walked right off. No wait, no lines. Ride to the airport? Use Uber or Lyft.